[Show music begins]
Michael Harle: This is Episode 226 of Alohomora! for August 5, 2017.
[Show music continues]
Michael: Welcome, listeners, to another episode of Alohomora! – mugglenet.com’s global discussion of the Harry Potter series. See, we need to really get rid of that “global” part. Because it’s still global, but I’m going to start saying that we’re opening the Dumbledore because that’s our actual tagline.
Beth Warsaw: I like that.
Michael: [laughs] So that’s what we’re doing. We’re opening the Dumbledore on the discussion on this episode. I’m Michael Harle.
Beth: I’m Beth Warsaw.
Elayna Darcy: I’m Elayna Mae Darcy, and I’d like to welcome our special guest, Shanna.
Shanna Schultz: Hello!
Michael: Yay, Shanna!
Elayna: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Shanna: So I guess I’ll start with how I got involved with Harry Potter.
Michael: Yes, please.
Shanna: I was super late to the game. [laughs]
Michael: That’s okay! We have plenty of those.
Shanna: I was one of those people whose parents told them that they couldn’t read Harry Potter…
Michael: Yes, yes, yes.
Shanna: So like any of those kids, I picked it up in college…
Shanna: … and actually started watching the films first. And so I got them all from my local university library and then binge-watched them and was able to catch a last matinee of Deathly Hallows – Part 2 in theaters. So that was the only one I ever saw in theaters. And then after that, I started picking up the Harry Potter books at a half-price store or in bins, and so my collection of Harry Potter books are all second- and third-hand. They all have little kids’ handwriting in them, so they’re kind of special to me.
Elayna: That’s really precious but also makes me sad that people’s parents and little kids gave them away.
[Beth, Elayna, and Michael laugh]
Shanna: Yeah, I guess they were over it or whatever. So I ultimately ended up reading them out of order, which is crazy. I’ve reread them since in order, obviously, and now I’ve had the extreme luxury of seeing Cursed Child performed; I’ve been to the wizarding studios in [Leavesden] a couple [of] times. So I really made up for my late bloom into the Harry Potter world by really just going hardcore into it.
Elayna: That’s the way to do it.
Michael: What’s your House?
Shanna: So my House is Ravenclaw.
Michael and Shanna: Yay!
Shanna: My wand is vine wood with unicorn hair that’s 14 1/2 inches with rigid flexibility, and my Patronus is a heron.
Michael: Ooh! Wow. Those are some great stats.
Elayna: I don’t know what my wand is. It’s made of wood.
Michael: [laughs] That’s the basics, anyway.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: Wood and magic, mostly.
Michael: [laughs] Well, Shanna, we’re thrilled that you’re here on this episode. And also, listeners, you probably noticed that there are two different voices [from] usual here on Alohomora! helping me out with this episode. First of all, you probably know her from SpeakBeasty: It’s Miss Elayna Mae Darcy. Hey, Elayna.
Elayna: Hey. Hi, guys.
Michael: Can you remind the listeners of who you are, what you do with MuggleNet, and what your House is?
Elayna: Yes. So I’m a very proud Hufflepuff – a Pugglepuff if we include my Ilvermorny House – and I am one of the coproducers and occasional host of SpeakBeasty, which is mugglenet.com’s Fantastic Beasts podcast. And that’s a lot of fun. And for MuggleNet, I also work on the Social Media Team. I’m responsible for memes, which is a really great thing to get to say I professionally do.
Michael: I love those memes. They’re hilarious.
Elayna: Yeah, they’re fun. I love that I get to just look up memes and make that a thing and be like, “Hmm, what sassy caption can I give this GIF?”
Elayna: It’s a very fun job, and SpeakBeasty is great. Michael is also on that and we have ourselves a good time.
Michael: Oh yeah, listeners, if you haven’t checked it out…
Elayna: Yeah, we just dropped ten minutes ago, before I was about to record this.
Michael: Yeah, that’s right.
Elayna: The episode… Wait, what’s it called? I just posted it; I should know this. Oh, it’s called…
Elayna and Michael: “You’re Doing Amazing…”
Elayna: … Tina.”
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Michael: She is doing amazing.
Elayna: It was really fun to record. So yeah, we have ourselves a good time on SpeakBeasty.
Michael: Yeah, listeners, if you haven’t been listening to SpeakBeasty, its releases actually alternate weekends to Alohomora! So if you’re just dying for more Harry Potter in between Alohomora! episodes, SpeakBeasty is a great way to do that, and you will hear some of your familiar Alohomora! voices over there. As Elayna mentioned, I’m a rotating host. It is a really fun show. It’s at speakbeasty.com, so make sure [to] check that out. But we’ve also got another voice here. Now, astute listeners who’ve really been paying attention may recognize that voice. This particular staff member is Beth Warsaw.
Beth: Hi, guys!
Michael: Beth, can you remind everybody about yourself and your previous contribution to Alohomora! and your Hogwarts House?
Beth: Yeah, so I’m Beth and I work for MuggleNet. I am the comanager of the Content Team, and I have a wonderful group of people on my team and it’s a ton of fun. I’m actually coming up on my two-year anniversary, which I’m going to get to be able to celebrate at MuggleNet Live!, which I’m so excited about.
Michael: Oh, yay!
Beth: Yeah, I’m really excited.
Elayna: That’s beautiful.
Beth: [laughs] Also, everybody come to MuggleNet Live! It’s going to be amazing. I’m helping to plan the event, and I am just so excited to get to show you guys what we’ve come up with.
Elayna: And our recent episode of SpeakBeasty has about a ten-minute-long promo for it for Michael, so go check that out. It’s a good time.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Beth: Yeah, I’m also holding out to be able to guest on SpeakBeasty. I have just been falling in love with [you] guys. So one of these days, I’m going to get on there. [laughs]
Elayna: Absolutely. Well, you are welcome anytime.
Beth: And as for my House, I am the most Puff of Puff there ever was. [laughs]
Michael: Oh my goodness!
Beth: Yeah, I think I said on the last episode that I’m 120% Puff.
Beth: It’s pretty accurate. So yeah, the last episode I was on was the Sorting episode, and I think I argued with Kat for quite a while about Lockhart’s House. It was a very fun episode.
Michael: Yes, you guys had quite a healthy debate, as we call it on the show, about that. And actually, that was all the way back on Episode 208 – that was almost 20 episodes ago – so it’s been a while.
Beth: Yeah, it’s been a while, so I’m glad to be back.
Michael: Yes, but you left such a wonderful, lasting impression.
Beth: Aww, thank you!
Michael: [laughs] So listeners, as Beth mentioned, I forget to put it here in our document, but I definitely want to make sure you know. Maybe not for ten minutes, but MuggleNet is throwing a rather large event, if you haven’t heard on our prior episodes. We are holding a special private event at Universal Studios in Orlando – MuggleNet Live! [2017:] 19 Years Later – where the park will be closed off to everybody but ticket holders for the Harry Potter section, the Diagon Alley area. And there will be such cool things to do. Beth, you could probably talk about it a little better than I can since you’re the one actually planning things. But what’s going on in Diagon Alley that night?
Beth: Well, there’s free butterbeer, as much as you could hope for, of all the varieties, including ice cream. Honestly, I don’t know if you need more selling points than that, but there are more. [laughs]
Michael: I’m pretty sure they might because I feel like as much as we all love butterbeer, some of the listeners out there might have maybe two cups of it and be like, “Okay, time to move on.”
Beth: I have a feeling that actually might be me. I was surprised at how much I like butterbeer. I was pretty convinced that I wasn’t going to like it at all because I really don’t like butterscotch. But yeah, so the rides in Diagon Alley will [be] available for you to ride, and I can tell you, not having to wait in line for rides is a truly magical experience. Just ride it as many times as you want, get off, take a break, go back, and ride some more. So that’s super fun, and…
Michael: And the Hogwarts Express will be open too as well, right?
Beth: Yes. Yep.
Michael: That’s really cool.
Beth: And the coolest thing of all is that we have some really special guests coming, and they’re just going to be walking around, and you can bump into them and there is no extra charge for autographs and just getting to talk to them. And there won’t be that many people there, so it’s pretty likely that you’ll get to bump into those guys. So we have Sean Biggerstaff, who is Oliver Wood, coming; we have Chris Rankin, who is Percy… Who else? We have a bunch of the…
Elayna: And who is just a gem of a person.
Beth: Oh, I know. [laughs] We have Luke Youngblood coming, who is Lee Jordan; we have a bunch of the kids from both the flashbacks and the epilogue… Who am I missing? I’m missing someone really cool. Guys, help me out.
[Beth and Michael laugh]
Michael: No. God, I’m just kidding. Dear Lord.
[Beth and Michael laugh]
Elayna: I mean, I said it on the other show, but really, Michael is what I’m there for.
Michael: Yeah, I was going to say, I thought Beth was talking about all of us. No, that’s awful. I need to stop making that joke. It’s not funny anymore. [laughs]
Elayna: But endless butterbeer ice cream, Sean Biggerstaff… I mean, they’re just on the scale; it’s really hard. It’s a close call for me, just saying.
Michael: By the way, [the] cool person [who] had slipped her mind is Christian Coulson…
Beth: Ah, yes!
Michael: … who played Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets. Oh my God.
Beth: Thank you. Yes!
Elayna: I’m very excited to be there.
Michael: Yeah, there’s going to be some pretty cool people there, lots of really neat things to do. And as…
Elayna: And all the child actors from the [last] film as well.
Michael: Yes! And my high selling point is that, like Beth said, the park will be full of Potter fans…
Elayna: Just nerds. I’m so excited!
Michael: … people who are thoroughly into Potter, and that’s what they’re all about. Literally, I have seen in previous times people walking through who talk to the staff and say, “Oh, I just heard about this Harry Potter park and I wanted to see what it is about. I’ve never read the books or seen the movies.” And I’m just like, “You need to leave right now. Go at least read one of the books and then come back. At least see the movies, my goodness gracious.” So yes, it’ll be the people, our Potter peeps, for this very significant Harry Potter event, of this very significant date in Potter history. So don’t miss it.
Elayna: We’re going to ride the train, and it’s going to make me cry.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Michael: Elayna is just going to be in tears the whole night.
Elayna: I really am. It’s honestly…
Michael: She’s in tears right now. [laughs]
Elayna: I mean, well… [laughs]
Beth: Honestly, I think seeing you guys is what’s going to make me cry. I’m so excited to see you guys.
Elayna: Yeah, we have a couple of our listeners from SpeakBeasty [who] have told us they’re coming, and I’m going to give you so many hugs. You don’t even know.
Michael: Yes, no, we’re all very excited to see you all at MuggleNet Live! : 19 Years Later. But for now, we are honing in on something else entirely. Let’s go back and examine the Harry Potter series on this episode through the lens of LGBTQIA+. That is our topic on this particular episode. It’s one that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, actually, and I’m so thrilled that we’ve finally gotten to this topic. But before that, Beth had a little reminder for us.
Beth: Yes. So I want to thank Ingrid Nordset for sponsoring this episode. Thank you, Ingrid.
Michael: Yay. Thank you, Ingrid. Woo-hoo.
Beth: And you yourself can become a sponsor for as little as $1 a month. Just go onto our Patreon and get some awesome little extras for sponsoring us, so please do that. We are releasing exclusive tidbits for sponsors all the time.
Michael: Fantastic. And with that, we thank Ingrid Nordset once again for sponsoring this particular episode of Alohomora!
Elayna: Thanks, Ingrid.
Michael: And we move forward into our discussion: LGBTQIA+ in Potter. Now, Elayna, maybe you can help me with this because I wanted to make sure – and before we even get into the Potter discussion – about that lovely, long acronym. Can you help me define a few of the letters within that acronym for our listeners’ benefit?
Elayna: I sure as heck can.
Michael: I knew you could.
Elayna: I actually did a bulletin board when I was an RA in college, and it was “there'[re] lots of ways to love,” and it was a definition board of all the different letters.
Michael: Oh, wonderful.
Elayna: It was really fun. And the full acronym that I had on mine was LGBTQIIAAP, so it literally included so many of the things. But yes, so the abbreviation that we have here – the LGBTQIA – stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual. So some of those are probably terms that you’re pretty familiar with. Lesbian, gay, and maybe bisexual and transgender because those do get left out of the conversation quite a bit. “Bisexual” is basically when someone is attracted to people of both genders or even further than that. Some people who identify as bisexual, which I do, is that gender isn’t really the thing you’re interested in. And that can also be defined as a letter that we don’t have on here, which is “pansexual,” which, no, you’re not attracted to pans or Peter Pan. It means that you are a person who doesn’t really see gender in the way that you are interested in people. So not necessarily that you’re like, “Oh, I don’t recognize men or women or people who are non-binary.” It just means that that’s not a factor when considering attraction to people. “Transgender” is something hopefully most of you know at this point, especially given our current climate. Transgender people in that community are going through some stuff right now, so be there for your trans friends if you have some. But “transgender” means someone who has changed their gender to align more with what they feel they are. So somebody who maybe has been born and identified as a female transitions to male or vice versa. That’s really what that letter stands for. “Queer” is a nice, all-encompassing term that just defines people who maybe aren’t necessarily 100% sure where they fall on that spectrum, but they just know that they are not heterosexual. “Intersex” is the one that you are probably like, “Wha-?” [laughs] A lot of people don’t really know what that is. “Intersex” is when someone basically has genitals of both sexes and maybe a combination of partly one, partly another, and it’s a very complex identity that really does not get much attention. There’s actually a really good documentary that I will have to look up and mention maybe toward the end of the show that I watched in college that was about intersex individuals. So definitely worth researching. And “asexual” just means that you do not have sexual attraction to people so much. Being ace is a very broad spectrum, which, again, I also encourage people to do more research on just because there’re some people who consider themselves aromantic as part of the ace spectrum, which means that they’re not really romantically interested in people but may have sexual attraction to people. And then there’s also the opposite of that. You may be asexual and have little to no interest whatsoever in ever having sex with people, but you do have romantic feelings toward people. So that’s just a[n as-]brief-as-I-can-make-it summary.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Michael: No, that was great. That was very helpful.
Elayna: A very broad spectrum of queerness. Usually, that’s a term [that] has really been reclaimed by the community. “Queer” used to be a really offensive thing. And honestly, depending on who it’s coming from, it still can be. What’s it in? Zootopia, when they’re just like, “You can’t really say that if you’re not that.” If you’re using “queer” as an insult, then it’s not cool, but “queer” is also a term that’s used to sum up this whole umbrella. I know that sometimes I use that word very freely when referring to myself, and I know a lot of other people who do as well.
Michael: Well, and listeners, I will also say that the particular reason I chose this version of the acronym is mostly because it’s the easiest on the eyes when putting it in an episode title and also one of the more inclusive ones, for the plus symbol is meant to encase the letters that you can’t necessarily visually see, especially because there are pretty much constantly evolving views on these different concepts of gender and sexuality. And the acronym has changed many, many times and is different [for] pretty much any person you ask. Actually, recently, the city of Austin just started an LGBTQIA+ affinity group for employees, and they went with that particular acronym and had a pretty good explanation for why that is. Another nice thing is that a lot of the letters, even though they appear once, can stand for multiple things at a time. So you’re getting a lot of information with a lot of those letters, and there’s even more information embedded in that plus sign. So that’s why we went with the acronym. Feel free to debate that on its own in the comments this week because I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion on that alone. But with that said, I feel like that’s a great way to just preface our discussion about these matters within Harry Potter, and I wanted to first contextualize that I know basically all the listeners are all just like, “Dumbledore. Let’s talk about Dumbledore.” Hold on, we’ll get to him.
