Here is a full explanation of the J.K. JK Rowling controversy surrounding the game Hogwarts Legacy, including how transphobia factors into it.

Explaining the J.K. Rowling Controversy Surrounding Hogwarts Legacy

If you’ve heard any talk about Hogwarts Legacy, you’ve probably heard people say you shouldn’t support the game because J.K. Rowling is transphobic. But it can be hard to get your head around such a sprawling controversy with so little context. So let’s explore whether J.K. Rowling is transphobic, the history of the controversy surrounding her, and how Hogwarts Legacy fits into all this.

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The Groundwork

First, the basics. A transgender woman is a person who has transitioned socially and often medically from living as a man to living as a woman, and a trans man is the reversed direction of the same. In general, trans women should be referred to as women, and with “she” pronouns, and trans men referred to as men and with “he” pronouns. There are also non-binary trans people who don’t fit into the category of man or woman, but for the most part, they’re not going to be relevant for talking about J.K. Rowling.

“Transphobia” is hatred towards or invalidation of transgender people. By hatred, I mean private hatred, sure. But also physical violence, discrimination, and verbal abuse directed towards transgender people. By invalidation, I mean small things, but I also mean denying that we exist, accusing us of being mentally ill, denying our legal rights, and fighting to take our rights away.

“Cisgender,” or “cis,” just means non-trans. It’s a neutral term that means “on the same side of gender,” whereas trans means “across.”

The medical consensus is that the correct treatment for transgender people is hormones and social transition, as well as surgery if it is desired. The outcomes for these treatments are overwhelmingly good, particularly in mental health outcomes, and regret rates are low, lower in fact than many non-transition medicines and surgeries.

It’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start here: Joanne Rowling is a successful author who wrote a bunch of books about a wizard named Harry Potter. By 2011, there had been seven books in the main series and eight movie adaptations.

In 2013 and 2014, laws were passed to allow same-sex marriage in England, Wales, and Scotland. The homophobes had lost, and they would need a wedge issue.

In 2017, a reform was proposed to the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 (GRA). It was already possible to change the gender on your birth certificate in the UK, but it was invasive, expensive, and time-consuming. However, changing your driver’s license and other documentation was much simpler and quicker, and the proposed change would bring the two systems in line. Instead of paying around 140 pounds, getting expensive medical documentation, and proving that you had transitioned for two years, it would be less arduous and involve an element of self-identification — making a statutory declaration that you were living as this gender and intended to continue doing so.

The announcement of possible GRA reform stirred up preexisting biases against trans people. A number of new women’s organizations were created specifically to combat this legislative change, and it became a radicalizing event for many transphobes.

J.K. Rowling’s History of Transphobia

By the time the consultation opened in 2018, J.K. Rowling was still a popular figure, known for her Harry Potter books, the Fantastic Beasts movie series, and her crime novels under the name Robert Galbraith, although they weren’t as popular as Harry Potter. Public opinion was positive. She donated regularly to charity and responded to fans on Twitter.

But she had also picked up a habit of liking anti-trans tweets. A Pink News article from 2018 reports her liking a now-deleted tweet that in part read like this: “I’ve been told to be louder, stronger, independent. I’ve often not felt supported. Men in dresses get brocialist solidarity I never had. that’s misogyny!” The part most people take issue with is the “Men in dresses” line, which is being used in this context to refer to transgender women. According to Pink News, the same account “has previously sent messages referring to transgender women as ‘men’,” and the account was run by an activist trying to ban transgender women from women-only shortlists in the Labour Party.

So why is this tweet transphobic? Well, transgender people live as and are accepted as the gender they have transitioned to. Calling transgender women “men” is an example of misgendering — purposefully using the wrong pronouns to demean and show contempt for a person. In this case, it’s an attempt to smear transgender women in the minds of the public as simply being men in dresses, although the reality is that most trans women both undergo hormonal transition, making their bodies unlike men, and have never fit into society’s mold of men in terms of behavior. Misgendering women in the public sphere is an attempt to deny their existence as transgender at all by changing the language used. According to transphobes, we’re not transgender women; we’re men in disguise.

J.K. Rowling may not have understood the comment as transphobic. It seems unlikely given the context, but it’s just liking a tweet. It doesn’t have to mean she agrees with it.

