Plague, But Make It Fashion

Masks are available for sale within the U.S. at PlagueButFashion on Etsy.


Once in a while, you’re unmistakably called.

I started making quilts in 1990. I even did it full-time for a while. I stopped in 2004, when my first kid was born and it felt too dangerous to quilt around little ones. It sounds funny to think of quilting as dangerous, but between the hot iron, the rotary cutter, the scissors, and the needles, it’s not at all baby-safe.

My fabric stash surpassed SABLE long ago. For those who aren’t crafters, SABLE stands for Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy. In the back of my mind, I knew I would eventually have to do something about the dormant yardage taking up space on my shelves, on my floor, and in countless bins in the garage. I put off the bother of it, but it was on my conscience.

The night that Rachel Maddow called for home sewers to compensate for the federal government’s PPE shortage with homemade masks, ideally out of quilting cotton, it all became clear.

“Mom,” my teen called out to me sharply. “Is that something we can help with?”

So that’s what my fabric stash is for. That’s why I held onto it all these years.

signs cow grape green masks

You can see the suspended moment when I switched from other crafts to making masks. The quilt I was making in tribute to Linda Sue Park’s book Prairie Lotus remains unfinished, draped carefully over a chair. I had been making octopods for an upcoming craft fair, but I stopped so abruptly that three of them are still on a counter where I left them, awaiting their turn to have eyes sewn onto their little heads. There’s no hurry making craft fair merchandise, anyway. Craft fairs are a thing of the past, at least for now.

grape banana sushi masks

The first two weeks of lockdown, I made a couple hundred masks for nurses, hospitals, and delivery workers. I discovered just how much of my stash — most of it, that is — is extremely girly. I’ve made an effort to include the few fabrics I have that look more masculine or gender neutral. I briefly felt a sort of outdated scorn at the thought of men feeling uncomfortable wearing florals, the kind of thing I would have especially thought in the 1990s. There’s no time for that kind of attitude anymore. There are lots of reasons that someone might not be all right wearing a feminine print or color. It’s ignorant of me to think it’s my place to judge that.

It’s been a bit of an adjustment to stop holding back on the favorite fabrics that I once used sparingly. What am I waiting for? What is more important than helping out health workers and people who need masks? Ursula Vernon tweeted something that encourages me daily.

 

I commissioned my sixth grader to illustrate the quote for me.

use the good art supplies by lily

Several people asked if I was making masks for sale. I loathe filling mail orders, so I kept saying no. Fifteen-year-old Geeklet, though, enjoys filling and tracking orders. Huh. We had just gone into lockdown; she had no school, could see no friends, and the two jobs she had lined up won’t exist anymore. What if she gained experience and income through an online business?

We named the shop Plague, But Make It Fashion and commissioned a graphic from Crowglass Designs. I didn’t want to give up making masks for donation, so our shop policy is that for every mask we sell, we give away one to health care workers or community groups. After much experimentation, we decided to use a pleated style that uses fabric ties rather than elastics, adapted from a Buttoncounter tutorial with an added length of floral wire across the top edge to mold to the nose area. I do like masks with elastics, but they’re uncomfortable if they’re not the right length for your face, which is hard to determine through mail order.

Look at art podcaster Grace Gordon showing our masks in action.

For the past few weeks, there’s been so much need that I’ve pretty much gone to making masks several hours a day. Writing about Snape and HP has been put on temporary hold. Potterverse has felt less and less allegorical lately, anyway. It doesn’t feel escapist to read about Diagon Alley being shuttered and deserted, people scurrying by fearfully, obituaries in the paper about people we know. I will surely get back to writing soon, but for now, it’s time to put my fabric stash to its intended use.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich

The Bluebeard plotline of this deft and subtle book is the one that haunted me and kept me going, even though the anxiety of coronavirus social distancing interrupted my reading and spread it out over weeks.

