On Being Fat, And Why I Think Fat-Acceptance Is Bullshit


I’m 27 years old. I am 5 feet and 10 inches tall. I weigh 260 pounds.

It’s difficult to explain what 260 pounds is like. And I know that I’m certainly not the most overweight person in the world, and there are people who have it much worse than me. But here’s the point: I am a card-carrying fat person. I am genuinely, actually, literally overweight. I am not an ordinary-sized person who is dealing with self-esteem issues and saying that I’m fat when I’m not.

I am fat.

It’s important for me to admit this because for me, it’s a positive thing. It’s a positive thing because you can’t begin to work on a problem until you’ve admitted it. It’s like when people stand up in AA meetings and begin by saying, “I am an alcoholic.” It’s liberating to admit it, to know that there’s a problem. Because without admitting that there’s an issue you can’t begin to work on it.

Being a relatively young person living in America in 2018, I’ve heard a lot of opinions about what it is to be fat, and the way people should think and feel about it. I have a lot of friends who are overweight. I have, on a few occassions, asked for encouragement from friends when it comes to losing weight, eating healthy, and working out. Almost always, the response is something along these lines: “You should accept yourself the way you are. You’re already beautiful, and instead of conforming to society’s idea of beauty, you should love your size and be proud of it.”

This… has always disturbed me, in a really profound way.

Let me back up for a minute. I was a skinny kid. So skinny that my family sometimes made comments that I ought to eat more and try to put on some weight. My mom and dad were both pretty thin when they were young, and when they had me. My brother had a different father than me but he’s been skinny his whole life and has one of those six-pack-without-even-trying bodies, the kind of guy who can eat absolutely everything and never gain any weight or body fat from it. My sister is more in the same boat with me: naturally skinny but capable of getting chubby if she isn’t careful.

Now, as for me personally, the first time I started to gain weight was when I was about 11 years old. I remember that it was summertime, and my whole life I’ve enjoyed sitting inside on a sunny day and playing video games or watching movies. I still played outside plenty, but I started to spend more time inside, and what’s more important is that I started to eat a lot more. I suppose I was on the onset of puberty so it isn’t surprising that I suddenly developed an enormous appetite (teenage boys in particular are known for having the appetite of a black hole).

I remember sitting in my bed until late at night, going through bags of chips, trail mix, Chex, Cheese-Its, peanut butter on a spoon, crackers, any kind of chocolate or candy. I would drink an entire 2-liter of soda in a day and then drink a pitcher of tea. I didn’t drink water at all. My mom used to buy big bags of mixed Hershey’s chocolates, and I would sit up and watch movies and eat the entire bag, and when I was done I would find a box of Chex Mix that had pretzels and M&Ms and eat the whole bag until I couldn’t eat any more, and then wash it all down with whatever there was to drink: soda, tea, milk, shakes. I’d make a bowl of ice cream and then another bowl of ice cream and then another, and I’d pour chocolate syrup on top of it. I would put ranch dressing on a plate and eat it with my fingers. I would bake frozen biscuits that were in the freezer, then put all of the biscuits onto a plate and sit and eat the whole thing.

By the time I was 13 I was overweight. But not CRAZY overweight. I was still active, I still had plenty of energy. I just also these little man-boobs and a tummy that hung over my pants, and my mom shopped in the husky section for my jeans. I remember one time on the school bus, a little girl walked over to me who I did not know and just point blank said: “Why are you so fat?” Despite this, I didn’t actually get picked on at school for being fat. Most people just considered my odd and unusual, and I was. I didn’t have many friends and I was constantly reading instead of talking. The thing that most people disliked about me was that I was gay, I was overly verbose and too intelligent to have anything in common with kids my age, and the few people I did associate with were ALSO freaks who nobody talked to. As such, I had no social life to speak of.

The majority of my time was spent alone, although I wasn’t really upset about that. I liked playing video games, writing on my computer, surfing the internet (this was in 2003, when you actually did surf the internet because you had no idea where you were going to end up and there was no central nexus to find anything), and of course, eating everything around me while doing all of this. When I turned 15, I started to grow taller, and this evened out my weight to the point that for a while, from the ages of 16 to 18, I was actually relatively normal-sized. I didn’t THINK I was, because I still had very small breasts poking out, but the truth is I was a totally average size.

When I was 18, around Christmas time, I met a guy, and I got into my first serious relationship. It was never a healthy one, and he was constantly making nasty little comments when I gained a few pounds, saying that I wasn’t skinny and cute like I was when he met me, and this of course caused me to eat more. This is when I started to REALLY gain weight. By the time I was 21 I was about 200 pounds. After that relationship ended and I moved with my family to Georgia, I met a new guy (this time the relationship was slightly healthier than the one before), but unfortunately we were living with his family and we were very poor, so the two of us both lost of weight essentially due to having nothing to eat. When we DID get jobs and our own place to stay, we were used to eating cheap, so we were constantly eating Taco Bell and Pizza Hut for every meal. By the time I was 24 I had grown to about 240 pounds. When this boyfriend and I broke up, I went into a severe depression and during this time, I went to Little Caesar’s almost every night and brought home a pizza, then ate the whole thing while drinking copious amounts of soda.

