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JK Rowling addresses trans comments in new podcast – what did she say?

The author discusses controversies that have plagued her over the years on The Witch Trials of JK Rowling... but how did the furore around her views start?

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 12: J.K. Rowling accepts an award onstage during the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Hosts 2019 Ripple Of Hope Gala & Auction In NYC on December 12, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for for Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights)
JK Rowling has addressed her previous comments about gender in a new podcast. (Getty)

Harry Potter author JK Rowling has addressed the backlash she has faced over her comments about gender in a new podcast titled The Witch Trials of JK Rowling.

Hosted by former Westboro Baptist Church member-cum-political activist Megan Phelps-Roper, the podcast sees Rowling reflect on her experience in an abusive and controlling relationship, writing a globally successful series of novels, and the controversies that have plagued her fame.

Once criticised by far-right Christians who threatened to burn or ban her books over their alleged promotion of witchcraft, Rowling has more recently been the subject of huge ire from transgender activists and allies over comments she made about gender on social media and in an essay titled 'TERF' Wars.

Speaking to Phelps-Roper in the podcast released this week, Rowling said of the backlash: "I never set out to upset anyone. However, I was not uncomfortable with getting off my pedestal.

"What has interested me in the last 10 years and certainly in the last few years, particularly on social media: '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," she continued.

"I do not walk around my house thinking about my legacy. What a pompous way to live your life – walking around thinking about what my legacy will be. Whatever. I'll be dead. I care about now. I care about the living."

What has JK Rowling said?

The controversy began in 2019, when she tweeted about lawyer Maya Forstater, 45, who had been forced to leave her job at the Centre for Global Development after tweeting that transgender women could not change their biological sex.

Rowling 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?” also sharing the hashtag #IstandwithMaya.

Forstater later won a discrimination claim case against her employer, but Rowling's tweet prompted a huge backlash, with many trans people and allies commenting that the author had let them down.

Less than a year later, in June 2020, Rowling retweeted an article about "people who menstruate", commenting: "‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

A number of social media users pointed out that the phrase was intended to be inclusive of some trans and non-binary people who may menstruate but not identify as female, while others took it as a suggestion that Rowling did not support trans rights.

Later, she addressed the issue in an essay, which she posted on Twitter alongside the comment 'TERF wars', referencing the slur "trans-exclusionary radical feminist".

In the essay, Rowling explained her interest in the Forstater case and in trans issues in general. She revealed she had become interested initially as an author writing a crime series and later after she screenshotted some gender critical tweets for work and accidentally liked one them, became further interested after receiving low-level abuse.

She also raised "five reasons for being worried about the new trans activism" and questioned the idea of gender confirmation certificates being issued without evidence of bodily transition.

"The ‘inclusive’ language that calls female people ‘menstruators’ and ‘people with vulvas’ strikes many women as dehumanising and demeaning. I understand why trans activists consider this language to be appropriate and kind, but for those of us who’ve had degrading slurs spat at us by violent men, it’s not neutral, it’s hostile and alienating," Rowling wrote.

She added that as a survivor of domestic abuse herself: "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... "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 ... then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth."

Backlash to Rowling's tweets

As well as an immediate backlash to Rowling's tweets, and later essay, on social media, Rowling faced death threats, doxxing and abuse from people who did not agree with her comments.

Warner Brothers, which was responsible for making the film franchise, released a statement distancing itself from Rowling's views, while the eponymous Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe released a long statement about Rowling's comments – the first of the film's cast to do so.

In the statement he said: "While Jo is unquestionably responsible for the course my life has taken, as someone who has been honored [sic] to work with and continues to contribute to The Trevor Project for the last decade, and just as a human being, I feel compelled to say something at this moment. Transgender women are women."

Hermione actor and feminist Emma Watson tweeted: "Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are. I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you, and love you for who you are,” she wrote in a series of tweets. “I donate to @Mermaids_Gender and @mamacash. If you can, perhaps you’ll feel inclined to do the same. Happy #PRIDE2020 Sending love x."

Actor Emma Watson poses at the BAFTA Los Angeles Awards Season Tea Party in Los Angeles, California, January 6, 2018. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Actor Emma Watson tweeted in support of trans people following JK Rowling's divisive essay. (Reuters)

Other stars including Rupert Grint, who played Ron Weasley in the series, and Bonnie Wright, who played Ginny Weasley, added their voices to those condemning Rowling's essay.

However, others, including Robbie Coltrane, said they supported Rowling. In an interview with Radio Times, Coltrane said: "I don’t think what she said was offensive, really. I don’t know why but there’s a whole Twitter generation of people who hang around waiting to be offended.

“They wouldn’t have won the war, would they? That’s me talking like a grumpy old man, but you just think, Oh, get over yourself. Wise up, stand up straight, and carry on. I don’t want to get involved in all of that because of all the hate mail and all that s**t, which I don’t need at my time of life.”

What has Rowling said about it all?

Rowling addressed some of the earlier backlash in her essay, although prompting more outrage in the aftermath. She has long railed against the suggestion she is transphobic, commenting in the recent podcast that her views have been "profoundly misunderstood".

She has also hit out at trans activists who posted her home address on social media, writing: "Perhaps — and I’m just throwing this out there — the best way to prove your movement isn’t a threat to women, is to stop stalking, harassing and threatening us."

Following the response to her tweet about people who menstruate, Rowling wrote that she supported trans people and felt that cis women and trans women were vulnerable to the same threats.

“The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense," she wrote.

“I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”