This must have been a difficult book to write. The horror in it is buried deep and handled masterfully. There are different forms of bravery, all of them very dear. As is often the case with Erdrich, the bravest moments are shown with a sort of practical detachment that allows the characters to get on with what they have to do. The author’s personal connection to this story is the deepest of all and I applaud her for being able to stick with the story and not get overwhelmed by the enormity and the rage.

One of my favorite things about how this book wraps up: there are a couple of romances that are hinted, and would make sense, but the book ends without anything coming of them.

Incidentally, and very charmingly, there is a happy ending for a character that I didn’t realize could even have an ending. There’s an endlessly dark humor to it, but it’s charming nonetheless; by the end of this book, that kind of horror is just scenery, and we just accept it, because it has the right to exist alongside all else.

I am excited now to be able to read reviews and interviews. I held off because I didn’t want to interfere with the delicacy of the novel’s suspense.

Roots and Mirrors: Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park.  Published March 3, 2020.


Linda Sue Park must have read and loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books as much as I did as a kid.

Reading about Hanna in Prairie Lotus hits some deep emotional beats I remember living through with Laura:  School trouble.  Recitations.  Hoop skirts going through doorways.  Oranges.  Dresses of fine lawn.  There’s a Laura-like character named Bess, the name that the real-life Almanzo Wilder called his wife.  Even the large-print font looks like the font of the Little House books.  Some of these similarities don’t refer to headline moments from the series, just details inscribed indelibly into memory after countless childhood rereads.

Linda Sue Park must have deplored the racism in the Little House books as much as I did, or more.  It’s clear what the white settlers of 1880s Dakota Territory thought of Native people.  The books’ brief references to black Americans are overshadowed by Pa’s participation in a minstrel show.  Asian Americans had no place at all in the books; Koreans had not even entered the U.S. at that time.  It would have been harder for grade-school me to relate to the books if Laura Ingalls Wilder had written her image of me into them.  I got off easy.

Unlike Hanna, when I was a kid, I did have an Asian immigrant mom around to teach me things.  But they were Korean and immigrant things, not the white-people American things that almost every other kid knew in upstate New York in the 1970s.

To know what they knew, I read.  I learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder that American girls churn butter, sew buttonholes, wear calico, win spelling bees.  I still feel the romance, forty years later, when I watch sheep shearing at wool festivals.  The Little House books taught these stories in such nourishing detail, it felt like having a mother show me.  Those books made me.  I constructed myself according to their instructions, step by step.  I’ve never made cheese or shaved a shingle, but I have the stubbornly unshakeable impression that I know how.  Some of the cooking and handwork I do is a tribute to those books.  They lodged in my deep consciousness in a formative way.  It’s been over forty years and I still have whole sections nearly memorized.

The Little House books are fundamentally racist, and also, the way they are part of me is too ingrained and love-filled for me to eject.

Judging by Prairie Lotus, Linda Sue Park knows exactly how this feels.

The book opens with a covered wagon trip.  Hanna, age 14, is traveling with her white father.  Her Chinese mother is dead, and they had to leave most of her mother’s belongings behind, including her mirror.  They are moving east from Los Angeles Chinatown to Dakota Territory, where there are no Asian or half-Asian people.

The first people Hanna meets in Dakota Territory are a group of Ihanktonwan women and girls, black-haired like Hanna.  The most senior of the women, Wichapiwin, sees that Hanna does the cooking for herself and her father and gives her a root vegetable called timpsina, prairie turnip.  Hanna realizes later that Wichapiwin was being motherly toward her.

Hanna’s mother had taught her about roots, too:  in China, Hanna’s grandfather had been a ginseng merchant.  Before she died, she told Hanna that she was half-and-half, as well.  Her father had come to China from “a beautiful place, a secret place.  Called Korea.  Americans don’t know that place” (p51).

