Why this obsession? We’ve long wondered about J.K. Rowling and his tweets about transgender people. Nothing seemed to predispose the one who remains, 26 years after the publication of the first volume of the Harry Potter saga, the most read novelist in history, to become a specialist in this highly controversial social subject but which only concerns a tiny fraction of the population (0.5% of the population in the UK, 0.6% in France).

What could possibly be the driving force behind this fight? Why jeopardize the collective adulation of which it was the object to the point of finding itself today largely “cancelled”? To these questions, the podcast The Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling (already broadcast five episodes out of the seven planned) offers an in-depth and fascinating answer, a vibrant plea for freedom of expression.

The title (“The Witchcraft Trials of J.K. Rowling”) is of course an allusion to the young wizard who made her famous… but also to the insults she is the target of. “Feminazi. Terf [acronym meaning radical feminist excluding trans people, Ed]. Witch. Slut. Times change but hate against women is forever,” J.K. Rowling tweeted in the summer of 2020 to her 14 million followers, in response to the flurry of hate messages she received back then. The word “witch” which she reads so positively in her books is indeed returned to her as an insult.

The first episodes of the podcast take us back to the early 1990s, when the young Brit conceived the Harry Potter project. She lives in Portugal where she makes a living as an English teacher and is married to a man who wants to control every part of her life, searches her purse when she comes home, takes her house key away from her to control his comings and goings. Rowling describes the relationship with the father of her eldest daughter Jessica as extremely emotionally and physically abusive.

To write the first volume of Harry Potter, she had to be tricky. “He knew what this manuscript [le premier, NDLR] meant to me, because at one point he took it and hid it. It was his hostage. When I was sure I was going to leave it, I started bringing the manuscript to work every day, hiding it in my closet in the staff room, and photocopying a small part each time. “, she says. “I had arranged everything, but one evening, a week before the escape I had planned, he got very angry with me. I broke down and confessed that I wanted to leave him. He got very violent and told me he wouldn’t let me have Jessica, that he would keep her and hide her. There was an argument, I paid the price. There was an extremely violent scene, I ended up on the ground, in the street. »

When Harry Potter at the Sorcerer’s Stone, the first volume of the young hero’s seven-part adventures, becomes a worldwide triumph, the young woman – now based in Edinburgh, Scotland – is propelled to the front of the media scene… but not under her real name, Joanne Rowling. The publisher, convinced that children would be reluctant to read a book about a young boy written by a woman, suggested that he sign with neutral initials (the “K” does not even correspond to a middle name and is simply an invention) .

From the outset, Rowling gives very few interviews, jealously keeps the secret about her daily life. She is considered too mysterious, she is accused of acting like a diva. In reality, she explains today, she lives in terror that her ex-husband will find her… Which ends up happening: she suffers an intrusion into her home. It is in this context that, having become one of the richest women in the world, she began her activities as a philanthropist and activist for the cause of battered women. In December 2022, she opened a center for women victims of sexual violence, Beira’s Place, in Edinburgh.

In the early 2000s, the success of Harry Potter made Rowling the target of American fundamentalist Christians who campaigned to have her books banned. Their complaint? The saga would promote witchcraft and black magic. In 2000, a public signature had to be canceled following a bomb threat. Famous evangelical leader James Dobson goes on a crusade against what he calls “praise of the occult”. Convinced, some aides to President George W. Bush objected to Rowling receiving the prestigious “Presidential Medal of Freedom.” Several book burnings were held in 2001 – in New Mexico and Pennsylvania – and a lawsuit to ban Harry Potter from schools went all the way to the Supreme Court.

“It’s something I explore in the Potters,” comments J.K. Rowling. Feeling right is compatible with appalling behavior. “People who burn books are by definition on the wrong side,” she continues. They prefer to destroy the idea they don’t like, or rather its representation. There is not a single book on this planet that I would burn. Even those that I find dangerous. Burning is the last resort of people who don’t know how to argue. »

In August 2020, we are burning Harry Potter again, now on TikTok. But this time it’s the other end of the political spectrum that takes on J.K. Rowling’s work: the left and LGBT activists. The context plays into his decision to speak. The gap has widened between feminist activists, for whom being born a woman exposes girls and women to a certain amount of violence, and activists of the trans cause. “I don’t agree with those who say sex is a construct, that it doesn’t exist,” she notes in the podcast, putting her at the heart of the debate. In a tweet, she details: “I respect the right of every trans person to live as they wish, I would protest with you if you were discriminated against because you are trans, but at the same time my life has been defined by the fact of to be a woman and I don’t think it’s hate to say it. »

Contrary to what is happening in France where this issue has not (yet?) appeared in the public sphere, the debate in the United Kingdom and the United States focuses on the question of spaces reserved for women (toilets, hostels , jails). A number of feminists (those whom their enemies call “Terf”) consider it potentially dangerous to open these places to trans women. LGBT activists argue that it is a demonization of trans people to portray them as potential sexual predators.

In Scotland, the Isla Bryson case, named after a trans woman who was convicted of raping two young women (acts committed before her gender transition) shook opinion. Does Isla Bryson belong in a women’s prison? The controversy has weakened Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon as well as the simplification (voted in December 2022) of the process by which a trans person can obtain a certificate of legal gender recognition. In February 2023, Nicola Sturgeon (who had taken a stand against the admission of Isla Bryson to a women’s prison but had carried the law of December 2022) announced that she was leaving the government.

Added to this is psychological violence, that of the erasure suffered by J. K. Rowling from her own universe. She was sidelined during the festivities and shows organized by Warner Bros for the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film. All of the promotion for the Hogwarts Legacy: Hogwarts Legacy video game has gone without mention of who is the inventor of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. “I deeply believe in not watching what people say but what they do. How do you behave? If you threaten to take away people’s livelihood, if you want to cancel…that language of erasure is that of dictatorship,” J.K. Rowling concludes.