By Utkarsh Srivastava Jul. 31, 2016
Potter fan fiction opened a chamber of secrets for me. It helped me make my way through the complex corridors of sexuality and appreciate individual freedom.
As a fan of any series will tell you, there’s nothing that quite matches the agony of finishing one installment and knowing with a dead drop in your gut that the next one will take months, if not years to come out. As a Game of Thrones fan, I’ve come to terms with “The Long Wait”, but when I was young, rabid Potterhead, “The Long Wait” was an impossible concept.
I remember very clearly that Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince, the sixth book, hit the shelves on a Saturday and I had finished it before I went back to school on Monday. It was then that I realised that I faced an almost two-year wait for the next one. How I wish I had Hermione’s time-turner to travel forward in time. But we muggles aren’t that blessed. That two-year period of time was wholly unacceptable to my 15-year-old self. Desperate for a dose of the wizarding world, I turned to the (almost) magical world of the internet.
My journey through the Harry Potter interwebs started off well. I found popular fan sites like Mugglenet and The Leaky Cauldron and got into many heated debates about the books and its many vivid characters. But at that time, I wasn’t quite aware of the fact that the internet is a big, big place and it has people with different tastes and with imaginations that run wild. Rather specifically, I had no idea that I was about to bump straight into Rule #34: If it exists, there IS porn of it.
Now, normal porn I could deal with. More than deal with actually. So I did read a bit of the Madam Rosmerta chronicles. Let’s just say that The Three Broomsticks is a really interesting place. But then on one of the forums, someone called dramoine4eva_1881 started extolling the virtues of Harry Potter slash. It was supposed to be a whole series of fan fiction just waiting for me to explore. Needless to say, I jumped in headfirst.
One Google search and three websites later, I sat in shock. “No, no, no, no, no” and “Oh God NO” were pretty much the only words I could utter for the next 15 minutes. I had stumbled upon a homoerotic fan fiction subculture where a lot of people write (and photoshop and draw) the sexual relations between the various male characters in the series.
Draco and Harry (Drarry) are the leading pair of this genre, but the writing is not just limited to the lead characters. Sirius Black is paired with Remus Lupin, Neville Longbottom with Peter Pettigrew. Even the Weasley brothers aren’t spared. There was even Drapple – a romantic relationship that fans ship and it involves Draco Malfoy and the green apple. A Forbidden Love, it’s aptly titled.
I shrank back in horror, as if struck by Hermione’s Petrificus Totalus spell. What the fuck was the internet up to? Why did they have to go and pollute a perfectly good story with their filthy minds?
I swore off the interwebs and couldn’t look Harry in the eye for a long time. It would take many years of growing up to see that the problem wasn’t slash fiction. The problem was me.
I grew up in Allahabad (a city named after Allah and also home to the largest Hindu gatherings in the world during the Kumbh mela). And in the Uttar Pradesh of those days, you simply weren’t allowed to be gay. Terrible things happened to people who were gay (and still do), but back then even a playful bit of effeminacy would trigger jibes of “chakka” and “gaandu”. I went to an all-boys’ school and the ruthlessness of little boys, when it came to this matter, was chilling. I am willing to wager that more than one of my classmates needed therapy after being constantly called “chamiya”and “laundiya” for years.
It’s only now, of course, that I understand the terrible prejudices at play but back then, growing up in a machismo cutlure, surrounded by homophobes, my reaction to Potter slash was sheer horror.
At first glance, slash fiction presents itself as a pretty fucked-up world. The deadly concoction of bad writing, and bad sex has become synonymous with this literary subculture. For the uninitiated (like I was), it seemed like this space was only interested in unlikely pairings in complex sexual scenarios. But that, I slowly realised, is the classic error of throwing the baby out with the bath water.
After the initial horror had worn off, I ventured into the interwebs again and again, and it was only over time that I discovered that both fan fiction and its sub-genre, slash fiction, were at the heart of it, just alternative stories that used major elements like characters or settings from another work of fiction to spawn whole new narratives.
I also discovered that it wasn’t really an “internet only” phenomenon. The roots of fan fiction lie in Japanese manga and science-fiction fanzines of the 1960s, although retelling, both directly and indirectly, is an age-old literary tradition. As a matter of fact, Daniel Defoe and Charles Dickens were famously concerned about writers “stealing” and refashioning their plots and characters into new narratives.
Potter slash fiction is basically telling Rowling to wake up and smell the coffee. Which is what it did to me.
In 1983, Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes bringing fans on the streets in protest, wearing black armbands. Years later, after the Great Hiatus, as Sherlockians called that dark period, he gave in. According to the New Yorker, in Anne Jamison’s Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over The World, she says, that when the author retreated, the fans took over, writing their own Sherlock stories: the origin of modern fan fiction. Fanfic further inspired slash fiction, a term that originated in the 1970s and associated with the homoerotic stories of Kirk and Spock from Star Trek.
Yes, sex is the mainstay and it’s especially rampant in those narratives, which are impossibly de-sexed. Harry Potter is a classic example. The first plot hole that most people find with the Potter series is that no one is having sex in a co-ed boarding school with seemingly a thousand places to get down and dirty in. I began to wonder what the Room of Requirement would transform itself into when two students entered it for some action. It was a legit thought, but one that JK Rowling did not want me to have. She wanted to take our imaginations to a chaste kiss and leave it right there.
Slash fiction remedies that; it addresses reality. Of course, young witches and wizards at Hogwarts must have had sex as well as alternative sexualities. (Their headmaster was gay for heaven’s sake!) Potter slash fiction is basically telling Rowling to wake up and smell the coffee. Which is what it did to me.
I grew up and made my way through the complex corridors of sexuality. Homosexuality remained a conversation strictly off limits in Allahabad, but in this world, I came to understand the idea of individual freedom, of personal choices whether it’s paganism, bisexuality, or Goth. And that’s the beauty of slash – it allows for stories about experiences considered to be hidden, underground or non-mainstream to exist, to be heard, to be explored, and for the reader to be changed by it.
Over time, I’ve found many odes to Potter and the gang out there. I’ve stumbled upon an entire musical genre called Wizard Rock which has proponents like Harry and the Potters, and The Parselmouths and at least one religion called Snapeism that is followed by “Snapewives” or “Snapists”, who worship the mysterious Severus Snape. But none of them opened up the world in my close-minded city, like Potter slash did.
But yeah, a heads-up would’ve been nice.
Utkarsh is a lawyer-turned-journalist who worships Aaron Sorkin. He plans to one day emigrate to New Zealand, rear sheep, and teach incorrect history to high schoolers.