The Shockingly Convincing Argument That Severus Snape Is Transgender
On Tumblr, a community of Harry Potter scholars has spent years poring over the fantasy series and has come to the only possible conclusion: the Potions professor is a transgender woman.
Illustration by Julia Kuo
In the years after Harry Potter successfully killed the Dark Lord, ending his reign of terror, the characters' creator has publicly unveiled numerous secret aspects of the characters in the Potter universe. In 2007, J.K. Rowling revealed that the ultimate Potter patriarch, Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was gay. In 2015, Rowling publicly suggested that Hermione Granger, the central heroine of the series, very well could have been a young woman of color. Rowling has not said that the misunderstood anti-hero Severus Snape was a transgender woman—yet a growing community of trans Snape scholars is convinced that it's undeniable.
Like all great fandom cultures, the trans Snape community lives on Tumblr. For the last few years, this group of true believers has built their theory through close re-readings of the texts, spurring vivid discourse about Snape's underlying feminine identity. Every year, during the first week of August, they celebrate Trans Snape Week—seven days dedicated to honoring Severus Snape as a trans woman. The festivities include citing excerpts from the source text that point to Snape's true gender identity, drawing fanfic illustrations of Snape as a woman, and even creating trans Snape mood boards. The annual event was created in 2015, by Tumblr user Ensnapingthesenses, a 26-year-old trans man from Spain.
"Within the Harry Potter fandom on Tumblr there's a slowly growing community of people who believe Snape was trans, or choose to explore this possibility; some of us just couldn't stop typing, drawing, or thinking about it, and so Trans Snape Week was born," Ensnapingthesenses said in an interview with Broadly. "Trans Snape Week is really just a place to get together and celebrate, explore, and share: It's spawned all sorts of fanfiction, fanart, literary analysis… We see ourselves reflected in such a complex, interesting, and polarizing figure—which we don't usually get to do, as transgender fans."
Fatuma, an agender person from East Africa, is helping to organize Trans Snape Week 2017, which will be hosted by the Snape Love Posts Tumblr account, a general Snape appreciation blog run by multiple Snape-appreciating Tumblr users, including Fatuma. Fatuma explained to Broadly their belief that J.K. Rowling "coded" Snape to be female to the point that "if she had written Snape as a cisgender woman, no part of Snape's story would be greatly affected." Fatuma agrees with Ensnapingthesenses: There is a strong community of people who believe Snape is trans—and they've got data to support it.
"Recently, a survey of the Snape fandom on Tumblr was conducted, and about 20 percent of the fandom was not cisgender, which is much, much higher than the world average," Fatuma told me. "I think trans people can identify characters who are written as trans because some trans experiences are universal."
"I can't fathom Snape not being trans," Ensnapingthesenses concurred, adding that "the contextual clues all point to it." Even though "the result is never confirmed," he continued, it is also "never outright denied."
"Snape is a character who inhabits a fluid, ambiguous position for most of the narrative—always between two worlds, and often quite literally lurking in the shadows of a room, outside looking in, Ensnapingthe senses said. "Snape reads as someone in the closet, and tragically so."
To understand trans Snape scholarship, you have to immerse yourself into the text. Snape's profession is a useful entry point for this discourse: As Hogwarts' potions teacher, Professor Snape reveals her personal appreciation for the power of potion making in the first book, telling students that "there will be no foolish wand-waving" in her class. In 2011, author Racheline Maltese wrote a compelling, iconic essay about Snape as a female heroine, noting that Snape's seemingly insignificant comment about wands here is actually an early indication to the reader that "this character is, on some level, a rejection of masculinity, especially in light of the many moments of phallic humor wands provide us throughout the series."
When Snape tells the class that she doesn't "expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins," she invokes classically feminine witchcraft symbolism. Ensnapingthesenses affirmed this. "Potion-making and poisons have a long and fascinating history of being associated with femininity," he told me. "But Snape's affinity to potions and her incredible talent have also been interpreted as an effort to find a magical way to transition."
"I like the idea of a teenage Snape researching and modifying potions" Fatuma said. "Not for the fame and money—but to be able to make a potion that can help her transition without side effects." Ensnapingthesenses pointed out that there are potions to "alter one's appearance, and others change physical attributes potentially forever, so how could this not be a very strong contender for magical HRT?"
Snape's affinity to potions and her incredible talent have also been interpreted as an effort to find a magical way to transition.
Trans Snape scholars have also refined their understanding of Snape through her role in Harry Potter's life. We all know that Severus Snape had unrequited love for Harry Potter's mom, Lily, who was married to a macho jerk named James. Although Voldemort murdered them both, Snape's love transcended their death. In a secret arrangement with Dumbledore, and due to an allegiance with Lily, Snape essentially becomes Harry's surrogate mother.
"Snape is, thematically, a stand-in for Lily (Sirius is a stand-in for James)," Fatuma said. In a Tumblr discourse, Ensnapingthesenses explained that "symbolically, boys grow up to replace their fathers; the father prepares them for it, while the mother has a different role and weight in their lives, having a lot to do with managing emotions and seeing things from another perspective." To Ensnapingthesenses, Fatuma, and Maltese, Snape fills that role for Harry.
"Harry and Snape's relationship reminds me more of the interactions between a teenage girl and her mom, where both have anger management issues because they literally reflect it from each other,' Ensnapingthesenses wrote.