I read that and gasp-laughed at the warmth of Linda Sue Park’s magic.  I didn’t know she was going to put secret Koreanness in this American story that predated Korean Americans.  If you’d told me, I wouldn’t have been able to guess how such a thing could be managed.  But it’s so logical.  Of course Koreans traveled to China, even during the time Korea was rightly known as “the Hermit Kingdom,” very much a secret place.  And yes, when I was a small child, it was true enough that Americans didn’t know Korea.  When white kids tugged at the corners of their eyes to taunt me, they called me Chinese.  But now, an author has shown me how I can be in this American girl story after all.

Hanna’s relationship with her father is more tense than Laura’s with her parents.  He is imperfect, occasionally arbitrary, often moody with grief.  It’s fascinating how she negotiates with him, and brave of her.  His patriarchal power over her melds with his white privilege to create an unease that brings home the constant tension of Hanna’s place in society.

I deeply appreciate Park’s middle-grade handling of the sexual element to the harassment that Asian American women often face, especially half-Asian women.  Hanna’s mother warns her, delicately, that most white men think Chinese women are “for — for fun.”  Chilling.  Because actually, it wasn’t completely true that Americans didn’t know Korea when I was a little girl in the 1970s.  Sometimes, a few of them did.  Men, always, who had been stationed there.  Who would say hello to me in Korean, expecting some sort of reaction, and sometimes, “Are you Korean?  I thought so.  I can tell.”

Much of Hanna’s negotiation with her father is about creating and claiming spaces.  A new home.  A doorway big enough for women to walk through.  A sewing space where she can make her living and become independent.  She assumes, with a breathtaking matter-of-factness, that her race means she will never know romance.  The cover art for the book is a revelation:  Hanna showing her half-white, half-Chinese face in defiance and dignity.

It’s quite the unusual experience for me to feel such trust in a writer’s perspective, down to the most niche detail.  I love Hanna’s Sherlock Holmesian reading of her classmate Dolly’s brown poplin dress, using clues visible to her as a seamstress.  I love the catalogue of fabric types that I didn’t know as a child, but do now:  muslin, calico, poplin, challis, lawn.  I smiled to read the grades that Park wrote for Hanna because I think they might be higher than Laura’s.  I don’t have Little Town on the Prairie at hand, so I don’t remember what Laura’s were exactly, but I guess I wasn’t the only Asian American reader who was taken aback that some of them were so low…and that an author would admit it in print!  My favorite grade is Hanna’s 100 for orthography, a subject that Wilder omitted from her account in Little Town.  That 100 sparkles out at me like an Asian-girl wink from Park.

Having established her authority within the tone of the Little House books, Park deftly creates original material.  Especially memorable to me is Hanna’s “strange kind of revenge” on a racist classmate, one that hurts no one but feels uncannily powerful.  It’s a pure artist move.

Park also writes the kind of delicious passages about material details that are a classic mainstay of children’s literature, whether they’re Laura’s descriptions, Ellen Montgomery buying a writing desk in The Wide Wide World, or Harry Potter in Diagon Alley.  Hanna has inherited one treasure:  the magnificent box that Hanna’s father created to her mother’s specifications, fitted with dozens of compartments.  Hanna lovingly fills these spaces with hundreds of her mother’s buttons.

Rows by size.  Columns by color.  The square in the lower left corner contained the smallest white button.  Above it, she put the next size, also white.  Each square held a bigger button until she reached the top left, which held the largest white button.

In the next column she put cream-colored buttons.  Then beige, shades of brown, gray, black.  After that came the rainbow colors, red, orange, yellow, shades of green and blue, and finally violet.  Several more columns and rows held novelty buttons, shaped like animals or stars or cherries.

The buttons were pretty to look at and pleasantly smooth under her fingertips.  The orderliness of each button in its proper place was soothing.