[Beth, Elayna, and Michael laugh]
Elayna: Well, if I may, there’s also the one thing I would recommend for listeners. If there'[re] any of you interested in learning more about that acronym and also the expanded definitions and things that it entails, I recommend looking up “the Genderbread Person.” It was this one blogger [who] made a version of it several years ago, and it was initially very simple and basically covered L, G, B, and T, and it was very broad. But then over the course of years, he’s updated it continually so that it puts it on a spectrum and it shows you differences between romantic and sexual attraction, gender identity, and your actual scientific sex that you’re born with, and it’s just really good if you’re a visual person to get an idea for what a lot of these terms mean and even terms that we didn’t really get a chance to discuss. So if you’re curious about that, that’s my number one thing for people to search. Just google “the Genderbread Person” – like “gingerbread” but “gender” – and you’ll be able to find it. It’s a really cute visualization but is very informative. Just a little tidbit for you.
Michael: Ladies, you certainly do or do not have to share this. That’s completely at your discretion. But as listeners know, as we do with all of our episodes, [we] definitely attempt to have a diverse panel and a diverse background for these discussions, especially for the discussions like these, and as the listeners know, I’m gay. But that doesn’t really necessarily give me full expertise or knowledge on any of these matters. Be prepared. I might say something dumb. Feel free to correct me. The important thing as well with that acronym is that the “A” – as Elayna pointed out – can stand for “asexual.” It can also stand for “ally,” and a big thing about these discussions is that if you’re not gay, that doesn’t mean you can’t participate in these discussions. If you don’t fall under one of these labels, that’s not to say that you don’t have the right to participate. We want you to participate.
Elayna: It’s actually the goal. [laughs]
Michael: Yes, that’s the point. And if you feel that you’re not perhaps learned enough to participate, then listening is a great starting point. We’re going to definitely – as Elayna has already done and hopefully has some places to direct you – [have] some ways to help you look through that lens with Harry Potter so that maybe you can see things in a slightly different way. And it’s not to say that you have to see things that way. I think that’s another thing to define that’s really important as we talk about this. This is just a way that certain readers have examined the series and what they have gained personally from that examination. So as we go into that, here we are. The wizarding world, sexuality, this question that wasn’t really a big question, I think, for the majority of readers for quite a while in the wizarding world because all the straighties were falling in love throughout the series, and it was pretty much all we got. But of course, the big reveal in October of 2007 – after Deathly Hallows had come out – that Dumbledore was gay, which, again, we will get to. There’s much to talk about there. But that opened up a lot of questions to Rowling directly. While this had been a thing, this acronym had definitely played its part in Harry Potter before that. This was a time when people actually got to directly start asking Rowling about this.
And Rowling was addressed in the PotterCast episode of 2007 by Melissa Anelli, who asked, “We know that you’ve created worldwide intrigue when you said that [Dumbledore] is gay. But I wanted to ask you about homosexuality in the wizarding world in general. Is it a taboo?” Rowling’s response was, “Now, that’s something I’ve never thought of. I would think that that would be exactly what it is in the Muggle world. But the greatest taboo in the wizarding world is, well, for some wizards… I mean, if we’re talking about prejudiced people within the wizarding world, what they care most about is your blood status. So I think you could be gay, pure-blood, and totally without any kind of criticism from the Lucius Malfoys of the world. I don’t think that would be something that would interest him in the slightest. But I can’t answer for all witches and wizards because I think in matters of the heart, it would be directly parallel to our world.”
Rowling was asked about this a few more times on Twitter, and one of her first questions about that was, “Do you think there are a lot of LGBT students in modern[-]age Hogwarts? I like to imagine they formed an LGBT club. It’s safe to assume that Hogwarts had a variety of people and I like to think it’s a safe place for LGBT students.” And that tweet was sent to Rowling by @lesbianquake.
Elayna: That is a great username.
Michael: [laughs] Yes, it is. To which Rowling responded, “But of course.” And she not only responded by saying, “But of course”; she also sent the picture of the popular meme “If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one should live in a closet.” Which I think was really interesting because Rowling doesn’t always acknowledge Potter memes like that. So that was one of those instances where it was like, “Oh, she is paying attention to the little weird things we post online.” And it was also followed up with a tweet from @_Paaulaisadora, who said, “Unfortunately, even the most powerful wizard” – referring to Dumbledore – “in history is discriminated against for their sexual orientation,” to which Rowling replied, “Only by ludicrous Muggles. The wizards don’t give a damn – it’s all about the magic for them.” So I thought this was interesting because I don’t know how you ladies feel about these statements and tweets by Rowling, but I actually see an evolution of how she decided to treat that canonically. What are your thoughts and what are you guys seeing?
Beth: Yeah, I agree. This has always been something that has intrigued me. We’ve heard a lot from her in the past that the wizarding world doesn’t really have a lot of the same social problems that the Muggle world does, that they’re all past that, and that the blood status thing is what they’re most focused on. And while I like the idea that the wizarding world is more progressive than ours, I don’t necessarily see that reflected in the text. I do think that there are things that we can point to that demonstrate that maybe that’s not quite the case, and it also just doesn’t feel super realistic to me. And so I like that she’s pointing out in that quote that you read that maybe there are witches and wizards who are prejudiced about sexuality or gender or religion or race other than pure-blood. And so I think that’s interesting that she’s sort of come out saying different things on that topic.
Elayna: Yeah, it does put a weird taste in my mouth, but it’s one of those things where – and this is something that a lot of people have taken issue with Rowling over the years – there are things that she’s evolved her thoughts on, but it’s difficult for her to come out and say something new because it can contradict things that she’s said in the past. With her being so much more vocal on places like Twitter, it’s becoming even more of a thing. But I don’t know how I feel about her saying that “Oh, yeah, I’m pretty sure they’d be prejudiced” but then being like, “They don’t give a damn.” That seems like a pretty big shift from “Yeah, I’m a racist” to “Nope, I don’t give a damn.”
Elayna: It’s a jump. But I have a point about this I wanted to make later, but maybe now is a good point to bring it up. It’s just that the one thing I’ve noticed with Jo is that I do believe that she is a person with the very, very best of intentions in terms of inclusivity. She wants to be inclusive of people, and I think that in her real life, she would be. But it’s one of those cases where what you put on paper is going to speak a lot louder than what you say in interviews, and it just doesn’t seem like she really put her money where her mouth is when it comes to her statements on LGBT people and the Harry Potter world. So I don’t know, but I’ll get to more of that later. [laughs]
Shanna: It seems like at least in the two quotations that Michael listed, I don’t think there is a contradiction in maybe what we’re initially reading. Because in the longer quotation from PotterCast, the question is “Is homosexuality taboo?” not if it’s a discriminatory practice. She talks about “Well, I think there'[re] more things that people prioritize as being problematic,” and she gives the example of being pure-blood or blood status and then gives a vague answer there. And then the secondary question would be discriminated against meaning “Does someone take action against you because of who you are?” Then she says that to do the act would be a Muggle thing; they only care about the magical principles. I’m not sure if those are as in contradiction as what they seem on first reading because… I don’t know. I think there’s just a difference between having something as a cultural taboo and then something as a discriminatory practice that you see in social norms or in policy making. Right? Especially for the wizarding world where creating a policy of “pure-blood status only” or having a registry or things like that became such a big issue in multiple points in wizarding history. It seems like maybe that’s the difference she’s going for.
Michael: Well, yeah, absolutely. Because the thing, as far as how this works within Harry Potter, is that the prejudices and the discriminatory practices Rowling presents within the canonical story are meant to be parallels for how we discriminate and how we are prejudiced. And it almost seems a bit faulty and nonsensical for her to actually have those things practiced by her characters in a world where there are other things that, as she’s saying, are prioritized. The other piece, though, that I guess gets a little muddled with that is that there are a lot of other… and we’ve had this conversation with a lot of different aspects about the Harry Potter world. But one of the big things that Rowling has talked about before – and it’s discussed a little bit on Pottermore – is that wizarding culture developed somewhat right alongside Muggles, and then they diverged a little bit. But they held similar ways of life generally (it’s implied) until around the 1950s. But there’s definitely a very medieval approach that wizards take to their ways of life, especially at Hogwarts. But the other thing that I think is an important factor to look at – and I remember this being a discussion on Alohomora! before in the comments – is that I think a lot of the negativity that comes toward the LGBTQIA+ community is religiously based. And as we know, wizards can be religious, but in general, the books don’t seem to skew that way with the characters. Religion doesn’t really seem to rule the daily life of a wizard or witch in Rowling’s world. What would you ladies say with that?
Beth: I’ve never thought of it that way, and I think that’s really interesting.
Elayna: I mean, she really never does mention it. I can’t think of ever… [laughs] I mean, they celebrate Christmas, but nobody’s talking about Jesus.
Elayna: They’re excited about Christmas trees and snow. So even when she does have that Christmas element, it’s not like it’s because of any sort of faith-based thing in the wizarding world. So I’d really be curious to know more about why wizards are so into Christmas if they’re not religious. But yeah, I think that’s one of the reasons why she also mentions that it’s not as much of an issue for them, because you’re totally right. A lot of the prejudices that come with people being against the queer community is because of their faith. So I think that it would make sense if you had a society that wasn’t really based much on faith and more on magic, that they wouldn’t be quite as concerned.
Michael: Well, yeah, because I was thinking in terms of that PotterCast quote, the idea, as Rowling gives us as an example, [of] Lucius Malfoy going after Dumbledore because he’s gay. That wouldn’t really shake the wizarding community because if the majority of them really don’t hold that closely to their religious ties or have any religious ties, that’s not really going to make a difference to them. That wouldn’t mean much to them. So that makes sense in that way. But yeah, I’ve never particularly read it that wizards would really care about that kind of thing, so her quotations line up for me. And I think Shanna did a great job of weeding out the difference, perhaps, between those quotations from Rowling. So there you go, listeners, a little bit of context about how sexuality in the wizarding world might work, and of course we want to hear your thoughts on that as well in the comments this week. I think another big thing as far as religion goes… Even though it is not canonically mentioned, it’s worth saying that… I believe there’s a tweet where Rowling confirms that Anthony Goldstein is Jewish, so there is religion in the wizarding world, ostensibly. But it doesn’t really, like I said, seem to play a big part in daily life.
Elayna: Which is funny, because Harry Potter is just a giant Christ allegory.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Shanna: She’s written other types of tertiary religious characters. McGonagall’s father was a [minister], and her mom didn’t want to disclose her witch status because of that and what it would mean to be a witch and a [minister] and stuff like that. So there is additional information post the publication of the books that gives us a little bit more context in terms of religion in the wizarding world, but not much, I guess.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. And with the new Fantastic Beasts pieces that came before the movie, we know that the wizards were involved with the Puritans and all of the matters of the Salem Witch Trials, which were religiously based. So that is definitely a part of the story in some ways. Before we move on…
Elayna: And fun factoid that I didn’t know until recently, but the phrase that’s written on Lily and James’s grave is actually a Bible verse.
Michael: Yes. “The last enemy that shall be conquered is death,” right?
Elayna: Yeah. It’s from Corinthians, one of them? I forget which one.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Michael: But moving on from the general wizarding world and starting to hone in on a few of the actual characters, obviously, I think it’s probably best to start with really the character who, I’d say, is responsible for drumming up the majority of these conversations to the public at large, and to Rowling, to get her starting to talk about this kind of stuff. It is none other than Albus Dumbledore, who of course Rowling outed during the Carnegie Hall interview in October 2007 when she was with a ton of Harry Potter readers post the Deathly Hallows release and answering lots and lots of questions about the series. And one young lady asked her, “Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?” Now, I’ll preface this by saying that Rowling has said before in other interviews that she insisted on telling the truth to this young lady because she [Rowling] felt that she knew, and seems to have always been aware, of how much of an impact Harry Potter has on its readers. And thus her answer:
“My truthful answer to you… I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix, he was very drawn to this brilliant person and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that’s how I always saw Dumbledore. In fact, recently I was in a script read-through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying, ‘I knew a girl once, whose hair…’ I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter. ‘Dumbledore’s gay!’ If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!”
Rowling followed that up on PotterCast, again discussing that, because of course the Internet exploded, basically, when this news came out. [laughs]
Elayna: Wasn’t it on the cover of People or something? It was just a picture of Michael Gambon in Dumbledore getup, and it was just like, “Dumbledore is gay!” Like, everywhere.
Michael: [laughs] Yeah. It was quite a big deal. And Rowling got a standing ovation when she made the announcement, I believe, at Carnegie Hall. And she followed that up with some thoughts on PotterCast, where she said, “I always imagined that Dumbledore was gay. How relevant is that to the books? Well, it’s only relevant if you considered that his feelings for Grindelwald, as revealed in the seventh book, were an infatuation rather than a straightforward friendship. That’s how I think… In fact, I know that some, perhaps sensitive, adult readers had already seen that. I don’t think that came as a big surprise to some adult readers. I think a child would see a friendship, and a very devoted friendship. But these things also occur. So how relevant is it? Well, to me, it was only relevant inasmuch as Dumbledore, who was the great defender of love, and who sincerely believed that love was the greatest, most powerful force in the universe, was himself made a fool of by love. That, to me, was the interesting point, that in his youth, he became infatuated with a man who was almost his dark twin. He was as brilliant, he was morally bankrupt, and Dumbledore lost his moral compass. He wanted to believe that Grindelwald was what he wanted him to be, which is what I think, particularly, a young person’s love tends to do. We fill in the blanks in the beloved’s personality with the virtues we would like them to have. So Dumbledore was wrong. And his judgment was very suspect at that time.” Rowling also said in the documentary that covered her final year leading up to the release of Deathly Hallows, the final year of writing, “Dumbledore’s gay. I told a reader that once, and I thought she was going to slap me. But I always saw Dumbledore as gay.” Rowling has had more thoughts on this, including that when asked whether Dumbledore found love later in life after Grindelwald, her answer was essentially “No, he became asexual and turned to books for comfort.” So that’s Dumbledore, and that’s the most we’ve gotten about Dumbledore. But it certainly didn’t stop there in the fandom. So ladies, thoughts on Dumbledore?
Elayna: Do you have a year or two? Because this could take some time.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: I mean, yeah. I think that the one thing that always has made me sad about the statements and everything is just when she’s like, “Oh, it wasn’t really relevant.” And I get that Dumbledore was a character who we saw at the end of his life, so he’s not really running around looking for romantic prospects or anything. So I can get that it may have been difficult to work that into the narrative, especially when the story is about Harry. But at the same time, I feel like a lot of writers miss opportunities to make people feel seen because they think it would be inconvenient to the narrative, when really all it would take is, instead of that line where she’s saying the screenwriter wanted to put “I knew a girl once,” it’s literally a line like that: “I knew a boy once who…” blah, blah, blah. You could have made it more clear within the context because as it stands, Dumbledore is the only character that she’s ever said, as far as I know… And please correct me, listeners, if I am wrong, but Dumbledore is the only character that she’s ever confirmed is gay. And it’s literally not even stated in the text, and that makes me sad. So yeah.
