Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was released on June 26th, 1997, ten days after my 14th birthday. My younger sister caught on first, and soon after I fell under the spell of author J.K. Rowling’s world-building. My grandmother famously left a fancy schmancy event and stood in the midnight line, in her formal dress, at Barnes and Noble, so that we would be the first kids to get our hands on the next release. Someone brought her a chair.
I read those books again and again. I remember looking for merch, and all I could find was one House shirt at the Warner Brothers store at the mall, which I bought immediately. I can’t say that my choice to become a professional magician, open a magic school (stage magic, but still) wasn’t at least a little driven by girl-witch Hermione Granger, the smartest in the room. The story was seductive. It was about a kid who always knew he was different finding a community. I’m queer. I’m from a smallish town. Those books were a promise to me in many ways; there was something else out there, and when I found it, I’d feel powerful. I’d be home.
When J.K. Rowling let loose the first of several problematic tweets in 2019, my inner Hermione was devastated, and adult me was furious. My best friend, magic partner, and SOMA co-founder, Brian Kehoe, and I shot messages back and forth: “Did you see this??” “Smells like TERF.” “Could she not know what she’s saying? She's older, Twitter is weird…”. Brian is another queer adult who was a Harry Potter kid, and we were both embarrassed. Hogwarts was in the very DNA of our project - how could we be a magic school and not acknowledge that? We worried coming down explicitly anti-Potter would take something away from our students, many of whom were massive fans, drawn to magic specifically because of those stories, just like us.
But time went on. Rowling doubled down. There was no mistake; she’s proudly transphobic. We tried to avoid anything with even a whiff of Hogwarts in our branding, advertising, and curriculum (at one point, Brian had to remind me that J.K. Rowling did not invent owls). As our nostalgia glasses were lowered, the misogynistic, anti-semetic, and racist overtones of her work also became apparent. To say that we’re profoundly disappointed would be an understatement. She turned on us (and she wasn’t as “with” us as we had thought) and took Hermione, and Mrs. Weasley, and Hedwig, and Hagrid, and all our other friends, with her.
We need to be clear, because we own a magic school and it comes up a lot. We can acknowledge that Harry Potter was formative, and we loved it, and we’ve consumed and enjoyed so much of the media surrounding it, but we can’t pretend that a creator of Rowling’s magnitude can be separated from her creation, or indeed, ever has been. Our school is inclusive. We tout ourselves as a safer space for queer and trans kids. Rowling’s statements have real-life consequences. They’ve entered the cultural conversation, one that sways public policy, dictates education, impacts rights. Rowling has an enormous microphone, and her words have weight. She swung at our community, and hit, and we just can’t forgive her. At this point, buying a Hogwarts t-shirt, or loading up Hogwarts Legacy on Brian’s old PC, says that we are more invested in a fantasy world than we are in the real one. And that is not true.
Maybe refusing to purchase Potter related movies, games, books, merchandise, etc. is a laughably stupid way to take a stand. A lot of that stuff is really cool, and also hard to avoid. After all, Rowling has spawned a several-billion-dollar-a-year media juggernaut. She won’t be hurt by the loss of seventy bucks, right? But is that really the point? Beyond the fact that we’re not spending one more penny to financially support someone who is bannering an anti-LGBTQ agenda, our words and actions, too, matter. Standing up is easy when you don’t have to sacrifice anything to do it. And, come on, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much to give up. There are so many magical new stories, inclusive worlds that more than fill the absence of Harry Potter, and honestly, they’re doing it wayyy better (if you like magic schools, please check out Owl House).
So yes, if our letters ever come, they’re going unopened. We’re getting off the train, and saying goodbye. It’s time to grow up.