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Molly Knox Ostertag
courtesy of Molly Knox Ostertag

This illustrator is offering trans people free Harry Potter tattoo coverups


TextAlex Peters

JK Rowling’s transphobia has forced many to re-evaluate their relationship to the famous boy wizard

An illustrator has been making productive use of her anger at JK Rowling by offering cover-ups for people who no longer feel comfortable with their Harry Potter tattoos.

Last week, the Harry Potter author received widespread condemnation after she published a series of tweets attacking the transgender community and then doubled-down on this transphobic rhetoric in a lengthy blog post.

The 3,700-word essay saw the author spout various pieces of misinformation with no evidence to back them up. The idea held by many trans-exclusionary radical feminists, for example, that allowing trans people to use bathrooms that align with their identities endangers other people has no truth behind it. Researchers have found that young trans and nonbinary people in fact face a greater risk of sexual assault when they are denied use of appropriate restrooms or locker rooms.

This transphobia from Rowling has caused much re-evaluating for many in the Harry Potter fandom who are understandably gutted that a series in which they had found solace has been soured by the personal views of the author. For some former fans this means re-thinking their Potter-inspired tattoos and this is where Molly Knox Ostertag stepped in.

An illustrator and graphic novelist, designing tattoo cover-ups wasn’t something that Ostertag had given much thought to previously. However, after JK Rowling’s attack she began to think back to when she had considered getting a Harry Potter tattoo when she was younger and how grateful she was now that she hadn’t gone through with it. “I thought about how many queer people I know do have Harry Potter tattoos, and I wanted to help them out in a small way,” she says. For cis people, Ostertag offered cover-up designs in exchange for a donation to the Trans Women of Colour Collective, while those who are trans received them for free. From a delicate floral motif to cover Harry’s signature glasses and scar to a starry ram over top of the Deathly Hallows symbol, Osterag’s designs bring some needed joy to the tarnished originals. It’s been an emotional experience.

“The books were foundational to my childhood,” she says. “I'm a graphic novelist for kids and she was definitely a source of inspiration for my career path.” Rowling’s words have caused her anger and sadness but she has found catharsis in designing cool tattoos to cover up the marks of her work. “For a lot of people, Harry Potter was an escape, a place they could imagine themselves when the real world was hard to deal with. It's such a betrayal to realize the person behind the story hates you, or hates people you love, and is promoting violent ideas that hurt marginalised people,” she says. “I hope the coverup tattoos make people feel like they can reclaim the space for themselves.”

Since Rowling expressed her views last week, many of the actors involved in the Harry Potter films have come forward in solidarity with the trans community including all three leads Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint.

In a statement published by The Trevor Project, Radcliffe tried to offer comfort to those fans whose love of the books had been diminished by Rowling’s comments. “If you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred,” he wrote. However, for Ostertag there is no going back particularly as a children’s author herself.

“I don't pass judgement on how other people process this,” she explains, “but I've never been able to seperate stories from their author. I put a lot of myself into my books, and I think really hard about what message I'm sending with them. So even though Harry Potter doesn't seem to have anything to do with transphobia, the idea that it's written by a transphobic person, that it came from that space, sours it for me. It makes me question aspects of that fantasy world.”

“When creators make work for children, I expect them to have an awareness of their impact and how it can influence young people,” she continues. “This whole situation – it's her outdated, hateful beliefs but it's also the fact that she aired them during a global conversation about racial injustice and a pandemic, the fact that she used what she is best known for – writing – to make her attack on trans people, the fact that so many people in the queer community loved her work and she still went off like that, that she used feminism and gay allyship to hide the hatefulness of her rhetoric…someone like that is not a person whose world I want to escape into.”

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