The Insidious Transphobia of “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” by Megan Phelps-Roper

The Insidious Transphobia of “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” by Megan Phelps-Roper

Episode 4: TERF Wars

…and episode 4 begins.

The stage is set with these repeated soundbites of violent trans people harassing so-called feminists, saying, “Fuck you, you ugly piece of shit! You look like you got your teeth knocked out, you fucking fascist! Nobody knows who you are and nobody cares and you will die alone!”

Just before this, at the start of episode 4, guest Helen Lewis had explained to Megan how the term “TERF,” trans-exclusionary radical feminist, is an extremely offensive term to “handle with tongs.”

It stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. And it kind of doesn’t mean any of those things anymore. I’m often called TERF, even though I’ve written in print that I think trans women are women. It doesn’t matter, though. It just means this is a bad woman. You don’t need to know any more about her. I mean, TERF is basically witch.

Helen Lewis, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

“TERF is basically witch.” But the title, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, in which they discuss people’s use of TERF to describe Rowling, is to be understood as ambiguous.

Women’s rights and wrongs

(Trigger warning: domestic violence.) Similarly to the beginning of episode 3, they switch gears after a loaded opening to a still heavy but seemingly different topic: domestic violence. Lewis explains to Megan how Rowling grew up during a time of progress in the UK feminist movement, in which the first women’s refuge opened in Britain by a woman named Erin Pizzey (whose switch from feminism to violently misogynist men’s-rights-activism Lewis more or less justifies; she doesn’t say “feminism has become too woke,” but she may as well have). Lewis highlights the Reclaim the Night campaign, for women to be able to safely walk outside at night, which is now ironically intersectional and trans-affirming.

Naively, I wasn’t sure at first where this conversation was going until Rowling’s voice appeared.

It’s very much a feature of the culture in which I grew up that women, by virtue of their biology, are subjected to specific harms, specific pressures, and require certain protections, and that is inextricably linked with our biology. And we cannot fight for our rights without naming and accurately describing what makes us different from men. […] My feminism must remain grounded in the sex class and the oppressions my sex class suffer. That’s the basis for our oppression. That’s my understanding of why certain things have happened to me.

J.K. Rowling, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

Ah, okay. Women with vulvas require protections that women without vulvas somehow do not need. To begin steering the conversation in the direction where it is undoubtedly headed, we also get the first claim that TERF is a slur. (It’s not.)

Feminists were hugely disparaged across the mainstream. They were ugly. They didn’t shave their armpits. They were aggressive. They were butch. And I suppose I see real parallels with, now, with the slur that is TERF. All the same tropes about a woman not behaving the way a woman is supposed to behave. You know that. All of the clichés.

J.K. Rowling, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

It’s the same picture

After the ad read (for NetSuite, Athletic Greens, and, if you were wondering), Megan steps back and recounts the rocky progress of LGBT rights over the past decades, including rights for gay couples to marry and adopt, as well as Obama’s “protections for trans healthcare and military service” and Trump’s subsequent overturning of those protections. Megan then adds “Figures like Viktor Orbán in Hungary who are stoking attacks on the very legitimacy of LGBT identities altogether. But that was not the fight that J.K. Rowling would eventually step into.”

Was it not?

I think the hardest thing for outsiders to understand is that there are two different arguments going on. One is the traditional conservative right argument, which is anti-LGBT. So someone like Viktor Orbán in Hungary doesn’t think people should be allowed to transition, and he wants to take away that right from them, which is part of a broader idea that LGBT identities are decadent and postmodern and are going to sap the vital life force out of the country. That is one criticism of modern LGBT politics. The other one is a criticism from the left in which it says sometimes male people and female people have different interests. No matter how the male people identify. And we need to work out those conflicts in policy and law.

Helen Lewis, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

Megan vs. the Overton window

Megan and her guests don’t understand that people like Viktor Orbán, or, notably, the Westboro Baptist Church, shift the Overton window of what type of ideas are socially acceptable by giving people something to point to and say, “You think what I’m saying is homophobic? I’ll show you homophobic.”

