Harry Potter and the Relentless Queerbaiting: Why Won’t the Magical Closet Be Unlocked?

Fantasy requires suspension of disbelief; the existence of LGBTQ people should not.

Eleven years after Dumbledore was outed in the wizarding world (and three after SCOTUS legalized gay marriage in the muggle one), J. K. Rowling has yet to feature a queer storyline in any of her franchise’s umpteen spinoffs. It’s not that the Harry Potter universe needs LGBTQ narratives; they just shouldn’t be alluded to and then unfulfilled—or be offensive. To dig up old receipts, Rowling stated that Remus Lupin’s condition was a “metaphor for AIDS,” as if those living with HIV become murderous werewolves when off their meds.

Recent incidents of implied queer plot lines have been equally iffy. In the British import and Broadway supernova Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy are Slytherin outcasts, sons of famed wizards, and, as I see it, secret lovers with all of the subtext and none of the follow through.

Manuel Harlan
Anthony Boyle (Scorpius Malfoy) and Sam Clemmett (Albus Potter).

Struggles to fit in unite the boys and lead to a friendship rich in homoerotic undertones. Daddy issues take up more space than books in Hermione’s library as Albus and Scorpius share intimate pillow talk in adjacent (but not touching!) beds. Most camp is their pas de deux on magically moving staircases while underscored by Imogen Heap, the wizarding equivalent of Cher. You’d need the Sword of Gryffindor to cut the tension between these gaybies, but—after six hours, two plays, and an overpriced concessions cocktail—the biggest kiss in the whole shebang comes from a dementor. And while a dementor’s kiss is technically queer (i.e. strange), is this the representation we need? Smooches that don’t swap spit but suck souls?

At the end of the play, the boys reunite, embrace, and confess their female crushes. Scorpius has asked out a classmate and failed, relaying to Albus, “But I asked her. I planted the acorn. The acorn that will grow into our eventual marriage.”

This is either poor dialogue or an honest representation of how closeted boys gush about their would-be beards. Unclear. We may have to wait for yet another Potter installment to see the latter hypothesis fulfilled.

But don’t hold your breath.
 

Now, the newest Fantastic Beasts sequel—The Crimes of Grindelwald, written and co-produced by Rowling and hitting theaters November 16—rejects the chance to unearth Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s steamy, complicated relationship. Did the two ever take role playing up a notch with the help of some Polyjuice? Might Gellert and Albus have had a butterbeer too many, hooked up, and then in harsh morning’s light pretended they’d snogged Madams Rosmerta and Hooch, respectively?

Leave it to the fan fiction because this sequel won’t divulge any of Grindeldore’s (Dumblewald’s?) erotic secrets. Wands will swish and robes will sway, but that’s as gay as this blockbuster will get. (Our consolation prize is a juicy framing of Jude Law’s butt. Fine, David Yates, fine.)

What seems out of sync here is not the lack of queerness in the Potterverse, but instead how often fantasy has been a beacon for outsider characters, and how Rowling has continually brushed shoulders with but not fulfilled her genre’s potential.

Historically, high fantasy realms have used their otherworldly settings to showcase characters audiences might not normally encounter. In X-Men 2, Iceman told his parents he’s a mutant in a moving scene that was a clear allegory for coming out; years later, True Blood spotlighted the clandestine yet everyday love affairs between various queer residents of Bon Temps. Now, Ruby Rose is celebrated for playing the first openly lesbian superheroine on TV. If mutants, vampires, and superheroes can exist, why not queer characters? Fantasy requires suspension of disbelief; the existence of LGBTQ people should not.

Warner Bros. Studios

None of this is to imply that the liberal, Trump-fighting Rowling writes and produces on homophobic grounds (though the Bible-thumping cults that burned her novels may relish the thought). Fans have tried such takedowns before—revisit, if you must, the weird, confused Sirius Black scandal from two years ago. Instead, consider this not a tirade but my Potter-infused “I Don’t Think So, Honey”—a light-hearted and self-aware harangue underneath which contains, perhaps, some stinging truth.

Harry Potter has been around for almost my entire life, so it’s hard to scrutinize my coming of age without also analyzing his. Looking at the vast Potter landscape, it’s hard not to wonder why queer characters have been given so many chances to shine but have repeatedly gone unsung.

For someone who grew up (and came out) during Harry Potter’s formative years, there’s a fierce desire to see an alignment between the magical and the queer, the divine and the deviant. Fantasy has often been a home for LGBTQ characters, an avenue for them to find mainstream success and acceptance, so here’s hoping magical closets continue to be unlocked. Alohomora, alohomora.

Billy McEntee has contributed to Vanity Fair, The Brooklyn Rail, and American Theatre, amongst others. He lives in Brooklyn.
@wjmcentee