Two years ago, when I was 25, my weight had risen to about 250 pounds, and I had a blood test at my doctor’s office. The office couldn’t get hold of my results, so I went to the hospital myself and got them. When my roommate, who was a lab scientist, took a look at them, he pointed out my glucose looked really high, and suggested that I let my doctor know. I called the doctor’s office and told the nurse over the phone that my glucose was really high (I don’t remember the numbers), and her response was “Oh yeah, you’re definitely diabetic, you need to come in and see the doctor.”

Until this point, the idea that I had diabetes hadn’t really occurred to me. I knew that was a risk of being overweight but I didn’t think I had that issue. It turns out that I did, in fact, have Type 2 Diabetes. My doctor was not particularly helpful (in that he seemed to have no idea what the hell he was doing or talking about), but once I started taking Metformin and I cut out sugar, I very quickly lost ten pounds. This was a big deal for me, I thought whoa, I’m finally losing weight, this is easier than I thought! It turns out that when it comes to dieting and losing weight, you kind of get the first ten pounds for free, and the rest you have to work for. My weight has fluctutated ever since, but I’ve hovered around the same 250 pounds.

I have not known what it feels like to be “normal” since I was about 16. I have not put on a tight t-shirt or worn a pair of skinny jeans or even bought a cute pair of underwear since I was 21. I have spent the majority of my life being overweight. What I have needed, all this time, was discipline. Sure, some of it wasn’t my fault. I can’t help that depression and anxiety run in my family, and that these contribute greatly to eating disorders. I can’t help that the antidepressants I’ve been prescribed slow metabolism and cause weight gain. I can’t even help that I’m naturally at a higher risk for diabetes because other people in my family have had it.

But at the end of the day, the reason I am fat is because of my choices. I chose to drink a 2-liter of Coke every day. I chose to eat three bowls of ice cream at a time, or three sandwiches at a time, or to get a footlong sub and three cookies and a soda for a meal. I chose to eat Little Caesar’s every night for months on end, I chose to stay inside when I could have been outside walking. The reason I am fat is because of choices that I have made.

The thing that bothers me the most about all of this is the way that our culture responds to obesity. American has a serious problem with obesity. We’re the fattest country in the world. We eat like pigs, we eat processed food, we put poison into our bodies constantly. But the BIGGER issue in our culture is “fat-shaming.”

I don’t need to define what fat-shaming is or give you examples, you’ve heard of this, and you’ve no doubt seen the countless blog posts, articles, news stories, and scathing commentary by body-positivity advocates who think we should stop “shaming” people for being fat. But what a lot of these advocates consider “shaming” is just pointing out that someone is fat. Just NOTICING that someone is overweight, or even expressing concern for them, is NOT fat-shaming. And if it is, then I don’t personally have a problem with it.

I would consider fat-shaming to be outright abuse, picking on someone for their weight. Calling someone a fat-cow, telling them to put down the hamburgers, telling someone they’re ugly and unlovable because they’re fat. That’s cruel, that’s callous, and that’s wrong. But just POINTING OUT that someone is overweight, I don’t know that that’s the same thing. And on the few occassions I’ve posted on social media asking for support about losing weight, people tell me that I am being ignorant, that I should love my body the way it is. WHY? Why would I love my body the way it is? My body is SICK. My body is hurting. My skin is stretched, my blood is full of too much sugar, I don’t have the energy to make it through the day without taking a rest. I can’t stand up for long periods of time because my thighs rub together and create painful blisters that get worse the longer I walk. I sweat easily, I lose my breath, and if I go too long without food I become so weak that I shake and I can’t even stand up. I’m NOT HEALTHY. So why are people telling me to love my size? They’re essentially telling me to accept that I’m unehalthy and do nothing to change it.

How is it “body positivity” to tell fat people not to change their diet, not to lose weight? We know that obesity leads to heart attacks, to disease, to dying young. How are you possibly being “positive” or helping people by indulging in a delusion that they’re NOT unhealthy?

And then there’s the whole thing about beauty.

The number-one thing I hear when it comes to obesity is people saying “You’re beautiful. No matter what size you are, you’re still beautiful. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not beautiful because you’re fat.”

But… that’s not what we’re talking about. You can be beautiful and still be fat. Fat and beautiful are not two mutually-exclusive things. People are beautiful because they’re people. The reason you’re beautiful is not because your body is fat or skinny, what makes you beautiful is that you’re a human being who other people will find attractive. You’re beautiful because of your personality, your features, your attitude, your statements, your actions. You can be beautiful and be fat. So why are people setting up this false dichotomy? People always say “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful!” as though they’re two opposite things. They have nothing to do with one another.

I know, we as a culture have a history of telling fat people they’re ugly. I get that. I understand that. Believe me, I’m a gay guy in 2018, I know better than anyone what it’s like to be ignored by an entire community of people because I’m fat. I send out messages on Grindr and never get responses. The only people who say hello to me are old guys, creeps, and other fat people. Just for fun I played around on my best friend’s Grindr account, and he gets messages flying in every two minutes. I know from personal experience that I am considered ugly and unattractive because I’m fat, especially in the gay community, which is known for being very shallow and obsessed with bodily perfection.