This passage feels nourishing, a calm lesson in process and pleasure.  It made me want to touch humble things and small luxuries, and put them in order.  I’m making a lap quilt in tribute to Hanna’s button box.  I tested out a few pattern possibilities, including button-like circles or embroidered lotuses.  But in the end, I chose a simple pattern, just two and a half-inch squares of calico in a grid of half-inch sashing, for my American-girl quilt.  I’ll post a final picture to this blog when it’s done.

button box quilt top

Thank you, Linda Sue Park, for taking the Little House books and showing me where the roots and mirrors could be.

Masterful by Logospilgrim

Masterful:  Severus Snape, A Jar of Cockroaches, and Me by Logospilgrim, published January 28, 2020.  Order from Lulu.com, $18.50.  Also available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.


Stories change according to who’s doing the reading.

The character of Snape is certainly not for everybody.  Is he irredeemable?  Brave?  Irrelevant?  A source of strength?

As Logospilgrim says in her new book, Masterful, “Those who approach him will interpret his story based on how they’re writing and interpreting their own story.”

Logospilgrim is not trying to persuade anybody to see Snape differently.  In this searing meditation, she is only demonstrating how this process worked for her:  how recognizing the self in a fictional character can anchor people through traumatic upheavals.  As Logospilgrim notes, Snape was able to leave behind his father, who shouted at his mother, as well as fight the influence of a later father figure, Voldemort, who killed another mother.  Identifying with the character of Snape strengthened Logospilgrim as she freed herself from the influences of a violent father and repressive religions.

When we first meet Snape in Sorcerer’s Stone, we are told that his eyes “made you think of dark tunnels.”

Logospilgrim asks:

Who knows what drives Severus Snape, the man who doesn’t wear his heart upon his sleeve, and at the same time, does?

Those who have gone through dark tunnels.

We know what’s on the other side, the uneven side, the third side.

We are the third side.

The third side is home to those who have known or caused damage and then, taking a second chance, consciously fought the damage and walked away changed.

Snape is on the third side.  He betrayed the Potters to Voldemort and then changed allegiance, and after that, he was able to reverse Dark Magic.

Dumbledore is on the third side.  He colluded with fascism and then fought it, and after that, he was able to reverse Dark Magic.

Harry is on the third side.  He cast Unforgivables, he gave his life for others, and he returned for others, giving him mastery of the Elder Wand.

Draco, too, is on the third side.  He passed through the barrier that required a Dark Mark with intent to kill Dumbledore, and under Snape’s guidance, he passed back out through that barrier again, giving him, too, mastery of the Elder Wand.

Most people won’t ever need to be on the third side.  Not everyone has occasion to know damage so intimately, and of those, not everyone is able to become a changed person and walk away.  It’s not necessarily better to have this knowledge; life is certainly less traumatic if you’ve never been in a position to need it.  But those who haven’t been through it may not know to trust those who have.

In Half-Blood Prince, after overhearing Dumbledore charging Harry with the task of getting a guilty memory from Slughorn that has caused enormous damage, the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black says:

“I can’t see why the boy should be able to do it better than you, Dumbledore.”

“I wouldn’t expect you to, Phineas,” replied Dumbledore, and Fawkes gave another low, musical cry.

The cry of the phoenix heralds second chances.  Dumbledore is acknowledging that Phineas Nigellus Black doesn’t understand because he has never caused and then regretted as much damage as Dumbledore has.

Logospilgrim, noting the lack of trust that many feel toward Snape, observes, “The one who changes is immoral.”  Snape would have been easier to comprehend if he’d remained either for or against the Death Eaters, rather than both and then neither.  Dumbledore, too, comes in for a great deal of mistrust from readers because his changes make him difficult to know.

Harry, though, knew and trusted both, once he returned to life and joined the third side himself.  He honored this knowledge when he named a child after Albus and Severus.

Logospilgrim says of Snape, “Who else would have the strength to withstand the hatred that would rain down on him” after Dumbledore trusted Snape to kill him?  If you have ever endured hatred while fighting to protect yourself or others, Snape might be a useful character for you.  You might recognize yourself in Logospilgrim’s book.

