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People With "Harry Potter" Tattoos Are Asking "What Now?"

Some want to cover them up. But to others, the series just means too much.

Posted on June 12, 2020, at 11:22 a.m. ET

Toru Yamanaka / Getty Images

Before J.K. Rowling revealed herself as an anti-trans activist, her Harry Potter novels were gobbled up and beloved by millions.

Many of those fans even went so far as to get tattoos inspired by the series. Now, they're left wondering what to do about their ink.

Vlad Caldwell, 22, grew up with his mom reading the series to him and his little brother.

"It was like a whole other world to be in when I was little, especially because I was young and the movies were coming out," he told BuzzFeed News.

Caldwell, who is a transgender man, got his very first tattoo at 18 — a Death Eater symbol on his forearm.

Vlad Caldwell

"I got Death Eater symbol because I was an edgy, emotional teen," he said. In the series, the Death Eaters are the bad guys, obsessed with blood purity, so Caldwell was already rethinking the tattoo. But given Rowling's more recent comments, he now wants it covered up.

Rowling has a history of making anti-trans statements on Twitter, and on Wednesday she published an essay on her website doubling down on those comments. In it, she writes of her belief in the importance of "biological sex" and denies the identity of transgender individuals, like Caldwell.

"I’ll still watch the movies and get some enjoyment from that, but until she stops wagging her mouth and making money off of it, I can’t disassociate her from the creation that much," he said.

He now plans to transform the tattoo into something else.

Finn H. is in the same boat. The 32-year-old transgender man grew up reading the books and eventually got his own Harry Potter tattoo — Harry's iconic glasses and scar on his wrist.

Finn H.'s tattoo of Harry Potter's glasses and scar
Finn H.

He also has plans to cover up the ink.

"Honestly, I didn't feel hurt by J.K.'s comments so much as well, here we go again," he told BuzzFeed News.

"I'm used to people with large platforms denying science, unfortunately. I've been thinking about covering up my tattoo for a while now because of her past comments, but this was the last straw."

He added, "I have no issue with getting rid of everything Harry Potter from my life."

And there are plenty of people willing to help.

Molly Knox Ostertag is a graphic novelist in Los Angeles who writes stories about magic — but also about gender identity and self-acceptance. She's cisgender, but offered on Twitter to create cover-up art for Harry Potter tattoos for transgender people or in exchange for a donation to a transgender organization.

I've spent today drawing coverups for Harry Potter tattoos in exchange for donations to https://t.co/YN9pW0qkqW - I have a bunch more to do and am not currently taking any more on, but here are some I liked from today!

Ostertag told BuzzFeed News she had been a really big fan of Harry Potter for a long time, and it had even inspired her own work. But now, she can't separate the author from the work.

"She went on this screed a couple of days ago and it both upset me because we’re in the midst of an exciting and important time in racial justice," she said.

"And it’s also Pride Month and Black trans people have so many things against them, that affects them, and I was just so frustrated that she’d use this money to be hateful in this way."

People have been sending her images of their Harry Potter tattoos, and she has created cover-up art ideas that are magical but not related to Rowling's series.

Molly Knox Ostertag

But not everyone with a Harry Potter tattoo wants to let Rowling's comments tarnish a beloved series.

Emmett A. Speed, 29, lives in Utah and told BuzzFeed News that Harry Potter quite literally saved their life.

They remember the exact moment they discovered the novels.

"I was sitting next to Carly Hoffman in Mrs. Felix’s fourth-grade class, and she had The Chamber of Secrets on her desk and I wanted to know what that was and if I could borrow it," they said. "I started basically being obsessed from that moment on."

Speed was raised in what they called a "bad family situation," on top of dealing with gender dysphoria. Harry Potter was pure escapism.

"I wanted to get a Hogwarts letter and be a part of a different world that I had no concept of," they said.

Speed, who is transmasculine, said they used to reread The Sorcerer's Stone whenever they had suicidal thoughts in high school, marking a tally in the book each time. There are more than 175 marks in that copy.

They felt a kinship with Harry — someone thrust into the spotlight for something they had no control over and constantly critiqued for how they performed that role. It was how Speed felt about their gender.

When they were 19, Speed spent two paychecks to get a large tattoo on their arm of the Sorcerer's Stone cover art, in tribute to the series that had meant so much to them.

Emmett A. Speed

Speed's tattoo

When Rowling started making problematic statements, Speed said it was just plain exhausting.

"Why now would you choose to do that? You’re taking wind out of the Black Lives movement and directing attention in this awful way," they said.

"I just had another wave of shame about my tattoo and feeling like maybe I should get it covered up."

But they won't do it. They said even Rowling's statements can't take away what Harry Potter gave them, and they wrote a Twitter thread talking about it.

As a closeted trans kid, the idea of polyjuice potion was, of course, particularly evocative. All I wanted to be was what I wasn't and what it seemed like I could never be. I imagined who or what I would choose to look like... if only I could be different. 3/8

"In the fandom for a while now, there’s been talk about how Harry Potter doesn’t belong to her anymore, it belongs to us, and how the good and beautiful things that came out of the Harry Potter didn’t come out of the books themselves but of the community," they said.

They have contributed to that community themself in writing fanfiction and attending conventions.

"The beautiful feelings of acceptance and love that we get out of these books is in my view at least, knowing that so many other people have read them and had the same experience I have, isn’t necessarily something J.K. Rowling gave us but something we created for ourselves," they said.

They simply wouldn't be who they are now without the magic of Harry Potter.

"It gave people hope in a lot of ways, I think, thinking about different ways magic can change your life. I can’t deny that."


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