Episode 6: Natalie and Noah
After what Evan Urquhart describes as a “master class in transmisogyny,” episode 6 is like a short, restless nap of a break in the nightmare that is this podcast.
While the podcast as a whole is by no means balanced, it was refreshing to hear Megan talking with Natalie Wynn, also known as ContraPoints, whose video on Rowling I quoted earlier. Megan’s aim in talking to Wynn was to “embrace humility” and to “really [listen] to people and where they’re coming from.”
Wynn explains for a while her experience of being a trans YouTuber, and before long she’s telling Megan how she, like Rowling, has been at the receiving end of a trans “Twitter mob.” Her tweet in question is nothing compared to some others we’ve seen; it simply calls out how uncomfortable it can be when a group of cis people all state their pronouns simply because there’s a single trans person there and they feel they need to. She’s not most trans people’s favorite person, but it doesn’t seem that that many trans people online are still angry with her.
(They also discuss trans teens online using canceling celebrities as a scapegoat for the pain that they face in their lives, but do not acknowledge that trans people are Rowling’s scapegoat for her own pain of abuse at the hands of cis men.)
And this experience that Natalie had, which she used to make one of my favorite of her videos called Cancel Culture [sic], gave her a deeper insight into why it is that speaking about trans identity and gender issues online so often leads to these vicious public shaming, even towards allies to the trans rights movement.Megan Phelps-Roper, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 6: Natalie and Noah
Is she implying that Rowling is similarly an ally to the trans rights movement? I can’t tell anymore.
Speaking of Rowling, Megan then plays sound clips from Wynn’s video about her—including one where Wynn articulates how Rowling sees herself as the victim of a witch hunt, no less. But Wynn may have also predicted this podcast when she used the Westboro Baptist Church as her example of what direct bigotry looked like. Direct bigotry, Megan understood to be bad. Indirect, not so much.
Following an audio clip from the video, Megan asks, “When it comes to those ideas of direct and indirect bigotry, when it comes to Rowling and her views about, you know, prisons or childhood transition, is your claim that Rowling was being transphobic indirectly and maybe even unknowingly?” Natalie replies that she would engage with someone who is merely skeptical about trans women in sports, but that “My willingness to engage with that is going to decrease if it’s with someone who I think doesn’t really believe in trans acceptance at a much more fundamental level, which is kind of the feeling that I get from Jo Rowling.”
They play a clip from Natalie’s video:
So J.K. Rowling frames her position, as “I’m just saying, the fact that sex is real, it’s not hateful to say a fact. Why is everyone so mad at me? A fact can’t be bigoted.” And I agree that a fact cannot be bigoted. But a fact on its own doesn’t mean very much. Usually when we discuss facts, we’re using those facts to tell a story and facts can be used to tell a bigoted story.Natalie Wynn, J.K. Rowling
To this, Megan responses in the most critical way she’s responded to anyone in the whole series, saying, “This was, I think, one of the hardest parts of your critique to consume.” She elaborates:
I just wanted to ask you to help me understand where you’re coming from. So one critique you made clear in the video, seeing it as the coded language of indirect bigotry is the danger of people who say that they’re just asking questions. And I totally see what you’re talking about, because there are, for sure, bad actors and also just people with really bad ideas and all these people online who make their whole careers out of using the “just asking questions” idea as a smokescreen, essentially. Right. But there are a lot of people and I’ve met many of them while working on this project who just genuinely have a lot of questions. And sometimes they’re afraid to ask them. And I think asking tough questions and pulling apart arguments is obviously a cornerstone of reasoning and it’s actually a thing that you do so well on your YouTube channel. So I just wonder, why is it that you see Rowling and other people in this debate… Why do you see that as if they’re just clearly trying to disguise bad intentions?Megan Phelps-Roper, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling, Episode 6: Natalie and Noah
Considering the kind of person that Bari Weiss is and who Rowling is, it is very hard for me to see Megan’s question here as genuine. She and her publisher are the epitome of bad faith, of “bad actors.” But Wynn’s answer was admirable: “I’m less concerned with the intentions than I am with the consequences.” She emphasizes that Rowling posed “loaded questions” which were “beyond any question” “harmful to trans people.” Notably, I don’t recall Rowling actually asking any questions in her tweets other than “Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?” and those don’t sound very good faith to me.
