Nyx Calder and the representation of trans identities in Harry Potter – Part 1

Over the past several months, fans of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series have watched the author use her significant platform to share damaging and deeply hurtful anti-trans content with the world.

For generations of fans who count themselves as allies of the gender diverse community and for trans and non-binary lovers of Harry Potter, the actions of the author have forced them to re-visit the stories and create distance between themselves and the events of Hogwarts that once shaped their childhood.

Nyx Calder

Enter Nyx Calder, the non-binary trans masculine performer and trans advocate currently cast as Scorpius Malfoy in Melbourne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. While Nyx would be the first to say their opinion does not represent that of the entire trans and non-binary community, they have chosen to act on the themes of the play they have brought to life since February and use their position to bring empathy, compassion and deeply personal lived experience to this difficult conversation.

Check back next week for Nyx’s thoughts on trans and gender diverse representation in the wider Australian arts industry, but for now, read on for a discussion specific to the world of Harry Potter. We encourage you to let Nyx’s words act as a lumos spell to enlighten your own educational journey on these issues.

Ally tip: if you come across a word you don’t know in relation to the trans, gender-diverse and non-binary community, please look it up. Here are a few reputable sources: Minus18 glossary, Trevor Project, Trans101

Firstly, I want to acknowledge that this interview has pushed you into an advocacy position over an issue linked with your employment, and I want to thank you for choosing to offer your time and experiences in the field. Can you talk to me about your background and why you’re in a unique position to talk about trans and non-binary representation on the Australian stage?

Nyx: I’ve been acting for 10 or 11 years now, and I’ve been out as a trans person for a little less than that. I have experience as a cis [non-trans] identifying actor, I have experience as a binary trans actor and as a non-binary trans actor. I am a working professional who belongs to this minority community that often gets drawn into the cross fires [of discussions about trans issues] in the media, and I have experience in advocacy work particularly around storytelling to an audience about the trans experience.

Can you talk to me about trans representation in the Australian arts scene, and what it means to be cast in something as big as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child?

Nyx Calder in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Nyx: My experience was that I didn’t realise I was trans-or non-binary for quite a long time. I experienced dysphoria when I was 13 for the first time, I didn’t realise what the word transgender meant until I was 16 and it was another three or so years until I realised that I couldn’t hide from that. Another three years past that point I learned what non-binary is, […] and the reason that it took me so long to have all these revelations is because I didn’t see stories about people like me in the media. I didn’t see myself represented in stories, in fiction, in books or in film. I searched really hard and stories that in theory should have helped me realise who I was were quite inauthentic because they were typically very poor passes at trans characters, or they had a cis person playing the trans role.

I think that that’s a deep, deep crime against the childhoods and the developments of so many people, that they have to fight through what has become the cultural wall of representation to find a story that resonates with them. I think stories are how we build our futures for ourselves, we start to picture what we will be like when we grow up. I didn’t really think I was going to live past the age of 21 because I didn’t see stories of a person like me thriving and being happy or even existing, just getting to be up there.

The about-face that I experienced being cast in something of the size and calibre of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and in the role of Scorpius, a character that feels so deeply like the awkward and authentic and emotional and full of pain young person that I was at that age has been a restorative process for me. It’s been very healing.

Maddi: I know so many young trans and non-binary people who are not reflected in the canon of the Harry Potter world but have carved a space for themselves regardless by adapting the identities of characters to fit their own (whether this be gender identity, sexuality, disability, cultural background or the colour of a character’s skin). Why do you think this particular source material has inspired so many people to create or read into the plot a more inclusive world than is actually represented in the pages?

Sean Rees-Wemyss, left, as Albus Potter and Nyx Calder as Scorpius Malfoy

Nyx: I think because the story to me really reaches out to the othered and the troubled, people who grew up thinking there was something different or wrong about them that they had to hide. It’s very much in the central themes of the books, of belonging to a different world entirely to the point where the one that you exist in feels or is very cruel and hostile to you by the virtue of you simply being who you are. I think there’s an incredible resonance there in minority stories and experiences, it makes total sense to me why these books tap into that for people.

