by Damian Ledbetter
So it’s a bad time for sexy Englishmen.
Who’s still reeling from David Bowie? And from Alan Rickman?
Just to be safe, we should put Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw in protective stasis guarded round-the-clock by Daniel Craig, with or without a Dia de los Muertos mask.
But yes, I’m still grieving for Alan Rickman, and it’s strange because I’m mourning like I have for family. I’m dwelling on memories, like “the time he materialized as a column of fire and got sprayed with flame retardant chemicals” or strangely “that time he died in Truly, Madly Deeply.” But it doesn’t feel like death, it feels like the sudden end of his IMDB credits. And that’s happened to people who are still alive, like Jonathan Taylor Thomas…
But still, it’s mourning. While the Guardian has written about his impressive humanitarian, film and stage credits (amongst which was a production of Anthony and Cleopatra opposite Helen Mirren… which must have been the sexiest thing to happen in 1998 after Anthony Stewart Head wearing a tight t-shirt in Buffy the Vampire Slayer…) But I’ve written a eulogy that would not make the broad sheets: Alan Rickman—he made Snape sexy.
For all of us who remember when millennials were called generation-y—by the way, no one asked our permission. We’ve gone from a genealogical relationship to Gen-X’s disaffection with late capitalism and the concomitant cult of self-esteem, to this societal fantasy that everyone under 40 is an affluent, hoodie-cloaked tech oligarch. But for this group who remembers Harry Potter before the films, we are primed to loathe Snape from the start as “a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin.” Which if you look on WebMB could be the result of pre-natal exposure to hydroxyprogesterone.
But Alan Rickman portrays the character with silky gravitas and languid diction and suddenly, when we hear “Mr. Potter– our—new—celebrity” we want to spend a week’s detention in the dungeon having our minds penetrated. But making Snape sexy goes beyond liberally interpreting “greasy hair” to a jaunty black runway model wig. It influenced the budding sexualities of a generation. In fact, Alan Rickman made me the kinky transfag that I am today.
Let’s unpack that a bit. I grew up the foster child of alcoholics in Orange County during the crass materialism of the pre-2008 real estate boom. And growing up in a master-planned community whose only interesting geographical features are its strategies for excluding black and brown people, I did what any sensible liberal-minded adolescent would do—I became an ardent anglophile. When I was fifteen, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban hit theaters and it was so queer. There was the well-liked, avuncular teacher who’s socially marginalized for his contagious blood-borne malady… who subsequently shacks up with the other avuncular figure who’s a dog furry. But that’s nothing compared to Alan Rickman billowing around like a dungeon master lecturing with commanding erudition about werewolves. I was in love– as any teenaged girl with an alcoholic father would be.
But it didn’t stop there. I ended up dating Snape– in a manner of speaking. I attended Azkatraz, 2009’s San Francisco-based Harry Potter convention. What they don’t tell you is that if you show up to a fan convention in costume, you’re called by the name and pronouns of that character. So imagine my surprise when suddenly this silky Snape cosplayer sidles up and says, “Lupin—out for a walk… in the moonlight.” She-now-he was six feet, had long black hair and an honest-to-goodness aquiline nose. So I spent a weekend re-spirit-gumming a false mustache that kept sliding off from excessive games of spin-the-wand. But as I was checking out of the hotel, I suddenly found myself crying in a hallway, being comforted by Perseus, a Lucius Malfoy lifestyler. I had this epiphany—I thought, “I am Remus Lupin in love with Severus Snape.”
In our limited cultural imaginary, sexual identity has to do with our gender vis-a-vis the gender of the people we want to have sex with, and perhaps this is why I could never think, in the abstract, “Ah, I’m a man who loves men.” As if men were the same, like any pumpkin spice latte in any Starbucks in all the world. Philosophy can’t even get its head around what a chair is, so something as complex as manhood is just not happening. But I knew myself in the realization that “I am Remus Lupin in love with Severus Snape.”
And now that Alan Rickman’s gone, there’s the sobering recognition that it was me all along. Me yearning for something better than white supremacist suburbia, or a closeted, abusive father, or the simmering pain that comes from not-quite-comprehending that part of your truth is a spurned, Bronte-esque mad woman shut up in the attic. I still can’t say I’m a man, but I can say “Wasn’t it beautiful, in that epiphanous similitude, to feel his mouth against my mustache, and to run my fingers through his silky—not greasy—black hair?”
Damian is a gender pragmatic theology student based in Berkeley. In 2004, he was selected as a California Arts Scholar, with a culminating project focusing on erotic fanfiction. He also studied poetry at UCLA, winning the Dean’s Prize for his poem “On the Burning of Grandpa’s Mobile Home,” published in Westwind literary journal. Currently, he’s researching for a dissertation on the intersection between queerness and environmental apocalypticism.