Michael: Now do you ladies think that, despite that it’s not stated in the text… First of all, did you initially read Dumbledore as gay before you knew this? And second of all, knowing it, do you personally think it benefits the story?
Shanna: So from my personal introduction, I already knew that he was gay, so I didn’t have a big reveal. In fact, I remember that Time article or whatever that had Michael Gambon’s cover, and because I was so unfamiliar with Harry Potter, I was like, “Oh, that actor is gay. How interesting for celebrity gossip.”
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Shanna: I didn’t even connect that it was this big thing. So by the time I did pick them up, I consistently read Albus as this really sassy mentor. I was like, “Oh, these lines are so funny. You are so quippy.”
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Shanna: It almost never occurred to me otherwise. Which for me is a certain kind of privilege because I can read his queerness without having it to be explicit. And I think that is something that is a critical component to character development or to people in general, that your queerness doesn’t have to be externally identified. And in fact, I think, at least in interpersonal relationships, just existing, trying to identify somebody based on behaviors or stereotypes, is probably problematic. So it was always really easy for me to engage with his character as not being explicitly on the page, like, “Dumbledore said, ‘PS, a gay man.'” It was easy for me to read his queerness because of how well she developed him and how reflective he became in the last book. But that’s only because I had that information prior, so I have that bias. Full disclosure.
Michael: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And that brings up a larger point that I think we’re going to be discussing throughout this episode. Because of course when Rowling outed Dumbledore, many people rushed to the text to be like, “Where? Where is he gay? Can I find the passages where he’s gay?” And everybody loves the [line], [as Dumbledore] “Oh, can I take the knitting patterns? I do so love knitting patterns.” As you were saying, Shanna, people ran to the stereotypical points about Dumbledore that people said, “Oh, well, that’s where he’s being gay.”
[Beth, Elayna, and Shanna laugh]
Michael: So I think it’ll be interesting to keep discussing that because that also brings into question, what do we expect from our gay characters in literature in general? Because I think that will come about as we go through some of the other characters. But Beth, you were going to say your thoughts on Dumbledore?
Beth: Yeah. When I read the books for the first time, I don’t think I ever read Dumbledore as gay, but I don’t think I ever read him as anything else either. I don’t think it really was something that I was focused on. His sexual preferences just didn’t feel like a plot point.
[Beth, Elayna, and Michael laugh]
Beth: The other thing I think is important to note is that it’s clear reading through now that Jo didn’t just come up with this at Carnegie Hall and say, “Yeah, I think Dumbledore is gay.” It fits, and there’s nothing glaring to say, “Oh, I can’t believe I didn’t notice,” but it feels right. It doesn’t feel like she slapped it on afterward and was like, “Yeah, I think I could make that work.” And it equates to me as if a friend comes out to you, and it’s not a person [whom] you’ve ever questioned, like, “Oh, I wonder if said friend is not straight?” But when they come out to you, you’re like, “Yeah, I kind of always just knew.” That’s how it felt to me finding out that Dumbledore was gay, just like, “Oh yeah. I guess that makes sense. Cool.” And then I went on with the rest of my life.
Elayna: I remember being tremendously thrilled. But I actually wasn’t even out at that time. I didn’t come out until I was 22. But I remember being super excited about it, and it was one of those things where going back and looking at the text, I was like, “Oh, of course.” [laughs] It did just have that… On a subconscious level, it just made sense to me. But I also really think that, especially in the last book when you hear him talking about Grindelwald, it’s definitely in the subtext very much. But I don’t think that it’s something that, she even says, the average reader is necessarily going to pick up on. But I’m glad that it was in there and that, like you said, it wasn’t something that she just was like, “Whoops! Well, this is a thing.” Because she’s done that with certain other things in the story. She’s like, “Oh, yeah, of course this was the thing.” And we’re like, “But really, was it, though?” Not so much. [laughs] So I think that that’s a good thing.
Michael: Yeah. Because that is something she was accused of, listeners, at the time. And I believe sometimes people still accuse her of that, that she just said the Dumbledore thing for the shock value and to get attention. Which, if you haven’t noticed, I don’t think she needed any more attention. I think she was good there.
Elayna: Yeah. The books sold as many copies as the Bible. I think it’s fine.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Michael: I think people were just like, “Oh, this is a desperate last bid as Harry Potter breathes its last breath.” Which obviously wasn’t anything to worry about at the time…
Elayna: [laughs] That’s cute.
Michael: … not only considering that the movies weren’t even done at that point; they still had three more to go. So that was a funny thing to think. But I think the other thing – and listeners, I’ve mentioned this many times on the show before, so you’re probably tired of me [saying] this – and I know some of you don’t even believe that this is true or say, “Ah, well, Michael is just overexaggerating,” but 2007 was not 2017, and for this to happen in children’s literature was a pretty big fricking deal at the time. This did not happen in juvenile fiction. The idea that a prominent character that we were very familiar with and had gotten to know for this long, and who was part of such a huge cultural phenomenon, was revealed to be gay… That was not taken lightly. We’re still talking about an era where there are still people who are attempting to ban Harry Potter for witchcraft, and this didn’t help in that respect. [laughs] And on top of that, listeners, if you [do a] Google search [on] “LGBT rights in 2007,” there’s a Wikipedia page that notes some major steps forward in 2007, some of them that were definitely interesting to read. Registered partnerships had begun in Switzerland; Jenny Bailey became the first transsexual mayor in the UK; I believe at this time there may have only been one state in the US that actually legally allowed gay marriage.
Elayna: Yeah, because when they announced that Jude Law was going to be playing Dumbledore, I wrote a piece for the site that was basically about why we need to talk about Dumbledore’s sexuality in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts movies, and that was one of the points that I made. It was when the first book came out [in] 1997, which was the year that Ellen [DeGeneres] came out, which was huge. [In] 2007, when she announced Dumbledore was gay, at that time, only one state in the country allowed same-sex marriages. And now, [in] 2017, it’s legal everywhere, but we’re [still] dealing with some stuff, so… [laughs]
Michael: Yeah. Well, and it’s great that you mentioned Ellen too. I think recently – wasn’t it, with this year being 2017? – the 20th anniversary of Ellen’s coming out on her sitcom just passed by. And listeners, if you haven’t dug into that, first of all, the episode is called “The Puppy Episode.” Go watch it.
Elayna: Which I love.
Michael: [laughs] And there’s a reason it’s called “The Puppy Episode.” It was because the executives at ABC didn’t believe that Ellen should come out as gay. Instead, they said, “Get her a puppy.” [laughs] And that was how they were going to progress the plot because they just didn’t think audiences could handle it. And then after she came out, it almost ruined her career. She disappeared for years and years before her current talk show came on the air and became one of the most wildly popular talk shows next to Oprah. These were different times that we were in. But the thing that I want to ask – because this is something I think comes up a lot, too, with this outing of Dumbledore – considering the climate and considering how mammoth this was at the time and what the reactions were, do you think that Rowling should have just gone ahead and explicitly stated it in the text, or not?
Shanna: I guess I don’t know for sure, but we always have to remember that J.K. [Rowling] is also trying to make a living off of what she loves. And so in 1997, when the first book was published… I mean, we were still using the word GRID to describe AIDS in 1995, and we are still coming off the height of intense amounts of AIDS scare and denial of gay men existing and things like that. And we’re not just talking about what we have in terms of policy rights; we’re talking about cultural norms of even recognizing personhood, which is really sad. And so there is a potential where she made a choice to be like, “Maybe I won’t write this explicitly because then no one will share in this story.” I don’t think that makes her a sellout or anything; I just think that makes her cautious. I mean, even writing under the name J.K. instead of her feminine name to sell more books is a choice she made as well. So there’s a potential there that just because of the cultural climate in 1997, even in the UK, maybe it was a literary discretion to not explicitly state it. I don’t know.
Elayna: Yeah, I definitely agree that as early as the first book, I don’t think so, just because of that climate. But I think that by the time you got to Book 4, she didn’t need to worry about selling books.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: Everybody was reading it; the world was in love with it. And I think that it’s one of those things where people who have the kind of platform that she has are the people who have the most opportunity to speak out on certain issues. And I think that it would have taken one line somewhere in one of the later books and she could have validated the experience of a lot of her queer readers. I think that she could have made a lot of people feel seen if she had just taken the care to write even as much as a line or two that expressed that about his past. And I think it’s really sad that, like I said, the only character that she has who[m] she’s confirmed is queer, it’s never explicitly stated in the text. And that’s a bummer.
Beth: I just want to point out that we are talking about Dumbledore here. And if we examine the other aspects of his character, he isn’t forthcoming about anything about himself. Especially Harry notes that “Did he even know Dumbledore at all?” And we can go back and find all the examples of that, the socks in the Mirror of Erised, and… Dumbledore really doesn’t tell Harry almost anything about himself. And the things that he does divulge, he doesn’t say outright; he sort of hints at. And I think as Jo mentioned in that quote from Carnegie Hall, some astute readers did maybe pick up on the possibility that he could have had feelings for Grindelwald, even before she said anything. And so I think that the way that he’s written, it fits with the rest of his character, and he’s written very consistently. And so maybe Dumbledore was out to McGonagall, for example; we know that they were very close. And maybe he was out to Doge and some other people [whom] he was close to. But for Harry to not know that piece of information really doesn’t surprise me. And I hesitate to say, but I think that it might have been even out of character for her to mention it more explicitly, just in the case of Dumbledore.
Michael: I always thought the only place that it would have fit, if it had been in the text, was in the “King’s Cross” chapter. And that’s hard because also, as Dumbledore very enigmatically states, that whole thing may or may not be happening. The Dumbledore that Harry is talking to may be a reflection of the Dumbledore that Harry knows and is something that his subconscious is reinforcing of things that he already is aware of. So that’s hard to say. But on the other end of that argument, Dumbledore does start admitting things in that section more than any other section of the books, and I think that’s the section where I’d say he gets closest to outright saying that he was in love with Grindelwald. He doesn’t say it, but it does come awfully close. And I have to say, like Elayna, I was not out at the time that this book came out because I hadn’t recognized for myself yet that I was gay; that was still in progress at the time. I read the news on MuggleNet, actually, and I remember my first reaction was “Is this a practical joke? Somebody’s joking with me.” And then I looked into it and I was like, “Oh, it’s serious.” And when I went back and read it, and when I read it now, I feel that I get so much more from Dumbledore’s subplot with Grindelwald than I did the first time I read it.
Beth: Yeah, I agree.
Michael: With that as part of the context, I think it makes the story much more interesting. And I think it really ties in – I mean, it’s already there, I think – with the sacrifice of Ariana and Dumbledore’s family history and what he lost in love from his family. I think that ties in well. But I think really adding in that romantic aspect, having Dumbledore almost be, in a way, a representation of multiple representations of love, really ties the story together in a way that without it, it just feels like tiny little pieces missing. So I do think the story benefits from it. But at the same time, like Rowling had said, you can read it without it. It’s weird because the only comparison I can think of right off the top of my head is how we commonly accept that you can choose to read Narnia with or without the religious references…
Michael: … but it’s going to be a lot weirder if you don’t know the religious references. It’s a much more bizarre story if you don’t have the full context. If you have the full context, you can see what’s going on a little better, and I think the pieces fall into place a little better. But there’s also something to be said, too, for how younger readers process what they’re reading. I mean, I know – as I’ve said before on the show – I have readers now, for Harry Potter, [who] have finished the books at age seven, and their parents have told me they want to just keep reading it over again because they want to understand more about it. Because they’re not getting it. And I think that makes perfect sense. It’s not possible to process everything in Harry Potter at age seven. It’s very unlikely, at least.
Beth: Yeah, not so much.
Michael: So that’s definitely interesting to me how we feel about whether it benefits the story or not. I agree with you, Elayna, that Rowling had such a major platform that putting it in the book would’ve been a really big deal. But I think we also have to think about not only how well people reacted but [also] how badly people reacted to the news. Because there was a lot of really unpleasant discussion around that. There were people who threw Dumbledore aside. Oh my God. There were so many accusations of pedophilia on Dumbledore’s part. That was a big thing. People played that for laughs, which wasn’t funny. But goodness, that was played a lot at that time. And the fact that people would even…
Elayna: Yeah. I’ve had to deal with some very uncomfortable situations where I’ve had conversations about Dumbledore and my feelings on him with people who were just like, “No, I think that it’s wrong and terrible.” And I’m just like, “Oh. Never going to speak to you again.”
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Beth: Because Jo has said so much about how the wizarding world would have dealt with queer issues, basically, I think it would have been interesting if we had gotten this bit of information but more from Rita. If Rita Skeeter had outed Dumbledore in Life and Lies and had the scandal be not that Dumbledore was gay and nobody knew but that Dumbledore had been pursuing a relationship with Grindelwald. Because that sounds like the more scandalous bit. Grindelwald was one of the Darkest wizards of all time, and Dumbledore, who was supposed to be the “gooder than good white knight” type of character, fell in love with him.
Elayna: Fell in love with the bad boy.
Beth: Yeah. And so it would have been really interesting to see how the wizarding community reacted to that information and how little they cared about the fact that Dumbledore was gay and how much more they cared about who[m] he was with.
Elayna: Yeah. I think that would have been one of the best opportunities to mention it, just because you have this whole thing [where] somebody’s literally written an exposé on him and could absolutely have dropped that piece of information. And you’re totally right. It would’ve made such a statement to see other witches and wizards having this outrage about it, but it’s not because he’s gay. It’s because of Grindelwald. That would have been just [kisses]. Perfect.
Michael: Yeah. It would’ve fit more [with] what we were talking about before, rather than just doing an exact version of what happens in our world in reality, finding that parallel that works in her world. I think that would’ve worked really well. But as it is, and as we know, that was not to be. And then of course, as I mentioned, the follow-up to that when people asked, “Did Dumbledore ever fall in love again?” And Rowling very explicitly said, “No, he turned to books and became asexual.” And Beth, I know you had some thoughts on that.
Beth: Yeah, I do. [laughs]
Elayna: Please. Please, Beth.
Beth: Yeah. So this is actually an interesting one for me because one of my very best friends is asexual. And so I was actually talking to her about this before the episode to make sure that what I wanted to say was actually all in line with what she was thinking as well. But it really is a common misconception that asexual equals celibate. Or that if you’re aromantic, then you’re just single for life. That really isn’t the case, at least not for most people. But on the other hand, sexuality is a spectrum, and it’s fluid, and people can change their sexuality due to things that have happened in their lives, especially trauma. And so that’s definitely a possibility. I don’t want to write that off. But I’ve always had a little bit of a weird feeling on the topic of Dumbledore becoming asexual after Grindelwald. And I like to think of him maybe as being demisexual, that he is really drawn to people with brains and that then he becomes attracted to that person after he becomes attracted to their mind, basically. I don’t know. So there’s a lot to unpack there, but I think it’s very interesting to talk about.
