The corresponding YouTube video can be found here, if you would like to listen instead of read.
So I don’t want to interact with hatred. I just… don’t. And after people started commenting on my random essay about colonial themes in Lord of the Rings about how “sometimes colonialism is a good thing!” I really didn’t want to touch any large fantasy genre with problematic themes again.
And then The Secrets of Dumbledore was released.
My ‘thing’ isn’t really talking about colonialism, but it sure as hell is talking about queer content, queer representation, and all that is queer goodness. Or badness, in this case. Please note that while I know some people don’t like it, I prefer the term queer because it’s all-encompassing of all the various identities in the + of LGBT+, and I don’t want to leave anyone out. I also self-identify as queer as part of my bisexual identity. So, I will be using the term throughout this piece.
Growing up, I was absolutely obsessed with Harry Potter to the point that it was probably not healthy. I knew every single detail about the world, every little piece of trivia. I got the same jolt of excitement when someone said the words “Harry Potter” in my chest that I would get brushing hands with my crush in the hallway. I cried tears of joy when I held a book signed by her, owned by my spouse’s family. I dressed up and went to every midnight premier of the books and movies. I stood in line in the heat of a Florida summer for I think it was 8 hours to get into the Wizarding World on opening day, and still have the commemorative pins.
So how far I’ve gone from a point of blind adoration to absolute anger is a testament to how far the franchise and its author have fallen. I did a twitter rant about the goblins in the new video game and how they’re an antisemetic trope come to life a while back, and I might do a blog/video on that in the future since I do know a few things about Jewish representation and stereotypes, but for now… I want to focus on Dumbledore, queer representation, and the messy allegories in the Rowling universe.
When Rowling first announced that Dumbledore was gay, I thought it was awesome. I bought that there’s no reason to bring it up in the books because why would a headmaster admit to a 11-17 year old student that a character who doesn’t even pop up significantly is his ex-boyfriend and/or lover? But with this new, adult movie franchise, Fantastic Beasts… it matters that Dumbledore is gay. In more than one way.
See, Rowling has this thing about minorities. She wants them to get rights… but on her terms, in nice gentle ways that don’t upset the social order. That’s what her upcoming video game is about, with the whole theme of persecuted goblins rebelling, and that’s what Ron Weasley’s complaints to Hermione about trying to liberate house elves from literal slavery is about. Sure, oppressed minorities should have rights! But slowly, gradually over time. Just giving people rights and freedom they deserve is too much all at once. That’s what Dumbledore is about. See, Dumbledore, aside from being a super morally grey and interesting character, is a good gay. He’s a good, quiet gay. And the bad gay is Grindelwald, who is a loud gay.
I’m not saying this literally. In the Fantastic Beasts movies, neither is particularly flamboyant about their sexuality (even if Grindelwald as portrayed by Johnny Depp was a bit… strange). No, see, the allegory that defines whether they’re good and quiet or bad and loud has to do with them being wizards.
Wizards in the Wizarding World of Rowling are in the broom closet. They are afraid to be persecuted and killed by muggles, because they *have been* in the past. It’s not a perfect allegory, as wizards do have magical powers that are very alarming if you think about it, while queer people are just, you know, people. But there are enough parallels for the queer community to identify HARD with this concept. I should know. And maybe this wasn’t intentional, but it’s so heavy handed that I have to believe it was. Even if it wasn’t, it’s there.
Grindelwald suffers from Killmonger syndrome. This is a modern trope where a villain has good points about their side, like wanting to free oppressed people, but proves themselves to be evil by doing something so unequivocally horrible that the audience can’t morally root for them. I understand the appeal of a villain who is understandable, but I’m tired of reasonable, righteous positions being presented in fiction by characters who then undermine their whole point by murdering innocents.
