J.K. Rowling Addresses Backlash to Her Anti-Trans Comments in New Podcast: ‘I Never Set Out to Upset Anyone’

J.K. Rowling
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J.K. Rowling, nearly two years after she ignited a firestorm over her comments widely perceived as denigrating transgender women, is speaking out about the controversy in a new podcast — and claims that fans have “profoundly” misunderstood her point of view.

In the forthcoming podcast, “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling,” Rowling says, “What has interested me in recent years, particularly on social media [is when fans say], ‘You’ve ruined your legacy. Oh, you could have been beloved forever, but you chose to say this.’ And I think: ‘You could not have misunderstood me more profoundly.’”

Rowling, in the trailer for the podcast, says, “I never set out to upset anyone. However, I was not uncomfortable with getting off my pedestal.”

“The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling,” to premiere Feb. 21, comes from The Free Press, the independent media company founded by Bari Weiss, a former op-ed writer for the New York Times. The series is hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, who grew up in a family that were members of the Westboro Baptist Church (“arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center). She “left a life of religious extremism in 2012,” according to her bio, an experience she chronicled in her memoir “Unfollow.”

The Free Press describes “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” as an “audio documentary that examines some of the most contentious conflicts of our time through the life and career of the world’s most successful author.” In interviews that Phelps-Roper conducted at Rowling’s home in Edinburgh, Scotland, the author “speaks with unprecedented candor and depth about the controversies surrounding her — from book bans to debates on gender and sex.” The series also features interviews with Rowling’s supporters and critics, as well as journalists, historians, “clinicians and more.”

Rowling, author of the Harry Potter best-selling fantasy book series, alienated and angered many fans with a series of tweets in June 2020 about transgender people. In the wake of those comments and subsequent ones, actors who have appeared in movies based on her books, including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and Eddie Redmayne, have spoken out against Rowling.

“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased,” Rowling tweeted on June 6, 2020. “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.” Shortly afterward, Rowling wrote a lengthy essay on the topic, linking to it with a tweet that said, “TERF wars” (referring to the label “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”). In the essay, Rowling recounted that she had tweeted support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who lost her job “for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets,” and she detailed “five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism.”

In July 2021, she wrote on Twitter that “now hundreds of trans activists have threatened to beat, rape, assassinate and bomb me I’ve realised that this movement poses no risk to women whatsoever.” Rowling’s novel “The Ink Black Heart,” published in 2022 under the pen name Robert Galbraith, features a character named Edie Ledwell, portrayed as the victim of a “masterfully plotted, politically fueled hate campaign” by “social justice warriors” after her “popular YouTube cartoon” was criticized as being “racist and ableist, as well as transphobic for a bit about a hermaphrodite worm.”

In a Twitter post Tuesday, Rowling said Phelps-Roper approached her last year “inviting me to take part in a personal, in-depth discussion with her about the issues that have interested me in recent years.” Phelps-Roper “proposed bringing in other voices, and looking at the wider picture, bringing her own unique viewpoint as a former fundamentalist who’s dedicated her life over the past decade to difficult conversations,” Rowling wrote.

She continued, “I agreed to sit down with Megan because, having read her wonderful book, ‘Unfollow,’ I thought the two of us could have a real, interesting, two-sided conversation that might prove constructive.”

The seven-episode podcast series is set to launch Tuesday, Feb. 21, with the release of the first two episodes on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other audio platforms. Each of the following episodes will be released weekly.

Listen to the trailer for “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling”:

From Variety US