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April 17, 2023

Author Judy Blume speaks out on J.K. Rowling's divisive comments about transgender equality

The New Jersey native doesn't feel the 'Harry Potter' creator deserves online harassment, but said she 'vehemently' disagrees with her viewpoint

Judy Blume is among the most influential trailblazers of children's and young adult fiction, having sold more than 90 million books and earned scores of awards during her 54-year career.

On Sunday, the New Jersey native and "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret" author found herself in the middle of the roiling controversy around J.K. Rowling, the British writer behind the "Harry Potter" series. Rowling alienated many of her fans a few years ago when she called transgender activism a threat to "the lived reality of women."

Although Rowling claimed to embrace trans people's rights and to support them against discrimination, her efforts to expand on her beliefs only have inflamed broader battles around gender politics in the years since. Rowling repeatedly has drawn backlash for aligning herself with the outlook of transgender exclusionary radical feminism, which aggressively rejects the idea that trans women should be represented by the biological term "female." 

"I am fighting what I see as a powerful, insidious, misogynistic movement, that has gained huge purchase in very influential areas of society," Rowling said of transgender activism during a recent episode of the Free Press podcast, "The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling." "I do not see this particular movement as either benign or powerless, so I'm afraid I stand with the women who are fighting to be heard against threats of loss of livelihood and threats to their safety."

Blume, 85, was asked about the backlash against Rowling during an interview that appeared last weekend in The Sunday Times. Blume said she had met Rowling in the past and had occasionally corresponded with her, but not recently.

"I am behind her 100% as I watch from afar," Blume said in reference to the death threats and online harassment Rowling says she has faced in response to her outspoken stances.

Blume's own fiction has generated controversy for exploring issues such as masturbation, menstruation and teen sexuality. The author has been vocal about the dangers of the resurgent trend of book banning

In the Sunday Times interview, Blume was asked about the contrast of being attacked from the opposite end of the political spectrum as Rowling, who has angered groups that say she's putting trans people's lives at risk with her provocative rhetoric. Blume acknowledged that she hasn't closely followed every turn of the debate surrounding Rowling.

“You would probably know better than me, and I'm not up on every word that's been said," Blume said. "But it can also be said that (Rowling's) a victim of Twitter, because people believe what they read on Twitter, whatever you actually said."

By Sunday night, Blume felt compelled to clarify her remarks, which she felt were taken out of context.

"I wholly support the trans community," Blume tweeted. "My point, which was taken out of context, is that I can empathize with a writer – or a person – who has been harassed online. I stand with the trans community and vehemently disagree with anyone who does not fully support equality and acceptance for LGBTQIA+ people. Anything to the contrary is total bulls***."

Blume also shared an excerpt of another recent interview with Variety, in which she defended books that elevate trans perspectives.

"What are you protecting your children from? Protecting your children means educating them and arming them with knowledge, and reading and supporting what they want to read,"" Blume told Variety. "No child is going to become transgender or gay or lesbian because they read a book. It's not going to happen. They may say, 'Oh, this is just like me. This is what I'm feeling and thinking about.'"

The saga of Rowling's polarizing statements has led to outright rebukes of her transphobia. Her defenders claim the debate is distorted by fringe sensitivities on social media, while other efforts have sought to reframe the conversation about trans rights away from the author and the legacy of her work. The controversy has shone a light on how transgender issues are covered by media outlets, including The New York Times, which recently was called out by GLAAD in an open letter that slammed the complicit platforming of figures like Rowling

"(It) is appalling to see how the news and opinion pages are now full of misguided, inaccurate, and disingenuous 'both sides' fearmongering and bad faith 'just asking questions' coverage," the letter said. It was signed by more than 100 organizations and journalists calling on the New York Times to improve its handling of these issues. 

Daniel Radcliffe, who starred as Harry Potter in the film franchise, has been a longtime ally of the LGBTQ nonprofit The Trevor Project. He recently moderated a roundtable discussion of trans and non-binary youth for "Sharing Space," a new video series from the organization.

"At the end of the day, if you're going to talk about trans kids, it might be useful to actually listen to trans kids," Radcliffe said

In the past, Radcliffe and two of his "Harry Potter" co-stars, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, have tried to steer the conversation away from the narrow focus of Rowling's enormous influence. Rowling's persistent writing and remarks about the subject have led to a cycle of repetitive commentary that coincides with developments about her work, including the new podcast and HBO's plans to create a "Harry Potter" TV series with the author's involvement. 

"Transgender women are women. Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either (Rowling) or I," Radcliffe said in 2020.

Blume's comments on Rowling come as the author's work is getting a number of screen adaptations. Amazon Prime Video will release "Judy Blume Forever," a documentary highlighting her career and multigenerational influence, on Friday. "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret," a film based on the 1970 novel, will hit theaters Friday, April 28.