Harry Potter is Gay: An Investigation of Queer Fan Culture
Many survey respondents discussed fearing fetishization20 of queerness from within the community, but not as much as they cited fearing backlash to their headcanons. One respondent Tia says, “My least favorite part is the part when I come offline and realize that it's not happy and warm out here as it is in there. Nobody shares the headcanons we share, our interpretations of characters. They are really cruel, and it always hurts to remember that.” Here it is clear that queer fan fiction is not only a way for people to see their own identities normalized and reflected back at them, but also a community that thrives off of one another and will always be there to remind others that they are not alone despite outside criticism.
In addition, many people are under the impression that queer fan fiction’s audience consists of heterosexual women merely interested in sexual situations involving male characters. However, as I already stated, 87% of my respondents were queer. Furthermore, many of them stated that overly graphic fan fictions make them uncomfortable: nearly 30% of respondents were asexual and most of them shared this sentiment, along with others who are not asexual who simply do not read NC-17 fan fictions because of their association of Harry Potter with childhood. Others prefer happier fan fiction because of Harry Potter plots’ tendency to end tragically. One survey respondent, Linsey March, points out people’s tendency to remark that fan fiction is about nothing but sex:
March also makes a great point about how fan fictions fulfill an enormous amount of people’s desire to read a happy, romantic ending, and queer people are no exception to that yearning. The market for romance novels grows alongside fan fiction. Both get a bad reputation – which is intricately linked with the perception that women exclusively enjoy happily-ever-afters that are not real literature – yet romance novels are at least more sellable because they are inundated with heterosexuality22.
In fact, it was a close race between various types of fan fiction. There are a ton of genres, but survey respondents mentioned six different distinct types of fan fiction they like to read. After 215 votes for various favorite fan fiction genres, the results came in as shown in the pie chart above. Here it is clear that NC-17 is not an overwhelmingly massive motive for people to indulge in fan fiction. Many respondents stated that they want fan fiction to mirror real life as much as possible, including the essence Rowling creates in the Harry Potter universe – which may include sexual scenes but does not focus on them. Of the thirty-nine people who voted NC-17 as one of their favorite types of fan fiction, only three people listed PWP23 as the only type of fan fiction they gravitate toward.
Several respondents mentioned specific fan fictions that fit the popular requirement of having elements of hurt/comfort, fluff, NC-17, and angst. Striking an even balance of these elements can take a good fan fiction to almost cult level, and it is no surprise that survey respondents mostly mentioned Drarry and Wolfstar fan fictions. One of those is “The Shoebox Project,” the aforementioned fan fiction that parents read to children and that many think of as Wolfstar canon. Although The Shoebox Project is known to many for its humorous dialogue, one scene in particular that reaches out to fans is the funeral scene for the parents of James Potter, during which Remus, through comforting an angry Sirius, realizes it’s time for them to be more than friends:
This scene represents Remus coming to terms not only with himself as an adult amidst war, but as someone who’s matched as a lover for Sirius. The moments in queer fan fiction that tend to speak to readers the most are usually full of emotion and often deal with growing up, realizing they are queer, or that they are in love with someone. Another popular fan fiction that many respondents cited is “Reparations” by Saras_Girl:
This scene is a pivotal moment in “Reparations,” when Harry confronts Draco after they kiss and Draco subsequently ignores Harry. They work at the wizard hospital St. Mungo’s together, so Harry storms in and demands that Draco admit what happened and stop ignoring him. This is a notable moment because it’s when Saras_Girl’s Harry starts fighting to get what he wants – in this case, Draco – and it also has that realism factor that fan fiction readers admire. In addition, this Harry is similar to Rowling’s Harry in the sense that they are both stubborn and relentless when they realize someone is treating them unfairly and that the situation could easily improve.
The reason behind fans viewing certain characters as queer or not varies greatly. Sometimes it depends on a character’s circumstances that read like a coming out narrative such as Harry finding out he’s a wizard, or it can be parallels between rejecting one’s close-minded family and breaking social norms such as Sirius Black does. However, many survey respondents cited having no reason for their queer headcanons, and furthermore, stated they needed no reason. Others claimed that they headcanon nearly every character as queer, and this may be where some people stop listening. However, it’s important to recognize that many fans headcanon characters as queer without shipping them, as can be seen in the pie chart below.
In “Homosexuality at the Online Hogwarts,” Catherine Tosenberger mentions that with Kirk/Spock as the origin of slash, many did not view these characters as necessarily queer just because they enjoyed viewing them in same-gender relationships. This viewing of characters in same-gender relationships does not often threaten fans – mostly heterosexual – who do not ship these characters in queer relationships, because it is easy to say “I don’t ship that” and leave it at that. But queer fans are in fact participating in a transgressive act when they state their favorite characters are queer by themselves: it is harder to shut down these headcanons because they are intricately personal, and therefore the sixteen survey respondents who said they headcanon everyone as queer certainly would disrupt the unquestioning way that many read Harry Potter. In part due to the lack of clear-cut information regarding character’s sexuality and gender identities – not to mention race25 – it is inspiring that fans who are consistently marginalized by media see themselves in stories and stand behind those interpretations. This rejects the message that society too often puts forth that people are straight until proven gay, and by extension, that there must be specific traits – whether due to personality or physicality – that prove that someone is queer.
