I was quite lucky; I got into Harry Potter just before Goblet of Fire was published. Imagine an insomniac teenager on a midnight adventure to Tesco after yet another row with the parents. The first three books were on some sort of offer so I bought them, and never looked back. My first midnight Potter Party was for Goblet of Fire and it remains my favourite.
I dragged my brother to see Philosopher’s Stone when it came out fifteen years ago (Oh my goodness I’m so damn old) and ten minutes in he was nudging me and demanding I lend him the books when we got home.
So this is my way of saying I like Harry Potter. I have sixteen very important years tied up in it. I have the Deathly Hallows tattooed on my back… I like Harry Potter. But damn, I wish Rowling would leave it alone.
She’s set Potter adrift on the Seas of Publication to be consumed and lived and enjoyed by the multitudes. The constant poking and prodding and press conferences are completely unnecessary.
The most obvious example was the “announcement” that Dumbledore was gay. Well whoop-di-shit. Some people got very upset; those people are called homophobes, and they felt their childhoods had been ruined because an old man with arguably dodgy intentions and life choices regarding the health and wellbeing of a small boy was apparently queer as well. Be upset about the fact that he pretty much manipulated every one around him for his own ends, if you’re going to be upset about anything. Or the fact that there was nothing – absolutely nothing – to suggest Dumbledore was gay in the actual text.
It was like the opposite of queerbaiting.
Does it add anything to the overall experience? Not really, apart from the vaguely bitter taste of regret that Rowling couldn’t actually use the word “gay” in any of her books. She built a whole universe, there was bound to be one in there somewhere.
And so the pattern was established; little “actually’s” – tidbits of information being fed through the Internet. A lot of these so-called “revelations” are things we already knew and just churning up the waters again.
The fandom, of course, is a huge monster. First there was LJ (does anyone remember LJ?) and of course there’s Pottermore. A quick perusal of AO3 reveals 112195 results, and then there’s tumblr with all its meta and fan art. It’s bigger than Rowling, each person with their own image of hogwarts and the people that inhabit that space. And it’s far more diverse place than Rowling ever dreamt.
Queer folks, disabled folks, queer disabled poc folks; how to the dormitories help non-binaries, do house elves help out some of the young witches and wizards with mental health issues. Is there a special quill for kids with learning disabilities, what about trans Harry; in the aftermath of the battle for hogwarts, what support was available to the students who survived. The meta goes on and on and it’s good. A lot of it is really well thought out with references to the Canon and with neat summaries. You could hand some of it in as a well-argued essay, it’s that good.
And yet Rowling’s response – while not aggressive as, say, the author of a certain vampire book series we could mention *cough* Anne Rice *cough* – is rather patronising. The all-seeing mother of the Potter world come to tell you that your headcanon is cute and it’s lovely you feel that way, but here’s another “revelation” about Neville.
The fandom deserves better.
It’s probably the wrong moment to mention that I don’t consider myself *in* the fandom. I can’t draw and I’ve never written HP fanfic. I own a certain amount of merch but I’ve not really leapt off the fan diving board into the murky depths of fandom. I’m just quietly appreciative of the books – and films – that saw me transform from awkward angry teenager to bewildered angry adult.
And where all this is coming from relates to two things that happened this week that are very much related, and cement in my mind why Rowling should make like Frozen and Let. It. Go.
Not too long ago we had the hashtag “givecapaboyfriend” in reference to captain america and possible candidates bucky barnes and Sam Wilson. Go on marvel, a certain section of the Internet said, be brave and make him canonically queer.
They made him a Nazi instead.
This week there was a sort of breaking of the fandom dam, and out poured all the pent of feelings relating to Sirius Black. The betrayal. The fact that he lost all his friends in a 24 hour period, how he spent most of his adult life in a prison, before being sent back to the prison of his unhappy childhood (that Dumbledore again). Before being cruelly killed defending his godson. He certainly bears all the hallmarks of the suffering queer trope. Go on, Rowling. Seeing as you’re the all-seeing eye of Potterdom, confirm what we already know.
Ah but you see, for those of you paying attention, Harry had already seen and commented upon the posters of scantily clad muggle women in Sirius’s bedroom. Apparently that is enough to confirm rigidly that Sirius Black was straight as an arrow.
Now, whilst generally I’m pretty indifferent to the sexuality of Sirius Black, on this occasion there was a certain amount of scoffing on my part, because that was the literary equivalent of the opening verse to Skater Boi by Avril Lavigne.
But the final nail in the coffin came the following day; when Rowling “announced” that Remus Lupin’s character arc was a metaphor for HIV.
My dear Rowling you’re about ten years late. Apart from the fact that lycanthropy as metaphor is the oldest trick in the book… when all those folks on the Internet were yelling at you about Sirius Black, it was because they had Lupin in mind as the boyfriend in question.
Again, Lupin has excellent queer credentials; the metaphor for HIV aside, he is an outcast of society, he suffers and eventually dies. There’s way more queer subtext here than there ever was for her actual gay character. The only way we knew Dumbledore was gay was because she said so.
It isn’t an accident that Rowling made her latest revelation about Lupin in the same week as the hashtag about Sirius Black. It was a very cynical move on her part.
The thing is, it’s not necessarily about captain america, or Sirius Black, or any of the other popular literary characters who are queer-coded but remain straight by default in canon.
It’s about the severe lack of diverse representation in media. Where are the happy queers? Where are the happy poc queers? Where are the happy disabled poc queers? Nowhere.
To be different from the blond able-bodied male is to be invisible. What folks are doing with Harry Potter, and other popular fictional worlds, is filling in the gaping holes so that it reflects reality – a reality where trans folks exist and queer people live happily ever after.
And Rowling should cut her umbilical cord and let them get on with it.