Greta Gerwig’s Little Women: In praise of genre fiction

Warning:  Spoilers for the film.

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women speaks from the exact moment that some of us are in, American female-identified writers 150 years after Louisa May Alcott struck it rich with this book. With a deliberate hand, Gerwig amplifies or inserts elements she considers important, and outright changes what does not serve her vision.

To understand this version, it works best to know that, like Jo March, Louisa May Alcott wrote pseudonymous thrillers to support her parents and sisters.  These lurid “sensation stories” are well-crafted, fun, and readable, even today.  They were basically genre fiction, unrepentantly trashy, and would have been considered low-status for that reason, even if written by a man.  As a woman writer, Alcott kept them her secret in a way that feels a bit similar to contemporary fandom writers putting their expertly written dark or kinky fic on Archive of Our Own, heavily tagged and protected by a pseudonym from judgmental employers or family.

Unlike fanfic, though, Alcott’s stories were written for money.  Her Transcendentalist father, Bronson Alcott, was worse than useless at providing for his wife and daughters.  The stories were an outlet for Alcott’s preferred style of writing, adventurous rather than moralizing.  Possibly, the need to compensate for her father’s failures helped to overcome whatever qualms Alcott may have felt about writing unladylike pulp that would certainly not have appealed to family friends such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne.

In the book Little Women, Jo’s friend Professor Bhaer disapproves of her stories, she stops writing them, and she feels more wholesome after, grateful for his moral guidance.  In this film, Jo also stops writing, but she rejects Bhaer’s disapproval — an original change by Gerwig.  The film shows that Jo had made the stories “spicier” at the urging of her publisher, who maintained that “spice” would sell:  she was writing to market.  At the end of the film, when Jo brings her manuscript of Little Women to the same publisher, he tells her that the heroine must marry because romance sells, and “the right ending is the one that sells.”  But he’s reluctant to publish her story for young readers in the first place; he wants more sensation stories, believing that’s what sells.

The joke ends up being on him:  Little Women becomes, of course, a titanic bestseller.

Famously, Alcott didn’t enjoy writing Little Women or other stories for girls and resented being pushed into writing sequels by a clamoring public.  She didn’t mask this sentiment, either; at the end of her sequel Jo’s Boys, she demolished the fourth wall with an earthquake in which she declared that the ground opened up and swallowed all the characters.  Then, with a resigned tone, she amended that ending to tell the reader that every character knew perfect happiness for the rest of their lives.  That was the ending that would sell.  The whole purpose was to sell.

Greta Gerwig’s film is arguing that for Louisa May Alcott, who didn’t want to marry off Jo or write books for girls at all, Little Women was exactly the kind of mercenary, morally suspect commercial fiction that Professor Bhaer judged Jo March for writing.

This is not to put down Alcott’s classic, which conveys simple truths with undeniably good writing.  This is to elevate sensational commercial and genre fiction to the same level as Little Women.  And, even more delightfully, to grant to the genre of YA, young adult fiction, the same respect in the publishing world as thrillers written for men.  After all, it sells.

I didn’t like, at first, that Gerwig’s Professor Bhaer is youngish and good-looking instead of older, clumsy, and rumpled, as he is in the book.  But when I understood where the movie was going with this character, I appreciated the change:  he looks the part of the romantic interest to everyone but Jo, who is confused when everyone expects her to be swooning for him.  Then, as writer Jo compromises with her publisher and agrees to write a romantic ending for her heroine, the film dramatizes her proposed edit with an imagined, sped-up lovers’ scene between Jo and Professor Bhaer that hits all the romantic tropes — and here, again, the movie does something I didn’t expect.  It refuses to mock this contrived ending.  The swelling romantic music never tips over into irony.  The movie lets you enjoy the romance.  If you wanted this ending for Jo, the movie will not shame you.

