Fabulous Beasts: A Queer Reading of FBaWTFT

Hello again, my Geeky darlings! As you might have gathered from the title (and from Michelle’s post), today is all about the gayness! —I mean about the return to the Wizarding World first introduced in the Harry Potter series of books and films; pardon the Freudian slip there. Now, for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last 15 queers—I mean years, Harry Potter is kind of a big deal. Not only did a lot of kids grow up with Harry, Hermione, and Ron, but a lot of adults reclaimed their own childhoods and inner Geeks with this series. [I was in high school when the books first started to come out, so I’m much more in the latter category while Michelle is a bisexual in between—I mean a bit!]

Naturally, I jest… kinda. I know this makes for a rather out there topic for what is essentially a kids’ movie (and Michelle has frequently told me over the last couple of hours since we left the theater that, yes, I very much am reading too much into it), but I was hyper aware of what appeared to me to be a Queer/homoerotic element in the film; this is also odd in that, as a Sapiosexual and Demisexual, I very rarely “read” a film or book—or go out into the world and interact with people—actively searching to determine the sexual orientation of the characters. In short, a Demisexual is a person who identifies on the sexuality scale somewhere between asexual and sexual; a Sapiosexual is someone who is sexually attracted to a personality (or soul or consciousness) rather than a particular set of genitalia or physical configuration. What this means in practice is that I very rarely find myself immediately attracted to someone—I can admit when someone is particularly handsome or beautiful, even aesthetically perfect, but I rarely feel a sexual compulsion strong enough to ignore my social anxieties. It also means that, on the whole, I think of any characters in terms of their being/personality and pretty much ignore sexuality as an integral, informative part of their identity. However, I simply could not shake the feeling that several of the characters of the film—Newt Scamander included—were gay.

Let’s start with the character of Rupert Graves/Gellert Grindelwald, because yes, they are the same person. Sorry for the spoiler there, but I figured it out thanks to the clippings from “The New York Ghost” featured in the movie’s intro. Because, let’s face it, you don’t cast an actor of Colin Farrell’s caliber and provide the fans with almost zero information about his character, unless he’s going to play the surprise villain. Or maybe I’m just that good at solving mysteries. Now, thanks to guessing who his character really was, I knew that this was the man who had become fast friends with Albus Dumbledore when they were both teens. I will admit that when I first read the HP books, I did not see the homoerotic overtones to the Dumbledore-Grindelwald friendship/world-domination coalition—please see aforementioned lack of sexual insight. However, I could hardly ignore J.K. Rowling’s and Michael Gambon’s famous and oft-quoted conversation regarding the (belated, in my opinion) revelation that Dumbledore is/was gay. So, in a way, I was primed to read Graves/Grindelwald as gay. [Or, if not actually gay, then willing to exploit the sexuality of others (like Voldemort with Bellatrix Lestrange) for his own ends and gain.]

However, throw in a magically/sexually repressed teenager with a zealously religious mother figure? Freud would be salivating at the chance to get Credence Barebones on his couch! Earnestly played by Ezra Miller (who so physically inhabited the role that I didn’t even recognize him until almost the end of the film), Credence radiates a desperate need for even the tiniest scrap of attention and affection. In their scenes together, it seemed to me that Colin and Ezra were playing up a toxic mixture of father/son, lover/beloved; physically, Colin invaded Ezra’s space, and Ezra responded in kind. It didn’t look like they were about to rip each other’s clothes off or anything tawdry (or blatant) in terms of satisfying any sexual yearning on Credence’s part, but there was a physical closeness—heightened by their always meeting in the shadowed alley beside his mother’s home/house of witch hating—that lent itself to a sexualized interpretation. If intended, it was brilliantly done; if I am, as Michelle again reminds me that I am definitely, reading too much into it, then I really need to rethink my life (and fan fiction reading) choices.