So don’t bring me this crap about “you’re not fat, you’re beautiful.” It’s missing the point entirely. If you love your friends and you want to encourage and help them, you should be encouraging them to lose weight. You should be offering suggestions about diet, helping them stay responsible and accountable, you should be cheering them on, not encouraging them to stay sitting on their ass and just accept themselves the way they are.

Now, of course, I’m not saying you should go up to fat people and start berating them for being fat or even telling them to lose weight if they haven’t asked. Apart from anything else, that’s fucking rude. But can we please have some sense and look at things in the light of reality here? I’m 260 pounds! I have type 2 diabetes. I want to live a long life, I want to be healthy, I want to have energy and put good healthy food into my body. It does me no good if you, as a friend, tell me to accept my body the way it is and just love myself the way I am. I already love myself! I already know I’m beautiful!

But you know what I also want to be? Healthy. I don’t want to have a heart attack, and the way things are going, I very well could. I don’t want to lose a limb, and I very well could. I don’t want to lose sensation in my fingers and toes, I don’t want to end up in a motorized scooter because I can’t walk. How is it “body-positive” to tell someone to accept being fat? The positive part would be telling someone they HAVE the power to improve.

I could go on and on. The other day I saw a video someone shared of a woman reading a poem about being fat. She talked about how every time she goes to the doctor, all the doctor talks about is her blood pressure and her cholesterol, and he won’t stop asking probing, inappropriate questions. SERIOUSLY? That’s what a doctor is SUPPOSED to do! They’re there to keep track of your health! These fat-acceptance crusaders would have us believe that to even bring up the topic of your weight is a fucking hate crime.

Well no. I’m calling bullshit. I’m fat. I’m a genuine, real life, FAT PERSON. And I’m here to tell you that calling out the obesity epidemic, in and of itself, is not a hate crime. Now, the way you do it very well could be. If you’re going up to fat people, calling them names and making jokes, and putting them down, that’s wrong, and any decent person would know better than to do that. But if I post on Facebook saying that I’m working on losing weight, and your response is to tell me that I’m wrong, that I ought to be working harder on loving myself, then you’re not doing me a service as my friend, and you’re contributing to the problem. We don’t tell people that have diabetes to love themselves the way they are and don’t worry about taking that silly insulin, we tell them to take their medication because they have a disease. We don’t tell people with cancer to just think more positively about their bodies, we tell them to fight!

Remember that Youtube video that made the rounds a few years ago, “Dear Fat People,” by Nicole Arbour? Now, Nicole Arbour is crazy for a variety of reasons that we don’t have to get into, but I’m going to be honest: I found that video very motivational. I thought it was funny, but truthful. It was a little cruel, yeah, but she made a lot of good points. And she was criticized for hate speech. But when I saw that video, it really reminded me that I COULD lose weight, that I could avoid being unhealthy and dying of a heart attack in my 30’s. It didn’t offend or hurt me at all, AND I’M ACTUALLY FAT. One thing I can’t stand is a bunch of skinny people harping on another skinny person about being fat-phobic. It’s like when white people get offended on behalf of minorities instead of letting actual minorities speak for themselves.

Remember Meghan Trainor, with that song All About That Bass that you still can’t escape from in every shopping mall, grocery store, and restaurant you walk into? I was always really bothered by that song. Because it seems to be sending this message “Hey, don’t worry if you’re fat, you’re still sexy!” But again, that’s missing the point. Being sexy isn’t the issue, being healthy is. As for that “skinny bitches” line, you can take it as a joke, which I did, or as an actual put-down toward skinny people, but honestly I don’t care, what I care about is that in a culture where we have an epidemic of obesity, where school children eat slop and process food for lunch every day, we have an anthem about accepting being fat. Well I don’t accept it, and I will again remind you, I feel I have the right to say all this because I am ACTUALLY FAT.

If we spent half as much time as a society actually caring about our health as we did getting outraged because someone had the audacity to point out that hey, maybe we’re not all that healthy, we could all actually solve this problem in the first place.

By way of offering another side to this, here is a comment someone once made when I posted a similar rant about body-positivity on Facebook. The comment at the end is a reference to the fact that I happened to be an anti-Millenial kick at the time (I have since begrudgingly accepted that I am a Millenial, but that we have some serious soul-searching to do), and I made a comment that this seemed to me to be another example of millenials forcing the world around them to change to meet their standards, rather than bettering themselves to fit into the rest of society. Here’s the response:

“Dude — you’re wrong on this one.  Seriously wrong.  There is no sum-zero game when it comes to fighting prejudice. If you think it’s not a real problem, you’ve never had a doctor dismiss your health concerns because ‘you just need more exercise’ as many, many overweight women and men have. Does a fat chick really have to be killed because she’s fat, for this to matter?