I think the representation in the books is very standard representation for a fantasy story, it doesn’t really go to many different places or people, so I think the easiest way for readers and audiences to pull themselves into that world is to imagine themselves and people like themselves in it. Characters (particularly in books) can be very in line with our personal experiences – I know that my personal experiences are very in line with Scorpius’. When I was first auditioning I so deeply resonated with Scorpius and his experiences that I can only picture him as being someone of my own background. It’s the only thing I can do, I spend too much time in his head to think otherwise.

Maddi: There has been a lot of discussion about cancel culture versus acknowledging and fighting to change the problematic parts of material you love in recent weeks. Should the Harry Potter universe be cancelled, or do you believe there is worth in knowing that our own individual interpretations of the story are valid?

Nyx: My own relationships with the books has become complicated as a result of recent events, and working on this play complicates things further for me. I already spend so much of my time immersing myself in this world (not to mention that I play a character who is the biggest Harry Potter nerd you could imagine as well). I spent so much time with this that I think there is inherent value and worthiness in people‘s love for these stories, I think they can’t belong to any one person any more. They’ve become much larger than that.

This doesn’t excuse the problems [we are currently facing], but I think fighting for the thing you love and trying to change it for the better is absolutely a worthy goal for something like Harry Potter that has had such a positive impact on people‘s lives. We can’t be completely closed off to the drawbacks and the problems that lie within [the current context of the material] but like with all art we have to address the issues we have with the content to figure out how we will adapt it.

In terms of the play and material outside the Harry Potter world, I think one of the best ways to address these issues is to embrace diverse characters and casting. I think a lot of stories that fall into the category of having issues representing minority identities correctly can really be softened by filling a cast and its creative teams with diverse people. A story being filled with diverse people and a degree of flexibility and love can really allow something to transcend its time. There’s so many stories that we would be completely robbing ourselves of if they had to be completely without issue. I am not excusing anyone’s individual actions or what they have written, those parts are still difficult and not entirely dealt with by any means at this stage, but I think that there’s a lot more to be gained from transforming the work instead of forgetting it.

Maddi: It’s interesting to me that the Harry Potter world preaches love over any sort of discrimination, and because of the prevalence of this theme in the books J.K. Rowling has almost custom created a generation who will fight vocally against her transphobic comments. What do you think the legacies are of Harry Potter in the world and amongst fans, particularly when it comes to the idea that love is a magic that will transcend and fight against discrimination?

Nyx: I think it’s an incredible message, and something that endures in spite of all the recent upset. I think that the legacy of preaching love and tolerance, and the possibility of the unassuming to be great and powerful, to be inherently good at heart despite what others think, is a beautiful sentiment regardless of where it has come from. I think part of the legacy specific to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is that the play is a fitting sequel to the books because it really does delve into the fact that our heroes can never be perfect. No heroes can be. Inevitably someone will make a mistake and someone [you look up to] will be the antagonist in a situation, even when by all accounts they should be the hero. I think that’s the most important thing that I take away from Cursed Child. Harry Potter as a character is a very flawed individual and I don’t think we can escape from that description. I think using the play and hindsight as a way to examine the beautiful messages of Harry Potter and also to interrogate some of its stickier bits will be the most important and enduring part of its legacy.

Click here for part two of Nyx’s interview, focussing on trans representation on the Australian stage and how our industry can be better allies to trans and non-binary people.

Maddi Ostapiw

Maddi is a performer who has been too scared to stand in the spotlight for the last few years, so she channels her need for love and appreciation into writing about the theatre instead. An energetic consumer of musical theatre, she is currently earning a degree in journalism and teaches voice in her small hometown. Maddi is normally covered in cat fur, has an opinion on everything, and in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not throwing away her shot.

Maddi Ostapiw

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