Rowling’s accusations centre around Chocolat writer Harris’s position as head of the Society of Authors union and Rowling’s controversial opinions on trans politics.
The saga began last weekend, following the attack on British-Indian author Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed on stage in New York on Friday (12 August). Rowling was among the authors to offer support for Rushdie, saying she was sickened by the attack.
The following day, Harris shared a multiple-choice poll to Twitter asking authors if they had every received a death threat, “credible or otherwise”. The options for response included: “Yes”, “hell, yes” and “no, never”.
The fourth option was, “Show me, dammit,” a comment that Twitter users often add for people who don’t want to vote but want to see the results. Harris deleted the original post before posting it again without the word “credible”.
In the wake of the attack on Rushdie, Rowling had shared a screenshot asking Twitter, the platform, for “some support” after she received a death threat saying that she was “next” to be attacked. She said that the police were “already involved” regarding other threats against her.
Rowling has repeatedly been criticised and accused of transphobia for her comments about transgender people. The author has repeatedly rejected the idea that she is “transphobic” and has said that she “knows and loves” trans people. However, her comments have been met with widespread criticism, with many of the Harry Potter cast distancing themselves from the author.
As a result, many people suggested that Harris’s poll and follow-up tweet were a dig at Rowling. They interpreted the “show me, dammit” comment as asking Rowling for proof of the death threats. Harris has denied this, saying that she had offered support to Rowling and “everyone in a similar situation”.
However, in a statement shared with The Times, Rowling said that she had received “no communication” from Harris when she had received rape or death threats and called on Harris to stand down as the Society of Authors’ committee chair.
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) August 13, 2022
She then accused Harris of “consistently failing” to defend female authors who agreed with Rowling’s “personal position on gender identity ideology”.
Harris’s 29-year-old son Fred is trans. The author had “proud parent of a trans son” in her Twitter bio but removed it after she was accused of being “biased” on the subject of freedom of speech.
“I find it impossible to square the society’s stated position on freedom of speech with Harris’s public statements over the past two years and stand in solidarity with all female writers in the UK who currently feel betrayed by their professional body and its leader,” Rowling said.
In response, Harris said that she had never attacked Rowling but had received death threats herself since being accused of it.
“This assault on me and my family by the usual suspects has nothing to do with the @Soc_of_Authors, and everything to do with my support of the trans community,” she tweeted on Tuesday (16 August).
“I continue to support the trans community, as well as standing up for free speech for everyone. There’s no conflict. The people calling for my resignation or my removal from the @Soc_of_Authors don’t care about authors’ rights. Most of them aren’t even authors. They want me gone because I believe that trans people deserve the same rights, dignity and chance of happiness as anyone else.”
On Wednesday (17 August), the Society of Authors released a statement saying they were “absolutely committed” to defending authors attacked for sharing their opinions.
“What we have seen time and again over the past few years is that polarised viewpoints have become the norm, and that so many exchanges on complex issues are happening in online forums where nuance and meaning are lost,” they wrote.