Younger Millennials—those born around 1990, the same time as Harry Potter’s lead actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson—feel just as strongly about transgender rights. To many of them, it is the social-justice cause, their generation’s revolutionary idea. They see little difference between the objections of some older left-wing feminists to the idea that individuals alone decide their gender, and those of social conservatives: Both groups are reactionary, trapped in outdated concepts of what it means to be a man or a woman.
And Millennials dominate the Harry Potter fandom, a community large enough to have spawned hundreds of thousands of pieces of fan fiction. So it is unsurprising that two major fan sites, The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet, have distanced themselves from the books’ author, J. K. Rowling, after she argued last month that “woman” should remain a biological category. The two sites announced last week that they will remove her photograph from their sites, stop linking to her website and writing about her other endeavors, and tag Twitter posts that include news about her with the hashtag #JKR, so users can filter out triggering content from their social-media feeds. To preserve their love of Harry Potter, its fans must erase its author. Rowling, like Voldemort, is so evil that even mentioning her violates a taboo: She Who Must Not Be Named. (Dumbledore would not have approved of this practice. As he tells Harry in The Sorcerer’s Stone, “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”)
What can account for the level of anger now directed at Rowling? If an eighth Harry Potter book were to be published, we could call it Harry Potter and the Desperate Desire for Things to Be Simple. Fans are discovering that someone they once treated as omniscient, someone they loved with a ferocious, possessive, childish love, is an entirely different person, with different values from their own.
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It is almost a cliché at this point to note that the average Millennial is notching up the markers of adulthood more slowly than their parents did. (My mother, a few months ago: “I still think of you as my baby. But when I was your age, I had three children.” I have none.) Middle-class kids born after 1990, the kind whose parents bought them books and movie tickets, entered the workforce in the postcrash decade, when a comfortable adult life began to seem like an unachievable dream. Much of this generation grew up alongside Harry Potter, and many kept shipping Harry and Draco into their 20s, in between Instagram posts about how “adulting”—cooking a meal, say, or doing laundry—was hard. And they weren’t entirely wrong, because adulting, for them, was hard: Many bright, book-loving college graduates who could have expected to walk into secure jobs 10 years earlier were instead trapped in precarious work and tiny apartments. Want to buy a home in a big city? Good luck saving for a down payment. Want to start saving into a pension? You’ll need stable employment for that.