The body-acceptance movement isn’t about justifying unhealthy lifestyles. It’s just another area where we’re learning to meeting people where they are, accepting them for who they are, and they have value as they are. Not asking them to be someone else, to be a different shape, or a different color, or a different orientation.   Why is acceptance of different body sizes important? Well, among other things — the shame associated with weight is unhealthy in and of itself, and makes it HARDER to make healthy lifestyle choices and changes. And I hate to break this one to you, but the weight thing? It didn’t start with Millennials.”

This person makes a good point. Putting someone down for their weight DOES make it harder for that person to have the confidence to make healthy choices. But I don’t think we’re doing anyone any favors by pretending that being overweight isn’t a problem. It is. Being overweight is a problem. A problem that can result in actually dying. And I’m not going to stick my head in the sand, I’m going to acknowledge the problem and then do my best to fight it.

I’ll end here by repeating some of the remarks I made to that commenter back then.

“I gained over fifty pounds and got type 2 diabetes because of my own shitty choices. Did my anxiety, depression, fun variety of mental health issues, and genetic predisposition all play a role in it? Yes. But ultimately I got diabetes because of my own choices. I chose to down soda and pizza and ice cream, and to give myself no limitation, and now I’m drastically overweight and I’m literally ill from it.

Whenever I’ve asked for encouragement about weight loss, time and again people keep telling me that weight loss doesn’t matter. That I should love my body just the way it is. But I don’t want to live my body just the way it is, I want to FIX what’s WRONG with it. If I were shot and bleeding to death, the appropriate response would be to treat the wound, not accept my bloody body and do nothing to cover the wound.

Sure, there are legitimate reasons why some people can’t help their weight. Usually those people are unable to walk because of severe life altering medical conditions. But suddenly, in the year [2018], when America just happens to be at its most obese, eating poison, and our health is all rapidly declining, I’m expected to believe that SUDDENLY everyone who is overweight is a victim of circumstance and no one is responsible personally for the fact that they’re overweight? And moreover, that no one has any responsibility to themselves to FIX that issue? That everyone who is unnecessarily fat should just die 20 years earlier and get heart problems and diabetes because… because why? Because we’re too afraid we might hurt someone’s feelings to tell them they’ve stretched their body beyond the capacity it’s supposed to be according to our own biology?

There’s a clear difference between realizing that being overweight is a serious health risk and obesity is an epidemic in America, and the other extreme of pointing at all overweight people shouting “fat pig you should kill yourself!” But the trend in liberal culture now is to never tell anyone that anything is wrong with them in any way: we must accept all people exactly as they are, and that includes when they’re harming themselves and causing themselves problems that we need to ignore that. This kind of slippery slope logic is like saying that when I go to the doctor he should just tell me “Well, you’ve got cancer, diabetes, and HIV, but you know what? That’s who you are! We don’t need to change those things because that would be disrespecting who you are as a person!”

My doctor didn’t dismiss my health concerns because I need more exercise, he pointed out that my health concern IS THE FACT that I need mote exercise. Is there NOT a happy medium where we accept that one on end of the spectrum, being horrendously underweight like a runway model is terribly unhealthy and on the other end of the spectrum, being obese is ALSO terribly unhealthy? You don’t see people in the body acceptance movement posting pictures of people with anorexia saying “She’s beautiful just how she is! So what if she’s anorexic, that’s who she is and you don’t have the right to judge her!” No, that isn’t what’s happening at all, the fat-acceptance movement is happy to criticize anorexic people but still get offended if you imply that someone who is obese might be better suited losing weight.

I don’t think people need to look like models and fitness coaches to be healthy, and in fact I don’t really care if other people are healthy or not. What I care about is a culture that tells me that being unhealthy is fine, that to question it is wrong, and that I’m a bigot for saying that obese people, myself included, should work on losing weight rather than accepting obesity and the diseases that come along with it, and the possibility of dying young because of it.”

Nothing I’m saying here is a personal attack on anyone. If you’re overweight for reasons beyond your control, then I’m sorry. But I don’t think that justifies telling people who CAN beat obesity that they shouldn’t, just because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. How much are we willing to sacrifice for the sake of not hurting people’s feelings? If it hurts people’s feelings for me to talk about how being overweight is bad for me, and bad for others, than I’m willing to hurt people’s feelings, because sometimes the truth is difficult.

Being fat, it’s hard. It sucks. Looking down when I’m naked and seeing my tummy poking out before I see my dick, that’s painful. Looking in the mirror and seeing the pouch of fat underneath my chin, that’s painful. Seeing stretch marks all across my sides and my arms and my ass is painful. Putting on an outfit and then looking in the mirror to see that it looks all wrong, that I don’t fit into my clothes, that’s painful. And the most painful thing of all is losing my breath walking around the mall, or having to sit down after half my shift at work because I’m unable to keep standing.

I’m struggling, as I always have. But the only way I can beat this is by looking forward to a future where I’m healthy, where I’m eating right, where I’m getting exercise, and where I have the energy to make my dreams come true. And I hope that I can do that. And I hope that anyone else who is in the same boat with me can find the confidence to do it too. I know that some of what I’ve said hear is a bit mean, but I don’t know of any other way to say it when it’s the hard truth. Being fat can kill you. And I don’t want to die.

