Skip to main content

Like most people in their 30s, I spent my childhood absorbed in Harry Potter. The first book came out when I was seven, and the last - when I was 17. I devoured the pages over and over, once reading the first four books back-to-back in a single week. I wrote a letter to Fred and George Weasley. I got an autograph in return. Just like many people my age, I have extremely fond memories of the escapism offered by J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.

But I’m not excited by Hogwarts Legacy, an upcoming game where you can become a student at Hogwarts. I will not be purchasing it. I will not be playing it. While some people can happily do so, I can’t separate the art from the artist. It could be argued that Hogwarts Legacy is entirely the work of Warner Bros., but players can’t avoid the world that Hogwarts Legacy is built on. While J.K. Rowling may not have had a hand in its development, she earned money from selling the license. Hogwarts Legacy will directly influence Harry Potter’s already vast popularity.

Hogwarts Legacy screenshot showing Hogwarts Entrance Hall staircase

Hogwarts Legacy will directly boost the already vast popularity of J.K. Rowling's franchise.

Those who shy away from social media might not know why J.K. Rowling has become such a controversial figure. The way that Rowling most commonly connects with the public is through her Twitter, where she isn’t afraid to share her opinions. The opinion that has ruffled people’s feathers the most is her arguing over the definition of a woman.

It all started in 2020, when Rowling criticized the title of an op-ed article that referred to “people who menstruate”. This was meant to be an inclusive description, one that includes trans men who continue to menstruate, and excludes biological women — like myself — that do not, be it from menopause, hysterectomies, anorexia, or other fertility issues. 

She wrote, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” The comment was initially seen as transphobic, but Rowling strictly denied these accusations. She clarified this comment saying, “I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

Still many were hurt by her comments. Both the insistence that trans men are not real men, and the connotation that women who don’t menstruate aren’t really women. Just four days later, she wrote a lengthy blog on her website titled “TERF Wars”, a reference to trans-exclusionary radical feminists – feminists who think trans women are, in fact, men. The post was full of inaccuracies. It claimed that a woman was fired for transphobic tweets, and the judge ruled that sex was not determined by biology. Neither of these is true.

The woman mentioned was not fired. She was on a contract that was not renewed after the tweets were discovered. The judge also did not rule on the meaning of sex at all. They ruled that misgendering is not protected speech and not “worthy of respect in a democratic society”. While the facts were against Rowling, it didn’t deter her from her viewpoint. Neither did the millions of fans sharing their disappointment over the opinions she was sharing.

A month later, Rowling tweeted about the efficacy of giving medication such as antidepressants and hormones to young people. She compared medicating young people to gay conversion therapy, a practice that has been linked to a number of medical conditions and is illegal in many countries. She wrote, “Many, myself included, believe we are watching a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people, who are being set on a lifelong path of medicalization that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.” She continued to write that transitioning is seen by some as the solution to being gay. 

Trans people, and those who know them, would outwardly refute these claims. It is true that a small percentage of trans people go through the process of detransitioning, a term for when a person returns to identifying as their biological sex. However, the vast majority of trans people are happy with their transition and feel more like their true selves since making the decision. Many who transitioned at a later age wish they’d had the hindsight to do so sooner. More so, many trans people are also gay and would have been perceived as heterosexual before undergoing transition.

Rowling’s influence cannot be understated, and while her opinions are hers alone, she knows that spreading them on social media will cause some to take them as facts. However, Twitter isn’t the only way she has expressed these opinions. Later in 2020, she published Troubled Blood, a novel that follows a biological male who dresses as a woman when he goes out to commit murder. This perpetuates the idea that trans women are only “pretending” to be women to get away with insidious crimes. 

This discussion is rampant at the moment, with lawmakers ruling on which bathrooms transgender people should use. Fictional adverts have been shown that display trans-women going into women’s bathrooms to assault biological females. We have seen people on social media platforms like TikTok questioning people’s biological gender in public restrooms. This seems to happen to biological and trans women in equal measure. Writing a book like this adds to the unfounded fears people have about trans people. If you ask them what they want, they just wish they could use the bathroom in peace. This conversation also erases trans men, suggesting they should use women’s restrooms. 

Rowling claims, “Hundreds of trans activists have threatened to beat, rape, assassinate and bomb me. I’ve realized that this movement poses no risk to women whatsoever.” She did appear to back away from Twitter for a while after this, or at least keep her most controversial opinions more private. No one condones sending death threats against anyone, no matter how much you disagree with them.

In 2022, however, she published another book. The Ink Black Heart told the story of a YouTuber accused of spouting racist, transphobic and ableist opinions. The book is mostly written in the style of tweets and ends with the protagonist being stabbed. To outsiders, it appeared like an attempt to justify and victimize herself, something which she denies. She said, “I think everyone is going to see this as a response to what happened to me,’ but it genuinely wasn’t. The first draft of the book was finished at the point certain things happened.”

Maybe you can separate the Harry Potter books from Rowling, or perhaps you agree with her statements. Even further, maybe you agree that the hatred she received following those statements makes her the victim of this story. I can’t and don’t. Millions of others can’t and don’t. I won’t be playing Hogwarts Legacy in February, but at least now you know why.