Michael: Yeah. I think the concern that a lot of people in the fandom have had with Rowling’s statement that Dumbledore became asexual and turned to books… And it’s great that you defined that, Beth, and Elayna having defined that earlier in the show, but I think a lot of people took that to mean that he never had another relationship. And I think Rowling might have even confirmed that. That said, in both the fandom and the gay community, that is recognized as a trope that the old gay guy never had another relationship. That’s a trope. And I think that’s what became problematic about it. That said, it’s not, for me as a reader – reminder, listeners, we’re always speaking for ourselves unless we say otherwise – it’s not that that’s a trope in that she just does it because. I think why Dumbledore would feel that way or behave that way after what happened to him is very layered and very interesting and well explained. So the fact…
Elayna: Yeah. It’s one of those things where some writers are just lazy. It’s unfortunate that he did fall into that trope, but it’s not for lack of characterization or development. It’s because it made sense for his character.
Beth: Well, and really, the central point of the rest of Dumbledore’s adulthood is defined by that period of his life. And he basically loathes himself for how he behaved during that portion of his life, and he has never for one second gotten over that. And I think a lot of it is due to the fact that, as Rowling says, he was made a fool [of] by love. He doesn’t ever want to see himself in a place of power, and I think he is also scared of what falling in love could lead him to do as well. And so I think he just shuts off that part of himself completely. Basically, he thinks it’s protecting other people, I think.
Shanna: I think in my own headcanon – and there’s very little evidence for this; it’s just how I see it as it came to me on the page and how it came to me via J.K.’s articulation – it might also have been that Dumbledore was ace anyway and that the thing that moved him in the spectrum was his infatuation – her words – with Grindelwald. And there'[re] plenty of people who are ace who only have one [of] what we would think of as a traditionally romantic partnership, whether it be homosexual, heterosexual, or somewhere in the middle. And so perhaps instead of it being his asexuality post-1945 being some sort of celibacy punishment, perhaps it was just [that] that was the way that he experienced intimate love in that partnership but pursued other types of intimacies in a variety of non-romantic relationships, like his intimacy with McGonagall, his intimacy with his students, with his other staff, things like that. So I don’t necessarily think that we can narrow it down to explicit concepts of celibacy or relational dynamics, not when the spectrum can be so fluid, I think.
Beth: I love that.
Michael: Yeah. That actually ties in really well.
Elayna: That’s a really cool way to read him.
Michael: Yeah. I really like reading him that way because I think it’s made clear, too, that Dumbledore, despite his grievances with his past, finds much happiness and content in his other pursuits in life. It’s not like he’s constantly depressed. He has a very rich sense of humor despite everything that’s happened to him and actually a very positive outlook on how people behave.
Shanna: Yeah. He’s like the Charles Xavier/Magneto dichotomy, right? He’s this wise man who’s going to go help wizards become better people despite [that] there’s this other person who[m] he had a good friendship with [who] has diametrically opposed views on how the world should be.
Michael: Yeah. And boy, if we were a broader fandom podcast, that would’ve just opened the door to a whole lot of X-Men queer discussion.
Michael: It’s out there, listeners.
Elayna: Yeah. You don’t want to go there with me. You don’t want to go. We’ll be here a while.
Michael: But I think that also connected really well with what Beth was saying about how sexuality and gender is very fluid. And listeners, if you haven’t seen it yet, this is another recommendation for you. You should watch the whole series if you haven’t, but definitely check out the episode on sexuality that Bill Nye Saves the World did on Netflix. If you don’t have it, you can look up specific clips from it on YouTube. But he did a whole episode on [it]. He had a whole panel. He did some really interesting, in-depth research, and there were a lot of interesting things that he said on that episode about basically, eventually, if we are all so enlightened, we will get to the point of recognizing that gender and sexuality is in fact fluid and that there is scientific evidence for that. So it’s very fascinating if you haven’t checked that out yet. But that definitely applies, I think, to this conversation. So all of that said, before we get into this little cul-de-sac in conversation, which we won’t keep too long on… But it’s also worth, I suppose, addressing that people have asked, “Did Grindelwald have feelings for Dumbledore?” Rowling has pretty much said, “No, he was cuckoo and a little bit of a sociopath, kind of like Voldemort” and that he recognized that Dumbledore had feelings for him but that he did not return them, and he used Dumbledore. But that said…
Elayna: Cough, Credence Barebone, cough.
Michael: Well, hold on, hold on. Hold that thought. We’ll get to that. But in Deathly Hallows, I think it’s important to note that there is one scene where Grindelwald gets his say in the more present timeline of Deathly Hallows, where Voldemort tries to force the information about the Elder Wand out of Grindelwald, and Grindelwald chooses not to give him the information and basically tells Voldemort that he’s going to fail. And then Voldemort kills him. In the movie, he just is like, “Okay, bye,” and then he leaves him there. But in the book, he kills him. And that has raised some questions about Grindelwald and his relationship to Dumbledore and how he may or may not have felt. What do you ladies think as far as Grindelwald is concerned? And maybe just for this particular portion, try not to think of him as looking like Johnny Depp.
[Michael and Shanna laugh]
Elayna: Well, that’s been ruined for me.
Shanna: I mean, I think in some ways it’s very parallel to reality because how many stories do you know of gay men who fall in love with straight men, and then those men find a way to exploit that affection, that loyalty, that compassion that comes from that in very manipulative ways? I mean, not to be a total downer, but I know that in my friends’ lives, that’s definitely happened, and you can see it in social media. You can see it in a variety of places, that sometimes that vulnerability does play out particularly for those couplings. I don’t know.
Michael: Anybody else?
Elayna: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I personally think that Grindelwald may have also been somewhere on the queer spectrum, but I think that he did use that in a manipulative way. And as you said, I won’t get too into it, but just from what we see him do with Credence, I don’t know. I think it’s pretty clear that he does have interest in men, and I think that he has those feelings, though in a very exploitative way, unlike Dumbledore, who I think has those feelings because he actually loves him for whatever reason. But we all have loved that crazy person and were like, “Why did I like that person? I’m not sure.” So it’s a difficult question.
Michael: Yeah. There are so many reasons that Dumbledore’s story really affects me personally, and one of them is that, I mean, I had very strong feelings for a straight individual for about five years of my life. Never told him. And that was a really, really interesting thing for my father to witness. And I won’t go into details and name names, for my father’s sake. But he doesn’t listen to the podcast anyway.
Michael: But having witnessed that happen to me, the fascinating thing was [that] he had a gay roommate in college, who he realized afterward was in love with him around the same time that my father was dating my mother. And my dad, watching me go through what I went through with this friend of mine, became very reflective of what happened with him and his friend. And I think he learned to see it in a slightly different way. My dad is extremely open-minded, as is my mother. That said, they didn’t really have the benefit of having this aspect necessarily be a part of their perhaps daily lives and have as much discussion and education about queer issues that we do today so readily available. So it was really interesting to see my dad go through that reflective process of how his friend must have felt at that time. And it made me think of how Grindelwald’s views on what he did and who he became and his relationship to Dumbledore… I mean, from 1945 to 1997, Grindelwald was imprisoned in his own prison.
Michael: So he had a lot to think about. To me, it’s more interesting for me personally to read him as having reflected on his actions and maybe come away with having learned something. It doesn’t excuse the fact that he did what he did. I’m not saying that. But I do think it’s interesting to read him that way because he chooses to defend Dumbledore in his last moment.
Beth: Well, don’t we know that he felt remorse later in life?
Michael: Where do we hear that?
Beth: I don’t remember. I feel like that’s something we know.
Beth: Maybe I made it up.
Elayna: Somewhere on the Internet.
Beth: It’s entirely possible.
Michael: I feel like if there isn’t any other outside source for that, there is definitely evidence that you can choose to read it that way in the text based on that passage where Voldemort encounters him. So yeah, that’s Grindelwald. And of course, he and Dumbledore both are coming back to the forefront. And again, we won’t steal the discussion here too much because this portion of the discussion will probably move over to SpeakBeasty and already has been in discussion over there, but it’s worth saying. I think what’s important about having the discussion here is [that] this is what many people are considering a big opportunity for queerness in Harry Potter. And of course, that is in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. In Rowling’s announcement at the 2017 press conference for Fantastic Beasts, she said, “I can’t tell you everything I would like to say because this is obviously a five-part story, so there’s lots to unpack in that relationship. You will see Dumbledore as a younger man and quite a troubled man – he wasn’t always the sage… We’ll see him at that formative period of his life. As far as his sexuality is concerned, watch this space.” And that’s all she said about it.
Elayna: Cue trumpet noises and the Hallelujah Chorus in my heart.
Michael: [laughs] And I see that we’ve got some thoughts from Shanna here about this.
Shanna: Oh, yeah. So when I saw Fantastic Beasts, it just immediately screamed an incredibly large queer metaphor. So what I thought was really fascinating was the introduction of the Obscurial and how the Obscurial is the by-product of witches or wizards who have been so incredibly oppressed and suppressed that they lose their physical and mental identity and turn into this amorphous violence. This then plays out throughout the story with both the religious zealots, the intense religious mother who rejects her son, the demonization of wizarding appearances, as a very good parallel metaphor for what happens to particularly young children who are told that they can’t express their queerness, whether that’s because they’re trans children or they’re gay children or lesbian children or take your pick of a spectrum classification. And we don’t have to look far in our own personal history to see what happens to children who are so repressed that they either turn to external violence against those who would oppress them, like what Credence does in the final scenes, or self-violence. For humans, [that] would be self-harm, but in the wizarding world, [it would be] the total death of the self by becoming an Obscurial. And I thought it was such a powerful metaphor for how important expression is and identity is. And even since coming out of the closet under the stairs was a metaphor for Harry Potter all the way back in 1997, it’s really kept with this theme about how wizarding expression can also be an expression of gender or sexual identity as well. It even goes further with what we then find out is Grindelwald’s relationship with Credence, which Elayna alluded to earlier. But that’s also such a stereotype in the queer community, that there’s a predatory man for a younger man, and I thought that that coming to life on the screen and how that concept becomes so problematic was interesting. And then ultimately, when Credence commits his self-death or self-violence against himself when he becomes an Obscurial, the very last line that Grindelwald says is “Will we die just a little?” And I mean, we don’t really know what that means, but if we keep this death metaphor as what happens as a result of gender or identity oppression, perhaps he is alluding to that, that when we suppress these parts of our identity, we do in fact experience a death internally.
Michael: Well, look at that. I think Shanna may just be the first person to officially attribute a meaning to “Will we die a little?”
Shanna: You heard it here first, everybody.
Michael: That is an excellent breakdown. Especially for me, I’d say it’s a great breakdown, because watching the film, Credence, I felt could easily be seen as a stand-in for a queer character.
Elayna: Which is only made stronger by the fact that he’s played by a queer actor.
Shanna: Oh, yeah. Ezra Miller. I live.
Elayna: Same. Yeah, I’ve got to say, point No. 1: That was so articulate. Wonderfully well said to all that entire chunk. But yeah, I had said something similar when SpeakBeasty had our panel at MISTI-Con talking about the Obscurials because they really are a giant, glaring metaphor for anyone who feels oppressed in any way. [It feels] like you can’t be yourself because of what everyone else tells you that you should be. So I’d be really excited to see her explore that further, but I think that that really is a huge, huge element of it. And I really love the fact that, as I just said, Ezra is playing that part. So if that ends up being something that is part of his character, that would just make me make very, very excited squealing noises.
Michael: The publicity has really gotten big around “Oh, Dumbledore and Grindelwald. We will see them encounter each other. We will see the lead-up to the major encounter.” And also that Newt will be involved with helping Dumbledore take down Grindelwald. But what hasn’t been mentioned… And of course this is because this particular character [who] was mentioned by Shanna has disappeared briefly, but we know he’ll be back. Do you think Credence will encounter Dumbledore? And in any way might that inform the queerness of their characters in any way?
Elayna: I really hope so.
Michael: [laughs] We’d be so lucky.
Elayna: [laughs] Yeah, wouldn’t we? I think that that would be a tremendous opportunity for her to go there with that, especially because just think about the kinds of interactions that could possibly come of Dumbledore and Credence talking to one another, because basically, I mean, it hasn’t been explicitly stated anywhere, but we can all infer [that] Ariana was definitely an Obscurial, and he lost his sister. And so I think it’s going to mean a tremendous amount for Dumbledore – their queerness aside – to meet Credence and meet someone who has survived this thing that took his sister. Because we do know that we will see Credence again in some capacity – even exploding by a bunch of wizards didn’t stop him from existing – so I think that that’s going to be really important to see the two of them interact at some point. I don’t know how they will interact, but I think it would be very meaningful if not only did they both meet but if they [also] both in some way addressed that element of their identities.
Beth: Yeah, and I think if Dumbledore finds out about Credence, I can imagine that he would adopt a fierce need to save him, basically, because he couldn’t save his sister. And I can just imagine that it would really consume Dumbledore, the need to help Credence to avenge his sister’s death. And then if he were to learn that Grindelwald was manipulating Credence in a way similar to how Grindelwald manipulated Dumbledore, I think that might even just make it more important to Dumbledore to meet Credence and help him any way he can. And even if we don’t get [it] explicitly laid out that that is contributing to Dumbledore’s motivation, I think it would be really great if it was a stronger hint than what we get in Harry Potter.
Beth: Just a little bit more of a nod toward that.
Michael: Yeah. I know the fandom has made itself very clear that they’re keeping an eye on this as a big potential moment for queerness to be acknowledged with more than implications, I guess. And I think, especially coming off of Cursed Child, which we’ll get to…
Elayna: Oh, will we?
Michael: I think, in a way, Cursed Child incited a lot of eyes turning toward Fantastic Beasts.
Beth: It’s interesting because as we were talking about earlier, 2007 was a different time. It’s 2017 and our bodies are ready for this.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: Thank you! You said it!
Beth: [laughs] But Cursed Child is basically set around now, whereas Fantastic Beasts is set in the past – and significantly the past – and so that’s something that I can imagine will at least play some role. And if we can assume that the wizarding world paralleled the Muggle world until the 1950s, I’ll be interested to see if we get to go there. [laughs] And the other thing is that this isn’t a kids book anymore. Fantastic Beasts is explicitly for adults, and that might make her feel like she has more room to explore this. I don’t know.
Shanna: Also, before we move away from Fantastic Beasts, if we do, I think I want to give a shout-out to a really great ally in that movie, which would be Tina, and how she goes in and really messes up Mary Lou for beating the crap out of Credence. I was like, “Yes! You’re a great ally.” Love it. I live.
[Michael and Shanna laugh]
Elayna: Yes. Yeah, Tina is doing amazing.
[Michael and Shanna laugh]
Elayna: I just love her so, so much. I will protect her very fiercely. I… Oh no, I forget… I’m sorry! I had a point.
