What Would The Sorting Hat Say About The Transgender Question?

J. K. Rowling has recently argued that transgender ideology should be interrogated because sex is real, or at least that it has real lived experiences. Sadly I have to admit I have made the same argument rather carelessly in the past. I think Rowling could learn from her own hit book series Harry Potter.

In the first installment of the seven-book series, Rowling sorts her protagonist (and his peers) into one of four houses. The heroes of the story are in Gryffindor (courage), with allied forces in Hufflepuff (kindness) and Ravenclaw (brains). The dark side is in Slytherin. The houses mirror Wizard of Oz, with the lion symbol of Gryffindor aligning with the cowardly lion, the tin man’s heart with Hufflepuff and the scarecrow’s brain with Ravenclaw.

When the sorting hat is put on Harry Potter’s head it thinks of him as a Slytherin. Harry was struck by a killing curse by the most powerful and evil wizard (Voldemort) and therefore he, biologically speaking, has a lot of connections to the dark side. For example, he can talk to snakes, something only usually the darkest of wizards can do. He can also see into Voldemort’s mind and part of him enjoys this.

Because of this connection to the dark side, many liberal wizards don’t trust him, ignorant that he is on the front lines. But the Sorting Hat isn’t into wizard politics. What changes the mind of the Sorting Hat is that Harry Potter does not want to be in Slytherin. He wants to be in Gryffindor.

It is a striking parallel to the transgender ideology. Those against the transgender community say that the body you are born into should determine your gender. They say what you want doesn’t matter. They don’t want free choice on this issue. They want to decide everyone’s gender.

But the issue with their need for control is that the definition of gender is an alienated one. No one really feels like a man or a woman. People latch onto these identities to form order in their own lives. This always is a conservative choice but certainly something we should be free to do.

The transgender community must be defended. We must defend not only the right to exist but the right to exist as transgender. Rowling is more successful than ever since she began using transgender people as a punching bag and this sort of behavior has effects on the ground as transgender people are being met with murder, such as the recent case on Lake Street light rail in Minneapolis.

Ilhan Omar argued: Trans women have become a central focus of the right-wing culture war, with many states moving to ban trans health care, to reduce the visibility of trans and queer people in public life, and even to outlaw being transgender…We must recognize that the legislative attacks on trans people are part of the same violence that led to nearly 90 trans people being killed in the United States over the last two years.”

The issue with Rowling, like most people who are too rich to have real problems, is that what started as a legitimate question about feminism quickly became a conversation about Rowling herself and how everyone hates her (not what her sales reflect). I do find the demonization of feminism unfortunate. I don’t buy into the existence of “TERF” (trans-exclusive radical feminists) being the thing we must resist. This is horseshoe theory in action. Just as anyone saying transgender people rather than men are a threat to women, the same formula must be used to say feminists are not a threat to trans rights.

This is the only gripe I have with the otherwise important term intersectionality. It’s like the people arguing over whether Malcolm X was a feminist. You’re going to cancel Malcolm X? Who would be left? Whenever I hear something isn’t intersectional enough it reminds me of Marxist debates that retreat from material reality with sectarianism.

All that aside I do think it is unfortunate that the magic of Harry Potter, once censored by the right for being a threat to religion, is now seen as a right-wing series. The truth lies somewhere in the middle as the best art is up for interpretation and intervenes at the human level, transforming us without us realizing it. Most art nowadays has such obvious and clumsy political markers that half the audience boycotts it before they see it and no one changes or enjoys as a result.

But the question of freedom remains. The right-wing will advocate for parents’ right to control the sexuality of their children. If a right winger can have one eye on protecting his property with a gun and one eye monitoring his child’s sex life, he is happy. If an area is polluted or occupied by police it is fine because it is probably dark and poor and this makes the right winger feel safer. But this isn’t a great life.

Harry Potter could be read as a right-wing story. His superpower comes from his mother’s willingness to die for him, something the political right aims for these days. But the difference between Harry Potter and the right-wing narrative is that the purpose isn’t the mother’s death but rather the child’s life.

Another point against the right-wing reading of Harry Potter is that there is a mirror in which when you look into it you see everything you want. Rather than solving all of the problems of wizards, it leads them into madness. This seems to be against the number one rule of the conservative movement today. The most important thing for them is to live outside of reality in a magical world where the free market solves every problem and the villain isn’t environmental catastrophe or those wielding power.

It is more comforting for the right wing to believe the most vulnerable are the enemy. Trans people are another example of this tendency and the left must stop making this issue more complex than it needs to be. Many leftists claim that the trans issue has gone too far and that we are force-feeding children a trans identity.

Even if this were true, which it is not, what would be the solution to this? “Save the children” is the excuse for every right-wing intervention and we must assert something more radical than that. We must assert freedom for the children. Children must be allowed to play, to imagine, to experiment, to question to make mistakes. Childhood is the time when we should learn how to fail. Gender, no matter its end, is a failure, and we must learn how to fail better at it.

Childhood should be the time when the stakes are low enough to fail. Because if you fail as an adult, you are on your own in America. By policing children we end up with the forever childhoods the right wing complains about.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com