“I’m afraid J.K. Rowling had a clumsy and middle-aged moment and this is not the first time she has favourited by holding her phone incorrectly,” said a spokesperson for Rowling to Pink News.

It wasn’t a middle-aged moment. In December of 2019, she tweeted support for Maya Forstater. In 2020, she wrote an article explaining her support, as well as her opposition to trans rights, featuring a bunch of misinformation and transphobic rhetoric. In her article, Rowling said, “I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets.” Her “transphobic” tweets? They were opposing the GRA reform.

We have the benefit of hindsight here, so let’s look at some future writing from Forstater about her views on trans people to get a sense of what kind of beliefs Rowling is defending.

“I view men dressing as women as a form of ‘womanface,’” wrote Forstater.  “I don’t think men who think they are women are oppressed, and I do think they can be laughed at.” 

Here we have her beliefs stated plainly. She claims transgender people do not suffer discrimination and already have equal rights. We’re just a laughingstock and should be compared to blackface actors because we’re putting on an act, a costume. The authenticity of trans identity is what’s at issue here.

Being trans isn’t a set of clothes you can take on or off. Transitioning medically changes your body and often makes it impossible to go back to living as the gender you were assigned at birth without detransitioning. Even if I practically could, it would involve going back into the closet — an uncomfortable prospect.

This rhetoric is transphobic because it’s trying to imply that there’s something fake about us. It also denies the actual discrimination endured by trans people around the globe. And of course, the idea that our existence is laughable because it’s inherently ridiculous to be trans is just simple transphobia.

In the same Medium post, Forstater wrote, “But this is the dark heart of what we have not been allowed to talk about. Pronouns are rohypnol.”

Ah, yes, the “trans women are rapists” card. So changing your pronouns is equivalent to a date rape drug because trans people are trying to use them to force others to have sex with them? That sure would be bad if there were any evidence of it. Of course, she doesn’t cite any evidence, because there isn’t any. Trans people in general are not raping or pressuring people into sex, and comparing us to rapists is libelous, an attempt to stoke fear and awaken preexisting negative biases. It’s obviously transphobic.

J.K. Rowling supports a laundry list of extremely anti-trans people, and I could go through each one of them and find perhaps even worse things they have said. Some of them work alongside fascists and Christian conservatives who are anti-abortion, which Rowling doesn’t seem to take issue with. The purpose of showing this was to illustrate how extreme and vile the people J.K. Rowling allies herself with are. This is what she tolerates. By all appearances, Forstater and Rowling are still friends, and Rowling still makes statements in support of her.

It would be dishonest to just say without further evidence that Rowling believes what her transphobic friends believe. Sure, she explicitly endorses, has lunch with, and tweets kindly towards them, but that doesn’t mean she agrees.

Rowling’s 2020 article is carefully crafted to appear reasonable on the surface. One of the central arguments is that women are being oppressed simply for stating that sex is real.

That would be silly, wouldn’t it? But this is an attempt to paint transgender people as unreasonable by implying they believe something they don’t.

First of all, scientists are currently re-evaluating how sex should be defined. New discoveries about how hormones and chromosomes interact are driving discussion of what characteristics should be used to determine a person’s sex. There’s still a lot of science going on here, but the idea of sex as a spectrum is growing in popularity among biologists, and for laymen like us to say we know better than experts on such a complicated issue is just plain wrong.

Second, many trans people don’t dispute that sex is real, and it’s not central to trans arguments. Most trans people argue that, regardless of sex, gender is the way you are socially perceived. If a cisgender woman dresses herself as a man and is perceived as one, she receives all the social changes of living as a man regardless of her sex. Therefore, we can see that, while sex is biological, made up of the physical characteristics of your body, gender is social, made up of how others perceive and treat you.

Trans people transition their gender, not necessarily their sex, and while you can argue about the definition of sex all you like, it doesn’t change how people are treated in public. Unless you go around checking genitals, there’s no way to tell what sex someone might be. You can only guess based on their visible gendered characteristics.

Rowling also argues in her 2020 article that most gender-dysphoric teens will stop feeling dysphoric and become cisgender as they age, so youth transition must be harshly safeguarded, and adult transition should be too. She claims transgender activists want teens to rush into transition without being careful and that this is a danger to children in particular, whose identities are still forming.

