The inherent homophobia of the Harry Potter series

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I feel like every time I talk about Harry Potter I have to start the conversation with, “I love Harry Potter, but…” in the way that one talks about a relative who used to get us good birthday gifts but now we realize are a bigoted piece of shit. It’s a too accurate comparison, since I’ve always felt that this series played as big of a part in my childhood as my family did. And, just like with many of my relatives, my relationship with the Harry Potter series is strained by the fact that I’m a woman who likes women, and JKR, like these subtly and not so subtly homophobic family members, doesn’t seem to like queer people very much.

To be fair, Joanne K Rowling doesn’t seem to like abuse victims, fat people, people of color or the mentally ill very much either, but I digress.

I have a Harry Potter tattoo. I own a bunch of Harry Potter merchandising, and the books, and a couple movies, and some of the video games too. And yet, my relationship with this series that has been so integral to my life since I was six years old is now tainted by bitterness. The recent premiere of the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them has only increased this resentment.

I think this is a good time to review the homophobia that’s plagued the worldbuilding of the Harry Potter universe from, at the very least, 1999, the year Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was released.

Remus Lupin, Fenrir Greyback and predatory gays

A screencap of Remus Lupin as portrayed in the Harry Potter movies.

A screencap of Remus Lupin as portrayed in the Harry Potter movies.

Though this has always been public knowledge, both because of the blatant intent easily caught by critics when the third book of the Harry Potter series and from what JKR has repeatedly said in interviews for over a decade. Yet, with seventeen years worth of chances to realize just how homophobic the metaphor is, JKR still insists that lycanthropy is a metaphor for AIDS. In a recently published e-book (“Short Stories From Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies”) she writes:

“Lupin’s condition of lycanthropy was a metaphor for those illnesses that carry a stigma, like HIV and AIDS,” Rowling writes. “All kinds of superstitions seem to surround blood-borne conditions, probably due to taboos surrounding blood itself. The wizarding community is as prone to hysteria and prejudice as the Muggle one, and the character of Lupin gave me a chance to examine those attitudes.”

The reader might now ask (as many of those who insist on defending JKR’s character have), “how is this homophobic?” Well, it all begins with a long withstanding urban myth that appeared in the late ‘80s: the “pin prick attacks” and similar stories.

The “prin pick attacks” is one of the names given to an urban legend that spread across many countries, principally the UK and the US, about evil HIV positive queer people (particularly gay men and trans women) purposefully infecting people (especially children) with AIDS by leaving infected needles on train/bus/theater seats, pricking them on the street/public transportation/clubs.

What does this have to do with Harry Potter and werewolves? I quote Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

“Fenrir Greyback is, perhaps, the most savage werewolf alive today. He regards it as his mission in life to bite and to conta­minate as many people as possible; he wants to create enough were­wolves to overcome the wizards.
Voldemort has promised him prey in return for his services. Greyback specialises in children… Bite them young, he says, and raise them away from their parents, raise them to hate normal wizards.”

Does this sound familiar? Anything like violent homophobes talking about gay people corrupting the youth and evil HIV positive queer people ruining the lives of innocent heterosexuals by infecting them?

To add to this, the fact that the face of JKR’s ugly, homophobic metaphor about HIV and queerness is Remus Lupin, a straight character, only adds to the idea of “evil queer man infects innocent straight child”. (During a cast interview in 2011, David Thewlis commented that JKR said that she originally meant to write him as gay but then “the character changed and fell in love with Tonks”, but I’m not going to comment on this.)

Albus Dumbledore, celibate gay men and the tragedy of queer love

A promotional still of Albus Dumbledore as portrayed in the movies.

A promotional still of Albus Dumbledore as portrayed in the movies.

The homophobia doesn’t end here, though. Up until a couple years ago, the Harry Potter universe had at least eight hundred characters. At least two hundred of these characters have a name and we know (from the books, movies, Pottermore, JKR’s twitter or other sources of canon trivia) at least some basic information about over a hundred of them. This number has, of course, grown with the addition of the recent “Cursed Child” play and the “Fantastic Beasts” movie, though I don’t have an updated headcount at hand.

Now, out of all these characters, there is only one who is confirmed as gay (or otherwise not heterosexual), and that character is Albus Dumbledore, who has yet to be explicited as gay in canon and was only revealed as such during an interview in 2007. Though the reveal was made after the end of the book series but before the sixth movie of the series was published, JKR and the people at Warner Bros never took the chance to explicit Dumbledore’s sexuality in any of the movie adaptations that came after it.

She took audience questions and was asked if Dumbledore found “true love”.
“Dumbledore is gay,” she said, adding he was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, who he beat in a battle between good and bad wizards long ago.
The audience gasped, then applauded. “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy,” she said.
“Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” she added, saying Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down” and his love for Grindelwald was his “great tragedy”.

In other interviews across the years, she’s clarified that Grindelwald never corresponded Dumbledore’s feelings, but he did use them to his own advantage.

