Get ready to delve into the world of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter with our transcription of her exclusive interview on “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” podcast, episode four. In this transcript, we’ve compiled J.K. Rowling’s insights and answers. While we highly recommend listening to the entire episode for the complete experience, this transcription offers a convenient way to revisit J.K. Rowling’s interview. You can find the full podcast on popular platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
I had been becoming increasingly concerned about the way in which women were being shut down, women who I felt had some very valid concerns. I was starting to see activists behaving in a very aggressive way outside feminist meetings. They were banging, kicking on windows. Very threatening. They were masked. I’m looking at an assault now in freedom of speech, freedom of thought, even freedom of association.
I was very feminist in my late teens, early twenties, and I was reading books that even then were a little outdated. People like Kate Milich, Simone de Beauvoir, obviously, who was dead by the time I came to her book. I would describe myself now and probably then, too, as an idealist, definitely, but never really an ideal log. I was, always, have been passionately concerned about the plight of girls and women, not only in the West, but further afield.
It’s very much a feature of the culture in which I grew up that women by virtue of their biology are subjected to specific harms, specific pressures and require certain protections and that that is inextricably linked with our biology. And we cannot fight for our rights, without naming and exactly describing what makes us different from men.
Feminists were hugely disparaged across the mainstream. They were ugly. They didn’t shave their armpits. They were aggressive. They were butch. And I suppose I see real parallels with now and with the slur that is TERF. All the same tropes about a woman not behaving the way a woman is supposed to behave. You know, they’re all of the cliches, which brings us to today.
I’ve been watching this. I’ve been interested in it, and I did a lot of reading around it. So I was already aware that the activism was arguing for this kind of self-identification. Therefore, an entirely male-bodied male can, by self-declaration, become “a woman”, conceptually, as it were. He’s now conceptually a woman. And I was troubled by that activism, because after a long life, dealing with certain issues, whether as a donor or an activist myself or from being a woman, I think I have a very realistic view, not a scare-mungering view, on what may happen when you loosen boundaries around single sex spaces for women and girls. So that troubled me. Have you thought through what this could mean for women and girls?
I can already hear the screams of outrage. “You are saying that trans people are all predators.” Of course, I am not any more than I’m saying. I’m a happily married straight woman. I know perfectly well all men are not predators. I know that. I have good men in my life who are among my favorite people. But I am also aware that 98/99% of sexual offenses are caused by those born with penises. The problem is male violence. All a predator wants is access, and to open the doors of changing rooms, rape centers, domestic violence centers… to open the doors to any male who says “I’m a woman and I have the right to be here” it will constitute a risk to women and girls.
Now, that actually has very little to do with trans people and a lot to do with what we know of the risks from men to women. But this is the flash point. The activists who would argue against me, I’ve seen them say, “but these are now women.”” And I say, well, here is where “what a woman is” becomes hugely important. And I also ask myself a question. I think it’s such a useful and basic question to ask yourself if you want to ascertain whether you’re being intellectually honest. What proof would I need to see to change my opinion? And so I ask myself that question.
Okay, so I thought, well, it’s being claimed that nobody has ever abused, dressing as the opposite sex, and no trans woman has ever presented a physical threat to a woman in an intimate space. Obviously, if I go looking and there’s literally no evidence that says it happened, well, then clearly I might feel is all baseless. So I went and looked and it’s with no pleasure that I say that there was very clear evidence that that had happened.
Unpleasant as adolescence is… I mean, I hate adolescence. I do not romanticize adolescence. I think it’s a dreadful time. I remember times of pure joy when I was with my friends, and I remember fun. But if you ask me, do you want to go back to being 13 tomorrow and live it all again? I would say absolutely bloody not. I want to stay exactly where I am. But I do think that it is a necessary part of our development.
I grew up in what I would say was quite a misogynistic household. Like all young girls, I grew up with certain standards of beauty and ideals of femininity. And I felt I didn’t fit into either of those groups. I didn’t feel particularly feminine. And I certainly didn’t feel, you know, that I looked the way I was supposed to look. I looked very androgynous at 11 and 12. I had short hair. And I can certainly remember in our lessons feeling acutely anxious. I think this is so common. In fact, I think I know more women who have felt it than not. I felt very, very anxious about my changing body, because you become aware… it’s attracting scrutiny that you don’t welcome. You know, I can remember the comments about your body. The difficulty of dealing with periods, period shaming, particularly from boys at school, this sort of squeamish fascination that young men have with female bodies that is a mixture of disgust and desire. It’s very difficult to cope with that. I question my sexuality. I’m thinking, well, “I can tell my friends are pretty? Just that mean I’m gay?”, which I think is very common. I grew up to be a straight woman, but I’ve never forgotten that feeling of anxiety around my body.
Personally, I don’t believe even a 14-year-old can truly understand what the loss of their fertility is. At 14, if you’ve said to me, “do you want children?” No, I don’t want them. But it has been the most joyful, wonderful thing in my life. That doesn’t mean I think everyone should have kids, it doesn’t mean I think to be a woman you need to have kids. I’m telling very personally for me, my children have been an unmatched joy and I wouldn’t change a thing. And I couldn’t have comprehended that at 14. I would have had no idea what I was giving up.