In particular, she cited the debunked Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria theory, which states that transgender identity is spreading amongst teenagers through social contagion. The paper that proposed ROGD as a theory recruited parents from an anti-trans website and noted that the parents all felt their children identified as trans suddenly after researching online. According to the parents, their friend groups then rapidly became filled with trans people, as the trans identity spread socially.

None of the teenagers were interviewed, which makes this research sketchy at best. For trans people, coming out isn’t sudden, but this unrigorous research didn’t think to interview any of the people it was diagnosing with a new disorder. In reality, in studies that follow youth who say they are transgender and transition socially, very few of them change their minds later.

Like Forstater, Rowling states her belief in the primacy of physical sex as the most important category.

“I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body,” said Rowling in her article, and she later finished her thought,  “and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive.” She afterward said, “It isn’t enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves.”

It’s another weird claim by Rowling. So, trans women and cis women are physically and materially different. There, I said it. I don’t mind if cis women consider there to be a physical difference that matters on occasion, because there are physical differences and they’re obviously going to matter when in a healthcare setting or something similar.

The argument Joanne is actually making is that the fact we are physically different means we should be granted different rights. She believes that trans women should be excluded from women-only spaces because they aren’t like cis women and that the difference is “material” in that it should affect the way we treat people. At best, this is extra rights for cis people, but I think it’s fair to call this transphobia.

Again, from her article. “On Saturday morning, I read that the Scottish government is proceeding with its controversial gender recognition plans…”

Oh, look, the GRA! But in Scotland this time. Scotland was planning to make similar reforms to the ones England had failed to do, and Rowling says it’s wrong and dangerous.

Rowling’s article continued, “So I want trans women to be safe. At the same time, I do not want to make natal girls and women less safe. When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman … then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”

On its face, there are a couple of problems with this. For one, access to toilets isn’t actually granted based on birth certificates. When I go to the toilet, nobody is standing guard and checking ID; you just walk in. Birth certificates have nothing to do with this argument, because men who want to commit crimes can already enter women’s bathrooms and changing rooms without one.

There’s also another issue: real-world evidence. An almost identical system to the one proposed in England and Scotland has been in use in The Republic of Ireland since 2015. There has been no evidence of men using self-identification on documentation to attack women in bathrooms, changing rooms, or anywhere else. Statistics on the amount of people using self-ID show a gradual increase — far from a sudden spike that would suggest abuse of the system.

The real-world evidence for the claim that transgender rights threaten women’s rights doesn’t exist. In this case, it’s fearmongering about something that hasn’t happened when given a test in the real world. Transgender women already have been in women’s toilets in the UK since at least 2004, and things have been fine. This access would not be changed by the GRA reform that she is concerned about.

Another part of Rowling’s article reads, “But, as many women have said before me, ‘woman’ is not a costume. ‘Woman’ is not an idea in a man’s head.”

Again, it’s transphobes saying transgender women are really men in costume. I’ve already covered the costume part, but let’s tackle the idea part.

What she’s taking issue with here is “gender identity” as a concept. Gender identity is the idea that a person has an internal sense of gender. For most people, this sense of gender mostly aligns with their body and social perception, and they are cisgender. For others, it doesn’t align, and they transition to bring their physicality into alignment with the internal sense of gender and alleviate gender dysphoria.

But does this mean the concept of being a woman is just a concept, and transgender women are just men who believe they’re women? Well, transgender women live their lives socially as women. There’s a practical aspect to being out as transgender in your everyday life, and it changes the way you experience the world.

For some people who aren’t out, their identity may be only internal, as they prepare to come out and change the way they present themselves, their pronouns, and likely their bodies. But once a transwoman comes out in public in their trans identity, it is no longer just a concept in their head. Womanhood is now reflected in the way other people treat them, whether they are discriminated against or treated well. It is a practical thing as well as a psychological identity.

It also just isn’t a big deal if someone wants to go by pronouns different to the ones associated with their sex, and it doesn’t have anything to do with women’s rights.

For non-binary people, being out in public is more complicated. Many people don’t understand non-binary identities, and their appearance may not match the way people expect a non-binary person to look. This is a complicated subject with a lot more to it than I can cover in an article for a gaming site, so feel free to read more elsewhere.

Even if a transgender person is not accepted as their gender in public, they are still not treated as their pre-transition gender. At best, they’re treated as a weird person, but often it’s met with discomfort and aggression.

