Okay, disclaimer: the Harry Potter series did not, in fact, take an otherwise perfectly straight person who enjoyed dating only people of another gender and make them gay:
I WAS GAY THE WHOLE TIME.
But what I do mean by this dramatic subject line is that I can draw an ironically straight line straight-identifying Katie to gay-identifying Katie that goes right through Harry Potter, mostly thanks to the fandom around it. And because of how integral the HP books and surrounding fandom have been for me over the last 15 years, it makes it so honestly devastating to see everyone involved with the newest Harry Potter universe film series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them completely ignoring the golden opportunity for some absolutely wonderful gay and otherwise LBTQIA+ representation.
I wasn’t new to fandom when I first got into Harry Potter, but I’d always been into heterosexual ships in any kind of serious sense. I started with HP the same way, to the extent I shipped anyone through the first five books. Then, as I started to get more into the fandom, I found the Remus/Sirius ‘ship. I absolutely fell in love with this pairing, right on the level of my previous Mulder/Scully love. It was completely wonderful. I experienced a wave of inspiration, pulling from the new experience of writing about two men together, navigating that line of revisiting all the old tropes I used to write for a man and a woman while not falling for the concept of assigning a “woman’s role” to a man. It was great fun
Along with reading and writing all the fic, I started participating in role playing games with other fans, in which I would play a character while they played others, and together we created a story. There’s a bit of improv skill to it, and it helped to build friendships for myself as well. Enter M (who shall remain anonymous). She was in an RPG group with me, and while she wasn’t the Sirius to my Remus, we grew very close. And between her open and proud bisexual identity and my telling a story of young Remus Lupin coming to terms with his sexuality, I was encouraged to examine some feelings I’d been avoiding examining for years. I finally knew I wasn’t straight.
After M left my life, I met my absolute best friend, and when we role-played, I was able to use my character to continue working through some difficult identity issues, and at long last, I became comfortable with calling myself gay, a lesbian.
Of course, Remus isn’t gay in the books–he marries a woman and has a child, and never displays any overt same-sex attractions, despite how it read to me and plenty of others. Sirius isn’t written as gay, either. No one, in the canon of the 7 Harry Potter novels, is explicitly described or shown to be anything other than straight. But not too long after the final book was released, author JK Rowling had an event where she answered questions, and in the process of answering, she revealed that Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay.
This caused a bit of a stir in the greater HP-reading world. Many were thrilled to have The Author finally confirm that a character, particularly such an important character, was gay. Some were glad for it, but felt it lacked the true impact that it would have had being in the books directly. Of course, there were those who had far more negative opinions as well, from justified anger at it being a fairly manipulative character who had been in love with the Wizarding World’s version of Hitler but otherwise single and sexless, to the real lovely folks who clutched pearls and feared that this would now turn all the children who’d read Harry Potter gay. WELL, IT DID, ETHEL. IT DID.
I hadn’t yet fully come to a complete comfort level with my sexual identity when this information came out, but it meant a lot to me to know that even if she hadn’t included it specifically in the books, it was something she’d considered, that a character might be gay. It made me wonder what other thoughts she had about other characters that might never come out (ha!), particularly since I and others had actually seen subtext indicating Dumbledore’s feelings for Grindewald before Rowling made her revelation. At that time, we assumed the world of Harry Potter was closed and we wouldn’t be getting new information or characters. We certainly didn’t suspect we’d get a new movie series involving Dumbledore and Grindewald.
And yet, here we are. Just over 10 years later, we find ourselves preparing for a very such movie, the second in a 5-movie series. But even with the large expected focus on the one character we know Rowling has said to have written as gay along with the man he loved, we’re told today to not expect to see any sign of this love or attraction between them at all. And honestly, let’s all admit it: If Albus Dumbledore was Abigail Dumbledore, there’s a far greater chance that her love for Grindewald would have been mentioned in the books, and I personally feel there’s every chance that the movies would have focused entirely on this intense, passionate, and ultimately doomed romance. Even if, as Rowling teased, the romance might be addressed in a later movie, the earlier movies would hint very clearly at the forthcoming romance.
It’s unavoidable, if people are honest with themselves, that the only reason these aren’t romantic adventure fantasy movies is because the romance would be between two men.* That the filmmaker argues that “everyone knows” that Dumbledore is gay as a reason to delay showing proof of that is, really, just all the more reason to not need to tiptoe around it. If we all know, then who will be shocked? Even if you’re not ready to start showing Dumbledore in love with Grindewald for the sake of the story, you can easily indicate that he is, at least, gay. There are ways if you want to do it, if you value the representation enough. It’s clear, though, that it’s not valued. It’s not a priority. And that’s… upsetting.
*Full disclosure, I never saw the first Fantastic Beasts movie and I don’t know how the Newt Scamander character plays into the future movies or what his possible romance story looks like, though I do believe he’s at least given a female love interest? Regardless, his story isn’t my point.
This whole world Rowling created has meant so much to me. It has given me so much, and I have given so much back to it, in hours of my time and lots of my dollars of money. Just recently I purchased the entire series in ebook format so I could re-read all the books again with my best friend. (We’re struggling through Chamber of Secrets right now; it is the most annoying book to read again!) Even if I consider the canon closed and I don’t go to Pottermore to learn new things that would ruin any of my personal choices for characters, I keep playing with the original canon to expand the world in a way that I own. I’m not going to stop playing in this sandbox, and I’m certainly not out to argue that anyone should avoid the new content being created. But as defensive as Rowling wants to get towards people who are upset with the unwillingness to show a gay man she’s already told us is gay in her newest movie series, the fact is that those of us who are angry have every right to be.
We’re told so often how everyone has a place in the Wizarding World, that we can all be Sorted into a Hogwarts House just like Harry was. But how can we all feel welcome, truly welcome, if you shy away from showing people like us actively in this world? We can’t. Simple as that.