In the last two years J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, has been remarkably antagonistic towards the transgender community. Rowling has faced much backlash for her views from a lot of fans, who now feel uncomfortable with her connection to the fantasy series. With the release of the highly anticipated Hogwarts Legacy, a video game based on Rowling’s books, many find themselves unsure about purchasing the games and the implications of doing so.
Rowling’s comments went viral in July 2020 when she took issue with the term “people who menstruate” being used instead of “women”. She responded to criticism with a blog post accusing trans-activists of “pushing to erode the legal definition of sex and replace it with gender.” In the post, Rowling claims she is “empathetic to trans people” but that she deems the simple act of using inclusive language as a step too far. The post was criticised by trans advocacy groups who called it misleading and transphobic.
In the months following, Rowling seemed to become obsessed with transgender people. In Troubled Blood, a crime novel released under her pen name Robert Galbraith, Rowling created a fictitious male murderer that dresses up as women to get away with crimes. She has also spent her time fearmongering about hormone treatment, equating it to “a new kind of conversion therapy for young gay people.” After a gender recognition bill was introduced in Scotland that will make it easier for adults to legally change their gender in line with their identity, Rowling warned that male-bodied individuals will aggressively assert their right to be in women’s spaces such as public bathrooms.
Despite Rowling’s scare tactics, trans people are far from a privileged group. Any group where 40% of its population has attempted suicide (and 84% having considered it) is in desperate need of both support and societal change. For an acclaimed children’s author to come out against help so publicly for an at-risk group is both incredibly irresponsible and damaging, especially for young people. Put simply, she has helped to normalise a growing panic over giving basic rights to a group in desperate need of them.
It puts “Potterheads”, a fanbase predominantly composed of LGBTQI+ members and allies, in a strange position. Many of Rowling’s collaborators such as Daniel Radcliffe have come out in support of trans issues and distanced themselves from Rowling. Radcliffe has stressed the importance of separating the art from the artist saying “I really hope that you don’t entirely lose what was valuable in these stories to you…. And in my opinion, nobody can touch that”. With fans having already bought the books and films, they have been able to continue enjoying those works without supporting Rowling.
However, Hogwarts Legacy offers a new way of exploring that world, allowing anyone willing to shell out €70 the opportunity to explore Hogwarts for themselves. There have been calls for allies to boycott the game, as Rowling still receives royalty payments with each game purchase. With Hogwarts Legacy already being one of the most anticipated games of the year, it is likely it will fill Rowling’s pockets regardless and makes any attempted strike seem futile. But there is a very important detail not to be overlooked.
The Harry Potter brand is desperate for people to forget about Rowling because right now, she is very bad for business. Warner Bros were forced to release a weak statement about “diversity and inclusion” following Rowling’s comments. HBO omitted her from the 20th anniversary reunion and her Fantastic Beasts series of films that she co-wrote and produced have been cancelled. The inclusion of a trans character in Hogwarts Legacy is proof that the franchise wants you to believe that Harry Potter and Rowling aren’t interlinked, but it isn’t true. If the Harry Potter brand is waning, as it currently is, then so is Rowling’s cultural capital and her influence.
Hogwarts Legacy is likely going to be a success and will keep its franchise alive. One more purchase of the game is not likely to change that. If anyone wants to buy it, they are free to do so but knowingly or unknowingly, they are funding a powerful bigot.