The Queerious Case of Severus Snape

Albus Dumbledore, J.K. Rowling has told the world, is gay. She didn’t include this information explicitly in her books, but laid some hints here and there, allowing Rowling to reveal, after the books were the biggest book phenomenon of all time blah blah, the true identity of Albus Percival Wolfric Brian Dumbledore.

That Dumbledore is gay is historic for queer representation. Kind of. I mean, the fact that he is gay but that he is not gay in the novels has always felt a bit like a copout. Metaphorical queer representation (think The X-Men, or, like, most of Harry Potter) has been wonderful and important in movement history. Literal representation, though, is qualitatively and quantitatively different. Rowling was able to tip-toe her way towards the line of having an actual gay man in her books, but didn’t, for whatever reason (no judgment here) go all the way.

So it goes. We’ll see what happens in Fantastic Beasts on that front, I guess.

As I think about the ways queerness extends into and beyond gender and sexual orientation, I’ve thought a lot about the one a character in the H.P. series who does embody literal queerness. And that is Professor Severus Snape. When it comes to representation of queer anti-heteronormativity, and explicit non-participation in straight life, no one comes close to Severus.

Think about it. Severus, as far as the books and films are concerned, never had a romantic relationship with anyone. He was an outcast in his youth, and in his adulthood  chose complete separation from the world. He has zero personal relationships. He has no friends, no partner; there’s never a mention of his feelings for anyone save his long murdered high school crush. The sum total of his emotional capacity appears to have been given to Lily, who rejects him for the ultra-hetero douche bag, the very man who led the bullying of Snape in school, James (the worst!) Potter.

The heteronormative system that dominates culture depends on only three necessary values. 1. Gender essentialism (males, females) 2. Marriage (straight marriage) and 3. reproduction (make babies). Of course, het-cis norm structures are vastly more complicated than this; their reach seemingly endless and unstoppable. They hold up patriarchal systems, governments, religions, and within these systems they find countless forms of exclusion and rejection for any individual that falls outside of the key hetero norms.

But, in my view, the whole goddamn system boils down to just those three values: Men and Women, Marriage, Babies. (Homonormativity, a more recent and complicated development of / for the LGBTQ community, participates in two of these three, and has some similar, yet not nearly as damaging, norms).

Snape values none of the core hetero norms. We have no inclination that Snape values emotional connection, let alone partnership, let alone marriage. We have no reason to believe he has ever had sex. The two primary relationships of his life are with Dumbledore, whom he doesn’t seem to like but has used to create a secret life, and Voldemort, with whom he makes a lifelong commitment, then breaks it while faking it.

He does not want, or even particularly value children (and he’s a teacher!). And yet, in his queerest act, he secretly devotes his life to the protection of the child created specifically as a result of his own rejection. Lily, the only person we know Snape cared for, ever in his whole fucking life, married his tormentor, gave birth to the one, only to be murdered by the same dark wizard that Snape had sworn allegiance too, which led Snape to embody such enormous guilt that gave his life for that same rejection-inspired child. That’s some anti-normative shit, that is.

I don’t know if I’m making the case, here. I don’t know if you’re convinced by Snape’s queerness, but for me, he represents one of the most explicitly anti-normative characters in fantasy. Every consequential decision Severus makes–and he makes many, as all individuals with a secret life must–represents the explicitly queer rejection of het-cis norms.

Young people’s literature needs more Snapes.

 

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