J.K. Rowling Isn’t The Champion of LGBT Rights She Thinks She Is
I loved the Harry Potter books growing up, and even now get a warm cosy feeling discussing the eccentricities and oddities of Hogwarts life with other misty-eyed twenty-somethings.
Even during the scarier moments, returning to the wizarding school felt like a safe refuge, with the quidditch matches, feasts and potions classes providing a magical alternative calendar to be traced alongside my own humdrum, suburban childhood.
More than a book series, more than a ‘franchise’, the world of Harry Potter continues to provide a vast and fully-formed universe where young people can consider weighty issues of justice and media bias, tyranny and freedom.
However, the Harry Potter series – and the subsequent Fantastic Beasts films – cannot be regarded as LGBT-friendly texts, with J.K. Rowling’s latest announcement ringing as hollow as Godrick’s.
As reported by the Radio Times, J.K. made the following comments during a Blu-ray DVD feature for The Crimes of Grindelwald:
Their [Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald’s] relationship was incredibly intense. It was passionate, and it was a love relationship. But as happens in any relationship, gay or straight or whatever label we want to put on it, one never knows, really, what the other person is feeling.
You can’t know, you can believe you know. So I’m less interested in the sexual side—though I believe there is a sexual dimension to this relationship — than I am in the sense of the emotions they felt for each other, which ultimately is the most fascinating thing about all human relationships.
This allusion to an ‘incredibly intense’, ‘passionate’ , ‘sexual’ relationship makes for an interesting contrast with the chaste language she has used in years gone by to describe Dumbledore’s sexuality.
Rowling ‘outed’ Dumbledore in October 2007 – to rapturous applause at New York’s Carnegie Hall – before describing his love for Grindelwald as a ‘great tragedy’.
In a 2008 interview with The Student, she described the wizard as having led ‘a celibate and bookish life’ following his heartbreak:
And whether they physically consummated this infatuation or not is not the issue. The issue is love. It’s not about sex. So that’s what I knew about Dumbledore. And it’s relevant only in so much as he fell in love and was made an utter fool of by love.
He lost his moral compass completely when he fell in love and I think subsequently became very mistrusting of his own judgment in those matters so became quite asexual. He led a celibate and bookish life.
Many LGBTQ fans expressed disappointment with the depiction of the younger Dumbledore and Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, feeling their romance was not made obvious.
Of course – despite the ever-loyal millennial fan-base – these are stories for children and I would not for a second argue that the ‘sexual dimension’ of this relationship should be a focus, any more than the other numerous couples within the wizarding world.
However, what is needed is a real acknowledgement within the remaining Fantastic Beasts films of this apparently significant relationship, differentiating it from the plethora of intensely close, platonic friendships depicted in Rowling’s works.
A gay man written into the original books who was also extremely wise, talented and revered within the wizarding world would no doubt have proved encouraging for young readers struggling with their sexuality.
Jeff Ingold, Media Manager at Stonewall, told UNILAD about the importance of greater representation of the LGBT community:
Representation is so important, which is why we need the media to better reflect the full diversity and lived experiences of the LGBT community.
Greater representation of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people in the media not only ensures LGBT people see themselves reflected in what they watch, it also helps increase understanding and creates a more inclusive and accepting society.
Why have we yet to see a gay kiss in the Fantastic Beasts films? Or even another wizard describe someone as his boyfriend and as not – with eye-rolling elusiveness – as simply ‘more than brothers?’
As true fans will know, the Harry Potter series is rife with romance, crushes and heartbreak. As well as the most adored ‘will-they-won’t they’ odd-couple since Ross and Rachel: Ron and Hermione.
As the books progress with the characters, there is plenty of ‘snogging’, Valentine’s Day cards and – of course – love potions. Even the ghost of Moaning Myrtle enjoys the occasional flirt with boys who enter her bathroom.
First kisses and Yule Ball dates are often integral to the plot, as well as revealing more about the characters; grounding them as normal teens mooning over their crushes in Herbology.
