When I was a closeted high school student, most of my friends were girls. There was just something about the air of testosterone that surrounded most of the boys I went to school with that was unsettling. I was undoubtedly attracted to many of them, and that attraction was certainly covered with a thin but powerful veneer of paranoia, which made the attraction feel like repulsion – but in my conscious mind, I just couldn’t compete with all of that masculine energy. It scared me.
Recently, I found myself in New York on my own for a couple of days, in between a business trip and a planned excursion with friends. On a whim, I decided to indulge that inner child of mine, and I purchased tickets to the Broadway production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a two-part theatrical sequel to the original seven-book saga. I couldn’t wait to re-enter J.K. Rowling’s world of witches and wizards, magic, and fantasy.
And I got all that I expected. Dementors, transfiguration, even floo powder – it was all there. What I also received, but didn’t necessarily expect, was a peek inside what my childhood might have looked had I met a gentler kind of boy to befriend.
While Harry Potter, now a 40-year old government official (he’s like the Attorney General of the Wizarding World) still earns his place as the titular character, much of the action belongs to his troubled son, Albus Severus Potter. Traveling to Hogwarts for the first time with his cousin, Rose Granger-Weasley, he is reminded that his parentage will make him instantly popular, and he could likely have his choice of friends. But inexplicably, he chooses to travel with the awkward and lonely Scorpius Malfoy – the son of his father’s childhood arch-enemy, Draco.
You can’t help but feel for Albus at the opening of the play (NOTE: I wouldn’t dream of writing any spoilers here; any details I write about you’ll learn within the first 30 minutes of a seven-hour play – so read on, Potterheads!) – he never asked to be a part of a famous family, and he can’t help but feel as though he’s a disappointment. Despite his fervent wishes to the contrary, he is placed in the dreaded Slytherin house upon his arrival at school, and his choice of best friend is clearly not one that his father approves of.
Scorpius comes with his own set of issues. First and most pressing, his mother is gravely ill. Second, his father is angry and distant. Third, his father might not even be his father – there are rumors floating about that his father is someone even worse than Draco Malfoy.
But in spite of everything, a relationship that grows between these two boys sparks, and then deepens, until each is the only person in the world that the other truly understands. I should note that the script (by Jack Thorne, based on a story by J.K. Rowling, Thorne, and director John Tiffany) makes it abundantly clear that both of these boys are romantically and sexually attracted to various girls in their orbit. And yet, Albus loves no one in the world as he loves Scorpius, and the feeling is returned. As the story winds through various moments of misunderstandings and physical separations, they miss each other with a sense of pain that is usually only reserved for romantic tales. Even the language used to describe them is romantic. At one point in the story, their mutual friend Delphi tells Scorpius, “You two – you belong together.”
Not all queer fans are happy with what they’re seeing on stage. Aja Romano wrote a blistering essay in the online magazine Vox called, “The Harry Potter universe still can’t translate its gay subtext into text. It’s a problem.” In it, she details the number of times that the series has disappointed its LGBT fans. Remus Lupin was a werewolf, a direct response to the bigotry faced by persons with AIDS, and Nymphadora Tonks was a punk witch who met every criteria of a soft butch; through the course of the books, they married and had a child. Professor Dumbledore was given an explicitly gay identity by Rowling – but not in the books themselves, where his sexual identity is best described as celibate (we’ll see what a young Dumbledore looks like later this year, when The Crimes of Grindelwald hits theatres). Now, we have these two boys, who share long embraces, get jealous when the other moons over a pretty girl, and miss each other desperately when they’re apart. It’s making some queer fans angry.
I took a slightly different view. I found myself exhilarated by the love story in front of me without needing to see them snogging. Perhaps, I wondered, Albus and Scorpius seem obviously gay to both straight and gay audiences alike because we’ve rarely, if ever seen, a friendship between boys that is at once platonic and this intense. Stories about intense bonds between women abound in our culture, particularly gay culture (see Steel Magnolias, Beaches, 9 to 5, Thelma & Louise,Bridesmaids, and a hundred others). And what, I wondered, would happen if straight boys around the world had permission to love the other boys in their lives this much. It would have felt like magic to a boy like me.
This essay first appeared in Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, a newsletter for the LGBT community and its allies in Rehoboth Beach, DE.