Michael: I should point out, listeners, that because things can always so quickly be misconstrued, Shanna is not condoning violence toward people who are… [laughs]
Shanna: No. I don’t condone violence, but I am condoning speaking up when you see something problematic. [laughs]
Michael: Yes, yes, addressing the issue and not just letting it go by. And in Tina’s case, obviously, the parallel to speaking up is that she had a magical solution to do what she did.
Shanna: Yeah. Good disclaimer.
Michael: But it’s important. I only say that just because these issues can get so constantly misconstrued by people who choose to misconstrue them. But that’s important too. I think that’s a great shout-out to Tina, who is an excellent advocate, and Newt as well. I think the end of the movie shows that there is an effort by certain characters to actually try. And like what we were saying before, I think what makes Fantastic Beasts so in line with Rowling’s work is that it’s not direct in that sense, but like Elayna and Beth were saying, there’s such an open parallel here to real-world issues that – like you said, Elayna – anybody who feels oppressed in any way can see themselves in Credence’s role.
Elayna: I just really hope – I hope so much – that Jo’s statement that she made about “for anyone curious about his sexuality, watch this space,” I hope it’s not like the Harry Potter version of when the director of Beauty and the Beast was like, “This is going to feature the first gay moment!” and it was literally three seconds of a shot of LeFou dancing with a guy. [laughs] Because as much as a big deal that was, I just feel like it’s 2017, and I feel like creators who have the platform that she has [should] have the opportunity to push the envelope and get away with it. And so I really hope that that’s not just a tease of “I promise it’ll be something that’s important,” and then it’s just a throwaway. I really hope that it’s something more significant.
Michael: And this covers all of Harry Potter, not just Fantastic Beasts. And there'[re] so many factors that go into what you just said, Elayna, and I know you know that. And that’s so difficult to say one way or the other in some ways because listeners, if you haven’t seen the new Beauty and the Beast, you should see it. It’s really good, actually, depending on how you go into it. Now, the thing is – newsflash for those of you who maybe haven’t been noticing or haven’t been looking for it – [stage whispers] Disney is super gay.
[Beth and Michael laugh]
Elayna: [stage whispers] Yeah. Super gay.
Michael: It’s all over the place. And I think this will come up a lot in conversations about Cursed Child: Disney does a mix of queer coding and a little bit of queerbaiting. I think it’s mostly meant to be innocent coding on their part because there are a lot of queer individuals who work at Disney and find ways to put their own spin on things. Pretty much every Disney movie is a movie about people who feel like outsiders who find their place in the world. [And] if you take any studies about queer film and queer history, that tends to be why the gay/queer community takes on Disney as a lot of anthems for how they feel. And…
Elayna: “Let It Go,” anyone?
[Beth and Michael laugh]
Michael: And so that said, while some people see that in Disney and recognize that that was put there perhaps intentionally by its creators, there are other people who don’t see that. Or as Rowling said, you see it as just a friendship thing or you choose to see it or don’t see it. And by Disney’s standards, [the] 2017 Beauty and the Beast is the gayest Disney film that ever gayed. [laughs]
Elayna: Yeah. Oh God, it’s so, so gay.
Michael: It’s quite gay.
Elayna: And I loved every second of it. [laughs]
Michael: And I think unlike most other Disney films that came before it, it’s unapologetically gay.
Elayna: I think one of my favorite moments of that movie… And I don’t mean to downplay the moment where they dance because I definitely seriously cried.
Michael: No, no, no, no.
Elayna: But there was also a moment where Mrs. Potts says that he’s too good for him, and I was like, “Yes!”
Elayna: I was just screaming. I was like, “This is everything!”
Michael: And like Beth brought up, there’s an issue of history within that context and it’s kind of ignored. The movie just doesn’t really care because it’s already dealing with a fantasy, which people have talked about in terms of Harry Potter too. Why should it matter when we’re dealing with a fantasy world?
Elayna: Well, yeah, I’ve seen that same argument applied to Game of Thrones because they’re like, “Oh, well, there can’t really be black people because it’s in the past.” And it’s like, yeah, a fictional past with dragons and zombies.
Elayna: There are more zombies and dragons in Game of Thrones than there are people of color.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: So that argument gets thrown out the window when you’re working with fantasy and science fiction. You’re working with a world that you’ve created, so the world can include whatever you want it to include.
Beth: Well, on that note, I think it’s worth mentioning that sometimes queer representation should just be the normalization of queer people living in the world just like everybody else. It doesn’t have to be hand-wavy like, “Here, we’re doing the queer plot or queer character right now!” It can just be like, “Hey, over here we’ve got some queerness happening, and it’s totally normal and comfy and not bugging anybody. Cool.” [laughs]
Michael: “Moving on.”
Elayna: Doctor Who has actually been a show that’s done that, I think, pretty well. And I think that comes from when they relaunched it [with] Russell T. Davies [as] the showrunner, [who]’s gay himself. So those early seasons, it was all very subtle and very well done, and it was never like, “Look at me! I’m gay!” It was like, “Oh, that character, by the way, [is] gay.”
Beth: Can we just have a couple of seconds of John Barrowman love right now? [laughs]
Elayna: Yes. Especially because he was in the hospital recently, but he’s fine. Everything’s fine. He had appendicitis, poor baby. But yeah, I mean, that’s the goal. I’m sure I don’t speak for every queer person on the planet, but I think [for] the majority of us, we just want to be seen in the same light as other people. We just want representation. We’re not sitting here saying we want to take your straight characters and slap a drag wig on them and make them run around with rainbows. That’s not the goal. The goal is, we just want to see queer characters be as real as straight characters.
Michael: But speaking of that, perfect transition. Slash fic. So slash fics and popular pairings. And this does bleed into discussion about how we read the characters within the original Harry Potter novels. I think this is all very closely tied to that, especially our first example. Now, again, I should contextualize. I am speaking with a modicum of expertise. I read a lot of Harry Potter fan fiction in my youth. And of course, listeners, as you know, I previously hosted MuggleNet Fan Fiction’s AudioFictions program where I was reading aloud Harry Potter fan fictions, which did include quite a bit of slash fic. And probably one of the most common pairings – one of the most celebrated pairings, I would say, in the fandom – is Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, known by their shipping name, Wolfstar.
Elayna: I’m literally wearing a “Remus and Sirius 5ever” shirt right now.
Michael: [laughs] So it’s a thing. And I think out of all of them, out of all of these pairings, these queer readings, Lupin’s has had probably one of the strongest cases ever. And it was backed up a little bit by Rowling on Pottermore, which is very interesting. This brings up a lot of interesting conversation in itself. And we’ve talked about this before on Alohomora!, but I do want to quote again from Rowling’s piece on Remus Lupin on Pottermore where she said, “Lupin’s condition of lycanthropy (being a werewolf) was a metaphor for those illnesses that carry a stigma, like HIV and AIDS. 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.” Now, before we say anything else, I will state that it is important to say that no, it is not just gay people who get HIV and AIDS. Anyone can contract it. That stigma largely comes from the AIDS scare in the ’80s, as Shanna already put a little context for earlier in the episode. And you will find, listeners, if you explore some media from the ’80s, what Rowling did with this parallel was not uncommon, actually, even in its time for media. Media was starting to recognize what was going on and making media with this same parallel: blood-borne diseases or illnesses that affect characters and the idea that you can pass something through blood. So that said, it’s not necessarily saying, “Well, Lupin had a parallel for AIDS, so therefore, he’s gay.” There are other pieces to that reading as well that I think we can talk about. Probably one of the major things that does not come from necessarily the books but actually from the films is… Bless Alfonso Cuarón’s heart. I would just love to talk to that man for a while because he just says some interesting stuff. And one of the things that he told David Thewlis when they were filming Prisoner of Azkaban was “Play him like a gay junkie.” And…
Elayna: Wait, what? How have I gotten this far in my life and my Harry Potter-ness and never heard this before?
Michael: You want to go back and watch it now, don’t you? [laughs] That’s a thing he said. It is interesting, of course, because script-wise, Prisoner actually chooses to imply even more strongly sometimes than the books that Lupin is straight from the get-go by having him talk to Harry about Lily in a way that…
Elayna: Eww. Which was skeevy and weird.
Michael: Yeah. Well, it definitely goes over the book’s implications [for] his friendship with Lily. But that said, Cuarón felt Lupin was gay. And Thewlis took directives from that. So it’s not just this parallel, perhaps, that raises that question for people. So what do you guys think it is about Lupin? Why [did] this become a thing? And you can feel free, too, to bring Sirius into the conversation as well.
Elayna: Well, can I just say that I feel like my whole life has led to this moment of me being able to talk about my love for these two on a podcast? [laughs] Because they were actually – I think – [the] very first ship that I shipped. It was probably Hermione and Ron and then the two of them. So very early in my fandom did I start shipping them as a thing. But I think one of the biggest things about why I’ve always liked reading Lupin as a queer character is, well, for one, I don’t read him as gay. I read him as bisexual. Because a lot of people get really uppity about it, and they’re just like, “Oh, well, he couldn’t have been gay because he loved Tonks.” And I’m like, “Bisexuality. It exists and is real.”
Beth: It’s a real thing.
Elayna: Yeah. And there'[re] a lot of characters that in many stories and things that I read as bisexual, and it’s probably because I am and because the representation for people like me is very lacking. But I think of all the characters I’ve ever cited as potentially being read that way, Lupin is one of the biggest because one, he does have that relationship with Tonks, and we know that that’s meaningful. I mean, he has a child with her. Obviously, he cares about her. But at the same time, I think that if you look at the way that they have their friendship, I just feel like it’s something more than a friendship. I feel like they really seemed to love each other on a different level. And it’s all in the subtext. It’s never explicitly stated, so this is literally just me reading into it and seeing it there, but I just think that, subtextually, there [are] no two characters in the Potter books that have more subtext for potentially being queer characters than these two.
Michael: Well, I think Shanna actually has a few quotes that she pulled that refer to some of that.
Shanna: So in Prisoner of Azkaban – the book – the very last scene where he’s packing up his awesome trunk and Harry is like, “Wait, why are you going? You’re the only person I like here,” and…
Shanna: … he’s like, “But I have to go because everyone spilled my secret that I get hairy every 30 days,” much like myself. And he’s like, “People wouldn’t want a werewolf like me teaching their children. I’m too dangerous.” And I mean, man. That is such a narrative that has been used against particularly gay men, but it’s not exclusive to them, for having them around children. And that’s such an awful stereotype that cultures have put on gay men, but you used to hear that all the time about teachers in public school systems and things that because we “other” gay men so much, that “otherism” makes them dangerous for a variety of fake news reasons.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: Bless your heart.
Shanna: When you read it on the page, it’s like, “Oh yeah.” I guess if you don’t read it with any subtext, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I guess maybe a werewolf is scary because I mean, that animal itself is scary.” But the subtext for what it represents, especially contextualized with all the emotional content we know that Remus has, it really becomes a powerful metaphor. And then in the film… And I guess knowing what the director said about how to portray the character I guess adds light to this too, but when Snape barges in uninvited to the climax scene with Remus and Sirius and Peter, he’s like, “Oh, I hear you arguing like a married couple again.” And it’s just like, “Oh, you don’t say.”
[Michael and Shanna laugh]
Elayna: Talk about “I live.” [laughs] That’s, like, my favorite line in the entire franchise.
Shanna: So even in both the film version and in the canon, there’s a lot of heavy, heavy “Hint, hint. Wink, wink. Poke, poke. There’s this subtext you should pay attention to, but I’m not going to say it.”
Elayna: Oh my God. So much subtext. So much.
Michael: And I think that pointing out the film is important because – man alive – there is some imagery and subtext in the Prisoner of Azkaban film in terms of Lupin and Sirius’s potential relationship, could-be relationship, that is exploited and definitely clung onto by the fandom. I think the intimacy with which Oldman and Thewlis play their relationship encourages that, and that’s not a bad thing. I think the fact that Cuarón picked up on that subtext in his own way and asked his actors to play it that way and that his actors played it that way in a way that the audience reads it that way, to me, it’s there. It’s there in the original text. Again, just like you were saying, Elayna, that Lupin has a relationship with Tonks, people often say that “Well, Sirius wasn’t gay. He had a bunch of pictures of scantily-clad women all over his room.” Yeah. That doesn’t mean anything, by the way, listeners. [laughs]
Beth: I mean, this doesn’t really relate to Lupin and Sirius being attracted to each other but [rather to] Lupin just as a character. We have these strong themes of identity and struggling to come to terms with one’s identity. And that’s an interesting point, in my opinion. And then also what we were talking about with the “othering” of gay men and how we can draw that parallel with Lupin, we’re seeing that happening a lot right now with trans people. We’re seeing a lot in the media about how they shouldn’t be allowed around children, and if we allow them in bathrooms, then “what are they going to do to the children?”
Elayna: How dare we let them die for their country?
Beth: Right, and so it’s interesting how these parallels come back around time and time again. They continue to be relevant.
Michael: Which I think is why Rowling likes to leave them open enough for readers and why Harry Potter works so much as a series at large, is because it has that room where it will continue to be relevant pretty much forever. Because it does that. While Rowling can tell us the parallels she was thinking of, I think she encourages us to see parallels that we see and maybe even that she didn’t see. Note in the Pottermore piece, she says, “… a metaphor for those illnesses that carry a stigma, like HIV and AIDS.” But she’s also implying that there are other things within that that can be implied by this character.
Shanna: Sure. I mean, even before they started calling AIDS “GRID,” it was called “4H disease” because it was thought to only affect heroin users, hemophiliacs, homosexuals, and [Haitians]. So even hemophiliacs were rather stigmatized because they thought that AIDS was related to their born disease. So that just goes to what JK is saying about it’s any disease that’s stigmatized.
Michael: We’ve talked about this before on the show, but going further into the text, I think – and again, personal – Lupin was fascinating for me as a character, especially with my personal journey of coming out and discovering for myself that I was gay because I found Lupin fascinating as a character at the time when I thought I was straight because he was presented as such a sensitive straight male figure. And that wasn’t very common in children’s literature, the kind of character that he was. He’s very soft-edged. He’s very affectionate. He speaks emotionally but sensibly, and he’s very smart and talented. And those were all things that I felt I related to and aspired to. Because it was before I think I self-identified as gay, but I remember when she revealed that he was with Tonks, I had a distinct feeling of disappointment. And I didn’t know why, but I was disappointed. And I’m still a little disappointed with that sometimes when I read the series. I think her contextualization for it on Pottermore made me like it better, but it definitely plays in the background, and I think when we do see it in the text in the books – and there'[re] various reasons for this, of course – Lupin is so distinctly unhappy in the moments we see of that relationship pretty much until he has the baby. And there’s a lot of complicated reasons for that, and I think only some of them are touched on in “The Bribe.” And it leads to a very fascinating read for me with Lupin that is very layered and hard to get into just in this episode. But I think it’s easy to read Lupin in that way because not only is he so close to Sirius, not only is he such a sensitive, unusual male figure in juvenile fiction, but he is also notably not as happy as one maybe would be in a heterosexual relationship as far as we get to see.
Elayna: That’s very true.