But Megan still doesn’t see it, asking, “Is it that you believe that it’s dangerous to ask the questions or just that you don’t trust that she’s actually engaging in good faith?” To which Wynn has to essentially spell out that what Rowling and Megan are doing is the exact definition of indirect bigotry that Wynn had given.
I’m glad, however, that Wynn got the opportunity to correct some of the misinformation that Rowling and others had propagated in earlier episodes, such as that trans kids get rushed care, that Self ID allows “men into women’s spaces,” or that trans people can somehow be authoritarian when they don’t even have a position of authority or power. She even calls out how hard it is for her to “politely answer every question [you] have about isn’t giving you health care dangerous for children, isn’t allowing you into bathrooms, is going to leave women vulnerable to rape, like, it takes patience to answer these questions and to not feel insulted or attacked.” But for so many Harry Potter fans like Wynn, “There’s part of me that still cares what she thinks, you know?”
Other than the fact that Natalie Wynn is one of the most popular trans people on the internet, I do not doubt at all that Megan reached out to her because she truly did love her video titled Canceling. One theme that stuck out to me in the video was Wynn’s emphasis on trying to reach across and understand people in good faith conversation:
The point is that sometimes people who seem ignorant or hateful just need to be given a non-judgmental space to learn and grow and think.
And to just condemn them as hopeless bigots actually prevents that growth from happening. […]
I guess the moral is to never talk to people you disagree with, because it will only lead to pain. […]
What I’m trying to say is I really do believe in conversation, which means hearing out multiple perspectives. I don’t want my audience to get all their information about trans people from me, and I think it’s important to listen to criticism.Natalie Wynn, Canceling
So she was the perfect choice to interview in a podcast that claims to do this. The problem is that Wynn expected a good faith conversation with Megan, and that’s not what she got.
In Wynn’s own words, going on the podcast was a “serious lapse in judgment,” in which she endured a “miserable three-hour conversation” with Megan whom she told not to “frame the conflict as a debate between two equally legitimate sides.” She writes, “The fundamental problem is that Megan only understands bigotry from the bigot’s point of view,” and “She needs above all else to believe that bigots are misunderstood & redeemable.”
Megan does not seem to grasp that trans people are fighting for our lives, our right to exist in society. And that this fight is in no way equivalent to the rationalizations offered up by people who oppose trans rights, even when the former are angry and the latter composed.— Dark Natalie (@ContraPoints) February 16, 2023
I don't want my involvement to lend any legitimacy to this. I regret my participation and would not have participated had I fully understood the nature of the project. I feel that I have been used, and I share the sentiments of other trans people who are speaking out against it.— Dark Natalie (@ContraPoints) February 16, 2023
Of course, when asked about this, all Megan really said was that Wynn would probably feel differently once she’d listened to the whole series, and Wynn had just been “responding to an understandable misreading of the show’s title.” But when pitching the idea to Wynn, it was Megan’s responsibility to accurately explain what the podcast aimed to do.
In the second half of episode 6, Megan is interviewing a 17-year-old transmasc kid named Noah. “Interviewing” might be too generous, though; it played out more as an interrogation into a specimen whose otherworldly transition story and trauma were utterly fascinating for her. He was “the embodiment of one of Rowling’s concerns.”
Noah is by far the most genuine, well-meaning person on the entire podcast. He is young enough to still have faith in both Megan and Rowling; he engages earnestly with Megan’s inappropriate questions and expresses hope that Rowling will come around to be the person he’s always imagined she is. She asks him whether he was seeing a therapist when he discovered he was trans, what mental issues he had, how his parents reacted, why his coming out made them uncomfortable, why they allowed him to transition, whether he was familiar with detransitioners, and how his experience was different from “people [who] like to break with social norms, like, you know, women who shave their heads or guys who wear eyeliner” or Megan’s own initial disgust when she learned about female puberty at age seven.
By the way, no one ever asks Rowling whether she’s seeing a therapist, but it’s clear she needs one.
Noah answers every single question with undeserved grace, sharing his stories of depression and of finding himself, of his parents accepting who he is, to the dozens of doctors he had to see and hoops he had to jump through in order to finally get the gender-affirming care he needed.