As Caelan Conrad pointed out in their video after reading this tweet:

She is so certain, so assured, that her open bigotry didn’t inspire more, that if she had persuaded anyone, she definitely would know about it. This is naivete to the point of willful ignorance. She can’t possibly believe that she actually persuaded zero people to do something a little more extreme. Because her abuse didn’t exist in a vacuum. When you move the anti-gay Overton window to the right, it gives the people lobbying to restrict queer rights, something they can point to, to say, “This bill I wrote isn’t homophobic, I’ll show you homophobic—real homophobia.” It makes everything less than the worst seem less bad. “Yeah, I don’t support gay marriage, but I’m not, like, out on the street saying they’re going to burn in hell. I’m not a homophobe.”

Caelan Conrad, The ALLEGED Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling (What The Megan Phelps Podcast Won’t Tell You)

In a tweet after the release of the final episode, Megan would echo what Lewis said here:

It’s very interesting to me that she acknowledges, um, speeches like the one at CPAC, and condemns the conflation of her and her guests’ positions (of women’s safety) with Knowles’s (of trans eradication). But as Caelan said, her and Rowling’s ideas don’t exist in a vacuum. When a podcast like this tries to frame Rowling’s harmful anti-trans rhetoric as centrist (somewhere between the evangelicals and trans people who both burned her books) or even leftist, as Helen Lewis implies in the quote above, now there’s room for rent on the right for more extreme and explicit calls for violence like those from Knowles.

Ties to the far right

Even without that less direct effect of this podcast on anti-trans rhetoric, people like Rowling and Kathleen Stock, who we will meet later, have mutual friends with far-right hate groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and The Heritage Foundation who influenced the total ban on homosexuality in Uganda by Yoweri Museveni, who could be seen as a modern-day Viktor Orbán. (Maya Forstater recently gave a speech at an ADF UK event; Julie Bindel is friends with Heritage Foundation speaker Jennifer Lahl; Bev Jackson, co-founder of the LGB Alliance together with Angela Wild, has claimed that working with the Heritage Foundation is the only solution to the trans “medical scandal.” Details here.)

A photo of Rowling at her TERF brunch on April 10th, 2022. She poses with a tipsy-looking group consisting of Kathleen Stock, Maya Forstater, Allison Bailey, Helen Joyce, Liane Timmerman, Angela Wild, herself, Suzanne Moore, Julie Bindel, and one unnamed woman.

As YouTuber John Duncan points out, especially with respect to how this newer anti-trans movement is virtually identical to past moral panics about keeping cis white women safe from Muslim men, Black men, and Jewish men, maybe it’s not two movements, but one.

Not to mention the evidence we have of how Rowling has both directly and indirectly influenced anti-trans policies in the US, as well as platformed and defended Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull/Posie Parker, who also has far-right ties and whose rallies have attracted positive attention from Nazis.

Lewis goes on: “That is very different from saying someone’s a pervert or a degenerate. It says you are perfectly free to live your life. This is a perfectly valid identity to adopt. However, there might be times when it comes into conflict with other identities.” To which Megan replies, “Take, for example, women’s sports,” before launching into newscast soundbites about Lia Thomas breaking women’s swimming records. So the conclusion is that trans people can live their lives, as long as that doesn’t include competing in athletic events, seeking refuge from domestic violence, or as Megan pivots to next, going to the bathroom.

Self ID

This begins a long conversation about the passing of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in Scotland (or self ID law) which now allows trans people to get their correct (Megan says “preferred”) gender printed on their government ID without a gender dysphoria diagnosis or medical intervention. What no one mentions is that the UK’s National Health Service’s protocol for gender-affirming care is deeply flawed, requiring a gender dysphoria diagnosis and a trial period living as one’s true gender before agreeing to get the gender-affirming hormones or surgeries that folks like Rowling and Lewis believe should be required before people can apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. Even then, there are years-long wait lists to receive this care, if your doctor even agrees that you need it. In British trans woman Shon Faye’s case, her clinician would not move forward with her care until she legally changed her name.

The series gets less subtle as it progresses, as we can see when Megan first claims that this Self ID law would allow “predatory males” into women’s spaces. But of course, it’s Rowling who first drops the charade altogether.

