J.K. Rowling said she knew her comments about trans women nearly three years ago would land like a “hand grenade” on Twitter but claimed that despite the backlash, “a ton of Potter fans were grateful that I’d said what I said.”
“I absolutely knew that if I spoke out many people who would love my books would be deeply unhappy with me,” the best-selling author said in the latest episode of podcast “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling,” released Tuesday. “Personally, it has not been fun and I have been scared at times for my own safety and, overwhelmingly, for my family’s safety. Time will tell whether I’ve got this wrong. I can only say that I’ve thought about it deeply and hard and long and I’ve listened, I promise, to the other side.”
In Episode 5 of “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling,” the author recalled what ignited the firestorm in 2020 — an article at the top of her Twitter feed that said, “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” which had made her “really angry.”
“I’m coming to that article on the background of what I see as huge injustice and people trying to shut women down… So I was angry, and I was flippant,” Rowling said. On June 6, 2020, she tweeted, “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” And that was “like dropping a hand grenade into Twitter,” Rowling said. “Did I mean to drop a hand grenade in? No. I was just keeping a rein on my own fury. So off it went.”
Rowling posted another tweet that day that said: “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”
As she expected, Rowling was lambasted by many people who viewed her comments as antagonistic toward trans women. The attacks from the left “hit differently” than conservatives excoriating the supposed evils of the “Harry Potter” books “because I would assume we share certain values,” Rowling said. “But at the same time, I have to tell you, a ton of Potter fans were still with me. And in fact, a ton of Potter fans were grateful that I’d said what I said.”
Looking back, Rowling said she has no regrets: “I stand by every word that I wrote there, but the question is, What is the truth? And I’m arguing against people who are literally saying sex is a construct, [that] it’s not real.”
At another point in the podcast episode, Rowling said regarding those who refuse to debate gender-identity issues, “I believe absolutely that there is something dangerous about this movement and it must be challenged.” She reiterated, “My position is that this activist’s movement, in the form that it’s currently taking, echoes the very thing that I was warning against in Harry Potter.”
In the latest podcast episode, Rowling also read excerpts from her essay, “J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues,” which she posted on June 10, 2020: “If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship. I have a visceral sense of the terror in which those trans women will have spent their last seconds on Earth, because I too have known moments of blind fear when I realized that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.”
She continued, “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 — and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones — then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth.”
In the first episode of the “Witch Trials” podcast, Rowling said she “never set out to upset anyone” with her comments but that she doesn’t fret about how the controversy will affect her “legacy”: “I do not walk around my house, thinking about my legacy,” she said in the first episode. “You know, what a pompous way to live your life walking around thinking, ‘What will my legacy be?’ Whatever, I’ll be dead. I care about now. I care about the living.”
“The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” is hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, who grew up in the extremist Westboro Baptist Church. In the podcast, Phelps-Roper has attempted to draw parallels between the intolerant attacks on Rowling by far-right Christian groups over the Harry Potter books and the more recent outrage over the author’s statements about trans people.
In Episode 5 of the podcast, Phelps-Roper asked Rowling about the idea that the backlash about her comments are about “accountability.”
“Look, I’ve heard this all the time. ‘We’re holding you accountable. We’re holding you accountable,'” Rowling responded. “Well, I would say this: I’m a great believer in looking at not what people say, but what they do. How are you behaving? If you are threatening, if you are threatening to remove livelihoods, if you are saying ‘this person is canceled,’ that is the language of a dictator.
“I mean, I’ve literally lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the hashtag #RIPJKRowling floating around,” she continued. “I don’t call that being held accountable. If you want to debate with me, I am absolutely open to that. And I think I have proven that I’m very willing to engage on the ideas. But I notice a remarkable disintegration to engage on the ideas. The response is, ‘Well, we can’t listen to you. You are evil. You must not be listened to.’ That to me is, intellectually, incredibly cowardly. I don’t believe that any righteous movement behaves in such a way.”
Rowling added that she has seen people literally say that “there is no point in arguing with a TERF,” which refers to “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” a term she’s been labeled with. “Once you’ve internalized the idea that a TERF is vermin and scum and all the other words that are used… it’s an easy step ‘to punch all TERFs, kill TERFs,'” she said.
Rowling’s comments about transgender women have been criticized by actors from movies based on her books, including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Eddie Redmayne, while Ralph Fiennes (who played Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter movies) and Evanna Lynch (who portrayed Luna Lovegood) are among those who have defended the author.
“The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling,” from Bari Weiss’ Free Press, is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other audio platforms.