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J.K. Rowling Says Criticism Over Stances on Sex, Trans People “Hit Differently” Than Christian Conservative Backlash


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J.K. Rowling says that when it comes to the backlash she’s received around her Harry Potter books and her personal stances on the rights and identities of trans people, criticism from her “allies” hit differently than conservatives claiming she was promoting witchcraft.

“If it’s coming from people that you would, well, you would have thought were allies? Yes, that’s absolutely going to hit differently, but I don’t hold myself —” Rowling said before The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling host Megan Phelps-Roper cut her off in the podcast’s latest episode. “I would assume we share certain values. So yeah, that hits differently. Of course, it hits differently.”

Rowling initially addressed the Christian conservative backlash to her books in the U.S. in the podcast’s second episode, which was released Feb. 21. During that hourlong discussion, she explained her view on good and evil through her book’s characters Dumbledore and Snape. She also dismisses that she “wholeheartedly” stands with groups that support boarding schools or formally identify as witches or practice witchcraft through Wicca.

But in addressing the Christian criticism of her use of magic, she chalks the obsession with her series up to its scale — not its contents.

“The experience in America was, not for the first time, very different from the experience in the U.K. I remember speaking to my American editor about it, and he was pretty robust about it. He felt it’s not true. These are very moral books,” she said. “I remember saying to him, this was inevitable. And by that I meant, it’s got too big. It’s just got too big. There were plenty of other books about witches and wizards out there. But I think a lot of the pushback was the sheer scale of it. People were alarmed by the scale of it.”

The podcast’s fifth episode, titled “The Tweets,” dropped March 14 and is largely dedicated to Rowling expounding on the motivation behind her past social media messages and essay regarding her position on trans women as women and their presence in women’s spaces.

“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,’” Rowling said of critics, who have said her refusal to acknowledge trans women as women is “evil.” She continued, “There are plenty of women who don’t even … identify themselves as feminists who are very concerned about this.”

During the episode, various voices, including Phelps-Roper, repeatedly read unattributed tweets allegedly sent to Rowling. But speaking to her own initial tweet in 2019, which ultimately sparked the first major wave of criticism against the author over her support of a U.K. woman embroiled in an employment case around language and discrimination in the workplace, Rowling said she notified her team ahead of time.

“I drafted the tweet, and then I was considerate enough to phone my management team and say, ‘You cannot argue me out of this,’” the author explained. “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.”

At another point, she added that she “absolutely knew” that people who love her books would be “deeply unhappy” with her, but that “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.”

On the larger response to her public stances, the author describes “fury and incomprehension” on one side and “a ton of Potter fans who were grateful that I had said what I said” on the other after sharing her first and subsequent tweets. But Rowling ultimately questions the motivations of the Harry Potter fans who didn’t stick by her. “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,” she said.

She also says that former fans and critics who have charged she has missed the meaning of her own books are the ones who have gotten it wrong.

“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’m absolutely upholding the positions that I took in Potter. My position is that this activist movement, in the form that it’s currently taking, echoes the very thing that I was warning against in Harry Potter,” she said. “I am fighting what I see as a powerful, insidious, misogynistic movement that I think has gained huge purchase in very influential areas of society. I do not see this particular movement as either benign or powerless.”

Rowling also describes her opinions — despite her critics pointing out their potential real-world implications — as a matter of disagreement, like the one she has as someone who identifies as pro-choice but has a male friend who is pro-life.

“I don’t agree with his argument, but he respects my argument and we are both able to find shades of gray 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, albeit something that is very important to me,” she said. “We have lost that in this particular debate.”

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