So I was already aware that the activism was arguing for this kind of self-identification. Therefore, an entirely male-bodied male can, by self-declaration, “become,” in inverted commas [quotes], a woman. Conceptually, as it were, he’s now conceptually a woman. […] I can already hear the screams of outrage. “You are saying that trans people are all predators?” Of course I am not, any more that I’m saying—I’m a happily married straight woman. I know perfectly well all men aren’t predators. I know that I have good men in my life who are among my favorite people. But I am also aware that 98 to 99% of sexual offenses are caused by those born with penises. The problem is male violence. […]  To open the doors to any male who says, “I’m a woman and I have the right to be here,” it will constitute a risk to women and girls. Now, that actually has very little to do with trans people and a lot to do with what we know of the risks from men to women. But this is the flashpoint. The activists who would argue against me, I’ve seen them say, “but these are now women.” And I say, well, here is where what a woman is becomes hugely important.

J.K. Rowling, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

Check “male-bodied male,” “trans ‘people’ are men,” and “what is a woman?” off your J.K. Rowling bingo card.

Strawmanning and steelmanning

Ever the strawwoman, Rowling asserts that “it’s been claimed that nobody has ever abused dressing as the opposite sex, and no trans woman has ever presented a physical threat to a woman in an intimate space.” We’re not told who claimed that, because it’s highly unlikely that anyone ever did. Trans people are human. Humans are messed up. But Megan and Lewis spend a lot of time talking about Karen White and not a word about the rampant abuse in women’s prisons from correctional officers, guards, and wardens.

In 2018, a trans prisoner named Karen White was convicted of sexually assaulting two female inmates while held on remand for other offences in HMP New Hall, a women’s prison in Wakefield. White had previously raped two other women while living as male, and had admitted to sexual desire for children. Passing sentence, Judge Christopher Batty said: ‘You are a predator and highly manipulative and, in my view, you are a danger. You represent a significant risk of serious harm to children, to women and to the general public.’ That a sadistic and manipulative predator like White was given unfettered access to assault inmates when her history was known was a grave failing on the part of the authorities, who were responsible for keeping her victims safe.

Shon Faye, The Transgender Issue, p. 184

What White did was abominable, and at the same time we have no reason to think she’s not really trans, as a news soundbite in the podcast implies when it says she “used her transgender persona.” She never should have had any access to female inmates after having raped two women in the past. But the fact that Megan, Lewis, and Rowling only care about White’s two assaults and not about the cis men’s innumerable crimes, tells us that they’re not concerned about women’s safety. If they wanted to reduce the most harm for women, they would actually be in favor of abolishing prisons altogether, or at least not allowing men to staff them. But they focus on the one trans woman who is guilty of assaulting fellow inmates, because they can use this story to subject other trans women to the even worse abuse of serving time in men’s prisons.

Speaking of strawmanning, however, Megan is aware of the dangers of assuming your opponent’s position. So she asks Helen Lewis, “Can you articulate where those on the opposing side of this debate are coming from? Like, what is the steelman good faith way to understand the argument that says if your gender identity is female, then medical transition or not, you should be housed in a women’s prison?” She does not ask a trans person or even a trans ally, or someone who works in an organization fighting for trans equality. Lewis’s answer starts off not that bad, acknowledging that “trans women are particularly at risk of sexual violence in male prisons, and that is a fact” and that male prisons are “violent, tense,” and “really horrible.” But she ends by condemning the ACLU for arguing that trans women convicted of violent offenses should be housed in women’s prisons.

Megan and Lewis essentially rinse and repeat the prison conversation about public bathrooms, complete with “extensively documented cases” of “males who pose as trans women” attacking little girls in bathrooms, but neglecting to mention that one doesn’t need a government ID to enter a restroom or that assault is already illegal.

To make sure every topic has been checked off the anti-trans talking point list, they then switch to condemning gender-affirming care for children, bringing in trans-healthcare-gatekeeping trans psychologist Dr. Erica Anderson, who left the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) in 2021 because WPATH criticized the model which views gender dysphoria as a disease. She tells pretty much the same lies about rushed care that Jamie Reed did in her article, propagating myths about transition regret and detransition.

A little later in the episode, we somehow manage to find ourselves back again at the “feminist meetings” in which trans activists call the women gathered inside TERFs.

No debate

And then we come to the famous two word slogan, the stop phrase. “No debate. No debate. No debate.” We hear it all the time. That alarms me. Really alarms me. I can’t think of a purer instance of authoritarianism than no debate. In fact, that is the attitude of the fundamentalist. “You may not challenge my ideas. That makes you evil. I am righteous. I don’t have to explain my righteousness. And I am entitled, therefore, to bully you, to harass you, to silence you, to take away your livelihood all the way up to attacking you.”

