By millennial standards, I was late to the Harry Potter world. A bad group project experience in high school ruined the series for me after just the second book. But when I picked it back up over one winter break in college, I was immediately obsessed, devouring the books one by one in less than three weeks.
I was always sort of an outcast growing up. It didn’t matter where I turned or how many times I changed schools – I just never seemed to fit in. So the HP universe was like a salve to my middle- and high-school trauma, reminding me that every outcast has somewhere they can belong.
So you’d think I’d be stoked for the impending release of Hogwarts Legacy, slated to drop on Feb. 10. After all, doesn’t every Harry Potter fanatic want to experience life as a student at Hogwarts? But as much as it pains me to say it, I’m passing on Hogwarts Legacy for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with the game itself.
Yes, I Know It Looks Great
There’s no denying that the trailers and visuals for Hogwarts Legacy are stunning. Lots of games and apps have tried to capture the Hogwarts experience, but none as realistically and immersively as Hogwarts Legacy appears to.
I was hooked on Pottermore, the web-based game that simulated enrolling at Hogwarts, getting sorted, taking classes, and making potions. I also invested a few months in the Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery mobile game, and I have to say, it was a lot of fun, and an impressively immersive Hogwarts simulator.
The entire gaming industry seems to agree that Hogwarts Legacy is going to be an amazing game, blowing every other HP universe game out of the water. Presales are already setting records, with the game hitting the top of the best sellers lists on Steam, Xbox, and PS5 more than a month before release.
But the Hogwarts Legacy buzz is being dampened by the controversy surrounding J.K. Rowing, author of the Harry Potter series, and her violent and aggressive anti-trans rhetoric.
JKR’s History of Hate
In case you’ve missed the news, J.K. Rowling is a proud TERF, which stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. She believes, among other things, that trans women are not “real women,” and that their existence threatens the concept of “womanhood” and the rights of CIS-gendered feminists. While she has claimed that transgender people are “vulnerable” and “need (our) protection,” it is impossible for me to interpret her rhetoric around the topic as anything but openly and fervently anti-trans. Particularly so, when much of her current Twitter timeline paints trans people as sexual predators based on a handful of unusual and isolated incidents. Fear-mongering such as this threatens the lives of trans people the world over when it’s given a platform as big as hers.
Speculation about her beliefs first began around 2018 when fans noticed she had liked several aggressively transphobic social media posts, which have since been deleted (but you can read about them here). Her PR team chalked it up to a “middle-aged moment,” but the premise of her 2015 novel, Silkworm, (ironically written under the male pseudonym Robert Galbraith) didn’t help her case. It features a violent villain who turns out to be trans, promoting the dangerous trope that many trans women are just cisgendered male predators in dresses.
Since then, she has only doubled down on the anti-trans rhetoric and has begun wearing the TERF label proudly. She published a blog entry on her website back in June of 2020 which was written to clarify her stance on transgenderism but reads very much like a manifesto defending transphobia. And on Dec. 14, she notoriously tweeted “Merry TERFmas” at another anti-trans personality, clearly taking glee in being deliberately inflammatory and agitative.
And lest you think these Tweets-gone-viral are just flukes that happened to take off, consider this – JKR’s Twitter feed is currently almost solely anti-trans rhetoric and support for other TERFs. She shares her messages with her 14 million followers multiple times per day. The impending release of Hogwarts Legacy is only going to amplify her voice further.
Hogwarts Feels Like Home
True, the Harry Potter fandom has become something of its own entity thanks to the massive community surrounding it. For many longtime fans, especially those who grew up with the books, the HP universe was a refuge from reality. After a day of dealing with bullies and cliques, middle school kids would go home and read about a school where weirdness and individuality were celebrated.
After all, Harry Potter was about as outcast as one could be. He was orphaned and bullied relentlessly at school and at home until Hagrid showed up, told him he was special and swept him away to a world where he was the most famous, celebrated person alive. Tweens and teens reading the series for the first time hoped and prayed for their own Hogwarts letters to arrive, whisking them away from whatever was tormenting them in their daily lives.
And while those letters may never have come, Potterheads managed to create a sort of Hogwarts of their own. The series itself became a touchstone that brought like-minded people together, helping them to build a community where they could feel safe in the real world. Themed birthday parties, marathon movie nights, and midnight book releases connected an entire world of fans in a truly magical network.
Hogwarts’ Problematic Legacy
With all the good that the HP universe brought to an entire generation, it was all too easy to miss some of the not-so-positive signals in the series. But JKR’s bigotry and hatred are sprinkled throughout the Harry Potter books.
For example, journalist Rita Skeeter, who transforms herself into an insect to spy on children, is described as a woman with masculine features, such as “mannish hands” and a strongly defined jaw. It’s not hard to see how this lines up with her opinion that trans women are predators.
She’s also acknowledged that the werewolves in the HP universe could be analogous to people with HIV/AIDS. On its own, this wouldn’t be a big deal, except that Fenrir Greyback, a werewolf, is on a mission to transmit his condition to as many children as possible. Meanwhile, Remus Lupin resigns his position in shame when he’s outed as a werewolf. Of course, the only good werewolf is a closeted werewolf in JKR’s eyes.