There are also plenty of complicated, grown-up themes of love and relationships in Harry Potter, from the tragic unrequited love of Professor Snape for Harry’s mum Lily, or the short-lived happiness of Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks.
But nowhere in the vast, ancient corridors of Hogwarts do we come across any characters who are explicitly written as LGTBQ. There are no gay couples enjoying an afternoon tea together at Madam Puddifoots, or dropping their kids off at Platform 9 3/4 .
Such representation normalizes LGBTQ relationships, and encourages readers to be more accepting. Books – as Rowling herself taught us – hold great, transformative power.
It’s therefore unfair – and ahistorical – to retroactively place the Harry Potter books as an LGBTQ positive series with a gay man as the sagely role model and father figure.
Other young adult writers have included LGBTQ characters in their books long before it was acceptable to do so, and they should be praised for taking this leap. But Rowling isn’t one of them, and to suggest otherwise would be a woeful rewriting of literary history.
The first Harry Potter book was published in 1997, with the final installment published in 2007. This decade encompassed a number of huge strides for the LGBTQ community, including equal adoption rights (2002) and the passing of the Civil Partnership Act (2004).
Culturally speaking, this was quite a different era. Remember, J.K. Rowling published under an initialism due to fears a ‘Joanne’ would put off young, male readers. It would have been rather difficult to toe the line and publish young adult books with openly gay characters.
Furthermore, the original Boy Wizard films – which perhaps give us the most recognizable portrayal of the Hogwarts headmaster – came out way before the discussion of representation became topical, spanning the period 2001 to 2011.
This was the era before groundbreaking films such as Black Panther and Wonder Woman opened up important conversations about who dominates the screen and who remains hidden.
However, J.K. Rowling arguably now has a larger platform than any living writer and yet her new screenplays do not reflect the gay-positive views she espouses on Twitter and in interviews.
Rowling taught us protagonists didn’t need to take off their glasses to become heroes, that education is power and that people can change their destinies. For many people of my generation, her words shaped our politics and our philosophies.
In many ways, the series taught us to be questioning, accepting – and above all brave – in the face of closed-mindedness and fascism.
The villain of the series was defined by his obsession with ethnic cleansing, a fixation which filtered down to the school bullies whose slurs of ‘mudblood’ and ‘pureblood’ sound more sickening than ever in these divisive times.
It would be fair to regard the world of Harry Potter as a rallying cry against the horrors of the 20th century, with hope placed firmly in the page-turning hands of a generation approaching the 21st.
It is therefore no wonder that her latest big ‘reveal’ has caused some frustration among LGBTQ fans, who still feel very much sidelined when it comes to the actual books, films and play; expected to be appeased with ‘Easter Eggs’ and ‘woke’ Twitter threads.
Of course, it’s worth noting that the Harry Potter series has become far bigger – although by no means greater – than Rowling’s imagination, and the blame cannot be left entirely at her door.
As magical as the characters may be, the world of Harry Potter makes a lot of money for a lot of people, from the theme parks, clothing ranges and merchandise to the eagerly anticipated opening weekends.
LGBTQ representation in mainstream cinema is still abysmal, with movie studios often remaining wary about taking a supposed ‘gamble’ with the depiction of non-heterosexual relationships – perhaps this a consequence of fearing the alienation of conservative moviegoers, and ultimately losing the monetary value of their attendance.
The 2018 GLAAD sixth annual Studio Responsibility Index gave both Marvel Studios and Warner Bros. low scores regarding LGBTQ representation in their respective superhero films:
At a time when the entertainment industry is holding much needed discussions about inclusion, now is the time to ensure the industry takes meaningful action and incorporates LGBTQ stories and creators as among priorities areas for growing diversity.
There are still three movies left to go in the Fantastic Beasts series, which leaves plenty of room for Rowling and Warner Bros. to do justice to the lifetime-defining relationship of one of the most beloved characters in children’s literature.
Whether this romance will continue to exist only in vague allusions remains to be seen. However, as things currently stand, a few vital ingredients are missing in this LGBTQ love potion.
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If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday, Or email [email protected]