I've been asked, again, whether the Academy Rector is a woman.
I've been asked several times in the last few years. There was a time when people did not write to ask me whether a fictional character I illustrated, the stamp-sized face of a card mechanic, was a boy or a girl. That time ended about five years ago. Whether people have always wondered and have only now been able to find me to ask, or whether the whole concept of gender has only now become speakable, I do not know. But since it is a thing that multiple people ask me about today, here some words about it.
Thank you, by the way, for caring. The Academy Rector, at the most practical level, is a card mechanic, a line of flavor text, and some 20-year-old acrylic paint mixed with my good intentions. That folks are still giving her imaginary personhood and worrying about her sexual identity is a wonderful marvel to me. I am enchanted that my old work still lives in your brain like this. Okay, onwards!
Short form, AR is an old woman. A very old woman, so old that she may not qualify as a woman by the standards of teh Youngs today.
The original WotC art description was not gendered, as I recall. I chose a female character because I wanted the character to feel nurturing, and there were whole lotta male characters in CCG games at the time, and also I had a cool model I wanted to use.
(The model who posed for the rector was not actually old, which makes the Rector even more imaginary. The model was an attractive middle-aged woman with long spidery hands, surgeon's hands, hands completely unlike my own sturdy proletarian paws, and as a long-time fool for drawing hands I wanted a chance to draw her. The Rector's age comes from my imagination entirely. Interesting side note, the model was not pleased about that afterwards, ah well...)
But here's the thing - the Rector, as I drew her, is old. She is older than your mom, or Minerva McGonigal or the Internet (if Dominaria had an Internet). She has tanked past youth and hotness and not being taken seriously by the bro-wizards, and that invisible period of middle age when a woman is simply unseen, and menopause, and survived until she is so ancient and useful that she has become an important person to the Academy. Which is actually pretty impressive, given the attrition rate in Tolarian academia.
The Rector is mostly an Old. In the Rector's imaginary heart, the unifying fear of all women - will my period start unexpectedly today while I'm wearing white and speaking in public? - has given way to the unifying fear of all Olds - will my heart lurch and stop today before I finish doing what needs to be done? Eyes fail, bones thin, muscles weaken and atrophy, and yet the Rector gets up - slowly - each morning, braids her hair, finds her glasses, and creaks off to organize the day.
Every day the Tolarian Academy tries to teach a new generation of punk-ass young wizards how to do magic without blowing themselves up. Much. Every day the Rector makes the Academy run.
Note that this is my head canon only. WotC's opinion may vary.
But you did ask.