He, She, They, & JK: A Pride Post

I have a complicated relationship with JK Growling – not with the bear herself, of course (she’s my BFF!), but with her name. First, a bit of history:

When I began working at the Ames Free Library, back in the Fall of 2019, I found a slightly mangy, decidedly grumpy, and hugely adorable bear languishing away in the “restricted” section (aka “the STACKS”). I looked into her dark and molten eyes, noted her pathetic lack of a tail, and was charmed by her general disapproving demeanor. I dusted her off, lugged her downstairs, and proceeded to introduce her to our patrons. She quickly took her rightful place as the beloved Youth Services mascot that she is today. We held a naming contest and received scores of suggestions! My favorite recommendation was “Claude” (a play on the word “clawed,” which JK is)...but the literary “JK Growling” was the people’s choice. Thus, it was officially declared to be our bear’s new name.

On the one hand, I love the name JK Growling! It’s fantastical and punny. Our patrons are undeniably clever. But on the other hand? JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books & JK’s namesake, holds a controversial position in the Children’s Literature community.

Rowling self-identifies as a “TERF,” an acronym which stands for “Transgender Exclusionary Radical Feminist.” What this means, in the simplest terms, is that she firmly believes that transgender women are not women.

Many readers, librarians, teachers, and literacy advocates find her beliefs profoundly damaging. Daniel Radcliffe himself, the actor who plays Harry Potter in the eponymous films, has distanced himself from Rowling’s position. He’s stated,

“I realize that certain press outlets will probably want to paint this as in-fighting between J.K. Rowling and myself…but that is really not what this is about, nor is it what’s important right now. While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honored to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment. Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I. According to The Trevor Project, 78% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being the subject of discrimination due to their gender identity. It’s clear that we need to do more to support transgender and nonbinary people, not invalidate their identities, and not cause further harm."

So, you can see why JK Growling’s new name left me feeling a bit…wary. When the pandemic hit and I began making Storytime videos from home, I uncomfortably cycled through nicknames for my shaggy companion. On-camera, I called her “JK” – sans the Growling – or sometimes just plain “J[ay].” Ultimately, however, I’ve found that patrons delight in our ursine friend’s full name – and that it links up with a joy of reading and of Children’s Literature that doesn’t make me uncomfortable in the slightest. 

There’s no denying what JK Rowling’s books have done for an entire generation – and beyond! They’ve inspired a lifelong love of reading for so many and have refocused the publishing industry on an area (Juvenile Fiction and Fantasy) that is so developmentally important. For the most part, I’ve come to terms with JK’s name. I’ve made a sort of tentative peace with it.

But then…I decided to take our girl to Easton’s PRIDE event. And, I shared the Storytime tent with Kerri Mullen, local author of Eli’s New Clothes, a book inspired by someone very close to her; a book about friendship, authenticity, gender identity, and self-expression featuring a female-to-male transgender doll character. I introduced myself to Kerri. The time inevitably came to introduce my Storytime companion. I had to share her name. Kerri’s immediate response? “Unfortunately, JK Rowling is so infamously transphobic!” Here’s what I told Kerri – and what I tell myself:

Using JK Growling to consistently deliver a message of love, visibility, and representation (the way that I did at PRIDE and the way that I do every week at Storytime) is a way of reclaiming the narrative. It resituates a literary icon in a more inclusive position – one that she might have been occupying all along. It’s a way to (re)create the JK (G)Rowling many fans think we deserve – not the one that we have. 

I don’t know if this was a satisfying answer to Kerri. I don’t know if it’s always a satisfying answer to me, to be honest. What I do know is that JK Growling is loved – and that she has love for all of the bigs and littles of the Easton community.

On Saturday, June 18th, 2022, in collaboration with Easton’s Human Rights Committee, Queer Youth Assemble, and the Natural Resources Trust, JK & I celebrated the LGBTQ+ community. We read colorful books about the rainbow and about diverse bodies (including Pink is for Boys by R. Pearlman and Bodies Are Cool by Tyler Feder). We chose books centering characters who are often othered, people who rarely get to see themselves as heroes in their own story. We did our best to give voice to children who are told (outright and by omission) to be silent and to keep quiet about the things that they hold in their hearts. We held up books as mirrors, so that the youth of Easton might recognize themselves in the stories being told to them and feel less alone. And we used books as windows, to give other children glimpses into experiences that they may never personally have and to promote empathy. We sang the song “Rainbow Dancers” and we waved red, orange, yellow, green, indigo, and violet scarves. I held up the Ally flag and I draped it over JK’s hirsute back. We marched to the tune “The Tempo Marches On '' by Jim Gill and talked (ever-so-briefly but ever-so-crucially) about marches and activism.

We were PROUD to do so.


If you’re full of pride and you want to continue celebrating at home, check-out some of Miss Alyisha & JK Growling’s favorite titles:

Picture Books:

Nonfiction Books:

Books for Older Readers:

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