J.K. Rowling, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

This woman could not be more wrong about authoritarianism. Throughout the history of the United States, there have been a lot of topics that people thought were perfectly appropriate subjects for debate, like whether or not to abolish slavery or whether women should have the right to vote. Whether trans people deserve human rights (which is what she’s arguing against) is not up for debate. There is plenty that’s fair game to debate about. It is only someone with a severe lack of creativity who cannot find anything to debate about other than human rights.

Megan is soon joined by Michelle Goldberg, whose views on trans issues are slightly better than those of her peers here but still not good. They detail some threats towards TERFs from trans people online, and Goldberg’s analysis is really all over the place.

I don’t think those people are representative of the trans rights movement. But nevertheless, there’s a lot of feminists who feel like aggrieved people kind of constantly saying, “If you don’t recognize me as a woman, I’m going to rape you.” They just they feel like there is this very vicious online dialog in which a really brute sort of misogyny is dressed up in progressive clothes. And so, you know, to add insult to injury, you’re not even supposed to complain about it within feminist spaces. 

Michelle Goldberg, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

I actually agree that “those people” don’t represent all trans people, but it is also certainly not trans people who are “misogyny dressed up in progressive clothes.” Perhaps if they actually listened to trans people beyond their most angry, anonymous tweets, they might be able to better understand them. They don’t even need to go offline to do that: there are several trans video essayists on YouTube who work extremely hard on well-researched videos about trans rights, lives, and healthcare, but they’re not mentioned.

Looking in the wrong places

Perhaps if Megan had looked there, she would see more coherent arguments and fewer “accusations that [‘feminists’] are violent transphobes [which feel] less like a sincere criticism and more like an attempt to smear them so that no one will listen to them.” Especially considering the amount of violent and sexual abuse and harassment that trans people endure on these same sites daily, I’d argue that it’s not a problem with trans people, it’s a problem with all people when given the anonymity of social media. Surprisingly, Megan does acknowledge that trans people receive the abuse too, but she says it’s “often coming from the right and the alt-right” rather than the daily threats that they receive from Rowling’s own fans.

Goldberg knows that trans people are fighting for their lives, and she doesn’t care.

I think that they can, they will enjoy the same sort of assumed protection as other groups whose rights we’ve decided are not up for public conversation. I think the problem is that we don’t actually have a consensus about what gender means or what makes someone a boy or girl or woman or man. And so you still have to talk these things out and have these conversations.

Michelle Goldberg, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

Except we really don’t. It’s more a topic to research than to squabble about. Gender is a cultural construct. We know this. There are books and articles and experts that can tell us exactly what it is and how it was created. And even then, we don’t need to “have a consensus about what gender means” to give trans people the “basic rights” that these two women know they deserve just for being human. (To be sure, we don’t really have a consensus about what race or sexuality “mean,” but there are still some, albeit not enough, legal protections for Black and gay people, which Goldberg would likely agree with.)

We end episode 4 with a teaser for episode 5 which talks about Rowling’s transphobic tweets.

There were people close to me who were begging me not to do it, I think out of concern of what that would mean, they’d watched what had happened to other public figures, and there was certainly a feeling of, “This is not a wise thing to do. Don’t do it.”

J.K. Rowling, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 4: TERF Wars

18 thoughts on “The Insidious Transphobia of “The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling” by Megan Phelps-Roper

  • April 17, 2023 at 6:47 am

    You keep using the word “equivocating”, I do not think it means what you think it means. What I think you mean is “equate”.

    • April 17, 2023 at 8:46 am

      Oh my gosh!!! Thanks for telling me. Well they definitely equivocate too! 😅

      • April 19, 2023 at 11:54 am

        Yes they do 🙂

  • April 25, 2023 at 5:40 pm

    It seems like your review of the podcast is mainly about Barry Weiss’s connections to problematic people. I can see why that might lead you to dismiss the podcast as a waste of time, but you say you listened to the whole thing. I’m curious what you found a chance phobic exactly about the podcast itself?

