The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling

That’s the title of a seven-episode podcast about the attacks on J.K. Rowling from both the left and the right—originally from the right but now mostly from the left. Personally I think that both groups of critics are wrongheaded and have misunderstood Rowling, and clearly her writing is neither pro-witchcraft nor anti-trans. Some people have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. In any case, the podcast is worth listening to.

I hate to say that the right is right about anything, especially these days, but cancel culture pushes my buttons as it does theirs. If you have personal disagreements with a writer or other artist, fine: don’t read or watch or listen to their works. But let them write. Let them speak.

One complication here is that those who call Rowling a TERF might (or might not) be misunderstanding her point of view. Listening to the podcast won’t answer all your questions, but it will at least give you a more rounded perspective. Feel free to agree or disagree, but at least be sure that Rowling really is saying what you think she is saying. A recent article in Vulture is a case in point; although the article itself is problematic, many of the comments are (unusually) well worth reading. I will quote one:

What a lamentable piece. The lack of self awareness or sincerity is par for the course in how some liberals think it best to silence any voices of dissent on the — deep pause — trans issue. 

I’ve listened to the podcast and, though a bit overly padded (like most podcasts) it is insightful and well worth a listen. What emerges most clearly from the three episodes so far is that: 

1. JK Rowling feels an enormous responsibility to her audience, but does not want to take the easy route. This – pathetically – is what so many yearn for her to do: shut up, you Terf. 

2. American criticism of JK Rowling fails completely to engage with the particular context in which she is writing, namely the Scottish government’s proposals to move towards self-ID without any safeguards for women only spaces. Crucially, unlike in the US, gender reassignment is available on our public healthcare system, and violence against trans people is relatively rare (and generally linked to prostitution). 

3. This article – like a similar derivative effort on The Daily Beast – tries to claim that it wants debate. But the author doesn’t. There is an undeniable hysteria around the reaction of many to JK Rowling. It isn’t what she’s said but that trans people are suffering and JK Rowling isn’t waving a magic wand of simply offering a hopeful meme. All the foregrounding in the world of how trans people suffer – and many do – isn’t going to matter when push comes to shove and discussion turns to: 

1) the ethics of social transition 

2) puberty blockers 

3) transition before 18

4) access to refuges, prisons, public bathrooms and so on

4. The venom that continues to be directed at JKR, and is never directed at any male figure expressing similar views, is intended to prevent others talking. 

Categories: Books, Life