Nine years ago, J.K. Rowling casually mentioned that Professor Albus Dumbledore was gay, and the audience at Carnegie Hall exploded in a raucous standing ovation. Jump forward to 2016, and the Harry Potter universe, which recently grew to include the authorized play Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, still looks pretty white and heterosexual. If one of the main characters—and one of the protagonist’s formative mentors—was gay, why isn’t the wizarding world of Harry Potter a little more queer? Aja Romano at Vox recently did a deep dive into the queerness—or lack thereof—of the Harry Potter universe, looking at the gay subtext in the series. But despite all the magic of Harry Potter’s world, that subtext seems cursed to remain below the surface.
As Romano points out, Rowling has been actively working toward expanding the world she created, via social media, Pottermore, Fantastic Beasts, and Cursed Child. But none of her official entries into the Harry Potter canon are nearly as diverse as the “unofficial” worlds and stories created by Harry Potter’s online fandom. While fan-artists and fan-fiction writers are busy queering some of Harry Potter’s wizards and witches and drawing or fan-casting them as people of color, the authorized world remains full of white straight people. A black woman played Hermione on stage in Cursed Child, and Rowling has expressed her support for the decision, but Romano’s analysis points out that Rowling can hardly take credit for that choice.
Romano focuses on the relationship between Harry’s son Albus and Draco’s son Scorpius in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. Their relationship hints at something more than friendship several times throughout the play, and the boys certainly seem to feel romantic love for one another. But again, that’s all subtext. And it’s 2016. Queer fans are sick of settling for subtext. Teasing fans with queer subtext but then keeping it from ever entering the actual text amounts to queerbaiting. Xena: Warrior Princess was notoriously guilty of this, although the pressure to keep Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship platonic despite extreme queer vibes supposedly came from the studio (hopefully, that’s all about to change with the revival).
Harry Potter fans are accusing Rowling of queerbaiting in Cursed Child. Even her admission that Dumbledore is gay seems like a weirdly “safe” announcement given the fact that it never comes up textually in the series. Romano writes:
Many fans felt that Rowling’s choice to wait until the series was over was too little, too late. By outing him after his death, Rowling effectively placed Dumbledore within the longstanding, problematic “dead gays” trope, instead of showing him living out his queer identity—or, even better, giving kids examples of queer characters Harry’s own age that they might be able to more effectively relate to than a 150-year-old sock-loving school principal.
Not only that, but outing Dumbledore outside of the books meant that there would be fans without access to the immediate news cycle who might never get the memo. To those fans, Dumbledore would never actually be representative of anything.
You can read the rest of Romano’s analysis here.