So I’m fighting it. And I hope anyone else who’s obese will fight it too. Because I think that the rewards of losing weight and being healthy are much better than the rewards of just accepting being unhealthy when you have the means to change it.

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An Examination of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Inclusiveness in Art

I recently rejoined the Facebook group Gay Geeks, and it took little to no time at all to remember why I left it in the first place.

As with most gatherings on social media, people are anxious to get into an argument and test out their debating skills (or lack thereof). The internet is all too full of places like this, and while I think it’s probably ultimately a good thing that such vigorous infighting goes on, I personally hate confrontation, and so I tend to steer away from these things whenever possible.

I am not without my share of controversial opinions, which I am happy to exclaim loudly from the rooftops. I just don’t like argument. I genuinely want to have my opinion and share it, and I honestly don’t care what anyone thinks of it. When people agree with me, I feel supported and glad that I shared, and when they disagree I tend to take it personally, so I’ve learned that it’s best just to share my opinions in a space that is primarily my own (like this blog), or to share my opinions among friends who will still be respectful even if they disagree. I don’t know if this makes me a crybaby, but honestly I don’t care, I will communicate however I want to communicate.

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But I did decide to chip in on some interesting topics that I ran into today, and two separate discussions that I feel are directly related. The first has to do with the recent “eighth” Harry Potter story, the script to the West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I actually hadn’t bothered reading it until recently, and even then I couldn’t finish it. But more on that in a moment.

I think it’s great that there’s a Harry Potter play, and I also think it’s great that they published the script. I don’t particularly approve of their marketing campaign, which was to literally tout is “the eighth installment” in the Harry Potter series. It wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, and even though supposedly she came up with the concept for the story, I somehow have a difficult time believing that because of the way it reads. Before I get too deep into what I don’t like about it, I will say these things on behalf of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child:

For one thing, the book we’ve received is a script. It is one component of a larger production, and it is incomplete without the actors reading it on stage. That being said, some of the greatest writers in history have expressed themselves entirely through script-writing (Shakespeare comes to mind), so that doesn’t really give Cursed Child too much of a leg to stand on when it comes to forgiving it’s many, many flaws, from a writing perspective. However, I will concede that maybe this is just the kind of script that doesn’t look good on it’s own, maybe it truly is best represented through actors.

The second thing I want to plug here is that Imogen Heap composed the music for the play, and so there is at least one aspect that I can automatically appreciate. I haven’t heard the music, but Imogen Heap is one of my personal inspirations and favorite musicians, so I’m just going to give her the benefit the doubt and assume her score is brilliant. Because it probably is.

That being said, let’s get into it.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play, set in the future of the Harry Potter world, beginning at exactly the same moment when the epilogue from the final book takes place. The story follows several protagonists, but mainly centers around Harry Potter’s son Albus, and his budding romance friendship with Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius. This premise alone is a great way to begin.

Then Time Turners get involved and it quickly devolves into badly written fanfiction published with Rowling’s name on the front (though it should be made perfectly clear that Rowling did NOT write this script, she is credited as having created the concept and nothing more, and exactly what that means is vague enough and we can probably exonerate her from any literary wrongdoing).

Time Turners are an element of the Harry Potter series that have frequently been seized upon as a weakness in the story (akin to the classic “why didn’t they just ride the eagles to Mordor?” criticism of Lord of the Rings), and for good reason. The ability to turn back time seems like something far too dangerous to allow into the hands of anyone but the most seasoned time-traveler, and yet their first introduction in the series is when they are used by Hermione in the Prisoner of Azkaban to make it to all of her classes on time, essentially allowing her to be in two places at one time. Even for a brilliant witch like Hermione, this seems like an incredibly extreme measure for the authorities at Hogwarts to take, and how Professor McGonogall managed to clear it with the Ministry of Magic is beyond me.

Rowling attempted to build some fail-safes into the Time Turner system: for one thing, Time Turners can only be used to travel back a few hours in time. I can’t remember if this is explicitly stated in the books, but whatever, Cursed Child throws it out the window anyway. It also throws away another very crucial aspect of time travel within the Harry Potter universe: Prisoner of Azkaban showed that time travel in the Harry Potter universe is of the closed-loop variety (or boot-strap paradox). This means that if someone is going to travel back in time, they’ve actually already done it. This is shown in Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry was saved from a flock (herd? pack? murder? let’s go with murder) of Dementors by a young man conjuring a stag Patronus who looked so eerily similar to Harry that he assumed it to be his father. He later realized, however, that it wasn’t his father, but himself from the future, having come back in time, rescuing himself in the past.

This creates a paradox, as almost all time travel does, but at least it gives the time travel in Harry Potter some kind of interior logic. To further prevent time travel from mucking up the entire story, Rowling wrote a scene in book five in which all of the Time Turners in the possession of the Ministry of Magic are destroyed. That should probably be where it ends, and well enough too. But that is not how it ends.

