The Fiction of Arousal: Harry Potter, Slash Fiction, And Female Bisexual Arousal Patterns

Is Harry Gay?

It’s time to out Harry. Not the heart throb prince alas, but everyone’s favorite plucky puckish adolescent magician.

The wily wand waver is a little light in the loafers — so says a paper in the July 2003 NAMBLA Bulletin, Is Harry Potter Gay? by Emu Nugent.

For those of you who aren’t current subscribers, The NAMBLA Bulletin is “the voice of the North American Man/Boy Love Association.” These are America’s outspoken advocates of legalizing pedophilia.

OK, so the NAMBLA bulletin isn’t exactly a top academic journal. Nevertheless, it’s kept on the same shelf at my local public library.

You’d think if the censor-happy book Gestapo would target anything, it would be NAMBLA. In fact, between 1999 and 2002, there were more attempts to ban Potter books from libraries than any other title or author.

There’s Something About Harry

The piece in question is a heavily footnoted, assiduously researched 11-page survey of latent and not-so-latent male homosexuality in children’s literature. The main focus of the piece is the sexual proclivity of Harry Potter.

Nugent is not the first to speculate on the circumstantial evidence (growing up, Harry lives in a closet under the stairs; he leaves home to practice wizardry; his close friendship with red-headed Ron, etc.). There are others in more reputable circles who have likewise hypothesized, most notably queer activist/historian, Michael Bronski in his July 3, 2003 article There’s Something About Harry in the Boston Phoenix.

Could it be mere chance that Potter went to Stonewall High (like Stonewall Inn, ground zero for the modern gay rights’ movement in 1969)?

Sounds like speculation to me. Sometimes a closet is just a closet.

However, Nugent’s case for the gayness of young Potter is built on too-close-to-be-coincidence similarities between Harry’s life and the Greek myth, Orestes.

The classic, penned by Euripides in 408 BC (online text at the Internet Classics Archive) was regarded by the ancient Greeks as the paradigm of masculine love.

Orestes and Harry share the same birthplace, “Lammas,” (also home of the ancient Athenian grape festival famously presided over by homosexual priests). Both Harry and Orestes sport a lightening-flash birthmark on the forehead. Both played a hand in the their parents death and fought magic battles. Most notably, “Orestes had a marriage of convenience with Hermoine and was life-long lover of his childhood boyfriend Pylades.” As any passing fan knows, Hermoine is the name of Potter’s hotsy-totsy girl-chum.

Author, J.K. Rowling claims all this speculation about her poor Harry is pure poppycock, but we’ll let the “coincidences” speak for themselves…

Stranger Than Fiction

Even if Harry Potter isn’t gay (or bi), the chap has already been portrayed as such thousands of times in salacious tales of slash fiction.

In Rowling’s mind Harry might be straight as a Quidditch broom, that doesn’t mean fans can’t fantasize in novel length tales of love spells, apprenticeships and wizardly buggery.

These stories are part of an underground movement called “slash fiction.”

Slash is a genre of erotic literature that depicts romantic/sexual relationships between a so-called “expropriated media pairing.” That is, a love story typically between at least two heterosexual males characters from a TV show, movie or novel. Anything is game, including the A-Team, Starsky and Hutch, Sherlock Holmes, Lord of The Rings, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Brothers Karamazov…

The fiction is called “slash” because of the punctuation mark convention used to denote the romantic pairing, as in: “K/S” or “Kirk/Spock.” The first slash stories were penned in the mid-’70s by female Star Trek fans. These days, slash boasts an enormous online presence. is home to thousands of slash stories.

Canadian Romance Readers Club

Slash Fiction and Human Mating Psychology (Catherine Salmon, University of Redlands, CA and Don Symons, U of CA, Santa Barbara) from the Journal of Sex Research’s February 2004 (volume 41, number 1) issue, explores the heterosexual female attraction to slash.

The study: 22 het-identified women members of a Canadian romance readers club read a novel about two heterosexual male trapeze artists who do a lot more than just catch each other.

The researchers have a theory: straight, female, Canadian romance readers — and women in general — enjoy slash because it represents an idealized fantasy.

Slash stories are usually written with all the buildup, pomp and adventure of your standard bodice ripper. But even when they’re just short, steamy fuck stories, the characters — since they’re lifted from a pre-established fictional universe — benefit from an elaborate back-story. The sex doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but within the context of a rich history between the characters.

Imagine Kirk and Spock zooming off to distant galaxies, two buddies on a mission, a bond more durable and secure than your typical sexual glue. In this sense, Kirk/Spock’s deep friendship bonds represent a more idealized companionship than say, a Scully/Mulder, with all their trademark sexual tension. (These arguments sound very similar to those often made in support of arranged marriages). In addition, the sex is in a “taboo” or forbidden context, making it all the more desirable, and unlike typical heterosexual romance and smut aimed at women, male-male pairings eroticize the male body.

The researchers speculate that “heterosexual male to heterosexual male love” is the only scenario that makes the happy ever after ending 100% credible. Which is a strange thing to speculate, if you think about it.

Anything That Moves

Yet, there’s scant scientific data on female fantasy and arousal. The physical aspects of sex/arousal/orgasm have been studied to death, but the complex interconnections between mind, body and arousal have rarely been addressed.

A recent Northwestern University study, A Sex Difference in the Specificity of Sexual Arousal, (J. Michael Bailey, Meredith Chivers, Gerulf Rieger and Elizabeth Latty) forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science and publicized in The New York Times, puts a new rub on the discussion of female arousal.

Researchers hooked up test subjects’ genitalia to sensors (yowza!) and gauged their responses to different types of porn.

Three decades of research have shown that “gay men overwhelmingly become sexually aroused by images of men and heterosexual men by images of women.” That is, in their research, straight-identified guys don’t display physical arousal by images of other men, and gay men are not aroused by sexual images of women.

This is one of the first studies where anyone checked to see if these findings were consistent with women.

The researchers’ shocker: women registered arousal to everything.

“The fact that women’s sexual arousal patterns are not all predicted by their sexual orientations suggests that men’s and women’s minds and brains are very different,” J. Michael Bailey, Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology at Northwestern and senior researcher of the study Dr. Bailey, told The New York Times.

Female arousal was not linked to orientation, but rather followed what researchers call a “bisexual arousal pattern.” Straight and lesbian women were just as aroused watching males as by watching females.

“These findings likely represent a fundamental difference between men’s and women’s brains and have important implications for understanding how sexual orientation development differs between men and women.” noted Dr. Bailey. “Since most women seem capable of sexual arousal to both sexes, why do they choose one or the other? Probably for reasons other than sexual arousal.”

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