Michael: And I think for me personally, too, it was just sad to see his character be brushed aside by the text after Prisoner of Azkaban. He’s not very important after Prisoner of Azkaban, sadly, which is unfortunate because he’s awesome. And then he dies. Boo. [laughs]
Beth: I think it was really important to the story to make Lupin a father because we needed to see him be so scared about passing his condition on to his child. And we needed to see him get married to someone like Tonks, who is from a very notable pure-blood family, but that her immediate family is considered problematic due to their affiliations. And to see the political implications of that, I think, [was] really important to the story. And then also orphaning another kid and giving Harry the godfather role to Teddy and all of that, I think, was really important to the story. But if we are interested in interpreting Lupin as a bisexual character, I think the choice to pair him with Tonks, who[m] I think we’re going to get to in a little bit…
Michael: We might as well go to her now.
Beth: … can be interpreted with a lot of ideas of gender fluidity and more the fluidity of sexuality and gender. I think it’s really interesting to pair them together.
Michael: Yes. Because as a reminder, listeners, Tonks is a Metamorphmagus. And that does not only allow her to pretty much change her appearances as we’ve seen, [but] she can [also] take on animal traits. She can change her age. She can change her complete outward appearance. She can probably change into a guy. [laughs] And we will get to something else about that. She is certainly not the only example of that in the wizarding world. But this power is innate to her. She does not need to Transfigure to do this. She actually has it as part of her genetics, and like you said, Beth, isn’t that fascinating when you couple that up with her relationship with Lupin and what you could read into that? Or not read into that, if you so choose. But Tonks is that representation, and I see a mention, too, of Teddy as well.
Elayna: Yeah. I mentioned Teddy because I really love the idea. So as we were talking about in the Harry Potter story, Teddy would have grown up around the same time that we would because he’s old enough that in 2017 he’s going to Hogwarts and everything. I think that [with] his parentage and his growing up in more progressive times, I think it is very, very likely to assume that Teddy would have been somewhere on the queer spectrum or would be gender-fluid. And it’s one of my very favorite headcanons to imagine that character that way. We’ll get to this later, but one of the things I was saddest about with Cursed Child… I was like, “Wait, really?”
Michael: He’s not in it.
Elayna: No Teddy? None? Not at all? Nowhere? I was a little distraught. But yeah, because Tonks and Lupin are two of my favorite characters, and so to have had them be together was awesome. But I do agree, too, with Michael, what you were saying. There was a piece of me that was a little disappointed. I don’t know if it was for the same reasons, but at first, I was like, “Hmm, I still think he’s in love with Sirius, but okay.” But I do agree with what you guys were also saying about it’s a narrative function that they needed to be together so that they could have this kid and you could see that cycle of then Harry becomes [the] godfather of someone who lost their parents. It makes sense, but it doesn’t mean I have to be thrilled about it.
Shanna: I do love – if you keep with the disease-phobia metaphor, whether you use that as a parallel for any queer identity or even just being born with a disease – in Half-Blood Prince, when Bill gets scratched and they don’t know whether or not he’s going to be a werewolf, and Molly is like, “Well, I guess they’re not going to get married.” And Fleur is like, “No, I love him no matter what.” And Tonks is like, “See? See? I love you. It doesn’t matter.” I think in terms of ability appreciation and other discriminatory practices, whether they’re a queer couple or not, is a really good symbolism about how people who do have different afflictions still have very normal relationships and are very loved by other people. And I just always really like that chapter, even though it’s a little sad about Bill. But I always think that’s a really great one.
Michael: Yeah, I agree. Like you said, that moment for me is very reflective of the fleshing out of their relationship that happened on Pottermore. There’s a little more depth added there that’s really nice to see since of course we don’t really get to see much of that on-screen for good reason. This is all through Harry’s eyes, and Harry is not really looking for that anyway. He’s got a lot of other things on his mind. But yeah, I think it’s interesting you bring up Tonks in that way as a Metamorphmagus. I don’t think we ever actually saw her change physically into a man, if I’m recalling correctly.
Beth: I don’t think so.
Michael: Listeners, remind me if I’m wrong on that, listeners. But of course, I think she probably can if she so desires. Because the thing is, we also have something in the wizarding world that can do that with a lot more labor: the Polyjuice Potion. And my oh my, does nobody care at all about the fact that they have just changed genders? See the “Seven Potters” scene in Deathly Hallows.
Beth: [as Fleur] “Look away! I’m hideous!”
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: Daniel Radcliffe is a gift that we don’t deserve.
Michael: Well, even in the book, I just love that the only thing that is even remotely mentioned is that Harry is a little upset that they’re just all baring his body in front of everybody. Nobody cares. Because they’re like, “Well, it’s not my body. Who cares?” And I’m just like, “We’re not even questioning?” Like, Hermione is not just like, “Well, this is new.” Nothing.
Shanna: I always thought of the Polyjuice Potion scenes as maybe in a similar vein as drag culture because at least when I think of my friends who identify as trans, they have varying levels of what that identity means. And in often cases, it’s their own unique identity juxtaposed on a different gender orientation. But [with] Polyjuice Potion, you don’t really change your individually unique identity. You just change the way that you look. And I think what’s so interesting is in the “Seven Potters” scenes and in the infiltration of the Ministry scenes, they’re all taking Polyjuice Potion as an act of resistance for whatever tyranny is coming and in the case of Harry Potter, Voldemort and the awful pure-blood race bigotry, right? When drag became a thing, especially for something like Weimar culture in pre-World War II Germany, or even currently, genderbending in drag is a sign of resistance. It’s a way for queer culture to fight back against heteronormativity and gender expectations. And so when they take the Polyjuice Potion to physically resist tyranny, in my mind, I was like, “Oh, what a really great parallel between true drag culture and what we see in the wizarding community.”
Beth: Wow. Fully accepted.
Elayna: You just have every good point ever.
Elayna: And I’m just really sad that I can’t physically high-five you right now.
Shanna: Oh, but I feel it, from Philadelphia. I felt the high five. It’s really powerful.
Michael: [laughs] I think that parallel is really interesting in Potter because [with] drag, you’re putting on these prosthetics and pieces. In Polyjuice Potion, you got it; you got the thing you didn’t have.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: It’s all there.
Michael: And the most Hermione can say is [as Hermione], “Gee, Harry, your eyesight is awful.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s what she’s focusing on.”
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Beth: But they do have to change their voices, and they have to change the way they behave in order to embody the person they…
Michael: Yeah, there is that element of the drag culture.
Beth: … are physically looking like.
Michael: Well, in the movies, definitely the voices, not so much [in] the books. I think in the books they actually do get the other person’s voice.
Beth: Right, but they do have to still talk like that. [laughs]
Michael: Yeah, their mannerisms and their affects. Definitely. Yeah, it’s…
Elayna: Yeah, because somebody with the vernacular from Central London is not going to have the same vernacular as somebody from West Texas. [laughs]
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: Yeah, you can have their voice, but will you talk like them?
Michael: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s just funny because it’s perhaps not as addressed in-depth as you would think, considering the possibilities that Polyjuice Potion lays out. But I guess when you’re going into actual physicality, yes, this is a juvenile fiction book, and the characters are dealing with a lot of other things at the moment that they’re probably not going to get hung up on that, as shown again by the fact that they all just get naked and don’t care.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Michael: That’s very forgiving of them. But there'[re] a few other characters I want to touch on before we get to our big last section, just because these characters have also had notable discussion in the fandom. You may not think, listeners, just off the top of your head, but Harry and Draco are certainly a very popular pairing. Why?
Elayna: Because they’re obsessed with each other.
Michael: [laughs] Obsessed in a way that would necessitate a romance?
Elayna: I don’t know. That’s one of those ships where I never saw it personally, but I know that there are people who would cut me for saying that because they ship it that much. I don’t know. Just…
Michael: Well, I think a great…
Elayna: They’re two characters that have a great… They spend a lot of time thinking about each other…
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: And it’s one of those “If they’re mean to you, it’s because they like you” tropes from being a kid. That’s where I think it stems from.
Beth: Well, and it’s easy to translate the hatred-passion into a different kind of passion.
Elayna: Yes, quite.
Michael: Well, yeah, I think one of the most popular, perhaps historical, literary things with that that’s made its way into the current culture is Sherlock and Moriarty and the two minds added against each other and who have some similarities within their differences. And Harry and Malfoy’s is definitely played in a really interesting way, of all the things, in A Very Potter Musical, because not only is Malfoy’s obsession with Harry played up to the point where it actually is developed to become a thing, but Malfoy is also played by a girl, but she’s playing Malfoy as a boy. So there'[re] a lot of layers as you go through that for how they play it not only for comedy but also in a somewhat serious way. There’s definitely an acknowledgment in that play of why that ship, I think, would have become a thing. I think as far as on Harry’s end, people definitely cite Half-Blood Prince and the fact that Harry just can’t think about anything else.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: He can’t. They poor boy is so lovesick he doesn’t even know.
Michael: [laughs] I’ve never read that as canon, but I can see, like Beth said, how easy it is to that “I hate you, I hate you” into a “maybe there’s something more there.” See The Lego Batman Movie, listeners, for more of that theme, if you haven’t explored that yet.
Michael: Oh yeah, there’s a whole thing with Batman and the Joker, and it is not subtle. It is all over the place in that movie. But another pairing who’s maybe not as prominent in the series, always a little bit hanging out in the background, but they’re always hanging out together, Dean and Seamus.
Elayna: I ship it.
Michael: What do we think happened there and why?
Beth: Yeah, this is a favorite of mine.
Michael: [laughs] Why?
Elayna: Because it’s right, okay, Michael?
Beth: Because I think [with] Harry and Draco, you have to do a lot of hand-waving to make it work out. I think you don’t have to do that as much with Dean and Seamus. I think reading Dean as bisexual is, you don’t have to do anything else to his character to be able to get there. And while there is no support for this ship at all in the books, I think that there’s nothing against it either. And so I’d just like to have it, please.
[Beth and Michael laugh]
Michael: That’s a perfect good enough reason. Yeah, we see that the two of them spend a lot of time together. We see that Seamus seems to have a little twitch of jealousy during… what is it, Half-Blood Prince? And Seamus and Dean have even had a few lover’s quarrels, you could say, in the background about differences of opinion, but they do always seem to be together all the time. And despite Dean’s relationship with Ginny in Half-Blood, interestingly, Dean and Seamus are two characters that Rowling never said what happened to them after the Battle of Hogwarts. We know they survived, but we don’t know if they paired up with anybody; we don’t know anything about that.
Elayna: Happily married in the English countryside.
[Beth and Michael laugh]
Beth: She has so much on Dean that she won’t tell us.
Michael: [There’s] a lot of background information about him, a bit of which came out on her old website, and I think some of it bled onto Pottermore, but it is not contextually part of the story, necessarily. But yeah, and again, this goes back to what we’ve said throughout this episode and what we’ve touched on a little bit already, that when it’s not there, anywhere, and you’re part of this group that would like to see some representation, sometimes you have to dig for it to find it. And when Rowling leaves these open spaces the way she does, I think people laud her writing for being just open enough that people have enough room to imagine what they want in plenty of the spaces that she leaves. I think – in this discussion – it welcomes the queer community to see those things, and it’s okay to read it that way. It doesn’t grossly affect the outcome of the story, but for the reader, it might personally benefit their reading. Because listeners, this will come up when we get to another character – one of our last characters – but it’s important to remind you that by saying that we read it this way or can read it this way, again, we’re not saying you have to read it this way. We’re not imposing this view of how it’s read upon you. And one of the characters who’s had this… And I am so glad that Shanna found a female character to discuss because the poor female characters of Harry Potter do not get as much queer representation as the males. Even in fan fiction that’s a problem, and it’s a big problem, actually. Commonly, the ones who I saw queered the most were the Quidditch team girls. Yeah, that one’s pretty popular, again, because there’s room left there. Also, I also think there is a stereotypical association of girls in sports that lends itself to that. So there’s definitely some Katie/Alicia/Angelina, pair-them-up-however-you-want fic out there. You don’t have to dig hard to find it. But there’s another young lady that has definitely been pointed out in this respect, and Shanna, I think you had this point here.
Shanna: It’s Luna, fellow Ravenclaw! [laughs] So as we know from, I think, a PotterCast, Luna ultimately ends up marrying Newt Scamander’s grandson, Rolf Scamander, which I just also think is super adorable, but we know that she ends up in a heterosexual marriage. But much like our discussion [on] Dumbledore [and] our discussion [on] Remus, in the books, she’s not exactly explicitly presented as heterosexual. I read her as a desexualized or ace character, and obviously because that’s the case in one part of her life doesn’t mean that that doesn’t change; that’s totally a thing. But she’s never in the books, to my knowledge, ever participated in boy-worship, right? So she didn’t really fawn over Krum when he came through for Goblet of Fire. She doesn’t obsess over Harry when he becomes the Chosen One or defeats Voldemort 68 times. In all of that background conversation, she’s not one of the characters that’s mentioned as participating in what we think of as fawning behavior. In the rest of her interpersonal relationships, whether it’s her kindness toward Harry when he sees the Thestrals for the first time or her compassion for Ginny and Hermione when they go through their various teenage love problems, she really prioritizes people’s feelings, her friendships, and the comfort of others and her desire for their happiness [over] her physical desire to be with them in any capacity. And a really easy way to juxtapose that is Harry’s almost aggressive desire to be with Ginny. He often talks about his desire for her as turmoil and how he secretly wishes that [she] and Dean would fight and things like that. To our knowledge – and obviously, it’s from Harry’s point of view – Luna only desires good things for her friends and really prioritizes them over her own desires. And as a result, [it] manifests as a desire. So she becomes this unique character in the Harry Potter world because I think she’s the only one [who] displays those attributes from the characters that we get introduced to.
Elayna: Cinnamon roll with turnip earrings, I tell you.
Michael: I think one of the things that makes Luna unique in the way that you just summarized, Shanna, is how she blatantly states what she thinks. So it’s almost unlike Harry, [whose head] we have to be in […] as through the narrator. We don’t really even need to see it through Luna’s perspective because she just tells us what she’s thinking. And I think a lot of people cite the interesting passage in Half-Blood when Harry invites her to Slughorn’s Christmas party, and he insists that they’re just going as friends, and she’s like, [as Luna] “Oh, I love going as just friends!” And it’s…
Shanna: Yeah, she’s so excited to be his friend. [laughs]
Michael: There'[re] a lot of ways you can choose to read that. And I think on the episode that we discussed that, I suggested that maybe she thought there was something more there, but I’m inclined to think as a reader that she genuinely is happy to go as friends and never thought anything else and thinks it’s funny that Harry feels the need to define it. So that’s why she repeats it because she’s just like [as Luna] “Okay. Yeah, I know. I already knew that, but okay.” And again, like you mentioned, people have insisted, “Well, she must be straight because she married Rolf Scamander, and they had children.” But that’s not necessarily the case. The other thing that nobody seems to ever consider is the possibility – because this brought that up for me since there hasn’t been much given about Rolf and Luna and her children – [that] adoption’s a thing. And it’s very possible that some of the Harry Potter characters got married and adopted children and didn’t necessarily conceive the children themselves.
Elayna: Yeah, I have two friends who [are] both asexual, and they’re married.