How exactly is this homophobic, a reader might (again) ask. Well, to begin with, knowing that at least ten percent of the population of Earth is in some way attracted to their own gender, it’s a statistical improbability that only one in eight hundred characters is gay. Just for the sake of realism, at least ten of the named characters we know some sort of “trivia” about should have been confirmed as gay, bisexual, pansexual or another non-straight identity. But that is not all.

Quoting from this article:

By outing him after his death, Rowling effectively placed Dumbledore within the longstanding, problematic “dead gays” trope, instead of showing him living out his queer identity — or, even better, giving kids examples of queer characters Harry’s own age that they might be able to more effectively relate to than a 150-year-old sock-loving school principal.

Dumbledore, as a character within canon, is a lonely and eccentric old man who has never had any meaningful romantic relationships save for his unrequited as “tragic” love for a man who didn’t love him back and that used Dumbledore’s feelings to his own advantage. That’s the only gay character in the Harry Potter universe: a man whose romantic feelings for another man corrupted him and almost doomed him, who was manipulated by the man he loved and then had to fight him, and who then spent a century alone.

Rita Skeeter’s unauthorized biography could have been a perfect way to let us known, at least, of Dumbledore’s feelings for Grindelwald and, ideally, of a long passed husband or at least a couple male lovers through his life. But that never happened.

The Cursed Child and queerbaiting over queer representation

A photo of Albus and Scorpius as portrayed in the Cursed Child play.

A photo of Albus and Scorpius as portrayed in the Cursed Child.

This could and should be enough to convince anyone that JKR and the Harry Potter franchise does not do right by its queer fans, but that is not all. Though my intention is to talk about Fantastic Beasts, I gotta make a quick aside.

I have not read nor seen the “Cursed Child” play, and I don’t plan on it, so I’m only going to comment on it by quoting this excellent article published in Vox by Aja Romano: “The Harry Potter universe still can’t translate its gay subtext to text. It’s a problem.

The friendship between Harry’s son, Albus, and Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, in the play has drawn much media commentary that’s minced few words in criticizing the way the script spends its time building evidence for a canonically queer relationship between the two boys, only to brutally yank it away at the end with a flimsy “No Homo” excuse.
Albus/Scorpius has been a major fandom “ship,” or theoretical romantic relationship, since Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows was released, and Thorne and Tiffany have filled their play’s script with references to their potentially queer relationship. In the play, the two boys are utterly devoted to each other. They exchange long, sensual hugs. They’re jealous of competing relationships and unwilling to be separated from one another. (…)
Throughout Cursed Child, sexual subtext hovers at the edges of Albus and Scorpius’ interactions, as they make awkward overtures into exploring their sexuality with girls. Again and again, the poorly written women of the play are used as shameless props for the giant, flashing “NO HOMO!” sign that the play hangs over the two boys’ heads. Albus and Scorpius’ interest in girls seems to be added as an afterthought, wedged in throughout the play in underdeveloped, unconvincing moments.
Rose Granger-Weasley, the daughter of Hermione and Ron, shows up throughout Cursed Child to deliver plot exposition and serve as a target for Scorpius’s romantic overtures. At the end, without any development of their relationship whatsoever, she finally responds semipositively to his failed attempts to ask her out. By itself, this is a troubling version of the “wear the girl down” trope; coupled with the play’s homoerotic subtext, it’s a train wreck.

Fantastic Beasts and giving a platform to homophobes

A screencap of Gellert Grindelwald as portrayed in Fantastic Beasts.

A screencap of Gellert Grindelwald as portrayed in Fantastic Beasts.

Just like with “Cursed Child”, I gotta admit that I did not watch, and I do not plan on watching “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”. My will to give any kind of economic support to a woman who uses her billions and her platform to support the genocidal state of Israel, and spread homophobia, racism and abuse apologia has completely died and, though I will continue to love the Harry Potter books until the day I die, I refuse to give any props to JKR or to continue supporting any of her creative endeavors. But I don’t need to watch this movie to know it’s homophobic.

I do want to quote from a person who has actually seen the movie, and who wrote a great article about the queerbaiting and homophobia in it. Gavia Baker-Whitelaw of the Daily Dot published “What ‘Fantastic Beasts’ and Grindelwald mean for the future of queer representation in ‘Harry Potter’”, an excellent article on Graves/Grindelwald and what he means for queer men on the big screen.

