Logan Ellis (left), the producing artistic director at Theatre Battery Kent, Wash. meets in his attic for stop-motion animation work. “Lego Harry Potter and the Transgender Witch,”Donato Fatuesi, who plays the lead role, and Cait Mahoney (production manager), are pictured at the center.Photo by Jovelle Tamayo/Special to The Chronicle
Years ago, when San Francisco illustrator Alex L. Combs, his boyfriend and his younger brother dressed up as Harry Potter characters for Halloween, it wasn’t just an expression of fandom. They also displayed their gender identity through their costumes.
“It was a way to get people to see us as boys, because we were all trans, and we didn’t normally get to be seen as boys. It was a way to be affirmed,”He remembered.
Since J.K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter novel in 1997, many trans, queer and nonbinary fans have found refuge in the series or used it to imagine or express new possibilities in themselves, either via the magic and creativity of Rowling’s world itself or from the fandom around the franchise.
Rowling’s support for and promotion of transphobic content began in 2019 on social networks and continued in 2020 on her website. Many trans people and their allies started to reevaluate their relationship with Harry Potter.
Others even made Harry Potter art.
Benjamin Papac portrays Albus Potter. Jon Steiger portrays Scorpius malfoy. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”At the Curran theatre in S.F. Photo: Evan Zimmerman / MurphyMade
You can now do this: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” based on a story by Rowling, returns to the Curran, condensed from two parts to a single evening of theater, these trans-positive projects transcend the time-honored question of whether it’s possible to separate art from a problematic artist. In reclaiming the Potterverse for themselves, these artists model a third way that at once testifies to the power of Rowling’s work while also taking a small but meaningful amount of power away from her.
Fraudway Productions in San Francisco did their first Harry Potter parody. “Harry Poofter and the Sorcerer’s Rhinestone,”In 2019, and is currently working on “Harry Poofter and the Chamber of Secretions”(which was to have premiered at Oasis January but was postponed due to the omicron variation). Both features transperformer Vanilla Meringue, as well as Harry Poofter.
Theatre Battery in Kent, Wash. made a stop motion animation web series with Legos. “Lego Harry Potter and the Transgender Witch,”The project was a collaboration between many Bay Area artists. The premiere of the first seven episodes was in 2021. Three more episodes will be released in 2022. Sunday, February 6, is the finale.
Combs created a comic about his Halloween story and solicited contributions by trans and ally artists. He then combined all of them into a single comic. “Trans-Affirming Magical Care: A Harry Potter Fanzine.”
Detail of “Draco Learns to Share,”One of the comics “Trans-Affirming Magical Care: A Harry Potter Fanzine.”Photo by Alex L. Combs
Harry Potter lends itself to adaptation by all three teams.
“It has such a rich mythology to it,”Meringue. “Harry Potter is a queer analog, almost. He is not accepted by the family that he lives with. He lives under the stairs, and they want to get rid of him. Then he goes to school, and the kids bully him, and the adults underestimate him.”
However, the same author who created the character also went on via her website to spread hateful rumors about trans women exploiting cisgender women in the bathrooms. “It’s a little confusing as to why she would take that stance. It’s disappointing to a lot of queer people,”Meringue expressed concern about Meringue pitting transgender and cis women against one another. “I’m a trans woman, and we’re not trying to take anything away from the experiences of cis women.”
In “Harry Poofter and the Chamber of Secretions,”This product is advertised as a “queer clapback,” there are plenty of absurdities and vulgarities, but the creative team made it a point to treat Meringue’s character’s trans narrative, evolving from Harry to Harriet, respectfully.
“That was always forefront in our mind: How do we celebrate trans women and trans people who feel so let down?” said Elsa Touche, one of the show’s producers, writers, directors and actors.