But aside from the sociopathic come-to-the-dark-side seduction played by Colin, I also read Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander as gay—or at least potentially gay. I don’t think I can point to one thing in particular, but the overall impression I received was of someone who rarely (if ever) had sex… or really much interaction with other witches and wizards. Yet one of the first things that Scamander does upon coming to New York is make a No-mag guy friend, dragging the unfortunate baker into the magical world by accident and then enlisting his help in catching the creatures who escaped from Scamander’s enchanted suitcase. Not that Jacob Kowalski seemed to me to be the least bit sexually attracted to Scamander, but the fact that they struck up a close bond so quickly appeared to me as potentially indicative of Scamander’s sexual preferences. I also read him as being socially introverted and possibly a Demisexual, being more focused on the care and well-being of magical creatures—his vocation, if you will—than on forming sexual attachments. In terms of physical performance, Redmayne portrayed Scamander as almost literally withdrawn from humanity (and wizard-kind), hunched down and curled in upon himself. He also pitched his voice higher and spoke very softly, in what felt like an attempt to present Scamander as meek, mild, and self-effacing.

If this film were set in more modern times, then all of these characteristics would not read as Queer; but this is prohibition New York City, with several of the characters speaking about eradicating moral depravity and spiritual corruption. The era shown in the film was not all that far removed from the prosecution and persecution of Oscar Wilde. Redmayne’s portrayal often came across as effete, his love of the magical creatures he cares for being the grand passion of his life; indeed, as he shows Kowalski around the menagerie in the enchanted suitcase, Scamander lovingly chides a bowtruckle for his attachment issues and even bottle feeds a young, unidentified creature. He’s sensitive and a nurturer, both of which contrast with the harsh, aggressive Graves and the authoritarian MACUSA President Seraphina Picquery who represent the larger Wizarding World in their dislike of, disdain for, indifference toward, or hostility toward non-Wizard magical creatures. His sensitivity, especially as contrasted to almost all of the other male characters of the film, simply added to my impression that he was a Queer character.

And going back to the character of Credence for a bit… He really comes across like Carrie—a teenager desperate to fit in, starved for genuine affection from the adults in his life, and repressing the very thing which makes him unique in order to appease an implacable God. For every infraction, either real or imagined, Mrs. Barebones (who is not his biological mother) makes him remove his own belt, hand it over to her, and then allow her to beat him with it. Now, after receiving one of these sessions of “loving discipline”, Graves comes to talk to Credence and sees the boy’s palm covered in bruises, welts, and lacerations. As anyone who studies Victorian Literature can tell you, there were lots of colorful euphemism for sexual acts and also some amusing urban legends, some of which have survived through today. For instance, in Dracula, Jonathan Harker notes that the Count has hairy hands, particularly and “curiously” on the palms; due to my sheltered, religious upbringing, I didn’t find out until studying it for a college class that hairy palms is reputed to be a symptom of excessive masturbation (and was a medical diagnosis at the time). Masturbation itself was often referred to as “self-abuse”. So, when Credence presents his obviously abused palm to Graves—who then heals the physical wounds, but obviously does not (indeed, cannot because of his sociopathy) heal the emotional scarring—it read to me as an erotic moment. That Credence is abused by a Bible thumping tyrant, especially after she makes him remove his belt, also read to me as coded sexual abuse and contributed to the toxic environment effecting the boy’s social, psychological, and sexual development.

In the interest of full disclosure, I know that my own past may have me reading too much into the possible exploitation and abuse of Credence (and its subsequent effect on his character development); a person who was considered a friend of the family betrayed their trust, and mine, for a number of years. It is only recently that I have been able to come to terms with what happened and label it as the abuse it was; thus, you could say that I have a heightened sensitivity to the issue of the sexual abuse of children at the moment. However, I would like to point out that this bias and my reading of the characters as Queer does not in any way indicate a dislike for any of them. Indeed, with Credence in particular, I feel a great deal of understanding and sympathy—I intimately know what it feels like to want to do everything in your power to please that one person who makes you feel loved, wanted, and special. As someone who has found that personal satisfaction in life can be tied to a profession or a calling, rather than to a relationship status, I connect with Scamander’s wonder and joy in caring for his infinitely rare and fantastic creatures. And I feel pity, for those people who live their lives with no consideration for the damage they cause, with no compassion for their fellow beings, and I pity the world which has to suffer the consequences of their hate. I, like Albus Dumbledore, choose to turn on a light in the darkest of times and encourage all to live with love (and Geekery!) in their hearts. –J.J.

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