Cursed Child stacks one fanfiction cliche on top of another (and I should probably mention now that there are major spoilers ahead): the action begins when Amos Diggory, uncle of the late Cedric Diggory, comes to Harry, who is now the head of magical law enforcement (I won’t complain about this too much, it’s entirely possible Harry became a competent wizard as he grew older, despite, as Voldemort often pointed out, having no particularly strong affinity for magic by himself), and asks Harry to use a recently confiscated Time Turner to go back in time and save Cedric. This request is pretty silly entirely in premise, because anyone who has enough time to think about this request, as surely Amos has, would realize that there are two fundamental problems with it: first, going back to save Cedric could have grave implications toward the entire world, and could easily result in Harry never having triumphed over Voldemort, or if he did, it could mean that there was still a Battle of Hogwarts and Cedric could have died there. The second big problem is that it must be KNOWN within the Harry Potter universe that time travel is closed-loop, so if Harry were going to go back and try to save Cedric, then he’s already done it, and clearly failed.

But the writers of Cursed Child gave little thought to that, and decided to run with it anyway. The two main characters, Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, along with a mysterious friend Delphi (whose origin is not so much left vague as never even questioned by any other character: why is she looking after Amos Diggory? Why is she on board with the time travel plan? Does anyone ask? No! Who cares?) do in fact get hold of a Time Turner and attempt to rectify the past and save Cedric. They choose to do this in the strangest way possible: they go back in time to the first task of the Triwizard Tournament, and the main characters are so daft that despite actively setting out to travel back in time to that moment, they seem completely confused as to where they are how they got there. There’s even a scene when one of the boys runs into Hermione and confuses her for Hermione’s daughter. They KNOW they’re in the past, can they REALLY be this stupid?

They then decide that the most effective way to rescue Cedric from death at the hands of Voldemort is to DISARM him while he’s fighting a dragon. Their logic is that SURELY the school won’t allow a child to be killed during the tournament, something they should know is not the case, because firstly, it’s explicitly stated in Goblet of Fire that the tournament is dangerous and that’s why it hasn’t been held in so long, and secondly because a student DID die during that very tournament!

For some reason, things get all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and their time turner pulls them back to the present, and of course their actions have had far reaching consequences. Presumably Harry still triumphed over Voldemort, and for some reason Scorpius and Albus still exist, however Hermione’s daughter no longer exists because she and Ron never got together in the first place, and Ron has become a pudgy emasculated shell of himself, though he did manage to have another child (I can’t even remember with who, I think it was the girl he asked to the Yule ball?). Hermione is now the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts, and boy has she changed, basically becoming a female version of Professor Snape, snapping at the students and treating them like shit.

Albus, the dolt that he is, gets all confused and stammers something to the effect of “But I don’t understand! You’re married to Hermione! Your daughter is Rose! What’s HAPPENING?” Because he apparently has no clue that he just altered history (which I remind you should not be possible due to the closed-loop time travel established in Prisoner of Azkaban). After this comes a scene in which Ron has a conversation with Hermione, where the two awkwardly flirt with one another, acknowledging the fact that yeah, they probably should have gotten together. I have a problem with this two for two reasons: one, because I don’t personally think that the Hermione and Ron relationship made that much sense to begin with it, but mostly it’s because of how TERRIBLY the scene is written. I’m going to show the EXACT moment when I said “fuck this shit” and put the book down.

Ron

This isn’t just Ron being a stammering goof. It’s bad writing. And it’s indicative of the writing of this whole play. It reads like it was written by a novice fanfiction writer with the approximate life experience of a thirteen year old. It just feels so inauthentic, and it feels like bad fanfiction that was published with the original author’s name splashed on the front. I’m beginning to understand why Anne Rice forbids anyone to publish Vampire Chronicles fanfiction.

And this is isn’t the only example of bad characterization in the play. There is an entire scene in which Harry and Draco have an elaborately choreographed duel, firing spells at one another, flying through the air, and flipping over furniture. It’s supposed to be an intense scene, the climax of an altercation between the two. But at the end of the scene, Ginny walks into the room, huffs and says “What did I miss?” You can almost hear the sitcom theme music start and the audience applaud as it cuts to commercial break. It’s so out of place and corny and unnecessary. It’s the kind of thing that wouldn’t even be funny in a parody (see: A Very Potter Musical, incidentally a MUCH better stage production than this, script and all).

The bad writing applies to more than just the characters and the situations, it also really affects the stage direction. As anyone with any rudimentary knowledge of a stage play knows, the words between characters dialogue are stage directions, they’re there to help the cast and crew know what’s going on in the world of the play, and to know what needs to change in the environment around them. The stage directions in this play are absolutely nothing more than the writer being self-indulgent, rhapsodizing about character details that need to be conveyed by the dialogue and the actors’ performances, NOT explained in the stage directions. Here’s an example of one that’s absolutely ludicrous, and the script is FILLED with pointless self-indulgent moments like this:

Stage Directions

I remind you that this is a PROFESSIONAL stage production in the West End, officially endorsed by Harry Potter’s creator. This level of unprofessional self-indulgence would be ridiculous in any script, but in something official and big name like this, it’s unforgivable.