  • May 9, 2023 at 2:36 pm

    Hi Rebekah,
    Thanks for this post. It led me to actually listen to the podcast and move beyond the limited perspective I had received from the Sam Harris’ interview with Megan. It also led me to listen to the Contrapoints response, which was very helpful. I recognize the significant effort that goes into putting together a lengthy post like this. It was clearly a labor of love and you offer many good observations on how the podcast does not live up to the fair-handed intentions espoused by Megan. That said, some aspects of the post caught my attention for less noble reasons, so I want to offer what I hope is received as friendly, constructive criticism. I really don’t want to misrepresent you in any way, so if I have misunderstood something then please let me know.

    To start, I want to note that your many valid points are more likely to be summarily dismissed by readers who think that you are acting in bad faith – which I assume you don’t want. Your passion comes through loud and clear, but it appears to come with a serving of hyperbole and speculation which can be easily interpreted as a less severe version of the bad faith activism that the podcast is critiquing. To clarify what I’m referring to, some examples that caught my attention are:
    1. On the first page, you (drawing from Caelan) accuse Megan of selfishly using people as mere plot devices in her story, then go on to impugn her knowledge of how to counter bad ideas and equate it to what the rest of us figure out in kindergarten (more on this below – she may know more about this than you think).
    2. For Episode 1, you speculate that Megan was coached by the Free Press on what to say and then question her honesty about the “highly, highly” doubtful origins of the letter for which you’re “almost positive” you know the origins. The dot joining which you use to reach that speculation is reminiscent of conspiratorial thinking.
    3. For Episode 4, you reinterpret Rowling’s statement that biological women “require certain protections” into an assertion that trans women don’t need protections (I believe she acknowledged this need at some point), and interpret the discussion of Karen White instead of cis men’s crimes as evidence that “they’re not concerned about women’s safety” (rather than just the consequence of focused discussion), and take Goldberg citing the need for clear delineations as evidence that she “doesn’t care” “that trans people are fighting for their lives”. These do not read as fair and accurate interpretations. Beyond that, the listing of advertisers in this episode is, whether you intended it or not, going to be interpreted as an endorsement of “cancel culture” by virtue of being read as a suggestion to boycott them.
    4. On the last page you claim that they (presumably Megan and Rowling) prefer a world in which “trans people stay at the bottom if they are there at all“. Regardless of your intention, this reads as if you think they might actually want to eliminate trans people altogether.

    Again, you’ve made a lot of good points in this post, but I raise these observations because I assume you want those points to be received without being seen as misrepresenting people and acting in bad faith. Which leads me to my second critique…

    I may very well be wrong, but it also felt to me like you were not only criticizing Megan’s approach in the context of the podcast, but were also leaning toward skepticism of the open dialogue strategy in the context of social justice issues in general. I infer this from the observations above, in the quotes you select from Caelan, and in your handling of Megan’s response to Natalie’s “indirect bigotry”. Though Natalie’s video shows how antagonistic activism isn’t anything new (contrary to many claims), the mere presence of that behavior in past successful movements does not infer that it was necessary for their success.

    More practically, there has been a fair bit of work to study persuasion, in both the individual and larger social contexts. If you are not already familiar with David McRaney and his “You are not so smart” podcast, I recommend taking a look. If you want your activism to be effective then I suggest that he is a voice worth listening to. In case you haven’t already guessed it, the most effective strategies have a lot in common with Megan’s idealism and stand in opposition to more antagonistic methods. While it is important for a movement to grab the public’s attention, not all attention is good for the success of the movement.