J.K Rowling peppers sympathetic anecdotes throughout her 2020 piece. She describes being harassed and sent threatening messages by trans people online. Obviously, harassment is wrong, even if you disagree with someone, but very few transgender people harass others. I don’t need to cite any statistics for that because she didn’t either. She also includes a brief mention of a past sexual assault, and it’s horrible that it happened to her. But these anecdotes don’t change the facts. Trans rights are not in conflict with women’s rights and have not in the past led to an epidemic of bathroom assaults.

Her crime books, written as Robert Galbraith, have included a few transgender characters and, of course, don’t treat those characters well at all. There’s no way to fully cover this here for length reasons. Rob Zacny from Waypoint broke down The Silkworm‘s trans character, but the most transphobic book is Troubled Blood, covered well in this Vox review by Constance Grady. Suffice it to say, it features a crossdressing male killer tailor-made to evoke fears of men in dresses.

In 2020, she also tweeted this gem: “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 medicalisation that may result in the loss of their fertility and/or full sexual function.”

None of that is substantiated except the loss of fertility bit; she’s just being homophobic and transphobic. It’s actually still incredibly difficult to get hormones for trans youth, and gay people aren’t being given conversion therapy to become trans. Her evidence is an absolutely terrible documentary we’ve not got time to debunk, as well as a few links to British conservative news outlets.

Later that same year, she returned a human rights award she received from the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights organization because its president criticized her comments as transphobic. She disputed the comments, writing in her response, “The statement incorrectly implied that I was transphobic, and that I am responsible for harm to trans people.”

In 2023, she has tweeted about transgender prison inmates in Scotland. I am not an expert on this subject and I’m not going to pretend to be. Of course prison inmates need to be carefully safeguarded against sexual assault, and any prisoners who are likely to commit them should be prevented from doing so. Not everything Rowling has to say on this is wrong as far as I can tell.

But J.K. Rowling focuses overwhelmingly on a minority of trans prisoners that commit sex crimes in prison, when trans prisoners make up a very small portion of the prison population in the first place. She finds no similar amount of energy to rail against sexual assault by prison guards, which is widespread in both America and Britain. Trans prisoners are obviously sexually assaulted too, and if they’re put in the prison associated with their sex assigned at birth, they can often be in extreme danger. A transgender woman in a prison full of men won’t be safe because she was assigned male at birth.

If Rowling were earnestly interested in the issue of sexual assault in prisons, she’d be talking about different kinds of assault in proportion to how often they happen. Instead, she’s using it as another way to uniquely focus on trans people and the bad things some trans people have done. To her, transgender women are one of the most important threats to the rights of women and more worthy of her time than certain other issues.

For example, on abortion, Rowling rarely speaks out, although she does express support for it when pressed. She responded positively on Twitter to Caroline Farrow, an anti-gay, anti-abortion activist, and many of her friends in the anti-trans movement work alongside anti-abortion activists, including people like Kellie-Jay Keen, whose anti-Scottish Prime Minister T-shirt design she bought to wear in a photo.

She has described believing in gender identity as “luxury beliefs” while misrepresenting yet another situation, to imply that trans women are all rich people who live in mansions like her rather than people from every walk of life who are often impoverished.

She has also highlighted what she sees as a conspiracy by trans activists and the National Health Service to rush children into transition. She has in particular struck out at Mermaids, a charity that supports trans youth and their families, and in classic Rowling style, she misrepresented a lot of what she’s talking about.

We’re gonna leave it there for the examples, because at this point it’s just outright transphobia. There’s no need to explain why this is anti-trans, and I’ve covered most of the important stuff, though I couldn’t cover everything for the sake of brevity.

So What Does J.K. Rowling’s Transphobia Mean for Hogwarts Legacy?

So what does this mean for Hogwarts Legacy? Well, it’s part of a fictional universe owned by an author who uses her fame in large part to attack trans people in the public sphere. Promoting the game through streams, reviews, and positive online posts is obviously going to boost the profile of the Wizarding World, and that will in turn boost Rowling’s relevance. Buying the game will at least indirectly put money in Rowling’s pocket, possibly quite a lot of it.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t appear to have had any approval or input over what appeared in the game, but the Hogwarts Legacy FAQ mentions that “her team” had a lot of input to make sure the game didn’t stray far from her vision. You’re not directly interacting with her work, but there’s not a huge degree of separation either.