The final straw came when I decided to pick the book back up after a few minutes, thinking I would just flip through and skim on to a good part. I happened to open up to the end of Act One, which I was not far from in my reading progress. Some series of events unfurls and Albus finds himself being pulled out of the lake beside Hogwarts and coming face to face with Hogwarts headmistress Dolores Umbridge, who informs him that today is “Voldemort Day.”

Voldemort Day.

I’m not making this up.

Here, take a look.

Voldemort Day

If the book had been mine and not borrowed from someone else I might have thrown it across the room. Do I even need to go into how ridiculous the entire concept of a “Voldemort Day” is? Even if Voledmort DID successfully take over the world and carry out a Muggle genocide, even if he did become dark lord over everyone on Earth, there is no way in hell he would sanction a holiday called VOLDEMORT DAY. For one, it’s far too on the nose for him (see what I did there?), and for another, he forbids anyone to speak his name! Any time someone DOES speak his name in the books when they’re in his presence, he becomes indignant and enraged.

I’m going to stop there as far as criticism goes, because I didn’t read any further. What I have come to understand through accidentally stumbling onto her article on the Harry Potter wiki is that one of the central characters of the story, Delphi, is in fact the illegitimate child of Voldemort and Bellatrix LeStrange, who is using Albus and Scorpius’ Time Turner plan to ressurect her father for whatever reason. This reeks of fanfiction, and not even the good kind.

Suffice it to say I was not impressed by Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Cursed Child.PNG

On to my original point though, there was an argument about the book over on the Gay Geeks page when someone shared an article with the Headline: The Harry Potter universe still can’t translate it’s gay subtext to text. It’s a problem.”

Basically, the issue the writer of the article took was that despite the Harry Potter audience growing up with the Harry Potter universe, it hasn’t really grown up with them. Meaning that it’s still primarily white and heterosexual. J.K. Rowling famously declared Dumbledore to be gay after-the-fact, and even though reading the books again reveals that yeah, the setup between Dumbledore and Grindelwald probably was there, it was only there are subtext, and shoehorning in a homosexual orientation for Dumbledore after the fact doesn’t exactly make Harry Potter the all-inclusive pinnacle of gay acceptance. Still, it’s a step forward.

The problem that many people have with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is that Albus and Scorpius seem, from the MOMENT they meet, to be on a romantic course with one another. Their exchanges are filled with flirty moments and clumsy awkwardness, their friendship grows as the two boys bond closer with one another, and when Harry makes the incredibly bad choice to separate the two for Albus’ protection, they respond exactly as two lovers who’ve been ripped apart by their parents might be expected to. Having never finished the script, I can only go on what I’ve heard from here on out, but apparently the script is filled with more romantic moments like these (during the section of the script I read, there’s even a moment when Albus hugs Delphi and the stage directions point out that Scorpius is happy to see him hugging a girl, and yet it makes him uncomfortable at the same time). Apparently Albus needs to summon a Patronus charm during the story and the happy memory he used to create one is to think of Scorpius (echoing Snape’s use of Lilly Potter to conjure his own Patronus), and a handful of other moments. But apparently at the end of the play, their entire character arc as as a couple is thrown away with a “no homo” moment, Scorpius being interested in Hermione’s daughter, and Albus looking for a girlfriend.

I see what people are complaining about.

I thought from the moment the two met they were going to be a couple, although I usually tend to do this and chalk it up to me, as a gay man, wanting to see gay characters in the fiction I take in, doing a lot of wishful thinking. But the characters are written in a way that really makes it seem like a romance. I know this is subjective and no one can know for sure what the author intended (indeed, it’s difficult to know much of what the author intended because their writing reads so terribly in script form), but all I can say is, contrast Albus and Scorpius’ relationship with that of Harry and Ron. With the exception of their lovers’ quarrel in Goblet of Fire, they spent most of the series engaging in a completely heteronormative friendship, and didn’t seem to be interested in one another. There were no moments (again, excluding Goblet of Fire) when you found yourself thinking “…are they about to kiss?” But Albus and Scorpius pine for one another, their worlds are rocked by their separation, and it isn’t just because they’re each lonely outcasts, it’s because of the relationship between the two characters.

This leads to a discussion that I think is important to have. A lot of people, particularly in the Gay Geeks group, were upset that the Harry Potter universe isn’t inclusive to LGBTQ+ people, and it’s a fair complaint to make. However, some people have said that Rowling has a RESPONSIBILITY to her gay fans to include gay characters in her stories, so that they will have representation.

For my money, I don’t agree with the latter statement. It’s great when artists paint characters from a variety of perspectives, and it’s great when there are sexually ambiguous characters whose orientations you’re free to make assumptions about, and it’s even better when there are outright homosexual characters. But an artist is not REQUIRED to include gay characters just because they might have gay readers. You can’t ask every writer to go over their work with a fine tooth comb to be certain that it contains one character from every demographic: one gay, one straight, one transgender, one black, one Asian, one white, one hispanic, one vegetarian, one who likes the Spice Girls, one who has a collection of vintage Madonna 7 inch vinyls, one who wears glasses and one who has multicolored eyes. For one thing it’s impossible to include such diversity in every single scenario, for another it isn’t realistic (think of those classroom posters about respecting diversity where you always see one white boy with a baseball cap, one black boy in a tee shirt, and one Asian girl with glasses. Those are attempting to be inclusive, but just end up being pandering and racist in their own way), and most importantly you just CAN’T police what an artist can and can’t create. An artist is free to create whatever the hell they want, however they want to do it.