    Lastly, though I have no stake in being a Megan Phelps-Roper apologist I thought it would be interesting to try and steelman her approach with this podcast:
    1. If she is in fact aware of the research noted above (as I would guess) then the grace she extends to the gender critical viewpoint can also be seen as her engaging in the kind of dialogue which is necessary to gain the trust of those who hold that perspective, which makes them more open to the alternative viewpoints that are shared.
    2. While the series title does lend itself more to the implication that Rowling is the witch than the witch hunter, let’s not forget that (a) Rowling’s fame is based on witchcraft, (b) Megan’s background was deep in the anti-witchcraft era of Harry Potter, (c) witch trials are classic examples of mob justice, which is a prominent theme of the series, and (d) a catchy title is important to downloads. She has said the title was intended to be open to interpretation, including directly stating this in the first episode. In the absence of unambiguous indications to the contrary, we should not assume that is a lie.
    3. As far as I know, Megan doesn’t have any kind of history that puts her in the same camp as Rowling on gender issues. Guilt-by-association is a precarious criteria for pigeonholing somebody, especially when the association is in a context where she explicitly tells us that she is trying to not take a side. Even if you think she failed in that goal, your perspective on that is not a reliable insight into her intentions.
    4. Megan’s history of being heavily focused on the promotion of open, civilized conversation regardless of ideological differences is good reason to believe her when she says that her goal in this case is no different, even if the end result does not appear to be as balanced as she thinks it was. As noted previously, to say that she is the “epitome of bad faith” is mind-reading her intentions.
    5. Rowling is the centerpiece of the project and its success is likely dependent on Rowling’s approval. If she pulled her support, it may not have ever been released. That’s a tough line to walk and will inevitably bias the result in favor of not alienating her.
    6. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I read you as saying that Megan’s past has given her a “dangerous lens” because it causes her to mistake the expressions of pain and hurt in the more aggressive interactions as equivalent to the expression of hateful dogma from her time at Westboro. The distinction between emotional responses and hateful dogma is fair, but it also does not mean that there is no dogmatic rhetoric to be found on the trans-activist side. I think Natalie did a good job of acknowledging this, and we shouldn’t assume that Megan is also not aware of this distinction even if it was not overtly addressed in the podcast (though perhaps it was and I just don’t recall).
    7. While episode 7 does not feature Megan confronting Rowling with vigor, the questioning of Rowling was such that – in my opinion – Rowling was cast in a far less flattering light than she was in the first 5 episodes. If that’s a legitimate observation then that is a telling way to end the series.

    Sorry for the length of this comment. I hope you can appreciate that I’m not trying to be adversarial and why I would think it was worth sharing these observations.

    • June 15, 2023 at 11:46 am

      Hi Travis, thanks for your comment and for waiting for my reply! I’ll do my best to address your points below.

      1. While I did speculate about the podcast’s origins, I don’t think it’s wrong or conspiratorial to do so. I laid out the clues that led me to that (tentative) conclusion because Megan’s alleged letter was never released, or even described in detail, and so I don’t think my hypothesis is a great stretch. But at the end of the day we don’t know for sure, and I wish we had more information.
      2. Rowling does acknowledge in her essay discussed in chapter 5 that “Trans people need and deserve protection. Like women, they’re most likely to be killed by sexual partners. Trans women who work in the sex industry, particularly trans women of colour, are at particular risk.” Barring the obvious implication here that “trans people” are not women, she follows this whole section with “At the same time,…” leading into fear mongering about men in women’s restrooms. So that contradicts what she said here which is that “[our sex class] is the basis for our oppression” during a discussion about domestic violence. She implies that trans women cannot suffer the same oppression as cis women, which is based in their “sex class.” Regarding the listing of advertisers, you can interpret that as cancel culture if you want to. Brands should suffer consequences for being featured in transphobic podcasts. Finally, I disagree that the interpretation of correctional officers causing more harm than Karen White was not fair and accurate. I believe it was more than fair, and wholly accurate.
      3. Yes, I believe that they “might actually want to eliminate trans people altogether.”
        (Next numbered list!)
      4. Sorry but I don’t buy this explanation of the title as ubiquitous. Overall in your analysis I think you are taking Megan at her word too much. Maybe it’s not a scientifically provable fact, but I don’t think she is genuine—that’s probably the biggest difference between your view and mine. (a) I think HP being about witchcraft ties to the idea of Rowling being a witch even more (b) Megan said her family didn’t have anything to do with the anti-HP mania, and she was allowed to read it (c) I think this point also lends itself to Rowling being the witch, that’s why it’s a prominent theme (d) I agree. To your description of “the absence of unambiguous indications to the contrary” what frustrates me about the podcast as a whole is that there isn’t really anything unambiguous. It’s all open to interpretation, so this is my best educated attempt to interpret it.
      5. You might be interested in Caelan’s video. They list some transphobic or transphobic-ish tweets Megan’s liked in the past. I don’t think that proves anything, but it starts to raise a little red flag.
      6. I think that takes us back to the problem of making a podcast that is featuring J.K. Rowling in the first place.
      7. Of course, everyone has biases and their own dogma. Whether Megan is aware of the distinction or not, she really goes out of her way to exaggerate similarities between WBC and trans people/allies, which is not fair.
      8. I didn’t find episode 7 particularly interesting, but instead pretty predictable. I was surprised that Natalie was featured in ep 6 and that her good points were platformed here at all, so maybe there was no going back after her segment as seeing Rowling as positively as we might have in earlier episodes. My biggest problem with episode 7 is the way it was advertised as “Rowling’s opponents will feel they’ve been vindicated after hearing this!” which was not at all the case.
      • July 24, 2023 at 1:01 pm