Much of [Grindelwald/Graves’] screentime is dedicated to a compelling yet disturbing relationship with Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a young outcast whom he cruelly manipulates during scenes with an obvious gay subtext.
As the Auror Percival Graves (Grindelwald in disguise), Colin Farrell gives one of the best performances in the movie. Enigmatic and powerful, he’s a physically imposing figure who exploits Credence’s emotional vulnerability. (…)
Credence Barebone continues this theme in Fantastic Beasts, a young man who was raised by an anti-magic extremist (Mary Lou Barebone, played by Samantha Morton), and grew up repressing his magical skills until they exploded out as a deadly Obscurus. It’s an evocative metaphor for real-life examples of repression, such as people who are raised to hate their own sexuality, or boys who are discouraged from expressing emotion. (…)
The queer subtext between Credence and Grindelwald isn’t explicit, but it’s probably intentional. The filmmakers could have positioned Percival Graves as a kind of paternal figure for Credence, but instead, their scenes have more of a sexual or romantic overtone—albeit in a creepy, controlling way. Understanding that Credence is starved for physical affection, Grindelwald caresses his face, holds his hand, and hugs him as tactics of emotional manipulation. Their scenes are filmed in intimate close-ups or distant shots of their bodies close together in dark alleyways. Graves is Credence’s only hope for escape from his controlling adoptive mother, into a magical world where he can be free to be himself. (…)
So, in the context of what we already know about Grindelwald and Dumbledore, Grindelwald is either a creepy, abusive queer character, or a creepy, abusive character who preys on the affection of men he knows are attracted to him (Dumbledore) or who look to him for emotional support (Credence). (…)
Grindelwald is either a predatory queer villain, or a character whose villainhood was introduced via queer subtext. Meanwhile Dumbledore will end up fighting and imprisoning his first love and, as far as we know, lives a life of solitude until his death at the age of 115.

Edit: as it’s been pointed to me, the fact that Credence is played by an openly queer actor only adds another troubling layer to this issue, since it makes the reading of Credence “repressing his magic” as an issue of sexuality way easier, which in turn makes Grindelwald’s manipulation even uglier.

This article refers to Johnny Depp’s casting as “controversial”, but it should not be described as anything less than plan abuse apologia and homophobia.

Amber Heard, Johnny Depp’s ex-wife, is an openly bisexual actress who’s always had close friendships with various of the out gay and bisexual women in Hollywood. After news of Depp’s domestic abuse emerged, Amber spoke about how he would get violently paranoid about her relationships with other women and tried to keep her from seeing her gay and bisexual friends.

Harry Potter creator JK Rowling says she is “delighted” Johnny Depp has a role in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and its planned sequels. The British author said Depp had done “incredible things” with the character of dark wizard Grindelwald.
Speaking on Thursday, Rowling said future Fantastic Beasts films would show Dumbledore “as a younger man… at what I think was the formative period of his life.” Yet she refused to confirm speculation that the character would be seen in a gay relationship with Depp’s character, simply telling reporters to “watch this space”.
(x)

The fact that JKR is quicker to defend the casting of an homophobic and biphobic abuser than to confirm whether her only canonically gay character will actually be acknowledged as gay in the movies she’s writing is rather troubling, just like the demonization of abuse victims she decided to write into the movie.

Yet, that isn’t the reason why I’m writing this post. The reason is this:

The Werewolf Register was created by Newt Scamander in 1947. The Register is a list of all known werewolves in Great Britain, and is controlled and maintained by the Werewolf Registry sub-department of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
(from the Philosopher’s Stone video game and in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them book)

Yes, you read that right. The hero of JKR’s new movie series is a bigoted man who was directly responsible for the creation of a system of obligatory registration of people who are a metaphor for AIDS and queerness. A system that was created only a couple years after the end of Word War II, when the Nazis marked gay men and trans women with a pink triangle to “register” them.

Yet he is going to be the lead and hero of at least two more movies, movies that cast an homophobic abuser in a leading role and played into the “queer-coded predatory villain” from their very first installation.


At this point, I feel like Joanne K Rowling and the Harry Potter franchise don’t deserve any more chances. It’s time to finally put a lid on this issue, to collectively agree that JKR is a homophobe and move on. I’m tired of waiting for scraps from this woman, and I refuse to make excuses for her homophobia any longer.

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12 thoughts on “The inherent homophobia of the Harry Potter series

  1. Amazing essay. And yes, I wholeheartedly agree, the more time passes, the more is J.K.Rowling’s queerphobia obvious. I will never understand why is she praised as ally for the Dumbledore’s character when she withheld the information about his sexuality from the books. I can’t speak for movie since I won’t watch it or its sequels because of Depp’s casting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree on everything in this essay, it’s nice to see that someone shares the same views as me. I’m writing my thesis on this very subject (well, the parts about Lupin and Dumbledore), and I was wondering if you have a source on the “pin prick attacks”? That would be incredibly helpful for my thesis, but I can’t find much by googling.

    Like

  3. Thank you! I am sharing this with all my fellow love/hate Harry Potter friends- you’ve crystallized a lot of the issues we have with the franchise and it’s such a relief to read.

    Like

  4. Thanks for this, it pretty much sums up what’s been subconciously bothering me all this time. My own personal headcanon of course remains unchanged for the bigger part of this last decade (even in light of JKR’s homophobia): in my reading, every character is somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, except of course Dumbledore, who has a very solid, long-term loving thing going on with McGonagall. 😀 Long live fanfiction! Thanks for the article. 🙂

    Like

  5. Reblogged this on ChasetheNextChapter and commented:
    This makes me miss my days as a Lit Theory student. This is for any Potter fan that enjoys reading critically, with depth and thoughtfulness. I love the Potter series, but I enjoy a critical approach when it’s well expressed, and this is a great example of that.

    Like

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