Our bad guy, who by fans has long been referred to as “Wizard Hitler”, is tired of persecution and hiding who he is. So he decides that he doesn’t want to anymore. But, so that you know this is a bad thing, they pull a Killmonger and have him kill a baby and decide to enact his own genocide on muggles. See, being out of the (broom) closet is *bad*, don’t you get it? You wouldn’t want to be on the same side as a murderer!
Our good guy is Dumbledore, who, while he went through a “who cares about muggles” phase in his youth, but realizes that he needs to stay in the broom closet for the good of the rest of society. What a good, compliant gay. Er, guy.
And just to make this whole thing even messier, one of Grindelwald’s goals is to stop the Holocaust from happening. Granted, I do get the feeling that he’s using it as an excuse to do a personal power grab, but the fact still stands that he knows the Holocaust is going to happen and has stated he wants to stop it. The fact that any writer would make this the villain’s goal is disgusting. And then to make the character gay… it’s an insult. Gay people were viciously targeted during the Holocaust, alongside my Jewish family, Romani people, disabled people, and many more victims. They were marked with pink triangles instead of yellow stars, murdered in camps, and then those who did survive were re-imprisoned after liberation because being gay was still considered a crime by the Allies. The queer communities of Europe were so incredibly harmed by the Holocaust and suffered unimaginably.
Grindelwald is a queer wizard who can see the future, see what happens to his people, and wants to be vocal and stop it. He wants to be here and queer and wants us to get used to it. Queer, boiled down to the basic definition, is different. It’s an identity that goes against the norm. So you could easily make the argument that being a wizard is a way of being queer, allegorically. Though in our real world, we of course use it to refer to gender, sexual, and romantic minorities. But JKR still wants him to be a genocidal, murdering villain because coming out of the (broom) closet upends the social order. Polite, white society doesn’t like when their tea is interrupted by riots for civil rights. That’s just rude.
Everyone knows that JKR is the terfiest terf there is, and that her hatred of trans people is something she’s embraced in disgusting ways. But too many of my fellow cisgendered queers think they can make excuses to still enjoy her content because, well, she hasn’t come after us yet.
Yet is the key word there. With the company she’s surrounding herself in, it was only a matter of time. She doesn’t vocally hate gays, and has even expressed support for the queer community in the past, but her not-so-subtle messaging in her writing is that the only good gays are quiet gays. If you’re a loud gay, you’re a bad gay.
Once a magical world about wizard school, a Chosen One, fighting against authorities, and the power of love and friendship, the Wizarding World franchise is now all about telling minorities to stay in their place. About telling oppressed people that if they rebel, they’re the bad guys, and ramming that point home by making those in her world that do rebel into Killmongers. That the only good change is gradual and slow, never sudden and drastic. That we shouldn’t want too much better for ourselves, because we should be so accustomed to the closet that we can’t imagine our lives could be better without oppression. Her stories are becoming more and more about punishing those who think too progressively about their own personal freedom and saddling them with as much immoral baggage as possible.
I did not watch The Secrets of Dumbledore. I’ve gone from rabid Harry Potter fan to disinterested anti-fan. For one, I heard it’s a terrible movie. Two, I just don’t want to subject myself to it or show support for a creator who is actively harming communities I’m a member of with such regressive representation. And I ask you to do the same. We won’t get good representation by supporting the bad.
My favorite articles to write on my blog are guides for other writers on how to write characters in select minority groups: namely, bisexual characters, polyamorous characters, and Jewish characters. I can’t do anything to help the Wizarding World franchise, but I want to put it out there for new writers, for those of you still working on your worlds. If you are writing representation of groups that you’re not a member of, hire professional sensitivity writers. A Jewish or queer sensitivity writer could have told Rowling that her story was an offensive mess. I doubt she’d have listened at this point, but maybe other writers will. I beg you creators out there, do your best not to cause harm. Listen to communities you want to represent. Readers, support the good representation out there and the creators who champion it.
We want good things. We want magic and adventure. But the one thing we will not stand is being told to get back in the closet.
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