        First time reader here, and I think Travis R made an excellent point about:

        “To ostart, I want to note that your many valid points are more likely to be summarily dismissed by readers who think that you are acting in bad faith – which I assume you don’t want. Your passion comes through loud and clear, but it appears to come with a serving of hyperbole and speculation which can be easily interpreted as a less severe version of the bad faith activism that the podcast is critiquing.”

        What kind of blog is this? I found it on a top list of best skeptics blogs, but it reads more like bad faith activism to me. What I’ve read so far isn’t true skepticism, which makes me worried, because bad faith activism is dangerous to me and my feelings, in fact it is hate speech towards my feelings. I would like you to stop it if you would please.

  • May 12, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    I left a comment here a few days ago that included a couple links and so was held for moderation. Wanted to alert you in case it slipped your attention.

    • May 12, 2023 at 5:41 pm

      WordPress had flagged it, so I didn’t see it. Thank you for taking the time to write it! I look forward to reading it when I have a little time 🙂

  • June 16, 2023 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for responding even after all this time. I honestly never intended to spur any kind of debate with those numbered points. The first list was just an attempt to backup the claim that you were sometimes characterizing people with uncharitable attributions that go beyond the information we have, and which can therefore appear to be the kind of “bad faith” engagement that the podcast was in part critiquing. The second list was an attempt to show an example of how one could offer a more charitable interpretation of Megan’s position.

    Regardless, I want to highlight the part of the comment that was between those lists. If I could have a redo, I would drop the lists because those clearly were not helpful. I should take my own advice. The larger goal was to encourage you to become familiar with the research around persuasion and how people’s minds change because I sensed you leaning into a more antagonistic approach which I understand to be counterproductive to effective activism. You are welcome to disagree with that assessment, but I thought it was worth sharing that perspective. If nothing else, I recommend looking at adding David McRaney’s most recent book to your non-fiction reading list, and\or his podcast to your rotation.

    • July 11, 2023 at 10:23 pm

      I understand you think you know a lot about this subject matter because you listened to a podcast, but it doesn’t seem to have occurred to you that your tone is very condescending and dismissive.

      It is certain that, at the very least, Phelps-Roper lacks the expertise or journalistic ability to provide a thorough portrayal of Rowling and the people who oppose her (VERY OBVIOUSLY) transmisist agenda. It is even more certain that Rowling herself hates trans people. I do not consider this language to be too strong. She is funding Posey Parker, a genocidal transmisist who is very open about her desire to force trans people to detransition, and if they won’t do that, throw them in prison. Or worse. And she is willing to throw absolutely everything else under the bus in pursuit of this goal, including women’s reproductive rights. She’s also willing to associate with a woman who started a sexual relationship with a minor (who could not consent under the law in many places) and got pregnant by that child, simply because that woman is as openly hateful of trans people as she is. Rowling is long past the “a few concerns” stage of things, and we should not allow her to pretend her motives are pure.

  • July 5, 2023 at 7:44 pm

    I think it’s important to critique ideas where important matters of justice are concerned, but to use the inflammatory words “insidious” and “transphobic” is so clearly hyperbolic that it makes you appear unserious. It gives off the aroma of click bait and performative outrage that is such a turn off to anyone not already convinced. If you are preaching to your own choir, I hope it’s gratifying.

  • September 1, 2023 at 6:11 pm

    I recently listened to the podcast. In many ways I was disappointed with it (and pissed off by it), as well as with Megan, considering her past. While she seeks to avoid repeating the sins of her past, she wound up in the opposite extreme doing the exact same thing. I’m also working my way through the series to analyze them deeper.