During this conversation I saw another, very similar conversation happening, revolving around this image an artist posted on Tumblr and a series of Tumblr comments beneath:

CharacterTumblr Comments

The issue here is that an artist took a Steven Universe character whose skin is not white, and depicted that character as a white person. I can see where some would find this frustrating, particularly because Steven Universe has such a reputation for being inclusive, but the truth is, whether you like it or not, it is an artist’s prerogative to create their characters, their worlds, and their art in ANY way they see fit. If you don’t like it, you can make your own.

This doesn’t shield an artist from criticism (at this point I’m convinced there are people who believe art only exists so they can criticize it), but it also doesn’t mean that you can tell an artist what to create. I’d also like to point out that if this had happened the opposite way around, had this been a white character that an artist drew as any other race, that artist would probably be touted by the same people throwing criticism, as a paragon of inclusiveness and a hero for diversity. There’s probably more than a little hypocrisy here.

Diversity is a difficult thing for me. I’m a white male, but I’m also gay, I’m a non-Christian in America (specifically, I’m from the American south), I’m polyamorous, I have radically different viewpoints from American norms, so in many ways I am a minority too. It’s okay to claim that, without saying that I’m suffering in exactly the same way as other minorities: I don’t know what it’s like to be black, and straight black people don’t know exactly what it’s like to be gay, but I think we can probably extrapolate SOME common elements from both and understand one another’s struggle a little better than if we had absolutely nothing in common.

But the thing is, there are a lot of people who seem to want to preserve diversity of all kinds just for the sake of preserving diversity. In the case of religion, many philosophies of violence, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia and genocide are kept around just because people want to “respect diversity,” rather than actively attempting to dismantle those systems of oppression. This, I think, is the problem with being so open to the world around you that just allow anything for the sake of accepting everyone. It’s important to honor the individuality of each person, without allowing your own principles to be destroyed. This argument mainly applies to religion and not to diversity in skin color or sexuality, so I’ll jump off of this soap box for now, but I’m sure I’ll come back to it at some point.

At the end of the day, even though, yes, it would be nice to have gay characters in Harry Potter, they need to be there because the author genuinely wants them to be there. They need to be authentic characters, not just characters who were made gay because the author shoehorned them in to appease their gay fans. Does Rowling have a responsibility to her gay fans? Maybe she does, in some ways. But does she have a responsibility to alter her art, in ANY way, because someone else wants her to? No, she does not. An artists responsibility, when creating, is to be AUTHENTIC. An artist gets to create anything they want, on their own terms, and damn everyone else’s viewpoint. The purpose of creating art is not to honor everyone else’s viewpoint, it’s to showcase your own. If people want to express their own viewpoints, let them do it, but do not tell me, or J.K. Rowling, or an artist on Tumblr, what they’re allowed to create. Arguments about including diverse characters come from a place of good intent, but ultimately it seems to me that people are asking for inclusion for inclusion’s sake. That isn’t art, it’s pandering.

I think that one of the big issues with my generation (that is to say, “millenials”) is that we try so hard to treat everything with fairness and equality, to respect the differences of every individual, that we end up falling into this infinite voice of so-called “political correctness” where we need to edit oursevles from saying or doing something that might offend someone, and also that we need to be all-inclusive in all things that we do so that no one feels left out. The principles behind these are good, but in practice, we haven’t as a culture figured out how to let people have their own individual voices without forcing them to be part of the whole. We’re censoring in the opposite direction that censorship usually happens: instead of telling people they’re not allowed to speak out and speak their minds, we are FORCING people to speak out and to speak on EVERYONE’S behalf. But that just isn’t feasible. If an author wants to write a book whose premise is that there’s a secret society of wizards existing right under the noses of everyone in the real world, and that author chooses, consciously or unconsciously, not to include any gay characters, they have that right, and if you tell them they HAVE to include gay characters in order to embrace their gay fans, you are taking away their freedom of expression by forcing them to say what you want them to say. The desire to hope that artists include gay people in their work comes from a good place: we all want to feel included. But the truth is, demanding that an artist includes gay characters takes away from their freedom to create whatever the hell it is they want to create.

Personally, my reading of Act One of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child led me to believe that there was more than a little gay subtext between Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. I too am a little peeved that they go all “no homo” at the end. But, I also can’t force their writer to make them gay just because I feel, no matter how strongly, that their relationship was written as a romantic one. It’s a hard truth, but it’s the truth. If someone wants to create a story between two straight boys with so much gay subtext that even Anne Rice characters are shouting “just kiss already!” it’s their prerogative to do so. Some creators even choose to make their characters gay but not say it outright. They’re allowed to do that too. They’re allowed to do whatever they want.

And besides, we’ll always have Korra.

Korra