October 16, 2023 - 5:45pm

This week, Melbourne Fringe will host An Evening with JK. For just $28 a head, theatregoers will finally be able to hear how “one of the world’s most celebrated authors become one of the most hated,” as JK Rowling sits down for an “exclusive, hard-hitting, one-on-one interview” with a trans journalist, where Rowling “finally answers the questions she never gets asked, and gives the answers she’s always wanted to give.”

Well. Sort of. 

This will not be an evening with the actual flesh-and-blood JK Rowling, but rather an evening with Anna Piper Scott, a transgender playwright who has taken on the burden of both scripting and reading Rowling’s lines. 

In an interview with The Age, Scott said: “If we all stay quiet until it’s safe to talk about it, it’s going to just become more and more unsafe to talk about. I have to say something now — I think everyone has to say something now”. The playwright went on to describe the play as an act of “empathy”: 

“It’s definitely not a show that’s going to redeem TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] or anything like that, but I do want to understand how they’ve gotten where they’ve gotten, because a lot of these people they were originally proper feminists arguing for women’s rights, fighting really important battles around abortion and everything like that. And then suddenly, their entire lives become consumed by this one issue.”

Opposite Scott’s “JK Rowling,” a “cisgender” actor will play the transgender interviewer, a gimmick Scott hopes will ensure that the audience’s “natural empathy for cis people is placed on the trans character, and people’s natural distrust of trans people is placed on the TERF character, and we’re able to exploit where people’s empathy normally lies.”

The Age observes that the play’s “interview format allowed Piper Scott to write a conversation where an anti-trans character has their views challenged in a way that doesn’t normally happen”— perhaps because trans activists have a pesky habit of pulling out of debates at the last minute.

“They don’t say what they really mean,” Scott says of gender critics like Rowling. “And if they were just on stage for an hour, they’re never going to let the mask slip, they’re never going to drop that charade, and tell you what they really believe [or] where their beliefs ultimately end up.”

This statement reflects a deeply held belief: that gender critics cannot be trusted to communicate their beliefs clearly, relying on dogwhistles instead. So Rowling’s own carefully chosen words and considered arguments can never be counted as testimony of what she actually believes. Instead, conduits and translators and other mind-readers are required. Activists like Scott have spent the last three-and-a-half years accusing JK Rowling of rampant transphobia — even of having blood on her hands — then disappearing when asked to provide the receipts. 

So it’s terribly convenient to pin “Rowling” down like Scott has done and put words in her mouth. Melbourne Fringe promises that the “conversation” will be “often illuminating, sometimes infuriating, and always candid.” 

No doubt it will be illuminating. Candid? Not so much. 

Believe it or not, scripting your opponent’s remarks and then dressing up as them is not, in fact, a debate. It’s a stunt.

Eliza Mondegreen is a graduate student in psychiatry and the author of Writing Behavior on Substack.