Chocolat author Joanne Harris says supporting trans rights doesn’t mean she’s ‘betraying’ women

Author Joanne Harris

Chocolat author Joanne Harris has laid out in clear terms why her support of trans rights does not mean she’s failing women, after accusations of “betrayal” by JK Rowling.

Harris – a celebrated writer, chairperson of the trade union Society of Authors and parent of a trans child – received backlash from gender-critical feminists this week after posting a poll to find out how many authors had received death threats via social media.

Harris was subsequently accused of “mocking” JK Rowling, as the author had recently reported receiving a death threat after condemning the attack on author Salman Rushdie.

An onslaught from Rowling’s supporters ensued, and The Daily Mail ran an article claiming she was “facing calls to quit” her position as the Society of Authors chairperson.

In a Twitter thread, Harris clarified her “poll on death threats to authors had nothing to do with JK Rowling”, and that she is “wholly against threats of any kind, to anyone, regardless of their politics, opinions or views”.

Yet the backlash continued, with The Times publishing its own article quoting Rowling, who accused Harris of “betraying” women as chairperson of the union because she failed to show “solidarity” with gender critical authors who had been “silenced and intimidated”.

On Twitter, Harris expressed her confusion over how the discussion had turned to trans rights: “Given that the latest death threat to JK Rowling was directly in response to her support of Salman Rushdie, then why have the press made this about trans people (again)?”

Nevertheless, she posted a response to Twitter, carefully explaining how her role as a trade union chairperson did not make her responsible for policing Twitter, and how her support of trans people did not decrease her support of women and free speech.

“I’ve always said loud and clear that I condemn threats of any kind, to anyone,” she said.

“That goes for people whose views I disagree with as well as those whose views I share. Free speech is for everyone, and when one person loses it, we’re all at risk.

“Yes, I support trans rights. I also have a son who came out as trans a few months ago. But my personal feelings about the gender-critical movement don’t affect my belief in free speech, or what I do for the Society of Authors.”

Harris said she believes the Times piece “was meant to make [her] lash out at JK Rowling”.

“I won’t,” she added. “JK Rowling has every right to her opinions. I may not share them, but that’s fine. And I totally condemn any threats to her, as I do to anyone. I think the literary world can do better than this fabricated culture war, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Joanne Harris said that during her time as chairperson, the union had assisted multiple gender-critical authors with addressing breaches of contracts and accessing compensation.

But she added: “The Society of Authors isn’t omnipotent, but in the case of broken contracts, we can help, and do without prejudice. Arguments on social media, however, are a different matter.

“Social media is messy. My poll the other day showed how often authors get threats on here, and how often they feel bullied. But here’s the thing. The Society of Authors is a trade union, run by quite a small staff. They can’t comment on every Twitter quarrel.

“Nor can they intervene, or decide who was right, or who bullied who first. Twitter has protocols for that, and in the case of death threats, the police are a more appropriate place to lodge a complaint than an authors’ union.”

Harris said the Society of Authors “vigorously promotes free speech”, but that free speech includes “an equal right to a response”.

She added: “I think the literary world can do better than this fabricated culture war, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

“Sometimes, it’s exhausting. But just because I won’t take your side, or join your hashtag, or be in your gang, doesn’t mean your rights won’t be fought for as fiercely as anyone else’s.

“Because rights are more important than politics. We’re all in this together.”

Salaman Rushdie was stabbed on stage at an event in New York on Friday (12 August) following years of death threats over his novel The Satanic Verses, which some Muslims see as blasphemous.