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 five. 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.
So when I first became interested and then deeply troubled by what I saw as a cultural movement that was illiberal in its methods and was very questionable in its ideas, I absolutely knew that if I spoke out many people who would love my books would be deeply unhappy with me. I knew that. I knew because I knew that, I could see that they believed, they believed in the values that I had espoused in those books. I could tell that they believed they were fighting for underdogs and difference and fairness. When I thought it would be easier not to, you know, that this could be really bad and honestly it has been bad. 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. I believe absolutely that there is something dangerous about this movement and it must be challenged.
I tweeted “Dress however you please, 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”. This tweet was in response to the Maya Forstater case.
The conclusions reached that her belief that sex is fundamentally immutable was not worthy of respect. You couldn’t hold that as a philosophical belief. I felt that the tribunal was wrong. I think there is, in my view, considerable evidence for the fact that a woman is the producer of the large gametes, and I found it outrageous that this employment tribunal had decided know that belief wasn’t worthy of respect. So I decided I’m standing up, I’m standing up right now, I’m done.
I drafted the tweet, and then I was considerate enough to find my management team and say, “you cannot argue me out of this,” and I read out what I was about to say, because I felt they needed warning, because I knew it was going to cause a massive storm. And I knew what was coming, and sure enough it came.
From the outside, it really looked like the entire Harry Potter internet world, these people who had largely placed you on this pedestal in a way that you’ve said made you uncomfortable, was now saying you were a disgrace.
Yeah, that was absolutely fury and in comprehension.
We talked about this before when you got that criticism from the right, and it was so wide of the mark, as you say, that it didn’t really touch you. I wonder, did it feel that way from the left as well?
Because if it’s coming from people that you would have thought were allies, yes, that’s absolutely going to hit differently. Because I would assume we share certain values. So yeah, that hits differently, of course it hits differently. 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.
What’s interesting is: the fans that have found themselves in positions of power online, did they feel they needed to take this position because they themselves had followers? Possibly. I don’t know. I mean, I do know that there is huge pressure on people to take certain positions at the moment, and I know that there is a huge amount of fear around it. Some of them I don’t doubt sincerely felt it. They just couldn’t understand why, why aren’t you simply repeating trans women or women? Why aren’t you doing that? That is the kind and good and righteous thing to do? I don’t understand. I’m constantly told I don’t understand my own books. I’m constantly told that I have betrayed my own books.
My position is that I am absolutely I am holding the positions that I took in Potter. 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.
And it was into this environment [cancel culture] that on June 6, 2020, J.K. Rowling tweeted again. So can you set this up for me, like, where were you?
I was angry. I was getting really angry. What happens was I flipped open Twitter and I saw this article. It was actually at the top of my feet: “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate.”
You know, there is power to words with history, both good and ill. And to me, the word woman has its own power, and I do not believe we can meaningfully analyze the harmstone to women and girls without using language that has concrete meaning. And I felt there’s an obfuscation here. Now I’m coming to that article on the background of what I see as huge injustice and people trying to shut women down. And I don’t doubt that I, too, was being affected by the incredibly febrile, oppressive atmosphere that we are all currently living in, and that was inflaming my sense of injustice on behalf of women.
So I was angry, and I was flippant. You’ll notice there was no courtesy call to my management at this point. I 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.
Did I mean to drop a hand grenade in? No. I was just keeping a rain on my own fury. So off it went.
I responded with, “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.”
Now, 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. It’s not real.
Well, I think it’s important to say that I’m not sitting there thinking, “how am I doing here? How am I positioning myself as though I’m a brand?” I am talking and thinking and feeling as an individual human being. Seeing it now, today, I’m amazed that I was pretty measured because I wasn’t feeling measured at this point.
A lot of things had come together and I found it very enraging to watch #BeKind attached to tweets that I thought were utterly dehumanizing of women, utterly scathing about women’s concerns. I do watch this movement behaving towards women in ways that I think are absolutely abhorrent.
Well, this is it, you see, because the TERF is by her nature, a hate-filled bigot, she’s evil. And that’s it is said openly. I mean, that it is very biblical language that is used of women who say, “you know what? I think any measure that makes it easier for predators to get at women and girls is a bad idea.” That’s, you know, and that there are plenty of women who don’t even identify themselves as feminists who are very concerned about this.
But 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, this baseball bat will be used to smash” and I’ve literally seen “there is no point in arguing with a TERF. We need to make them too frightened to speak.”
As all these tweets and other responses are coming in and you’re sitting there reading them, how did you feel?
How did I feel? Was it nice? Was it fun? No, it’s horrible. It’s horrible too, because it’s the scale. I think people who have never been in that position. It is the scale. Even though I knew it was coming, but that’s like knowing you’re about to be punched. You know, this is going to really hurt. It’s still, you know, you really need to take the punch to know how much it hurts. Was it fun? No. Was I enjoying myself? No.
“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 realised that the only thing keeping me alive was the shaky self-restraint of my attacker.”
“I believe the majority of trans-identified people not only pose zero threat to others, but are vulnerable for all the reasons I’ve outlined. Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk. Like every other domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor I know, I feel nothing but empathy and solidarity with trans women who’ve been abused by men.”
“So I want trans women to be safe. 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.”
What do you say to the people who say “that’s just accountability?”
Look, I’ve heard this all the time. “We’re holding you accountable. We’re holding you accountable.” 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 cancelled,” that is the language of a dictator. “I cancel you. I obliterate you. You are dead.” I mean, I’ve literally lost count of the number of times I’ve seen the hashtag #RIPJKRowling floating around. But this isn’t about me. You know, clearly I’m pretty resilient. 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 a, is intellectually, incredibly cowardly. I don’t believe that any righteous movement behaves in such a way.
One of my very dearest friends is a committed and proud seeing Catholic, and it’s also pro life. Now, I’m a feminist, I’m pro choice. I understand exactly what his arguments are. And I respect his argument, and he is prepared to make his argument. I don’t agree with his argument, but he respects my argument. And we are both able to find shades of grey within our beliefs. I think that is healthy. I think that is productive. I am not going to cut that person out of my life because we disagree on something. All be it something that is very important to me. We have lost that in this particular debate.
What do you say to the people who say that you, maybe because of your experiences, that you can’t see that you’ve actually become like the villains in your books, that this fight you’ve jumped into is a betrayal of some kind?
I suppose the thing I would say, above all, to those who seek to tell me that I don’t understand my own books, I will say hence, some of you have not understood the books. The Death Eaters claimed “we have been made to live in secret and now is our time. And any who stand in our way must be destroyed. If you disagree with us, you must die.” They demonized and dehumanized those who were not like them.