The action role-playing game Hogwarts Legacy has been making big news latelyand it's not just because so many people are playing it.
Hogwarts Legacy, inspired by writer J.K. Rowling's wizarding world, features many new charactersincluding Sirona Ryan, a trans woman who runs the Three Broomsticks tavern.
However, controversies rose even from this bit of casting, from the facts that the transphobic Rowling is connected to the game and that some feel the name "Sirona" is a variation of "sir" and is insulting. (When directly asked about these developments, a Warner Bros. rep directed Windy City Times to an email interview with developer Avalanche Software, adding that the studio didn't "have further comment." That interview is at https://www.ign.com/articles/avalanche-software-addresses-hogwarts-legacys-transgender-character.)
Windy City Times recently talked with Imara JonesCEO of TransLash Media, a nonprofit organization that supports trans/non-binary/intersex/two-spirit peopleabout her organization, Hogwarts Legacy and Rowling.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Windy City Times: Tell me what TransLash is about.
Imara Jones: Well, I'm going to brag a little bit today, because I found out that my name and TransLash were in the New Yorker Magazine crossword puzzle.
IJ: Thank you! I also got the NABJ [National Association of Black Journalists] Journalist of Distinction Award last year, and I'm the first trans person to get an award from that organization.
What is TransLash? TransLash is a journalism and non-fiction storytelling media organization that centers on the humanity of trans people. We believe that there's a lot of ignorance out there about us and our community. That harms our community, and allows those who wish to do us harm to do so. And the best way to deal with that is to tell our own stories accurately and in a compelling way. [It's also important to] reflect the diversity of trans people in our lives.
TransLash works through films, documentaries and animation. Last year, Trans Bodies, Trans Choices won awards; it was in 17 film festivals last year. We did two podcasts; our TransLash podcast has been nominated for a Webby and a GLAAD Award. Our investigative series, #AntiTransHateMachine, begins its second season on March 31. And we have a written platform called TransLash News & Narrative.
The reason we do so much is that so much needs to be done in terms of helping to shift the narrative about trans people. That's why I say that telling trans stories helps to save trans lives. We really believe there's a connection between accurate portrayals of who we are and our ability to live freely and be seen as human.
WCT: It's interesting with Hogwarts Legacy. Tell me why you think having a trans character is such an important development.
IJ: Well, it lets us have a really serious conversation about some very difficult things. What is the role of representation? What's the role of the relationship between a brand that many queer people [find] to be a life raft for them to what's embodied by JK Rowling? Is there a generational difference between millennials and Gen Z, for example?
The second thing is that it's hard because everyone has to make up their own mind about what's right for them about this; there are no easy choices. Are we going to deny someone who is trans and living in a rural area the ability to experience [this game] and play someone who they really are? Others might say "no" because JK Rowling is harmful. So there has to be some flexibility here.
I can't imagine that wasn't subversive on the part of the people who created the game, given JK Rowling's views. On the other hand, other people may say this doesn't resonate with them.
I think there's strength in both arguments, which is why the conversation is so intense.
WCT: What do you make of the controversy over the character's name?
IJ: I understand that and names can mean different things. We know that "Sirona" is the name of an ancient Celtic goddess who, I believe, had the ability to change formsso that would make sense. But it can also be interpreted in a more modern way. I don't know why they chose the name, but I think it's more the Celtic goddess [connection] because a lot of research went into this.
WCT: If you had five minutes alone with JK Rowling, what would you say to her or ask her?
IJ: Oh, God!
She's heard it all before, but I'd ask her to explain to me how you can build an entire world based upon transformationbecause that's what magic isbut can't see the same in reality with trans people. There's an internal contradiction there that I don't fundamentally understand.
I've heard her arguments and there's nothing new, interesting or particularly smart about any of them, so I don't care about that. And she comes across as an entitled wealthy person, so that's not interesting to me. What is interesting to me is her inability to transfer the world she constructed to the actual world we live in.
WCT: To me, it's [related] to the blowback that's been happening to Halle Bailey because she's playing The Little Mermaid. I don't understand why there can't be a Black mermaid.
IJ: With The Little Mermaid, it's not only that; it's fiction. And real talk: Mermaids have been a part of West African religious folklore for thousands of years, so the idea that mermaids can only be white is ridiculous. On top of that, in the world of Disney, it's fictionso the mermaid can be anything.
And we're not [talking] necessarily about mermaids. We're talking about racism and the role of Black women in storytelling. I want to hear JK Rowling's answer so we can get a better sense of what her argument is really about. Whatever she's arguing, it literally doesn't make any sense.
Also, the nastiness she shows is ironic. In her books, she depicts victims of cruelty and one of the major hallmarks of Voldemort is that he's really snideand that's what we get with JK Rowling. In many ways, she has become Voldemort; she's transformed herself into this dismissive, high-handed character.
WCT: Let's move from fantasy to reality. As you know, we have all these anti-trans measures that have been passed as well as many incidents of anti-trans violence. What's your advice to the next generation of trans people about being who they are?
IJ: It's hard for me because I don't think we can wait a generation. This has to be stopped now.
What I would say to young trans people is that we've been here before as a community, and the people who were here before us are still alive, such as [trans activist] Miss Major. You have to realize that the way to win is to keep being yourselfeven in the midst of everything that's happening.
The legislation that's being passed has spread to trans adults and so it's really about all trans people. Children were the [starting] argument of a much larger push. All trans people are being impacted.
WCT: What's your take on being Black and trans in today's America?
IJ: Two things… On one hand, it's pretty amazing because there are so many [wonderful] Black trans people doing amazing things across countless areas, whether it's historical preservation, fitness, beauty, small business, technology or politics. I constantly meet new people who are doing fascinating and interesting things.
The second thing, though, is that there's a tremendous amount of violenceviolence that's sanctioned through states through these laws and then you have these individuals. The United States is only behind Brazil and Mexico in the number of trans murders.
What that means is that there are many contradictions and extremes during this time. That's literally what TransLash stands for: transgender backlash. I think what's fascinating is that we encapsulate both of those realities through our content. It's like the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: It's the best of times and it's the worst of times.
More information on TransLash Media is at translash.org/ .