Frankly, I could go on for hours about the other problematic aspects of the series. There are numerous examples of JKR’s hate in the Harry Potter universe, including:
- Tokenism. (Cho Chang, the only Asian character in the entire book, is, of course, a brilliant Ravenclaw.)
- Queerbaiting. (JKR once tweeted that Albus Dumbledore is gay, despite there being no actual evidence of this in the books.)
- Fatphobia. (She spends a lot of time focused on how fat the Dursleys are, equating their size with the fact that they’re garbage humans.)
- Acceptance of Abuse. (Snape torments Harry all school year, and the Dursleys’ abuse and neglect him all summer, and Dumbledore orchestrates it all.)
- Acceptance of Slavery. (It’s totally normal for wizards to keep sentient magical house elves against their will.)
The reality is that many of us were so eager to feel seen that we completely ignored all the ways JKR was subtly (and not-so-subtly) shaming and casting hate at us and the people we love. She pulled us in with a facade of inclusivity while building a platform for her gross and intolerant opinions.
Can You Separate the World From Its Creator?
It’s easy enough for HP fans to convince themselves that they can buy the game without subscribing to the hate that birthed it. Of course, loving Harry Potter doesn’t mean you hate trans people! I, a trans person, have a “Hogwarts Alumni” tank top hanging in my closet as we speak. Being trans or queer or an ally doesn’t automatically erase every positive sentiment a person has ever had about something that eventually turned out to be problematic, including JKR and the HP universe.
But every dollar spent on the Harry Potter franchise pays JKR’s bills, allowing her to continue sharing her vitriol on Twitter full-time. As long as she’s collecting income from the series, as long as people continue to support the series and thereby support her, she has absolutely no reason to even consider whether there may be some validity to the criticism she’s getting.
Until her hate threatens her livelihood, she will never stop blasting it on the internet. That’s making the community of Potterheads an unsafe place, too. Sure, many of her followers are likely bots, lapsed users, people who hate-follow her, or fans who have managed to stay away from the controversy altogether.
But lots of them are legitimate people who have no problem at all with the things she’s saying, and in her tweets, they’re finding more and more encouragement for their own bigotry. Despite losing over 300,000 followers in a span of three months, starting in May 2020, her follower count has been on the rise since Nov. 2022. Her last 100 tweets – nearly all of which are full of hate – have received, on average, 10.4k likes and 1.2k retweets (correct at the time of publication).
As horrifying as it is, she’s clearly not just shouting into the void. In fact, it looks like she’s gaining traction, and Hogwarts Legacy has the potential to fuel that further. Some of her gains in followers can be chalked up to the fact that the game is coming out, and people want to hear news about it. But the fact remains that more and more people are showing up for the game and staying for the villain herself.
What’s a Potter Fanatic to Do?
So, what’s the answer here? How can you be an ally to your queer and trans friends when you’re actually really excited about this awesome new game that’s coming out?
If you feel strongly about all this and want to support trans people, you can boycott the game altogether, like me. Don’t buy it, don’t play it, don’t watch streamers who are playing it, and don’t even click on any positive articles about it. Show your support for the LGBTQIA2S+ community by completely withdrawing any and all support for JKR.
I’m not saying that’s the fun choice. You’re probably going to be bummed about it. You’ll experience some FOMO when it feels like everyone around you is playing Hogwarts Legacy and you’re not. It’s going to be uncomfortable.
But you have the choice to be uncomfortable, keep your money, and speak your support for trans people publicly. Share this post with your friends and community, and add yours to the growing number of voices who refuse to tolerate Rowling’s hate-filled views.
I get that not everyone is going to make this choice. After all, there are a lot of human dumpster fires in this world, and if we were to boycott everything they ever did, there’d be nothing left. You have to pick your battles to avoid driving yourself crazy. So if this isn’t the hill you want to die on, there are other things you can do to get your Hogwarts fix and still support trans lives.
If you can wait a week or so to play the game, you’ll be able to find Hogwarts Legacy used at GameStop or your local privately-owned game store. True, used games aren’t quite the bargain they used to be, and you’ll probably pay close to full price for it. But buying used bypasses JKR altogether, and you’ll be doing extra good in the world by supporting a small local business. Win-win!
If you do decide that you have to spend money on Hogwarts Legacy (or anything in the HP universe, for that matter), then mentally double the price and donate an equal amount to a trans-positive charity. Some good options include:
- The National Center for Transgender Equality (US)
- The Transgender Law Center (US)
- The Trevor Project (US)
- Stonewall (UK) – this one earns you bonus points because JKR absolutely hates it.
- Mermaids (UK)
- Switchboard (UK)
Donating to an organization that supports and uplifts trans people and causes can offset and even reverse some of the damage done by JKR and her hateful rhetoric. You’re still giving money directly to her by buying the game to begin with, but your donation will go to work helping real trans people feel safe in the world.