Shanna: Me too.
Elayna: Really? Oh, that’s great. Yeah, they just very much love each other, and they want to spend their lives together, but they’re just not interested in that at all.
Beth: And I also want to point out that people who are asexual can choose to have sex still and do. There are lots of ways this could’ve gone down.
Michael: Yes. Yes, it can’t be ruled out just for that reason alone necessarily when that argument is brought up. It’s not the be-all [and] end-all. And speaking of “asexual,” a very popular character for associating with asexual identity, Charlie Weasley…
Elayna: Bless his heart.
Michael: … who[m] Rowling had a little bit to say on. [There’s] one quote from Rowling taken very much and embraced by the fandom. In J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life, the documentary, as she’s writing out the family tree, she gets to Charlie, and she says, “Charlie never had children or married.” And the interviewer asks Rowling, “Is he gay?” And she responded, “No, I don’t think Charlie is gay. Just more interested in dragons than women.” And the fandom went wild.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Michael: And listeners, I think we’ve referenced this before. I know it’s been referenced on SpeakBeasty before. Our good friend Shannen from over at SpeakBeasty, who could not join us for this…
Elayna: Shannen! It’s her birthday today.
Michael: Yes. Happy birthday, Shannen!
Beth: Happy birthday, Shannen!
Michael: And I did invite her to also join the rest of us on this episode. Unfortunately, she couldn’t make it because it’s her birthday.
Michael: That’s totally reasonable. That’s so funny too. She didn’t tell me that. She was just like, “I’m out with my family that day.” She didn’t say it was her birthday. [laughs]
Elayna: Protect Shannen at all costs. I mean, really.
Michael: She did write an article called “Asexual Awareness: Protect Charlie Weasley at All Costs.” And it is an excellent article, listeners, if you’ve never read it on our site. She actually published that back in 2015, and it not only excellently discusses why Charlie Weasley could be asexual but also gives you some ways to define asexuality, to explore and learn about asexuality. It’s a really great, well-written resource. And I have to say – and this is why I keep bringing this up throughout this episode – if you look at the comments on that article, at least when I did, I was really disappointed in the discussion.
Elayna: Me too.
Michael: And I was disappointed because almost everybody in the comments shut Shannen down, and that is not what the goal is with this. And they shut her down by frequently saying things such as “I think you’re reading too much into this” or “Why are you making me try [to] read it this way? Stop reading into things so much, and stop seeking validation from fictional characters.” Also, “Stop inventing terms to try to make sexuality sound so darn complicated. It’s not that complex.”
Beth: Another one said that this is insulting to men.
Elayna: Wait, no. I’m searching… No.
Shanna: The subclass of men who have intimate hobbies with dragons. Who are these men? I don’t know what that means.
[Beth and Michael laugh]
Michael: “I don’t understand why people feel the need to label everyone and everything around them.”
Shanna: Because that’s how we make sense of the world and share it with others. I don’t… [laughs]
Michael: Yeah. To be fair, listeners, again, there are some very positive comments in the discussion. I’m not saying that it’s all negative. It’s not. There were some great comments on that article, but there were a lot of comments that just said, “Why are you talking about this? Why are you trying to make me see it this way?” And I think that’s why the queer community is so intent [on] trying to invite allies into this discussion. We’re not forcing this on you. We don’t want to force this on you. All we want is to be heard and seen in that respect. It’s not that we’re saying, “Well, everybody’s got to be this way because we’re this way.”
Elayna: Like I said before, it’s not like we’re trying to take everybody and convert them all so it’s like, “Ahh, it’s just a bunch of gays.”
Elayna: No, it’s not what we’re trying to do here.
Michael: No. I think there’s a concerted effort, perhaps, to help everyone see just how much beauty there is in difference and how much difference there can be around you and to not immediately think of heterosexual relationships as the norm.
Beth: That’s what I was going to say. Just that we assume everybody that we look at and we don’t have very much information on is straight and cis. I mean, that’s been instilled in us for a long time, and we can’t really be blamed for that, but we should try to remember that that’s really not the case, and we should, as John Green likes to say, “imagine people complexly.”
Elayna: Ugh, I love that phrase so much.
Beth: [laughs] I know. And that just because you aren’t explicitly told that Charlie is asexual doesn’t mean that he’s not. And assuming that he’s straight is just a broader way of saying everybody that you look at is straight until proven otherwise. And that’s a bit problematic.
Shanna: And definitely reading Harry Potter or any literature from an alternative framework away from heteronormativity invites a whole bunch of other counterpositions. Not everyone needs to be in an intimate relationship to have life satisfaction, and that can be for heterosexual ace people or anyone else. And I think in a culture that’s dominated by defining yourself by the nuclear family, having a partner, having a home, having children, there are plenty of people who don’t fall anywhere in the identity spectrum who don’t want those goals either. And there'[re] plenty of characters inside Harry Potter that you can read as having really rich and fulfilling lives in other ways to be also inspiring. So having alternative perspectives for the readings just invites a lot of joy and happiness in our lives.
Michael: Yeah, I think that that’s why we turn to things we love like Harry Potter, to media we love, and examine it this way. These parallels that we’ve got here invite us to do that, and I think in Rowling’s case, they want us to do that. We’re doing the reading a disservice if we don’t examine it further. There’s a reason she leaves that room for us, to look at these things. And I really loved what was being said too. I want to make sure I phrase this correctly. Hmm, there goes that thought. It’s there, but it’s having a hard time forming the words.
Shanna: Ugh, Wrackspurts strike again.
Michael: Ahh, yes. Luna…
[Elayna, Michael, and Shanna laugh]
Michael: It was more about the broadness of that with Harry Potter.
Beth: While you’re thinking of it, I do want to point out that I know I said previously that we can have representation that’s subtle and just normalizes queerness. But I think we also do need the explicit representation to help these people along who have trouble seeing it where it’s not explicitly said, to remind everybody that yep, yep, it’s real, and it’s out there, and it’s actually the way that a lot of people live their lives, and we shouldn’t forget that.
Michael: A lot more people than you think.
Beth: We shouldn’t sweep it away. Yeah.
Michael: By assuming that with people, that really – I think – affects how they see themselves.
Elayna: Yeah. This is one thing that bothers me when I see statistics about how many queer people there are in America. Well, first of all, a lot of queer people don’t have access to things like censuses, and if you’re living in today’s world, they’re not including that on the next census. So there’s really no way to actually have an accurate number about how many different people there are who fall somewhere on the queer spectrum. So yeah, it may say, “8% of Americans are gay.” Well, that’s not very informative. I think from just knowing the people that I do, there'[re] a lot more people [who] fall somewhere on that spectrum who may not necessarily have it reported that way, and so like you said, we’re everywhere. And we’ve always been everywhere, and we’re not going anywhere. So representation is such a big deal because there'[re] so many people who are feeling left out and like they’re not a part of the story, the story of life. We go to TV shows and books and movies because we want to see ourselves in them, and [that] wasn’t necessarily regarding queer characters so much. But with Wonder Woman, so many women came out of that theater feeling like, “Oh my goodness. I feel represented, finally.” I cried six times during that movie.
Shanna: Yes. Sobbing.
Elayna: I’m sure we’re going to see a whole slew of it coming next year with the release of things like Black Panther and with [A] Wrinkle in Time. Queer characters, we’re just starting to get to that point where we’re seeing them more frequently, but it needs to be more prominent if we’re going to be equal about things.
Michael: Yeah. I remembered what I wanted to say, and I think Charlie Weasley brings it up excellently in terms of Shannen’s article with the reaction of that particular quote that I read from one of the commenters who said, “I don’t understand why people feel the need to label everyone and everything around them.” And it was great because Shanna said, “Well, because that’s how we understand the world.” And I think people think they’re being open-minded in their own way when they say something like that, like, “Oh, I don’t see labels.” But if you say something like, “Well, I don’t see color,” that’s problematic in its own way, because that’s another way to shut down discussion. Because as open-minded as you may think that is to say that, we are facing issues where the world, people in the world, do see differences and they act upon that. So if you say you don’t see it, that’s only helpful to a point, I guess, is what’s important. So to say, “Well, I don’t see things that way, so why should I have to read them that way?” is another way to dismiss what we’ve just been talking about. So I think it’s a step in the right direction to have that mindset, but if you truly feel that way, it’s important to acknowledge the issue and do something about it rather than just say, “Well, I don’t see it, so it’s not my problem.”
Elayna: Yeah. Well, I don’t want to really give spoilers for anyone who may not have seen it, because it’s an incredible film, but [in] the movie Get Out that came out earlier this year, there’s a character in it who’s blind. And that character is such a metaphor for this very thing that we’re talking about. And I think that seeing stuff like that is very true. When you say, “I don’t see color,” it’s like, “You should.” You should see it, and you should celebrate it rather than having a problem with it. And so yeah, that just “Oh, well, I don’t know why people have to label themselves as any kind of sexuality,” you’re basically just saying that you don’t think that me identifying the way I identify matters. And it’s very invalidating when people do that.
Michael: Yes. And speaking of material that [you] didn’t see what was right there…
[Beth and Elayna laugh]
Elayna: You sure you’re ready for this?
Michael: … Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Okay. So… [laughs] The obvious thing to talk about in this script is yes, it’s Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. And what I’m going to do is just read you some quotes. And these quotes…
Elayna: Thank you. Thank you, Michael. You’re such a gift.
Michael: Some of them are kind of open-ended, some of them I feel are not, but this is up for our discussion here. So [on] page 17, the first time Scorpius and Albus meet each other, Scorpius says something about his father and his home life and what his feelings about Hogwarts are. And the stage directions rather say, “Scorpius and Albus look at each other and something passes between them.” That’s all. On page 96, Albus is taking some tutelage from Delphi. Scorpius shows up, and the stage directions say, “Scorpius appears at the back of the stage. He looks at his friend talking to a girl – and part of him likes it and part of him doesn’t.” On page 120, when Harry in one of the many alternate timelines tells Albus that he has to stay away from Scorpius, Albus says to Scorpius, “We’ll be better off without each other, okay?” And then [the] stage directions say, “Scorpius is left looking after him. Heartbroken.” And yes, I am going to read the entire staircase scene, because I think it’s important. Because I tried to suss out the particulars that would be relevant, and I realized it was just the whole thing.
Elayna: Michael, I’ve waited so long to hear a dramatic reading of this.
Michael: [laughs] This is a very big challenge for my voice acting, because I just don’t like reading this.
Michael: But page 127, Part 1, Act 2, Scene 12:
“The Hogwarts staircases. Albus walks up a staircase, looking around as he does. He doesn’t see anything. He exits. The staircases move in almost a dance. Scorpius enters behind him. He thinks he’s seen Albus. He realizes he isn’t there. He slumps down to the floor as the staircase sweeps around. Madam Hooch enters and walks up the staircase. At the top, she gestures for Scorpius to move. He does and slopes off, his abject loneliness clear. Albus enters and walks up one staircase. Scorpius enters and walks up another. The staircases meet. The two boys look at each other, lost and hopeful all at once. And then Albus looks away, and the moment is broken, and with it possibly the friendship. And now the staircases part. The two look at each other, one full of guilt, the other full of pain. Both full of unhappiness.”
That’s the staircase scene. [laughs]
Beth: I just got chills.
Elayna: I’m not ready to cry. You’re ready to cry.
Michael: And it doesn’t end there. Probably possibly one of my favorite quotes [is on] page 265. Scorpius and Albus are stuck in the past around the time of just about a day or so before Lily and James will die. And they’re pretty much stuck there. They’re trying to figure out any way they can to get out, and Albus pretty much concludes that there is no way. And Scorpius, of all the things, says, “Still, if I had to choose a companion to be at the return of eternal darkness with, I’d choose you.”
Elayna: They’re in love with each other! I can’t hold it in anymore. I can’t do it.
Michael: Now, of course, the interesting thing that throws a wrench in all of this is one of the characters that I really wanted to be something and ended up being nothing, sadly. Poor Rose [Granger-]Weasley, who is horribly under-serviced by this script…
Elayna: She got the Seraphina treatment.
Michael: Yes, she is. I was just thinking of that. She is very much poor Seraphina. And Rose pretty much doesn’t have much use in the script as far as we read other than to show the conflict of Albus and Scorpius becoming friends and to be an object of desire for Scorpius that shows up every once in a while. And that’s Rose. Now, I think this is really interesting because, of course, we do have the benefit of having somebody on this show who saw the play. It sounds like she saw it, too, Shanna, with the original actors.
Shanna: Yes. I saw it with Anthony Boyle and Sam Clement, all of them. And oh wow.
Michael: Now, I’m fascinated to hear your thoughts because we have had other members of the show and other guests who did see the play and have very adamantly told me that they do not see any gay subtext in the performance.
Shanna: Well, I was really close to the stage. I was, like, three rows back.
Shanna: So I could really see their faces. Maybe it’s the actors’ portrayal and their own friendship. Please don’t sue me for libel or slander.
Shanna: I saw it last Christmas. I know.
Elayna: Too late.
Shanna: I saw it last Christmas, so the production had been going on for quite a bit of time. And as we talked about in the [unintelligible], is Cursed Child canon or not canon, one of the problems is, depending on the actors’ mood, day, or wellbeing, the connotations change. Right? That’s fair.
Michael: Yes, yes.
Shanna: Perhaps that day, they were really good buddies, but…
Shanna: … the staircase scene… As you just read it, I was thinking of it in my mind. It’s almost as intimate as the cliché Romeo and Juliet scene. The way that that appears is that they’re on two opposing staircases, and the staircases literally cross, and they do the “I’ve made eye contact, but now I’m longing.” And literally one of them fades into the darkness as the other one is like, “Goodbye.” I remember sitting in the theater being like, “Oh my God, are we all seeing this moment right now?”
Shanna: And the answer was no. But it was like…
Elayna: Bless your heart so much.
Shanna: It was an incredibly intimate relationship. And Scorpius is just my favorite character. And I wouldn’t say that just from reading the book. Literally, the actor did it for me. And in the scene where they “break up,” for lack of a better word, there’s just so much heartache there. There'[re] converse treatments of their relationship, right? So on one hand, having an intimate, compassionate, male-to-male friendship can be totally fine, right? We have lots and lots of speculation about toxic masculinity and why men can’t have friends. I totally get that. And on the other hand, it can be interpreted in this more intimate way. In some ways, it reminds me… And this might be a really old reference, but it reminds me of Fried Green Tomatoes with Ruth and Idgie, how they have a very deep female-to-female relationship that has become a very large queer narrative for lesbian relationships. That’s how I saw their relationship performed onstage. I did not see that from the book. When I just read the script or whatever, that didn’t even occur to me. It was just like, “Oh, okay.” But when I saw it on…
Michael: Did you read the script before you saw it?
Shanna: Oh, yeah. I read the script before I saw it because the fact that I actually got to see the play was total happenstance. It was totally by happenstance. I just happened to snag the last tickets for both showings the one day that I was available to go.
Beth: And they were close to the stage? Wow.
Shanna: Yeah. It was incredible.
Beth: I want the Kool-Aid that you drank that day.