But we can’t see ourselves in our favorite stories without realizing that many of these works do not actually provide us with queer representation. Many survey respondents mentioned that their involvement in the queer Harry Potter fan fiction community made them more critical of their favorite stories. It is fine to be a fan of narratives despite their problematic elements; it is the acknowledgement of these potentially harmful elements that makes one a dedicated, responsible fan. One anonymous survey respondent wrote, “It was more Harry Potter criticisms that really lead me towards an interest in the topic of representation.” Another, Kiwi, wrote, “It helped me develop a critical eye for the portrayal of characters and for plot development. I learned from my corner of HP fandom how to look at Harry Potter itself with a critical eye but also to cherish this unique world we were given and the characters we love to play around with.”
Certain fans may look down on others who ship characters in a queer relationship or headcanon them as queer. Some fans view these headcanons and ships as a blatant disregard for J.K. Rowling’s work, implying that queer fans do not respect the text and become angry for no reason regarding this issue. However, casting a critical eye on one’s favorite text does not mean that you are disrespecting it; in fact, in this case it takes on the exact opposite meaning. If queer fans didn’t care enough about Harry Potter, they wouldn’t go out of their way to creature and nurture headcanons and countless stories26. Also, fan fiction not only inspires fans to think critically about texts, but also social issues, as tumblr user forestofmyown states: “I have come out of it all as an educated feminist, and it’s had such a major impact on my life I can’t even express it.”
In addition, fan fiction is often fodder for writers to grow into themselves and pen diverse, rich characters. Jaida Jones, one of two authors of “The Shoebox Project,” is now – along with her wife – the author of the fantasy series Havemercy featuring gay wizards and dragons. Also notable is Rainbow Rowell, contemporary New York Times Bestselling author of the young adult books Eleanor and Park and Fangirl. Rowell began writing through Harry Potter fan fiction, stating that she felt depressed between book releases. She has no qualms admitting that she wrote a 30,000-word Drarry fan fiction: “It’s Harry and Draco as a couple who have been married for many years, and they’re raising Harry’s kids… It’s them dealing with attachment parenting and step-parents and all these middle-aged issues” (Shaffi). Rowell’s novel Fangirl revolves around a teenage girl who is a super fan of what is essentially the novel’s equivalent of Harry Potter, and writing fan fiction is her number one hobby. Rowell also openly recommends Drarry fan fictions to fans27 and has also shared photos on Twitter of her office around which she tapes fan art for her books. Some are shocked to liken the phenomenon of fan fiction to published authors, but many had their start in fan fiction and, after all, writers read, and their favorite stories will never cease to inspire their own works.
Queer fan works impact queer readers’ experience with Harry Potter by cultivating a community in which they can express their sexual and gender identities and relate to others who feel the same way in this supportive environment that further bonds them with the text. Through the immense popularity of fan fiction and the overwhelming supportive nature of the responses to my survey, it is clear that there is a huge audience for queer stories. It is time for us to stop being marginalized. Queer fans find themselves in text where they are not explicitly present, and although this is important because it is unduly inspiring, people need exposure to queer works for many reasons. This issue is also important because queer fan works of our generation’s biggest literary phenomenon take front and center stage. They’re not exactly underground, and the fact that people even know these fan works exist and that there may be another side to their favorite characters impacts readers’ experience.
To revisit Ika Willis’s statement about creating gaps in the text, I argue that it is vital to consider the importance of creating gaps in which to fill the space with the queer Harry Potter fan fiction community. Many survey respondents mentioned making friends through queer fan fiction and feeling like they truly belong with the like-minded fans they found. Here are some quotes from fans about the importance of this community feel:
Not only is this attention to others within the queer Harry Potter fan fiction community crucial to forming bonds with queer people along with characters we headcanon as queer, but it is also important because in this case, personal experience is research that proves the significance of these works. That these people take part in such a nurturing, ever-growing community – which is made more personal by the fact that 23.2% of respondents found queer Harry Potter fan fiction through a friend or family referral – encourages them to continue creating transformative queer works.
Queer Harry Potter fan works are certainly not the fullest extent of queer representation, but they create a unique sense of bonding, one that I experienced merely from pulling survey results and writing this essay. The sentiment these respondents added, wishing me luck in my endeavor to discover the real draw toward queer Harry Potter fan works, was overwhelmingly supportive. Queer Harry Potter fan works are necessary because of their striving to change fiction: many thanked me for my devotion to this project and stated that they had never heard of this topic in an academic setting. However, there is no reason for this not to necessitate serious discussion. The message that queer Harry Potter fan works and survey respondents present is a resounding echo of, “you are not alone,” and this is proof that queer representation impacts people in a very real, visceral way.
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