With the release of the last Harry Potter film and the fierce, intense competition to be the first to register for Pottermore, the epic series has been an omnipresent part of the cultural milieu this summer. As I made my way through Tumblr posts during the run up to the release of the first Pottermore clue, I noticed a trend in the content attributed to and depicting the three male leads—Rupert Grint, Tom Felton, and Daniel Radcliffe—and the running joke that they might secretly be gay for one another. This idea isn’t original to them, of course. The male leads of any science fiction or fantasy epic will be paired off in the minds of their fandom. For example, TBS ran a spot a few years ago advertising an airing of Lord of the Rings, with the spot focusing on the relationship between Frodo and Sam and “Secret Lovers” by Atlantic Starr as the background track. The narrative has been queered so severely that not admitting the likelihood of a Sam/Frodo pairing makes a person seem a little bit naïve.
Recently Rupert Grint showed up to the premiere of James Franco’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” wearing a white t-shirt that read “I Heart Tom Felton.” Tom Felton has been the cast member that’s been the most willing to make jokes about him and the other two being in love; he plays a relatively minor character in the films and as he fights for more roles he needs a fanbase for that. And it is working, 100%. The ratio of Tom Felton appearances in the films to Tom Felton appearances on Harry Potter fan sites is skewed, heavily. Being an actor who interacts with your fandom, especially one who teases them that the slash narrative might be the real one, creates devoted fans. A large part of the appeal of the BBC’s Sherlock is the way the show itself strongly suggests that the Holmes/Watson pairing (“Hotson”) is canon. Even Misfits found a way to throw a bone to their fandom—in one episode, Robert Sheehan’s Nathan gets a mysterious tattoo that makes him full-tilt, head-over-heels in love with Iwan Rheon’s Simon, which allows the show to give the two characters a steamy proposition and a kiss, but keep both characters heterosexual in the larger scheme of things.
It might seem like I’m looking for something to complain about, but I really am not. I think actors choosing to acknowledge the slash community is somewhat funny and occasionally hot. And I think their choosing to interact with narratives that other people have constructed about their sex lives with a certain degree of humor is very mature. But it also highlights how much of the cultural bandwidth Straight Men playing or imitating Gay Men is starting to take up, and how lucrative being ambiguously heteroflexible can be in securing more of the fandom’s attention, giving another segment of your audience a reason to see a film or series and bring their own queer sensibilities to it. Partly this is an act of collaborative storytelling that acknowledges how underrepresented gender and sexual minorities are as main characters in Science Fiction/Fantasy. But it also begs the question: Why can’t we have legitimate queer couplings? Why must we always manufacture them ourselves and hope for crumbs from the actors and producers?