Michael: Felix Felicis.
Shanna: It was just like, [screams].
Elayna: I would have been dead, especially because I love Noma so much. Oh my God. She’s amazing.
Shanna: Yeah. They’re all great, but being that close, getting to see their eye contact, getting to see so much of that subtle nonverbal context, which I guess makes me sound really elitist, but that’s not what I’m trying to say.
Elayna: No, not at all. It’s important how the actors portray the part, and if you saw that there, then it was probably for a reason.
Michael: No, having personally gone to many theater productions in my life – and I also can speak to the difference of being in the mezzanine versus being in the front of the orchestra – there is a difference. Actors put on as much makeup as possible to accentuate their facial features so you can see from a distance, and if you’re so smart and fortunate like my family often was when we went to the theater, you’ll bring a pair of binoculars with you. But even then, being up close, being just a few rows back from the stage, is a true gift because you will see things about the play that you didn’t see if you go see it another time closer. I think there’s a lot to be said for that. That’s not an irrelevant point.
Elayna: I don’t think I’m ever going to get over the fact that I was in the second row of Hamilton. Never ever.
Michael: Yeah, I was just a few rows back for Wicked when – oh, God – Idina was Elphaba. And it was amazing. My mom joked that we wouldn’t have to bring our binoculars because we would be able to see her nose hairs, so it wasn’t a problem. Yes.
Elayna: I don’t think I’ve ever been so jealous of you in my entire life.
Beth: Just a side note, Evanna Lynch has recently been talking about this kind of thing because she is doing stage work right now, and she’s a very soft-spoken person. And so listening to her talk about how you really do actually have to speak louder than you think you do and how you do really have to express yourself more than you would just with a person standing next to you is interesting and tangentially relevant to this conversation.
Michael: Yeah. Elayna, I know you have this point here too, and I think this is a layered and almost difficult conversation to have about Cursed Child. And listeners, I will direct you to two different articles about this if you’d like to preface the discussion with this. “Harry Potter and the Possible Queerbaiting,” which was written by the Guardian and definitely argues in favor of reading it as a friendship to combat toxic masculinity, versus “The Harry Potter Universe still can’t translate its gay subtext to text. It’s a problem,” which was written by Vox.
Elayna: I’ve already bookmarked them both. Just letting you know.
Michael: It definitely argues that they should have gone ahead and had a full-on gay relationship in the show rather than making it the way it was. And so Elayna, Shanna brought up this argument already. Can you elaborate a little on your thoughts on this too?
Elayna: Well, yeah. I can.
[Elayna and Michael laugh]
Elayna: I have some things that I could say. But yeah. So people are just like, “Why can’t we see more male friendships?” Need I direct you to the entirety of English literature? It’s everywhere. And I will never be a person [who] says that toxic masculinity and men being sensitive is not something we don’t get to see because we really don’t see a lot of that. Typically and especially in Hollywood, it’s one of the reasons why I think people have latched onto Newt Scamander so much. He’s a sensitive man. He’s this not typical hero, and people want to see more of that. But there are so many examples, and especially in Harry Potter already, of male friends who really care about each other. If you have an opportunity to have these two characters who could have this relationship, to be just like, “Oh, nope. We’re going to dismiss it and just make it that they’re friends,” I think that it’s unfair. I’ve had people say to me before, “Oh, you want all male characters to be gay” or “You want all the characters to be queer.” And I’m like, “I’ve never sat there and argued for a gay Ron and Harry. They were friends, and their friendship comes across as a friendship.” But the one thing that I put in this document is, I feel like if you can read the scenes and you can not know the gender, if you read those lines that you read earlier today, and instead of saying Albus and Scorpius, you just said “Character 1” and “Character 2,” I can almost guarantee that the majority of people when asked would say, “Oh, yeah, that’s a scene between two romantically inclined people. [These are] two people who have romantic feelings for each other.” And when you look at it like that, I feel like that’s the point in which you know this isn’t a friendship; this is a relationship. And when I was reading Cursed Child… You can ask Catherine when we see her, Michael, because we’ll be seeing her at MuggleNet Live! I had this look on my face as I was reading. I was like, “Oh my God. They’re going to do it. They’re actually going to give us these main characters who are queer, and it’s a positive representation.” But they kept hinting at Rose, and every time they did, it just hurt a little more. And then at the end, it just felt like a total “no homo” moment.
Shanna: That’s how it came across onstage too.
Shanna: I’m telling you, if anybody saw what I saw from the position I was seated, there is no subtext. It is real life.
Beth: Gay panic.
Michael: Well, and again, I said why this story does so much disservice to Rose. That’s all she’s there for [at] the end of the play. She doesn’t even have dialogue. She just is there to be looked at.
Beth: Yeah, she doesn’t pass the Bechdel test for sure.
Michael: No, she doesn’t. And I think, Elayna, what you’re getting at reminded me, too, of something that we said earlier. The best way to do these representations isn’t necessarily to say, “Look at the gay thing,” like we were talking about with Beauty and the Beast. “Oh my goodness. LeFou is going to be gay for three seconds on-screen.” To me, this was so naturally written. It feels so beautifully intimate. The one thing that I can give Cursed Child – and I want to give it to it, but it won’t let me, textually – is that Albus and Scorpius share some extremely intimate dialogue with each other. And I am not saying that male friends can’t do that. In fact, I’ve had male friends [who] do that with me and with others. That’s possible. But it’s not to say either that that couldn’t turn into something else or that could evolve. As I tried to get the point through with those particular quotes – and listeners, again, note what the page numbers are on those quotes; that is not just the beginning or the end or just the middle – it’s throughout the play.
Elayna: It starts on page 17. It ends with a stake through the heart when he starts talking about how much he likes Rose. But who’s bitter? Not me. Certainly not me. Not me.
Michael: It’s the whole script. And it’s so naturally done that I think that’s why, for those of us who read it that way. And that is why it is categorized not as queer coding but as queerbaiting, because it gives you all the signals that this could be a very well-written, very well-portrayed gay relationship, queer relationship, on the stage, and it takes it away at the very last minute for no contextual reason other than just because.
Beth: It could’ve just left it hanging and left it to us to interpret the way we wanted to.
Elayna: I would’ve even been fine with that.
Michael: Yeah. And I think that’s what’s frustrating. I remember when we talked about this on the Cursed Child episode, it was brought up that “Well, why can’t it be that way? Why can’t you read it that way?” And for me, you can’t. Because this is not the Harry Potter books. This is not a situation where there is enough room or Rowling will get to elaborate on this later. Rowling is not going to be tweeting about the in-between moments we didn’t see in Cursed Child for the next four years. This is a different piece of media that is not completely under her control. She doesn’t have the right to do that anymore.
Elayna: And she didn’t write it.
Michael: No. And I think that’s something that’s also really important to be clear about. This is not Rowling’s fault. Not completely. She does share some of the blame, but there’s a lot more…
Elayna: She cosigned it, but she didn’t write it.
Michael: She didn’t write it. And I think that’s…
Elayna: And you can tell. [laughs]
Michael: And people would argue otherwise. But I think that’s what’s important to remember, is that while it’s been said, like you said, Elayna, “Why are we all just trying to make everybody gay?” We’re not. We’re really not. It just felt so natural. Again, something we talked about before, but I think really applies here. Like what we talked about with Dumbledore and how the knowledge of him being gay really gives extra added rich layers to his story, to have Albus and Scorpius be gay in Cursed Child would make so much sense with the narrative.
Beth: Yeah. We make excuses all over the place for “Oh, it was 2007” or “As a culture, we weren’t ready for that in a kids’ book” and “Oh, it was taking place even earlier than that, so in the setting, it wouldn’t make sense.” And “Oh, it was from Harry’s perspective, so he wasn’t paying attention to those things” and “Oh, it would’ve taken away from the other plot points that were happening.” All the things that you want to try [to] say for Harry Potter, none of those things apply for Cursed Child. This takes place today.
Elayna: There’s no excuse, yeah.
Beth: It’s for an audience that is today. It’s for a more mature audience than Harry Potter was, in that we’ve just grown up. And it is about their relationship. You don’t get any more relevant than that. I’m sorry.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a big missed opportunity. To be fair, granted, I will say, there were fans who were against black Hermione. And they were so adamantly against it. And it was super inappropriate what was coming up in that discussion. To know that that happened with that does indicate that there would probably be pushback. Of course there will be. That said, I think when media has the opportunity to do that kind of positive representation… Because my goodness how many people have fallen in love with Albus’s and Scorpius’s characters.
Elayna: They’re the only thing I like about that.
Elayna: The only reason I accept in any way Cursed Child is because of the two of them and their relationship, which I read as queer and nothing and no one will ever take that from me. [laughs]
Michael: And it’s so funny because I’m one of the weirdos who doesn’t like Albus and Scorpius and is not very interested in their storyline. That said, I still want that for them in the reading. And I think that I can see how I would be more invested in the story if that’s where the story went. And not just because I’m gay; that’s not it.
Elayna: Because it was a beautifully developed relationship. It’s the best writing in this stage play, the relationship that builds between the two of them. Trolley witch, other stuff, freaking Voldemort babies, these we could do without all of that crap. But I would absolutely have been invested in a story that was just about the two of them without all the weird, wonky time travel-y crap.
Michael: Yeah. So again, I do think that in many ways Cursed Child is why the fandom has turned its eyes to Fantastic Beasts and said, “So what are you going to do to fix this?” because I think there are people who enjoy Cursed Child. And [there are] even people who didn’t like it as a piece of canon but still enjoy it as a piece of work, as a piece of theater. It wasn’t the worst thing that ever happened to a fandom ever. It wasn’t the Star Wars Christmas special.
Elayna: I jokingly referred to it as that once and then was like, “Okay, that was bad.”
Michael: That said, I think considering how spoiled we’ve been as a fandom – and I say that in the best sense – I think everybody in some capacity can recognize that Cursed Child felt a little different. And listeners, I look forward to your thoughts on this because I can already see some of you shaking your heads at me and being like, “Oh, Michael, you just want everything to be gay.” I promise you, I don’t. [laughs] As Elayna smartly said before me, that’s not what we’re seeking here. That’s not what this discussion is meant to be. We’re just trying to look at things through a different lens, and I hope, for our listeners, that this discussion leads to a lot of really interesting thoughts about maybe what other possibilities are out there in the Harry Potter universe and if you don’t read these ways, why you don’t read it this way. I’d really like to hear that as well, listeners. Maybe just open the Dumbledore of your mind a little bit more on this discussion, so to speak.
Michael: That’s what we’re doing here. Do you guys have any final thoughts to add about this discussion we’ve had tonight?
Beth: I just want to say, off of what you were saying, Michael, is that in the past, being involved in the conversations on Alohomora!, on the forums, I have always been impressed at how respectful and open-minded this community is. And so I know that for this episode it will be no different, and I just want to preemptively say how happy that makes me to engage in that community.
Michael: I’ve always admired that the conversation in Alohomora! discussions has always been a big safe space that we’ve cultivated for the show and that people feel really comfortable commenting. The only time it gets a little heated is when we talk about Snape.
Michael: This isn’t nearly as problematic as that!
Elayna: “Snape: More Problematic Than…”
Elayna: Yeah, just thank you for even asking me to be on this episode. Queerness and Potter are two of my favorite things to talk about. So I feel very honored to have this awesome discussion with you guys.
Shanna: Yes, I second that. It’s such an awesome topic to be a guest host [for] after I’ve been lurking in the shadows for so many years.
Shanna: So thank you for letting me participate in this discussion and share some ideas, and I learned a lot, so it was awesome to be here.
Michael: See! It’s all the letters from the spectrum should be joining in this conversation. Everybody got something from our discussion tonight. I know I did. That was extremely enlightening, ladies. I really appreciate you all joining me for this. And like I said, I look forward [to] what the listeners have to say. I can’t wait to read it.
Elayna: I appreciate you, Michael.
Michael: Oh, thank you!
Michael: And we also appreciate our guest. We do have to thank Shanna for being here today.
Shanna: Thank you for having me. Super awesome.
Elayna: You’ve had literally all the best points.
Shanna: That’s really kind. Thank you.
Michael: And I know you said you’ll be lurking in the comments again. We would certainly love it if you join us in the comments this week. If you do, you’ll have to just make sure when you leave your comment to say who you are so the listeners know how to identify you.
Shanna: Yeah, sure, I will reveal my identity.
Michael: We look forward to having you join us there. And listeners, you have an opportunity to join us [on] future episodes of Alohomora! because our next episode will be another chapter revisit. And we have selected that based on your votes over on Twitter, our social media team is doing an excellent job – shout-out to them – [with] getting your opinions on what you guys want to see. And yes, we are keeping track of the chapters you selected outside of the polls. That’s coming. But the one that won the last poll – coincidentally, now that I think about it – is Chapter 23 of Goblet of Fire: “The Yule Ball.” Get ready to see a lot of heteronormative couples all over the dance floor. [laughs]
Michael: Perfect follow-up [to] this episode.
Michael: But if you want to be on that episode, Beth is going to tell you about how you can join us on the show.
Beth: Yeah, so if you just head on over to Alohomora!‘s website, there’s a little section where you can submit a topic. So please suggest anything that comes to mind; we’re always looking for new ideas for topics. And if you want to be on the show, you just need a set of Apple headphones or any headphones that have a microphone built in and you’re all set. No fancy equipment needed. And we would love to hear what you have to say.
Michael: Absolutely, and listeners especially – like Beth mentioned – when you do that topic submit, if you want to be on the show you submit the topic for, let us know. Because that’s going to definitely give you a better chance of being on if you want to be on for that particular topic you suggest. And definitely send in your audio auditions as well with that so that we know what your audio quality is so we can get you through the process a little faster. And now if you don’t want to be on the show but you want to contribute your thoughts, we definitely invite you to do that with multiple ways to contact us. You can get in touch with us on Twitter @AlohomoraMN, where our social media [team] is doing a fabulous job of interacting with you guys. Just recently they asked for you guys to show us your Harry Potter tattoos, and that was a lot of fun. So you can check that out on Twitter @Alohomoramn. Also on our Facebook, facebook.com/openthedumbledore, and our website, alohomora.mugglenet.com, where I’m sure you are all rushing to right now as fast as you can to jot down all of your thoughts on this week’s episode. So we look forward to hearing from you there.
Elayna: And you guys can also find Alohomora! on Patreon. If you want to check it out, it’s patreon.com/alohomora. And you can sponsor this spectacularly fantastic podcast for as little as $1 each month. So that’s, like, $12 a year to make your favorite podcast happen, so what are you doing, really?
Michael: It really does help us out, especially now that we have our episodes split up into main discussion and recap discussion with your comments, listeners. That allows us to be able to host so many files in the span of a month. It really helps us out that you guys are donating to the show, so we appreciate it.
Elayna: I’m Elayna.
Michael: I’m Michael.
Beth: And I’m Beth. Thank you for listening to Episode 226 of Alohomora!
[Show music begins]
Michael: Open the Dumbledore!
[Show music continues]
Michael: It has to be Dumbledore who says it, right? It’s wrong otherwise.
Elayna: Theme music. Juicy fun tidbit.