Right now, two things are going on. One concerns a bookstore. The other concerns a generation suffocating itself, and all of humanity, with its delight at repeating the worst impulses of history. Both of these concerns are part of the status quo. They would’ve been condemned years ago. But now they are normalised.
A bookstore in Perth, Australia will not stock books by J.K Rowling, including her crime fiction. Those who want a Harry Potter copy can request one. The store, Rabble Books And Games, will donate profits to a Trans organisation in Western Australia. Nat Latter, the owner of the bookstore, said on Facebook:
Hey Rabblers, we want to talk about JK Rowling. We are always trying to make Rabble a safer space for our community, and part of that is trying not to put books by transphobes on the shelves, when we know about them..Here is where we’re at: we’re not going to stock new JK Rowling books and we won’t be keeping Robert Galbraith books (her pseudonym for crime novels) on the shelf anymore. Though we don’t sell many, we’re going to phase out the Harry Potter books too.
Whilst stocking a book isn’t an endorsement (good grief, that would be a minefield), and we will always take orders for books that aren’t in stock, there are more worthy books to put on the shelf, books that don’t harm communities and won’t make us sad to unpack them.Rabble Books And Games (Australia)
Notice the term ‘safe space.’ I see it applied to universities and various workforces. Here’s the thing: none of those things are meant to be ‘safe spaces.’ A bookstore ought to have danger. Lots of it. Within a book, lies exciting ideas, waiting to challenge your mind. Literature is not a safe place. It’s where you feel raw emotions, anger, hurt, bliss and everything in between. Bookstores are citadels of knowledge, humanity and curiousity.
Yet despite the dangers and thrills of a bookstore, it’s good for you. You may discover a novel that challenges you. Or makes you uncomfortable. Are either of them negative? What’s the harm in seeing a J.K Rowling book? Sure, she may upset you. But everyday, people look at upsetting things. And they live. They aren’t harmed. But because they summoned up the courage to look at the upsetting, they are stronger. The world isn’t a ‘safe community.’
However, a great bookstore prepares us for the unsafe jungle of the world. When a warrior faces the dragon, does the warrior beg for mercy? No. The warrior becomes stronger. He trains, and he improves. Bookstores make us stronger. They house complex books that are provoking and disturbing.
If the sight of a book makes you ‘sad to unpack’, then honestly, toughen up. Literature isn’t always rainbows. And thank goodness for that. Who reads books to feel safe? I don’t. Of course, bookstores should remain ‘safe’ in the physical sense. But in an intellectual or emotional sense? No. By exposing ourselves to fiction and non-fiction that is unorthodox to our personal beliefs, we accept that not everyone is like us.
It’s pathetic that some are eager to demonise a person as a hateful bigot.
What’s also concerning is how quick people label J.K Rowling ‘transphobic.’ The latest apparent evidence is found in her latest book, where a killer cross-dresses. That is not convincing as proof of ‘transphobia.’ Remember: all J.K Rowling has said is that there are biological differences between men and women. Yes, she’s defended people who lose their jobs. Yes, she has highlighted that gender conversion therapy among teenage girls is happening in the United Kingdom. None of those things are bigoted, they are based in reality. It is not ‘hate’ or ‘transphobia’ when someone disagrees with a trans activist. Remember: no one is under any obligation to agree.
The overreaction to J.K Rowling’s personal views is shameful. Not only that, but it sets a poor standard. Authors must have the freedom to speak their minds. Literature prides itself on being a field of free expression, yet writers are treated like vermin.
Another awful aspect is how readers, particularly those who grew up with Harry Potter, reacted. The hashtag #RIPJkRowling was shared by both young readers and authors. Yes, I’m not forgeting the writers who support the mob attacks against other writers. Many of these ‘booktubers’ (slang for YouTubers who discuss books) claimed that although they loved Harry Potter, they loved ‘trans people more.’ This is hopelessly manipulative, because it implies that the only way you can support Trans people is by treating an author like rubbish.
It’s like saying ‘you are a false Muslim if you aren’t burning The Satanic Verses.’
As someone who studies history, I’m absolutely concerned that my generation loves totalitarianism. The glee some millennials have in burning books, tearing down statues or bullying people is terrifying. Because I’ve seen it before. I saw it when I studied Mao Zedong, I saw it when ISIS destroyed historic statues in Iraq. I saw it in the Rwandan genocide where the Hutus demonised the Tutsis and other opponents. But what I remember the most is how easy it is to do evil. A lot of atrocities in modern history are done by people who think they are on the right side of history.
The people demonizing J.K Rowling are righteous. Not necessarily self-righteous in the individual sense. But in a collective way, where they believe that hurting J.K Rowling will heal a wound they believe they have. They are unsympathetic and publishers must not coddle them.
The current culture of demonising authors and bullying people on social media does not have a happy ending. To the bookstore in question, I understand you have the legal right to stock and display whatever titles you choose. But your thrilling willingness to call J.K Rowling a ‘transphobe’ is scary.
Because I know where this ends.
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