Jackson Bird, Unabridged

Originally published as a cover story for the Harry Potter Alliance's donor newsletter.

Jackson Bird’s coming out video starts with laughter.

Before diving into ten minutes of punch-to-the-gut sincerity, he laughs and says: “It’s like I almost don’t know how to express that this is gonna be a serious thing without making it a joke.”

It’s not out of character. As the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) Spokesperson and Communications Director, Jack does a lot of joking to ease crowds into the idea of an organization based on a boy wizard. He sometimes assumes the identity of Harry Potter as the “Boy Who Vlogged" for the HPA’s YouTube channel, and he spends a lot of time waffling an assortment of foods for the “Will It Waffle” series on his personal channel. In meetings, he’s known to pair brilliant insights with jokes that take the staff on a hilarious detour before they can rein in the laughs and get back on track. None of this is ever a mark of insincerity, but it still comes in stark contrast to the tone this video presents.

He clears his throat and the mood shifts: “This is going to be a real, actual, serious video today. I have something kind of heavy to talk about.”

This is how Jackson tells the internet he is a transgender man.

After a lifetime of being perceived as a woman because of the sex he was assigned at birth, he lets the internet in on his truth: who he is does not line up with what society has always told him he should be.

The video marks the beginning of Jack’s public transition with a bang, and it currently boasts over 42,000 views. It’s reached people far and wide, from young trans people to Academy Award winners. Oscar- and Golden Globe–winning actor Eddie Redmayne—who will play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them—recently cited Jackson’s video when Out magazine writer Paul Flynn asked him how he was preparing for his upcoming role as trans woman Lili Elbe:

“I was watching this thing recently with this trans guy called Jackson Bird, who is huge in the Harry Potter fan community and has just come out. He does all these video blogs and is the most charismatic guy. …Hearing him taking his audience and going, “OK, so I’ve got something to tell you…” It’s just extraordinary to watch.”

What might be less immediately visible to fandom outsiders is how our community is responding to these discussions.

The actively accepting and affirming nature of the Harry Potter community has made it one of many emerging spaces where LGBTQ individuals can feel more safe. While the Harry Potter community is not perfect and it can’t erase the difficulties present in LGBTQ experiences, it runs on a genuine celebration of love and justice that positively shapes its reception to diversity.

“I think that our community is really paving the way for the kinds of change I would like to see more broadly,” Jackson says. “Our community strives for inclusion, acceptance, and understanding. Harkening to Harry's own morals, we don't just accept those who are different from the mainstream, we befriend them, we love them, and we protect them.”

Jackson’s found this extends to him, too.

“Everyone in our community has been spectacular,” he says. “I heard from a coworker that when a GeekyCon attendee who was at our booth said something about ‘the girl who does “Will It Waffle,”’ every single volunteer responded in unison, ‘guy.’ Every single online comment about me that misgenders me gets corrected by people in the community before I even see it. That level of unanimous and proactive support is bewildering and very touching. I feel so protected in our community.”

Jackson isn’t just benefitting from the positive, progressive atmosphere—he’s also contributing to it in big ways by being visible and vocal. Most notably, he’s helping other trans people, some of whom are often quite young.

In his coming out video, Jackson discusses how he didn’t have positive trans role models to look to while growing up. The fact that the rare trans character was depicted as either a villain or a punchline took a toll on Jackson’s understanding of trans people’s place in the world at a critical time in his development.

Today, the internet allows people to build a representation of trans people that the mainstream media still often lacks or gets wrong.

“If you can’t see yourself somewhere—can’t see yourself succeeding and making cool things—then it’s hard to get there,” HPA volunteer Auden Granger says. “It doesn’t need to be a celebrity. It can just as easily be someone a little older than you, or someone who has a larger audience, or who’s doing something you think is really awesome. That’s what Jack’s presence in this community has given me.”

Even in a supportive community, solid representation is crucial. When it comes around, its impact is immeasurable.

Jackson says people began coming forward with their stories as soon as his video went live, and they haven’t stopped since. He stays humble and grounded even as he talks about each of the people—from the parents of gender-nonconforming children to the kids themselves—who have been impacted by his story. He hopes he’s doing enough, and he wishes he could do more.

Others’ stories show he’s already doing a great deal.

“Jack's coming out gave me something I had never really had in my life before,” Harry Potter fan Maddy I. says. “As a young trans person there are so few older people to be able to look to for reassurance, and seeing that there really is [a] precedent for someone like me being in a good place as an adult, makes me feel like I'm going to be alright somehow.”

As we continue to fight for equal rights, Jackson’s leadership is deeply valuable. It always has been. Though his ability to present his perspective as a trans man rather than as an ally is new, his bravery, brilliance, and heart have helped shape the HPA and the Harry Potter community for a half decade.

And now that he can tell his unabridged story, the laughs Jackson brings are better than ever.