Re-reading Harry Potter gender-swapped

Disclaimer: I am a self-confessed Potterhead. Also, this is an incredibly meandersome post; I blame the festive tiredness. That’s all you need to know.

ALSO gender is a huge, complicated, minefield of a subject. This is a very short post. Therefore, I am obviously not trying to in any way be definitive about this subject. It’s just a short little bit of writing, and no offense is meant (if by chance anyone is offended, go ahead and message me. I’m happy to chat, thought very slow to respond due to awful internet access).

Recently, my partner-in-crime and I decided to re-read Harry Potter together. We take turns reading out loud to each other, sometimes doing voices. And, as an experiment, we decided to swap everyone’s genders.

This started out as a silly little thing that we decided to do for fun because we’ve both read Philosopher’s Stone so many times. Since then, we’ve ended up having some quite in depth discussions about it – how, in some scenarios, it changes absolutely nothing about how we relate to the characters, and in others it changes everything.

Now we’re not very far in: Harry (we thought Harry was a perfectly acceptable girl’s name-short for Harriet maybe) has not even got to Diagon Alley. However the story already feels quite different. Vera Dursley, an angry large woman who works at Grunnings, elicits a slightly more complicated reaction than Vernon Dursley ever did; yes, she is unpleasant; yes, she is unfair and unacceptably horrible to her niece. Somehow, just by changing her gender, she has become more compelling. Perhaps it is the rarity of characters like her: she’s clearly the breadwinner for her family, works in the manufacturing of power tools and expresses herself loudly and uncompromisingly. We do not often let female characters be quite so loud or so unpleasant, so maybe it is something to do with that. Whatever the reason, my partner-in-crime and I are both quite interested in Vera Dursley.

Tony Dursley, on the other hand, for me is still as irritating as Petunia Dursley. Dudley Dursley (fun fact: Dudley was for many years a girls’ name. It has only recently become a boys’ name) is still a tantrumming, whiny, bullying child. One of the things that we found really different is that neither of us are comfortable with descriptions of Dudley’s weight. Which is odd, because when I first read these books I don’t even remember noticing the wording. Now maybe it’s just because I’m older and more aware, or maybe it is to do with the gender-switch, but reading the descriptions of how fat Dudley is supposed to be when Dudley is a girl feels incredibly cruel.

This is one of the things that led to a big discussion with my partner-in-crime. It would take forever to unpack all the issues surrounding women, body image and fatness, so I won’t even try to do that. All I’ll say is that it’s really really hard for us to read those descriptions of Dudley Dursley, however unpleasant she is as a person (which she is), in a way that it wasn’t when Dudley Dursley was a boy. Now of course I know that being cruel to large male kids about their weight is just as unacceptable, but it became emotive in a way that it wasn’t before.

Alba Dumbledore, with her fabulous beard (we’re not changing any descriptions. Even beards. We figured that they’re all magic, so witches can probably grow beards if they want), is oddly attractive in a way that Albus Dumbledore has never been; still mysterious, omnipotent-seeming and wonderful, but with an added layer of mmmmm. Hagrid has always been a favourite of mine, and she still is. McGonagall, so far, is just as kick-arse as his female counterpart.

I guess a lot of the fun of doing this is that it is a story we’re already familiar with. We’re reading it pretty much word-for-word, and changing the absolute minimum (naming the Weasleys is going to be fun…). However it does also lead to quite a lot of thought. Gender is everywhere. In fact it’s so pervasive that a lot of the time we stop noticing it until something pulls us up short and we’re challenged in some way. I’m relatively self-aware about gender stereotypes and such, but it can get very tiring to be thinking about it day in day out. We have quite a complicated relation to gender in our culture, and it there are a lot of challenges to it. Sometimes I get very angry about it all: gendered sections in toyshops in particular make me mad – they’re kids! Why are we dividing them and telling them they want different things based on gender? Just stick them all in a sandpit and let them build castles. Therefore, it’s actually really nice to be able to snuggle up with my partner-in-crime and read this familiar and much loved book to each other, knowing that it will make me laugh (probably cry) and occasionally present us with interesting discussion topics.

Also, I had forgotten how fun J.K. Rowlings’ descriptions of things are. It’s wonderful to be rediscovering all the things I originally loved about this series.

Stay tuned – I will be occasionally posting updates about this.

Also, a lovely new year to you all.

Awesome gender-bent Harry Potter art (not mine)


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. meinheels
    Jan 19, 2016 @ 22:38:48

    Here’s an interesting one…Weasleys suddenly call into a racial stereotype when you switch gender. Certain cultures such as the Chinese favour a son to carry on the family name.


    • Meredith
      Feb 03, 2016 @ 16:49:37

      You know, I hadn’t thought about that. My partner-in-crime and I have been really really busy and not had time to read to each other, so we’ve not got much further into the book at all… In canon, Ginny is the first female born into the Weasley family in several generations (can’t remember how many off the top of my head) and it’s going to be really interesting to see how different this feels when that is reversed into being the first male born for several generations… Also, in canon I always felt quite strongly that having six older brothers quite impacted Ginny’s character: it’s going to be interesting seeing what that looks like reversed. I am not, however, looking forward to trying to name all the Weasleys!


  2. meinheels
    Feb 03, 2016 @ 17:03:20

    Well keep me posted, I’ll be curious. At least the names are pretty ordinary names which typically have both masculine and feminine forms, or have become gender neutral in modern society.


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