I’m laying on a table in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis with a laser pointed at my face, the stench of freshly singed hair wafting up my nose as my beard was zapped away. The 2012 election was drawing close and I’m feeling comfortable talking politics because where I am geographically allows me to assume political likemindedness. So I offer up who I was going to vote for in the course of conversation, only to learn in response that the woman operating said laser was going to be voting for the other guy. As it turned out, she was a conservative and a regular church goer.
I felt panic.
The narrative I knew at the time was religious conservatives would judge and damn a transwoman like me. The message boards I’d read, the cable news I’d watched, told me there was no way I would be welcome in her salon! Yet, there I was and had been for several sessions already and I’d outed myself during my initial visit. The woman with the laser then went on to talk about the Anti-Gay Marriage amendment we had in Minnesota that year and that she intended to vote against it. Finally as we wrapped up, we started to talk about me and my transition and she said, “Isn’t it great to get to a place in life where you can just celebrate who you are?” With those words, my world shifted on its axis as before she uttered them, I did not know it was possible for someone with her label of religious conservative to say them.
More recently I was at an It Gets Better panel at an anime convention and the woman seated in front of me recounted a little of her life story and ended it with, “…and of course they’re conservatives!” As if being conservative explained the ill others had done to her. Immediately I thought of my congressional representative who has an (R) by his name and who was first in getting the FAA to apologize to me for misgendering me as a male in some correspondence. I gave my representative with an (R) by his name a chance to address my misgendering because of what I learned from my mother. I had been so sure would cast me out because of her religious conservative beliefs, only to see her response open with “Hi Paige,” in reply to the harshly worded, angry at her, coming out e-mail I’d sent. Also, and of course, because of what’d I’d learned from the woman with the laser.
Back at the panel I ended up raising my hand so I could tell those gathered about my congressional representative helping me. In the context of that room up until that moment, calling someone “conservative” felt to me like the very act of the bullying we were there to get support from for being LGBTQ or a furry or a fan of Homestuck. Then as I’m prone to do, I advocated for us to go forth and be excellent to each other!
You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Harry Potter. Well, a lot actually!
As a member of Generation X my media entertainment growing up was MTV, when it played music videos (most notably by Nirvana), along with a smattering of “Star Wars” and Kevin Smith movies. We are the last muggle generation as we are not associated with the magic of Harry Potter as a part of our growing up. Currently, I’m reading the the series because my closest friends are Millennials, and I find Harry Potter comes up with them a lot.
Reading the books now, I keep trying to discover what an 11 year old me might have connected with in them. In the beginning, I had a hard time fathoming the brutality of the Dursley’s (the family that raises Harry) have toward him and then I thought “well, wait a tick!” Harry’s magical background was like my being trans in real life. The harsh treatment Harry suffered at the Dursley’s was exactly what I feared would happen if I left the closet. The phrasing from “Goblet of Fire” where Rowling writes “dressed as muggles” (in regards to wizards trying to blend into the muggle world as they moved through it) hit that note home for me. On reading that bit of text I reached out to a trans Millennial friend of mine and said, “I think I see why you liked this.”
I went on reading and reflecting on what I had read and I thought of some of Harry’s friends like Remus Lupin and Hagrid. These were people that in Harry’s culture had labels affixed to them that were understood to mark them as something to be feared and loathed. However, as events unfolded Harry took them as individuals and did not let the labels get in the way. I think taking people as individual people is a fantastic lesson to have grown up with or at least one I wish I’d learned sooner.
It excites me to learn that with her books J.K Rowling may well end up teaching those who grew up connecting with Harry Potter the lessons of tolerance and individuality that I learned from the woman operating the laser, and my mother. I don’t mean to be self congratulatory of Her Story Arc too much with the following, but look at the banner at the top of the website:
We’re here to talk about and find the good parts, even in the face of strife. Be active for good. I think that’s fantastic. I’d also encourage those like me who missed Harry Potter at release, or are intimidated by the combined size of the tomes, to give er’ a go and see what ya connect with, even as an adult. 🙂
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