Gerwig’s Laurie breaks with tradition in a different way:  at last, a film Laurie as real as the book original.  Mercurial, beautiful and odd-looking at once, charming to balance his irresponsible streak.  In perhaps the most of-the-moment decision of all, this film simultaneously introduces no hint that Jo might be a lesbian and leaves the path completely clear for viewers inclined to take that direction.  She wants to marry Meg, but that’s not new; that’s canon.  When she rejects her adored Laurie as a lover, she cries out that she can’t make herself feel that way and she doesn’t know why.  In the ensuing beat of silence, I could imagine the succinct judgments of countless queer people I know:  “Gay.”  If this resonates with you, check out Malinda Lo’s take on gay Jo.

In this and many other ways, Gerwig’s film reminds us:  Little Women is fiction.  It was fiction based on what the author thought would sell at the time.  If we want to, we can change it; Alcott would, if she were alive, so she could sell us the story again.  The right ending is the one that sells.  So if your Amy was in love with Laurie from the beginning, let it be so.  If your Marmee can tell Papa she is angry with him to his face, well, it’s back in style for women to acknowledge anger aloud.  If love-starved Laurie entering the March home looks like Harry Potter’s first trip to the Burrow, go ahead and write that crossover.

Jo March got the idea to write sensation stories after seeing some by a “Mrs. S.L.A.N.G. Northbury.”  What a fantastic name for a muse and foremother.  If you, too, are someone who writes both YA and scandalous stories published under pseudonyms, give a cheer for Northbury, Jo March, and Louisa May Alcott, and may your writing sell as well as theirs.

A Permanent Scar from J.K. Rowling

This author taught us that hateful speech can be an Unforgivable.  The targets of Unforgivables must defend themselves, if possible, but do not owe the caster forgiveness.  Forgiveness would not remedy the caster’s harm.  The only hope for the caster is to undergo remorse.

On the morning of December 19, 2019, J.K. Rowling broke a long Twitter silence to post support for someone who actively promoted anti-trans harassment in the workplace.

Many fans instantly recoiled.  Within hours, longtime Potter fans posted reactions ranging from the Harry Potter Alliance’s dedication to “a better, safer, more loving world for trans people” to recommendations of works by trans and nonbinary authors to the Potter Puppet Pals‘ succinct “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.”

Some fans felt so sickened that they knew they would have to withdraw from Harry Potter fandom.  Some said they had separated the fandom from the author long ago and planned to remain active in HP fan communities and activities, although this tweet outraged and grieved them.  Some mentioned the phrase “death of the author,” drawing on Roland Barthes’ critical theory to argue that the Harry Potter stories now belong completely to the readers; the author had forfeited ownership because she was violating the very ideals of acceptance that formed the core of her bestselling stories.

Reluctantly, I looked at the tweet itself.  Rowling mischaracterized Maya Forstater’s position as “stating that sex is real.”  That is a heck of a way to describe Forstater referring to trans women as “male people” or stating, as “objective reality,” that there are exactly two sexes, which is wrong at the most basic factual level.  Forstater has the right to say what she likes, of course; an employer also has the right not to renew her contract in order to keep her transphobic hostility out of the workplace.

Rowling’s support prioritizes someone’s desire to spew bigotry, without consequences, over the rights of people to be who they are without workplace harassment.

If the author were truly dead, in the Barthesian sense, Rowling’s tweet would not affect a reader’s feelings about the Potter stories.  But for many fans, it does.

Some fans expressed shock at Rowling; others noted, bitterly, that Rowling has always shown signs of anti-trans prejudice.  This highlighted an uncomfortable dynamic:  we’re all more sensitive to some kinds of hostility and oblivious to others, this often has to do with privilege, and discussions about this can get touchy and defensive.  We have to have those discussions anyway.