My feeling is, and it’s the feeling that was strongly expressed in the “Potter” books, that as many diverse life experiences as possible should be explored and expressed. And having felt like an outsider in several different ways in my life, I have a real feeling for the underdog. And I have a real feeling for people who feel they don’t fit. And I see that hugely in the particularly many younger trans people. I can understand that feeling only too well
Gender dysphoria exists. It causes massive distress. I know it’s real and I know there will be, I believe, a minority of people for whom this will be a solution. But in the numbers we’re currently seeing, particularly of young people coming forward, I find cause for doubt and cause for concern.
So I did what I always tend to do when in that situation. So I read a ton of books. That is my instinct, if I’m interested…
… so Jacob Tobia (Sissy), Andrea Long Chu, brilliant writer, females…
… and I’m reading countless blogs and articles.
You’re trying to have your views challenged.
Completely, because I really want to understand what is the thinking, through person experience, but also the philosophy, the ideology. I’m looking at this, I’m thinking, “am I missing something?”
And then we come to the famous two-word slogan, the stop phrase, “no debate, no debate, no debate.” We hear it all the time. That alarms me, really alarms me. I can’t think of a purer instance of authoritarianism than no debate. In fact, that is the attitude of the fundamentalist. You may not challenge my ideas. That makes you evil. “I am righteous. I don’t have to explain my righteousness. And I am entitled, therefore, to believe to harass you, to silence you, to take away your livelihood, all the way up to attacking you.”
There have been physical assaults, a woman called Maria MacLachlan. She was at Speaker’s Corner in London, which is an infamous site for freedom of speech. It’s where people can go say whatever they like, pretty much. And she went there to a feminist meeting and she was physically assaulted by a trans woman called Tara Wolf, who was convicted of assault, who had said online before going to that meeting, “I want to fuck up some terfs.”
Did I want to join the public conversation? Yes. Why did I want to join it? Because I was watching women being shut down. And it was as though there was no woman perfect enough to say her piece. If she’s a regular woman with an particular platform, she’s a bigot. That’s that, you’re a bigot. If she’s an informed woman who is working in a sphere where this will really have an impact and, for example, I saw a prison governor speaking out. This is not okay. These are already traumatized women. Huge abuse hold at a shut up. “You don’t really understand what you know about being a trans woman.” It seemed there was always a way to shut down women’s voices.
People are terrified, terrified of speaking up. So I really was starting to feel this moral obligation. I knew what was coming, but I thought other people, there are people who probably, if I’m honest, probably could speak and don’t want to speak. They’re not going to lose their livelihoods, but there are a ton of women who are being forced not to speak because they literally won’t make rent. So I actually wanted to join the conversation and speak up earlier than I did, and I was not held back. I’m not saying that I couldn’t have done it anyway, but there were people close to me who were begging me not to do it. I think out of concern of what that would mean, they’d watched what had happened to other public figures and there was certainly a feeling of this is not a wise thing to do. “Don’t do it.” So I’m living in this state once again, actually. I’m living in what I feel is a duplicitous state. I have this massive concern, I’m watching women being shut down and bullied, their employers being targeted by a movement that I see as authoritarian, illiberal. I’m hugely concerned about young people, often the kind of young people who found a refuge in my books. So, you know, there’s a feeling of empathy there because I was one of those young people myself. And I’m absolutely, you can say, that I was living in a state of real tension similar to when I’m planning to leave my ex-husband because although I am not physically in danger, I feel I am lying by omission. I should speak up. I feel the right thing here is to try and force this conversation because, on behalf of people I’m seeing shut down who do not have my, let’s face it, insulation, right? It is that privilege, white-woman, absolutely! I am protected in ways I never dreamt I would be protected. Of course I’m also exposed to threats that other people sometimes aren’t exposed to, but it’s more than that. Whatever happens, if everyone decides you were an evil witch, we will never buy your books again. I can feed my family. We all know, I’m fine. My world doesn’t crash, my kids don’t go hungry. I have, I once lived that life, you know, that was the potential of making a bad financial decision and spending £2 to much one week. So, I reached a point of high tension and I have to say something.
Yes, I felt obligated because I’m being contacted by women. And by the way, these women aren’t even to say to me, “do it, do it, you do it”, no one’s trying to coerce me into it. It’s just that I’m having these conversations in the climate of fear. Was scaring me more than speaking out, you know, what are we letting happen here? This is insane, that there’s this much fear around a woman arguing that she has the right to describe her life and her body in any way she chooses. This is insanely regressive. But also, I did breach a point where I thought I can’t keep living with myself if I don’t say something. So, it was personal as well. I have to speak. I just have to.
Please, you may, I do not feel any sense of joy in that. I didn’t think, if I can’t wait for this, this is going to be amazing. I really thought “this is going to be horrible, but I’ve got to do it. I cannot let myself in the mirror if I don’t do it”. So I did.