My husband sent me this article from Vox. It talks about the homosexual undertones in the newest Harry Potter installment and the subtextual content of the previous seven books. It’s an interesting argument to be sure, but it got me thinking.
Rowling originally wrote the series for young children (I believe I was in 4th grade when I read the first one). Now, some of you might argue with me here, but my experience was that I wasn’t introduced to homosexuality outright until I was in the 7th or 8th grade. This isn’t to say that my experience is normal or that this is right, it’s just my experience. I grew up with no gay relatives or close family friends that necessitated it being explained to me that not every house was like mine, the assumption I believe many of us make growing up. Now, I’m going to extrapolate here that I’m not the only one who grew up this way though obviously, not everyone did. Breaching the topic of homosexuality can be more delicate in some homes than others and, like ‘the talk,’ I think many parents want to talk to their children about these topics before they come up in social situations. The age at which parents do this, I believe, depends on the culture the child is raised in and the social context of that childhood.
Feel free to argue, this is a set of assumptions based on my (American Midwestern) upbringing. It allows me to make this next assumption.
Because homosexuality can be introduced to children at different ages through adolescence depending on upbringing, I don’t believe it’s common in books aimed at middle-grade reading levels. I’ve seen a surge in YA books with homosexual protagonists or main themes, but I haven’t seen many middle-grade books. I think this is for the reasons I outlined above.
Going back to Harry.
If the first book is aimed at a middle-grade audience, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Rowling to have excluded homosexual characters from her book. Sexuality in general was not stressed in the novel. Besides parents, there are no references to romantic relationships among the core group of characters and because we looked through Harry’s eyes, any on the periphery didn’t play a main role. Looking at the first book alone, I don’t think many would argue that Rowling stuck to the expected content of a book aimed at that age group.
But there are seven books, not one. And as the characters grew up, so did the reading level and intended audience. 19 years later, we’re reading a book where the 11-year-old who lived under the stairs is the father of an angry 13-year-old. Harry grew up. Should the world have ‘grown up’ too?
The article criticizes Rowling for writing a highly white heteronormative series. With a few exceptions (Dean, the Patil twins, Cho), this is a fairly accurate assumption. Dumbledore was never explicitly gay in the books and fans only know of this because of interviews Rowling later gave.
Here’s my question: Should Rowling have added more explicit descriptions of some characters homosexuality in later books?
PRO: Her audience matured and would have been able to deal with the changing characters as their own worldview was changing as they aged. By the time Cursed Child came out this year, many of us who remember reading the books as they were released are old enough to have children of our own (though some have turtles and that’s totally fine). A lack of homosexual characters is not reflective of reality and we’re to believe that wizards are born the same way as Muggles and would, therefore, have similar instances of homosexuality in their culture. Rowling’s world is not representative of modern Britain.
CON: Rowling started the book series to appeal to a young audience. Adding explicit references to homosexual characters could deter parents from having children enjoy the series at a young age. After the world was established as heteronormative, adding homosexual references would have been forced and might have led to inconsistencies in Rowling’s characterization of many main characters.
I’m unsure what to think about the instance of Harry Potter. As for myself, it’s making me look at my writing and wonder if I’ve included the diversity fans would expect from my stories in terms of sexual preference. Do I have the diversity of characters in terms of race, educational background, religion, etc. that my story deserves or would be expected to have? Should I look at my characters in terms of what (possible) fans might expect from my world or are they my characters to form as I originally saw them? Has being a white heterosexual Catholic tinged my character selection to a point where it’s arguably skewed? What steps should I/would I be asked to take to correct this? Would I be getting too far away from ‘write what you know?’
I think this topic can be applied to all kinds of diversity in a huge number of books. I’m curious how you all feel about this and I love using Harry as a common launching point for discussion. Please be kind and realize we all come from strongly different backgrounds.
Until next time, write on.