After Rowling’s transphobic tweet, can you really say “the author is dead” and read, without discomfort, the passage in Prisoner of Azkaban where Lupin coaches third-years to avenge themselves on Snape by imagining him in women’s clothes and then mocking him?  “Snape deserved it,” some people argue.  Did he?  He did deserve workplace consequences for bullying a child in ways that had nothing to do with sex and gender.  Did he deserve to be recast into a scenario with transmisogynistic harassment overtones?  Did the children deserve to be taught to channel their outrage into creating such an atmosphere?  Did the reader deserve to be told that this is an appropriate response to abusive teaching?

“Death of the author” would attribute this transmisogynistic harassment entirely to Lupin, the character.  But I can’t shut out information that way.  Rowling’s tweet changes my reading.  It makes me think that it was the author’s prejudices, more than the character, that were responsible for the gratuitous direction that Lupin’s teaching takes.  This is different from, say, the character of Snape ridiculing Neville’s classwork; I read that as the author being intentional and in control, disapproving of the character’s choice.

I wince to think that I might find many such changes in my understanding of the series on my next re-read.

I once left a fandom over irreconcilable differences.  Sixteen years later, it still feels sad.  Leaving a fandom meant losing friends and events that had become part of my life.  All that love and knowledge didn’t go anywhere.  It just sits in me, still.

I don’t want to do that with HP.  I don’t want to be so revolted by the author’s strident prejudice that I have to give up contact with the (very queer) people and events I know only through this fandom.  The author has never been present at those events.  Disinviting her now doesn’t change that.  My connections in the fandom never went through her.  They formed over more than a decade.  Could I disconnect them all, even if I tried?

Could I undo the ten months that my older child spent reading the series, the first novels she ever finished on her own, progressing from finding Sorcerer’s Stone difficult all the way to reading Deathly Hallows to herself?

Could I undo the hours and hours that my kids have spent Sorting themselves and their friends into Houses?  The Sorting panel that my younger child ran at a conference, by herself, when she was only 11?  The wizard rock songs that they grew up singing?

Could I erase my fond memories of getting through labor by imagining that Professor Snape was going to brew me something for the pain?

Could I undo telling my kids that Polyjuice Potion teaches empathy by putting you in someone else’s skin?

My thinking has become entwined with J.K. Rowling’s words, grown around them.  I don’t think I could uproot them all if I tried.  I think in terms of her stories.  When I read of trans teens and young adults who identified with her stories, then were stricken to learn that she advocated a kind of harassment that denied their very selves, the damage she was causing to these readers reminded me of something.

It reminded me of the dead unicorn:  “Harry had never seen anything so beautiful and sad.”

It is “a monstrous thing” to hurt “something pure and defenseless,” very young readers taking in stories of love and acceptance and being formed by them.

What have trans people done to deserve this from Rowling, this completely unprovoked breaking of her social media silence that nobody asked for?

McGonagall cries out to the Ministry workers attacking Hagrid, “Leave him alone!  Alone, I say!  […]  On what grounds are you attacking him?  He has done nothing, nothing to warrant such –”

Lily says to James of teen Snape, “Leave him ALONE! […] What’s he done to you?”

And James tells her, “It’s more the fact that he exists, if you know what I mean…”

That’s what Rowling is defending when she tweets #IStandWithMaya:  the desire to attack someone who has done nothing, just because they exist.

And then, when Lily defends Snape, he calls her “the unforgivable word: ‘Mudblood.'”  Yes, it’s Rowling who equates the gravity of hateful words with crimes like torture, enslavement, and murder.

He knew the dangers that faced Muggle-borns.  He knew the philosophy behind that particular slur.  He called her that name.  Rowling must know, has no excuse not to know, the dangers of anti-trans prejudice.

With sorrow and resignation, I have to recognize that with her words denying the reality of trans existence, she has committed an Unforgivable.

She herself taught us what must be done after an Unforgivable.