Logan Ellis, the Producing Artistic director, adjusts a battle-set that was built for the final seconds of “Lego Harry Potter and the Transgender Witch,”A stop-motion animation series.Photo by Jovelle Tamayo/Special to The Chronicle
Logan Ellis from Theatre Battery was inspired to create stop-motion animation by his mom’s Harry Potter Lego set. One Lego set soon wasn’t enough. Eventually, Theatre Battery set up a miniature film studio in his family’s attic. “In total, we probably have $1,500 worth of Legos,”He said. Some “rare”Ones had to be purchased from a specialist trader.
The series’ transgender character, Quincy Blueberger (voiced with rich texture by Donato Fatuesi), tries to get Hogwarts peers to accept her, only to discover that the Harry Potter she had idolized makes fun of her, just as everyone else does.
“It makes people squirm,”Ellis. “It makes people have to reckon with who they’re identifying with.”
Donato Fatuesi is Quincy Blueburger’s voice. “Lego Harry Potter and the Transgender Witch,” takes direction from Logan Ellis, Theatre Battery’s producing artistic director, while recording voice-over for the final scenes of the stop-motion animation series.Photo by Jovelle Tamayo/Special to The Chronicle
The company has faced backlash for its work — not just in comments from strangers but loss of relationships.
“When we first sent out the announcement we were doing this project, we lost more subscribers on our Mailchimp than on any other message we’ve sent out in our 10-year history,”Ellis stated.
Theatre Battery also lost an important stakeholder. “the way we’re going to produce theater in the future is changed.”
Combs said that making a magazine was not about Rowling. It’s about the fans. He had long been more interested in fan-made creations than in Rowling’s work.
“There was more queer content,”He said. “I was interested in finding something I connected with within that world but that wasn’t represented by the canon franchise.”
A detailed description of “Draco Learns to Share,”One of the comics “Trans-Affirming Magical Care: A Harry Potter Fanzine.” Photo: Alex L. Combs / Alex Combs
Combs spoke out when Rowling shared her views on transgender people. “I could see how a lot of (her fans) were really heartbroken, so I wanted to put out some material for them to make them feel supported and seen.”
Rowling’s rhetoric isn’t just rhetoric, and it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, Combs pointed out. In 2020, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) cited Rowling’s posts on the Senate floor to block consideration of an LGBTQ civil rights bill; the next year, the New York Times tallied “dozens”Several anti-trans legislations are in the legislatures of the country.
“There’s a grand tradition of trans people making art in response to the constant threat of violence,”Maxe Crandall, who is a Stanford University lecturer and associate director for the Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, said that she was a professor in.
Crandall mentions recent documentaries as an example. “Disclosure” “No Ordinary Man,”As well as the performance art piece “You Make Me Sick”Morgan M Page performed at the Squirts Festival at La MaMa Experimental Theatre Club, 2015.
“But that tradition and that canon are still in formation,”Crandall continued: “and it’s not widely known because trans people’s art is so marginalized still. That’s another discrepancy that’s so infuriating. (Rowling) gets all the airtime in the world to say these really stupid things. … There’s no platform that’s adequate for trans people to respond.”
Theatre Battery’s Producing Artistic Director Logan Ellis adjusts a battle scene set constructed for the final moments of the “Lego Harry Potter and the Transgender Witch”Web Series.Photo by Jovelle Tamayo/Special to The Chronicle
Yet if the platforms are smaller, trans artists’ responses are still mighty, said Melina Cohen-Bramwell, a Bay Area writer on “Harry Potter and the Transgender Witch.”
“J.K. Rowling gave something to the world, and once you do that, it becomes bigger than you,”He said. “Harry Potter is the world’s now, and we as trans people are part of the world, whether she wants that or not.”
Alex Vermillion, a Los Angeles associate producer and writer on the web series, doesn’t intend to stop being a fan.
“I shouldn’t have to change my experience with it because the creator decided I shouldn’t exist in it,”Vermillion stated. “That is not my responsibility. What I wanted to do is bring joy. Do you know how rare it is to get into a room of queer artists and just have the freedom to work together and create something with our own story and ourselves in mind?”
Lily Janiak is The San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @LilyJaniak