    I literally stopped episode 1 within about 15 seconds to investigate the sponsor. Fire ( The first red flag for me was the free speech absolutism. This is often an indicator of an agenda-driven mission that claims high ideals, but is limited in it’s scope to just being anti-woke. I read the article on their lawsuit against CA. I picked a single quote to investigate, “persons that say they are ‘not a racist’ are in denial.”, and followed it down a rabbit hole. The first thing I noticed was Fire is extremely loath to link to outside sources. This tells me that seek to maintain control over the narrative, via echo chamber. The quote I picked was cut down from a much longer sentence (which is why I left the period in their quote):
    “Persons that say they are ‘not a racist’ are in denial of the inequities and racial problems that exist.” (Taken from I. X. Kendi’s book “How to be Antiracist”)

    Fire’s misquote means people who claims to not be a racist are denying that they are. The real quote means they’re denying the existence of inequities and racial problems. Those are two vastly different things. I don’t agree with the full sentence either, but Fire changing the context is outright lying and manipulation. (I don’t agree that saying your not a racist is denial of the problems. Racism, at it’s core, is literally the belief in the superiority of one’s race, everything else is a manifestation of that belief. One can simultaneously believe their race is not superior and know that inequality and racism exists. People who aren’t racist can also be infected with racist ideologies that permeate our society repeated ad nauseum – think “Affirmative Action is reverse racism” – and not even realize the origin or full context of these ideologies.)

    One shouldn’t be surprised about the lopsided presentation of the podcast given it’s sponsorship. Megan literally sold out. It’s funny how quickly she went down the “dark web” hole. It does have a tempting message that seems shiny and logical on the surface. Until one begins to ask certain questions and doesn’t take them at face value. Smart people are very intelligent at rationalizing their irrationality.

    I do believe that JKR doesn’t intend harm, but her extreme focus driven by her horrific past blinds her to the suffering of others (rather than enhancing empathy) and limits her “research” to only that which confirms her biases. Along with the huge array of logical fallacies she commits, she is incapable of understanding that the people who once vilified her didn’t become her allies, they’re using her to justify their hatred of LGBTQ people. If conservatives can separate the T from the rest (a tactic that has taken hold in recent years), then they can separate the rest and regain the ground they “lost” and usher back the pre-Stonewall era of bigotry and hatred that they enjoy so much. Many conservatives and christians don’t even realize that there are eugenicists hiding within their ranks. They play the long game and keep their messages of hatred alive. JKR doesn’t seem to even be aware how she continues to feed this insipid infection of society. I am in no way excusing JKR, ultimately, she made the choices that have hurt a lot of people and has continues to remain willfully blind to broader reality.

  • September 9, 2023 at 10:43 pm

    “The Free Press is an anti-trans publication with a record of distorting and excluding information that doesn’t fit their harmful narrative”

    The amount of projection in this diatribe is something to behold. Even more ironic, considering the latest blog titled, “On Writing White” is coming from a privileged white who regurgitates white talking points in the most white way possible.

    You came in with a conclusion, then perused through The Free Press looking for “evidence” to support your conclusion.

    Bari Weiss didn’t leave NYT because it was “not conservative—or centrist—enough for her” — she said she left because NYT did not defend her against alleged bullying by colleagues and caving into Twitter critics. This folks, is the self-described “critical thinker” and “skeptic,” who couldn’t bother to spend a few minutes to fact-check — but that of course, wouldn’t fit her narrative. She needs to smear her opponents (how dare someone be critical of my religion?) Then she goes on ranting about FIRE because, gasp, they support free speech! You know free speech — the thing that’s part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Well, little Miss whitey here doesn’t like free speech or Universal Declaration of Human Rights — it hurts her narrative when people can talk back and criticize her ideology. She prefers to go back to the 19th century when fanatic whites like her were free to proselytize and force her religion on others without resistance. Ah, the good ‘ol days!

    You know what is “harmful?” A “movement” where its members harass women, who regularly send death and rape threats to women, who use emotional blackmailing, who try to silence critics and get them fired. It’s not surprising that depression among girls and women has skyrocketed, and now white liberal women are the most unhappy group in the country. Congrats — this is the accomplishment of your “movement.”

    The rest of the non-WHITE Western world completely rejects your gender ideology — perhaps should stop excluding this information that doesn’t fit your backward narrative.

  • December 7, 2023 at 5:36 am

    I note that Rebekah Kohlhepp is a Middle Class, Heterosexual, CIS, White Woman. Need any more be said?


What do you think?