Well, you don’t title your podcast “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” if you don’t want to stoke controversy.
The podcast series, which includes original interviews with the “Harry Potter” author, debuted March 7 to much online fervor as it promises to dig into controversies over the author’s history of anti-trans rhetoric.
Rowling has been loudly criticized (and just as loudly defended) since she made a series of posts in 2020 that conflated sex with gender and defended ideas suggesting that changing one’s biological sex threatens her own gender identity. Since then, Rowling has become an increasingly vocal activist.
Here’s what to know about the podcast so far.
The podcast is hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, a former member of and spokesperson for The Westboro Baptist Church, which the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as “arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America.” It’s published by The Free Press, a media company founded by Bari Weiss, the controversy-courting former op-ed editor of The New York Times.
“Last year @jk_rowling responded to a letter I wrote her. I’d asked if she’d be part of a conversation seeking to understand her perspective and those of her critics,” Phelps-Roper tweeted of the series.
Last year @jk_rowling responded to a letter I wrote her. I’d asked if she’d be part of a conversation seeking to understand her perspective and those of her critics.
The result is a new audio series from @thefp:
THE WITCH TRIALS OF J.K. ROWLING
My essay: https://t.co/nNMyRGpgBy
In “The Witch Trials,” Rowling says she’s not worried about how her views will impact her legacy. “I do not walk around my house thinking about my legacy,” Rowling told Phelps-Roper. “I’ll be dead. I care about now. I care about the living.”
After not saying much about her anti-trans rhetoric in the first few episodes, Rowling addressed the backlash and defended her stance in “Chapter 5: The Tweets,” which dropped March 14.
“I absolutely knew that if I spoke out, many people who would love my books would be deeply unhappy with me,” Rowling said. “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.”
The author said attacks from fans with liberal values “hit differently” than conservatives, who have already criticized themes of sorcery in her books. “I would assume we share certain values,” said of her left-leaning fans.
“But at the same time, I have to tell you, a ton of ‘Potter’ fans were still with me,” she added. “And in fact, a ton of Potter fans were grateful that I’d said what I said.”
The author called activists and movements for trans equality “something dangerous,” adding, “It must be challenged.”
Rowling first came under fire in 2019 for tweeting a message of support for Maya Forstater, a researcher who lost her job at a think tank for stating that people cannot change their biological sex.
“Dress however you please,” Rowling wrote. “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill”
Months later, Rowling made a similar stir in criticizing a headline on the website devex.com. The op-ed piece included the phrase “people who menstruate” in an effort to be more inclusive.
“I’m sure there used to be a word for those people,” Rowling tweeted. “Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”
In a 2020 essay for LGBTQ non-profit organization The Trevor Project, Harry Potter himself, actor Daniel Radcliffe, wrote, “Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations.”
Radcliffe continued, “To all the people who now feel that their experience of the books has been tarnished or diminished, I am deeply sorry for the pain these comments have caused you.”
Emma Watson, who portrayed Hermione Granger, tweeted her support of trans people in June 2020.
“Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are,” Watson tweeted, assuring the trans community and her trans followers that “I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.”
In 2020, Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley, issued a statement in support of the trans community.
“I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers. Trans women are women. Trans men are men,” Grint said in his statement to the U.K.’s The Sunday Times. “We should all be entitled to live with love and without judgment.”
Harry Melling, who shot to fame playing the cantankerous Dudley Dursley in the “Harry Potter” franchise, voiced his support for the trans community during an interview with The Independent in December.
“I can only speak for myself, and what I feel, to me, is very simple, which is that transgender women are women and transgender men are men,” Melling told the British outlet. “Every single person has the right to choose who they are and to identify themselves as what’s true to themselves.”
Contributing: Hannah Yasharoff, Charles Trepany, Edward Segarra
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