Lily tells Snape, “I’ve made excuses for you for years.”  Over 20 years, Potter fandom has dealt collectively with Rowling’s fat hatred, with the racial tokenism in her stories and the dismissive racism in the Ilvermorny backstory, with the marginalization of any queerness in her books.  The bitter dialogues between fans about how long it takes some of us to acknowledge these things reminds me of Dumbledore in King’s Cross:  “Did I know, in my heart of hearts, what Gellert Grindelwald was?  I think I did, but I closed my eyes.”

I don’t think I closed my eyes, but I drew my own boundaries, uncomfortably.  After all, one does not have to approve of a creator to study their works.  I know what I think of Thomas Jefferson, but I am not giving up my love for the Declaration of Independence, nor my claim to its contents, even though they were definitely not written with my Asian American cis female self in mind.  I draw the line somewhere different in each case, based on how to preserve my own love in life.  BBC Sherlock produced an astonishingly racist episode called “The Blind Banker,” which I decided to ignore while embracing the rest of the series.  When I learned some things about Marion Zimmer Bradley, though, I couldn’t do that.  The Mists of Avalon was formative for me as a teen, the version of the Arthur legends that is canon for me, and I don’t want to give up my memories of loving that mind-opening book.  But if I reread it now — even though the author is, in this case, actually dead — I would see, in her fiction, disturbing traces of the horrifying things I learned about her as an adult.  I decided that I will keep that book, not throw it out, but I will not open it ever again.  Not if I want to preserve both my ecstatic teen reading experience and my adult knowledge of the author.

I don’t want to give up my love.  It was real, and it formed me.

Lily tells Snape, “I can’t pretend anymore.  You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine.”

On the day of Rowling’s tweet, in a mailing list email, the Harry Potter Alliance wrote, “We know that trans women are women, trans men are men, non-binary people are non-binary, and that affirming and respecting people’s gender is kind, loving, and literally saves lives.  We know, too, that a story and a community this big and this magical belongs to all of us and always will.  To our trans community: we love you, we see you, and we will continue to uplift your voices and stand with you.

With those words, the HP Alliance parted ways with Rowling.  They chose the many trans and nonbinary members of the HP fandom over the author.

According to the story that Rowling taught us:  when someone casts an Unforgivable against you, their guilt is not your burden.  You are not required to forgive them, although you certainly may, if that is right for you.  But your forgiveness is your own business and does not absolve them.  They have damaged or even split their souls, and the only remedy is remorse, their own true and full recognition of the harm they have caused.

The soul of Rowling’s story is love, acceptance, protection.  For me, the author’s anti-trans prejudice has the effect of splitting this story’s soul.  I will look in, periodically, as Dumbledore did with Snape, to see if this author ever shows signs of remorse, as long as I have natural curiosity about it.  If my curiosity fades, that will be okay, but I will not push myself to ignore her or her work as long as I feel interest.  I don’t think it harms my soul to retain, as belonging to myself free and clear, every bit of the love I have ever felt because of this author’s creations or the people I met because of them.  I don’t think it makes the ideals in her stories any less true because she cannot live up to them personally.  It certainly doesn’t make Cursed Child or Fantastic Beasts any less rich and compelling, and I will continue to delve into them.  I am as thankful as ever to witness the growth of her oeuvre in real time, the way I always imagined readers felt about serial releases from Charles Dickens.  I am as fascinated as ever that the success of Harry Potter has given the world an international shared text, a common story, which has been especially useful in the past few years as political allegory.

We didn’t ask to be scarred by the words from her prejudiced tweet, but we will have to deal with that wound for as long as Rowling’s work is part of our culture.  According to BuzzFeed News, on the day of the tweet, Rowling’s publicist declined GLAAD’s offer of an off-the-record conversation with members of the trans community.  I doubt this will be the last such offer.  I hope someday she accepts.

ETA:  Many thanks to Lynn Roy for pointing me toward this valuable Twitter thread from ScienceVet about biological sex!