There’s no figure more inflammatory in popular culture than J. K. Rowling, once the world’s most beloved author but now demonized by many as a transphobe. Few people are in the middle: Rowling’s either dismissed out of hand by progressives and religious conservatives (some have even burned her books, while Christians see her as promoting witchcraft), while others see Rowling’s comments on transgenderism and the rights of biological women as sensible. (I count myself among the latter group.)
Bari Weiss’s site The Free Press has been podcasting a multipart series called “The Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling“. It’s not a hagiography, but about seven hours of interviews with Rowling, including interviews with her detractors, friends, and sundry experts and acquaintances. There are seven parts, all created by Megan Phelps-Roper, formerly a member of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church (she left it), who wrote to Rowling out of the blue (see here) and managed to get long interviews with her.
The podcasts are professionally produced and well put together, and if you have the time, it’s well worth hearing. So far I’ve listened to just the first part (mostly a long interview with Rowling), and the part below: the last bit, when Rowling is asked to answer the strongest accusations of her opponents. Sadly, it’s beyond my ability to listen to seven hours of podcasts!
Here’s Phelps-Roper’s summary from the first link above.
I’ve spent the better part of the past year speaking with people on all sides of this conflict: trans adults, teens, clinicians, and advocates; historians, reporters, authors; Christians who boycotted Potter in the 1990s; doctors, lawyers, and even experts on witch trials. I also sat down with Rowling in her Edinburgh home over the course of several days.
These topics are beyond fraught, and I’m grateful to those who were gracious enough to be open and vulnerable with me—often on the most sensitive of subjects. Regardless of where they stood on the issues, many of the people I spoke with expressed similar concerns about going on the record: the waves of personal attacks that seem to come for anyone who speaks up; the fear that listeners would take them out of context; that they would lose their friends, family, career, safety; that their reputations would be destroyed.
I am not immune to these fears. And yet, I remain a believer in the power of conversation. The ones I had for this series challenged my assumptions and showed me that this conflict is even more complex than I had imagined. I don’t pretend to have answers to the deep questions at the heart of this series. But I’m more persuaded than ever that talking—and listening—will help us find the path forward.
And here’s her the summary of this last episode.
In Chapter 7: What If You’re Wrong?, released this morning, Megan Phelps-Roper asks J.K. Rowling to respond directly to the most incisive accusations lodged by her critics. Among those criticisms: that the Harry Potter author is engaging in bigotry; that she is blind to her transphobia; and that her words are creating an environment that is dangerous to trans people.
The two also discuss the difficulty of discernment—why it can be so hard to know if you are standing up for what’s right—and the difference between what Rowling says she believes and what her critics claim she does.
No matter where you stand on this heated debate, we think you’ll find her answers well worth your time.
The formal response starts about 10 minutes into the podcast when Phelps-Roper asks Rowling, “what if you’re wrong?” And yes, Rowling is asked some hard questions, including “What would make you change your mind about trans issues?” If you’re someone who thinks that Rowling is a transphobe, do have a listen to her unscripted responses.
Although ultimately Phelps-Roper seems to come down on the side of Rowling, I’m not suggesting that you listen to just this part. If you have the time, listen to the whole series. (I’m nor sure if you have to be a subscriber like me to The Free Press to hear it all.)
Click to listen (there’s a few ads about 40 minutes in):