WINDY CITY TIMES
Harry Potter and the Secret of the Invisible Labrys
This article shared 749 times since Wed Feb 9, 2000
by Laurie Essig
I am depressed. I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. All day long I drag and mope, waiting for evening to come, waiting for that magical moment when the kids are asleep, the work is done, and I can climb into my warm, comfortable bed. But when that time comes, I am even more distressed. I look at my empty bedside table and my lips begin to tremble. Tears form in my eyes. My life seems empty and without meaning now that I've finished reading the third Harry Potter book.
For those of you not familiar with the literary craze that is sweeping the entire English-speaking world, Harry Potter is a character in a series of children's books written by A.K. Rowlings. The books follow along in the line of all great children's literature by creating an entire world filled with fascinating creatures all of whom are invisible to ordinary folk, which is to say, parents. Rowlings' universe is peopled with magical folk, witches and wizards and rare and wondrous creatures. Most of the action takes place in a British boarding school, where the hero, young Harry Potter, must learn to survive mean teachers, loads of homework, schoolyard bullies, and various forms of evil incarnate. Potter, who is training to be a wizard, does all of this without ever seeming like anything but a normal, slightly awkward, young boy.
So far, there is nothing unusual about Rowlings books except the fact that they are unusually well written and plotted. And yet, there they are, proudly displayed in the queer bookstore for all to see. For you see, the deep dark truth about these tales of wizardry and childhood challenges is not that they are Satanic ( a claim being made by some fundamentalist Christians to explain their popularity ) . The truth about Harry Potter is that they are queer. The books are queer in the sense that they speak to that incredible feeling of otherness that many of us queers feel, or at least felt when we were children. Potter and his band are forced to deal with the "muggle" world, the world in which no one is magical, but they also exist in their own world which is far more interesting and exciting than anything the muggles have to offer.
Certainly many of us felt the same rush of excitement on coming out as Harry Potter did when figuring out that he was not the same as his ridiculously ordinary family. The world of urban queerness we entered, with its magical nights and knowing looks and secret codes of dress and speech is not that different than the magical school Potter attends right under the noses of the muggles. The muggles refuse to acknowledge magic and the straight world does not see the queer universes in its midst. When Potter's family finds out he is magical, they literally lock him in the closet. Then they forbid him from telling anyone else about his "alternative lifestyle" or in any way outwardly manifesting it.
And yet Potter just can't keep his magic inside, especially in the face of muggle cruelty. So the secret is let out, his aunt literally blows up, and his family throws him out onto the street. But back in his secret world, Potter is not necessarily any safer. The wizards are just as bigoted and just as cruel as the muggles and a hell of a lot more powerful. This too is not unlike our queer universes. We are faced with queers who allow us to be queer, but spew the same hatred about race and class and religion and gender as heterosexual muggles. Still, there is something incredibly comforting about being with our own kind, about not having to hide parts of our lives from others, about not having to be pushed into a closet by our families. Freed from the muggle world, Potter is able to be appreciated for who he is and expand the definition of who he is to include words like powerful, successful, and loved. Queers, too, have found fulfilling lives outside of the confines of their families' closets. And so, having to face evil in the face of Lord Voldemort or AIDS seems like a small price to pay for escaping from the world of muggles and heterosexuals.
This is all, of course, a very particular reading of the Potter books. After all, I have no idea whether it was the author's intent to write stories that spoke so clearly to queers. I know that Rowlings is a "single mother," but I don't know whether that's muggle doublespeak for "lesbian mother." But it doesn't really matter whether she is. The texts she authored are queer and tell of queer empowerment in the face of family closets. Whatever her intention, that is the way I and many other queers read them. The meaning of the Potter texts, like most books then, is found in the relationship of them to their readers, not in the author's intent. And so, Potter has found the secret labrys and Rowlings has spun a story of queer liberation, a story so powerful that even grown ups such as myself are caught in the magic. And the only thing that helps me feel better about having finished reading Harry Potter is the realization that I'll get to reread them with my own children. I hope that by the time my daughters are old enough to enjoy them, they won't think me too much of a muggle to share in the fun.
This article shared 749 times since Wed Feb 9, 2000
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