There are other notable textual examples to support the trans Snape theory, according to Ensnapingthesenses—small things like, during a flashback in The Deathly Hallows, when the child Snape is seen wearing her mother Eileen's blouse. Compellingly, in The Half-Blood Prince, Harry and Hermione examine Snape's handwriting in an old copy of Advanced Potion Making, not knowing who the self-appointed "Half-Blood Prince" who had written in the margins of the book is. (It turns out to be Snape, and the "prince" moniker is a reference to her mother's maiden name.) An excerpt speaks for itself:
Harry wondered vaguely who the Half-Blood Prince had been. Although the amount of homework they had been given prevented him from reading the whole of his copy of Advanced Potion-Making, he had skimmed through it sufficiently to see that there was barely a page on which the Prince had not made additional notes, not all of them concerned with potion-making. Here and there were directions for what looked like spells that the Prince had made up himself.
'Or herself,' said Hermione irritably, overhearing Harry pointing some of these out to Ron in the common room on Saturday evening. 'It might have been a girl. I think the handwriting looks more like a girl's than a boy's.'
'The Half-Blood Prince, he was called,' Harry said. 'How many girls have been Princes?'
To Ensnapingthesenses, the practice of more feminine associated magical traditions and the feminine curl of a young Snape's script all indicate "a young woman expressing her gender whenever she could, even if it was in secret."
When Snape was coming of age, she was the outcast while her male peers—Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black, and James Potter—banded together as a gang of Gryffindor goofs. In Chapter 28 of The Order of the Phoenix, the Marauders, as they called their clique, publicly disgrace Snape by levitating her into the air, causing her underwear to be exposed.
Lupin seems to continue this teasing into adulthood: In Prisoner of Azkaban, when he becomes professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts, he teaches his students about a being known as a boggart, which dwells in dark, small spaces. (Lupin keeps his boggart in a closet.) A boggart transforms into whatever it is that the person looking upon it fears the most, and it's defeated using the Riddikulus spell, which disempowers the magical creature by making it humorous. For Neville Longbottom, the boggart takes the form of Severus Snape, and when Longbottom casts the Riddikulus spell, the boggart-Snape transforms into Snape in elaborate women's attire, causing the entire class to erupt in laughter.
To Ensnapingthesenses, "Lupin's extremely personal mockery of the Snape-boggart (which comes out of a closet!)" is a powerful example of the way in which Snape was shamed for being feminine.
"I feel like, even closeted, Snape suffered from the prejudices of those around her," Ensnapingthesenses told me. "And I feel that all these incidents make much more sense once you see them in this light. That Snape could be a transgender woman is in itself a concept that doesn't need a solid background to be worth examining—but the background happens to be there."
One of Snape's closely kept secrets was her Patronus charm—a powerful protective spell that manifests as an animal, which spiritually represents the person casting it. Snape and Lily shared the doe patronus, and this has long been interpreted as a symbol of Snape's undying romantic love for Lily. However, that theory becomes much more complicated if she is read as trans.
Trans Snape scholars believe that Snape's Patronus is yet another example of her role as mother to Harry Potter—but more importantly, the female deer is also perceived to be a literal projection of Snape's female gender identity. The fact that the doe is also Lily's Patronus both relates to the fact that Snape replaces Lily in motherhood, but also that Snape, in addition to loving Lily, may have wanted to become a woman like Lily.
Snape is in fact a trans woman.
If you think about it, this interpretation makes more sense than somehow staying in romantic love with your childhood crush, decades after their untimely death. "Snape's relationship with Lily, in many ways, reminds me of relationships I had with cis girls as a child and teen," a trans woman named Lilyana told me. The fact that "Snape's Patronus is the same as Lily's is something besides romantic interest… that the physical and magical embodiment or [Snape's] spirit is the same feminine representation as that of Lily's could absolutely indicate that Snape is in fact a trans woman."
Sharing a patronus with Lily makes Snape unique in the wizarding world—and, in a passive but powerful magical act, the appearance of Snape's doe leads Harry to the Sword of Gryffindor. Maltese wrote that it is this singular scene, out of the entire series, that solidifies Snape as a heroine. "In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Snape takes on [her] most prominently female gendered role in [her] clandestine provision of the true Sword of Gryffindor to Harry through the use of [her] Patronus," Maltese expounded. "In this scene, Snape essentially plays The Lady of the Lake," a literary figure that appears In various pieces of King Arthur literature. The Lady of the Lake gives Arthur the sword Excalibur, not unlike Snape giving Harry the fabled Sword of Gryffindor.
Then there is the matter of Snape's death, where she sacrifices herself for the good of Hogwarts: Snape nobly participates in a pre-arranged plot with Dumbledore, in which she kills the Headmaster at his bequest, allowing her students and closest colleagues to believe that she had secretly remained a servant to Lord Voldemort her entire life. Only after her death is she redeemed.
In general, there is a troubling, well-documented history of queering villains in fiction, something many of the Snape scholars I interviewed acknowledged. Snape transcends this, in their view. "Snape was queer-coded as part of making her villainous," Fatuma explained. "The curious thing is that whenever creators use the 'they were good all along' trope, feminine codes and/or queer-coding is [typically] undone; the character is allowed to be a cisgender and straight. But not Snape."