More broadly, society hasn’t successfully rejected Rowling’s ideas. Recently, outright bans on transition-related medical care have been proposed in state legislatures across the USA.  Trans healthcare for children, teenagers, and adults, trans children’s participation in children’s sports, the right for children to use a name and pronouns of their choice at school, and even crossdressing are under attack. Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Virginia all introduced anti-trans bills early in the year. While some have already failed and more will due to work by on-the-ground activists, it’s unlikely transphobes will give up now that they have momentum. And it’s not just transgender rights; LGBT rights as a whole are under attack through proposed laws.

In the UK, transgender public healthcare waitlists stretch out for years, and few attempts are made to fix the issue. Anti-trans activists within the public health system are changing policy for the worse, the Conservative Party is all in on anti-trans rhetoric, and most news outlets take an anti-trans stance. Rowling’s public, full-throated endorsement of limiting trans rights has added to and supported a frenzy of anti-trans activity in Britain.

Anti-LGBT violence is on the rise across the UK and the USA. As rhetoric against LGBT people becomes more extreme, violence follows, including mass shootings in the US. Anti-LGBT speech is often called dangerous not only because of its role in attacking queer rights, but also because it inspires hate crimes.

My Personal Take on the Matter

There’s an argument to be made that nothing you individually do will matter. You’re probably not a massive streamer or an editor at a major publication deciding whether to give the game coverage. Buying one copy of a game isn’t much money for a publisher, so even if you don’t buy, the game will succeed or fail independently of you.

But to me, there is something awkward about supporting a franchise so closely linked to its transphobic author. If Rowling were transphobic in her private life, that would be one thing. But she wields her royalty checks as a shield against criticism, she claims to have donated to anti-trans lawsuits, and she is one of the loudest and most famous voices arguing against trans rights today.

Rowling has replied to people saying the game deserves to be boycotted in a petulant and intellectually facile manner. She views boycotts of the games dimly, and that may in fact be one reason to do it: It’s funny for a person living in a mansion to be so upset that we’re not playing a game she didn’t make.

Personally, I wrote some small Hogwarts Legacy SEO articles as a way for Rowling to pay me back for her transphobia. I won’t be covering the game in any way I feel could create extra interest in the game, and I probably won’t play it. There’s just not a lot of joy for me in playing the game, knowing that the Wizarding World’s creator believes people are transitioning too easily and it should be harder.

I do still feel a pull towards the world of Harry Potter because it’s nostalgic. I liked it when I was a kid, and I always wanted a big open-world game set in that world. But I refuse to pay or promote J.K. Rowling.

If you feel you have to play it, I don’t care that much, but I also won’t give you the trans seal of approval. If you want my advice, don’t pay her and don’t promote the game or talk about it online or offline. Hogwarts Legacy is already getting plenty of attention and publicity, and it doesn’t need your help.

If you don’t want my advice, make a choice you’re satisfied with. Just know that others are entitled to feel and say things about that choice based on their own beliefs.

So that’s that, I suppose. J.K. Rowling has an exceedingly prolific and loud history of transphobia, Hogwarts Legacy is connected closely with the work she holds such strong control over, and we each have to figure out what we’re going to do.

This is incredibly frustrating to write about, and I hope I never do so again. There are writers far better at writing about Rowling’s transphobia than I, and honestly, I’m here at The Escapist because I love games, not because I want to defend my rights.

There’s a tweet from J.K. Rowling in 2020 that contains this sentence: “I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans.” She often says things like this to prove that she doesn’t hate transgender people.

On the same day in 2022 on which J.K. Rowling had lunch with a who’s who of British transphobes, a protest was happening outside Downing Street. The protestors wanted transgender conversion therapy included in a proposed ban on queer conversion therapy. J.K Rowling didn’t march with the protestors, and she never intended to.

J.K. Rowling may say she supports trans people, but actions speak louder than words. Her actions are consistently to limit transgender rights and to ridicule us in the eyes of the public. I don’t care what’s in J.K. Rowling’s heart. Her actions are clearly transphobic, and whatever we individually choose to do with Hogwarts Legacy, we should condemn her beliefs.


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Author
Elise Avery
Elise Avery is a freelance video editor and writer who has written for The Escapist for the last year and a half. She has written for PCGamesN and regularly reviews games for The Escapist's YouTube channel. Her writing focuses on indie games and game design, as well as coverage of Nintendo titles.