‘The Owl House’ Versus ‘Harry Potter’: Magic School Shows, Queer Representation and Medical Autonomy

We need new stories, that better represent human diversity and actively seek to include as many different voices as possible. The Owl House was one of those stories. I know there will be more.

Protesters hold signs in support of trans rights during a Harry Potter-themed anti-government rally at the Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, on Aug. 3, 2020. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP via Getty Images)

The series finale of The Owl House premiered last weekend on the Disney Channel. And just this month, Warner Bros announced a new decade-long TV series adaptation of all seven Harry Potter books.

Like many millennials, I grew up reading the Harry Potter series. One day, when I was 8, my dad came home from work and announced he had a surprise for me. He pulled out a paperback copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and we started reading it aloud together that very night.

I was severely bullied as a child, and I found solace in those books. There were stretches of time where I didn’t have any friends my age. But I had Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley and Luna Lovegood. They were the kinds of girls I wished I knew in real life.

Being “friends” with these fictional girls also contributed to my development as a feminist. I loved Hermione’s unabashed nerdiness and love for books. I admired Ginny’s sportiness and the way she always told it like it is. And most of all, I loved Luna: Kids bullied her for being different, just like me. But she never abandoned her weird interests and rituals. All three—along with other complex women and girls in the series—inspired me to stand up for myself, quirks and all.

What I didn’t understand at the time was that I was autistic. I connected with these stories more deeply than other children. They weren’t just entertainment—they were part of me. They became a “special interest” (or, as some in the autistic community call them, a “spin”) into which I poured countless hours of attention. I can’t tell you how many times I reread the Harry Potter books, but the frayed covers and fingerprinted pages show how much I loved them.

I’m now in my 30s, and my relationship with Harry Potter has changed in ways that would break the heart of my 8-year-old self. I still have my collection of books—ironically, stacked in a pile in a closet. They’re there if I ever need to refer to them, but I can’t bring myself to sit down and read them for fun. Instead, I’ve turned to other media to satisfy my urge to connect with that magic school “spin.”

I started watching Disney’s The Owl House sometime last year after numerous friends encouraged me to check it out. I was captivated from the very first episode. A neurodivergent-coded girl named Luz Noceda stumbles into a realm inhabited by witches and demons. She meets Eda the Owl Lady, the self-proclaimed “most powerful witch on the Boiling Isles,” who becomes her mentor. In subsequent episodes, she meets a diverse cast of witchy characters of different races and genders.

The Owl House, Dana Terrace’s supernatural animated series for the Disney Channel, tells the story of a teen girl named Luz Noceda (Sarah Nicole-Robles), who enters a demon realm to become a witch. (Disney Channel)

Although I don’t share Luz’s Latina identity, I found her relatable. Even more than the girls in Harry Potter, Luz was so me when I was her age.

Throughout the show’s three seasons, we see her obsessing over her hyperfixation: a book series about a brown-skinned witch named Azura. Luz frequently tries to emulate Azura, copying her catchphrases like, “See ya, sucka!”

Because Luz is human, not a witch born in the Boiling Isles, she must learn to do magic by writing glyphs that draw on the magic in her environment. I read the glyphs as an accommodation for a disability. At other points in the show, other characters become unable to use magic and take on Luz’s glyph method for casting spells. This mirrors the reality that anybody can become temporarily or permanently disabled in their lifetime.

In addition to providing sorely needed positive disability representation, The Owl House had all the queer characters Harry Potter was missing. Its creator, Dana Terrace, gave us more than just a closeted gay wizard and problematic queer-coding.

We don’t need another Harry Potter adaptation. We don’t need a rich, white, abled, cisgender, heterosexual woman with limited feminist views representing or speaking for us.

Terrace gave us a canonically bisexual protagonist, giving Luz an underrepresented identity and ensuring her bisexuality would not be erased. We got a heroic nonbinary character who uses they/them pronouns (Raine, an old flame of Eda’s who I swear is still in love with her). And perhaps most exciting and progressive of all, we got not one, not two, but three kisses between Luz and Amity. We’ve come a long way since the gayest thing I could find on TV in the ‘90s was Sailor Moon, whose sapphic relationship between Haruka and Michiru was awkwardly censored in the U.S.

While other queer media has fallen short in recent years due to networks’ concerns about portraying explicitly queer relationships, The Owl House delivered. Unfortunately, the show was abruptly canceled, and although fans are celebrating the show’s artfully made finale, they are also mourning what was, for many, one of the first truly representative shows.

Just a few days later, the Harry Potter TV series was announced, with J.K. Rowling as an executive producer. This is amid controversy about statements she has made online that many regard as transphobic, as well as ableist—having suggested that autistic trans people are being manipulated into transitioning, when really, we’re just confused.

This rhetoric isn’t just painful to read—it does real, lasting, material harm to the trans and autistic communities.

Minutes after I read about that announcement, I saw this Twitter thread talking about the attorney general of Missouri’s “emergency” rule barring not only transgender minors, but also trans adults with depression and autistic trans adults from receiving gender-affirming medical care.

I am privileged in that my medical needs as a nonbinary person have been limited. I haven’t needed a prescription for testosterone—my body produces enough of it on its own, thanks to my polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Although there are things I would like to change about my body, nothing causes me enough distress to require surgical intervention … except my reproductive organs. But let’s be honest: Not even cis women are considered self-knowledgeable enough to get a voluntary hysterectomy.

Transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people are living through scary times. There has been an onslaught of legislation and executive orders in recent weeks that challenges our right to medical freedom. Much of this legislation has targeted trans youth, arguing that minors are not capable of making these decisions for themselves. But Missouri’s emergency order and bills introduced in South Carolina and Oklahoma in February also seek to prevent trans adults from accessing the medical care they need. This sets a terrifying precedent for U.S. medical freedom in general, along with the Roe v. Wade overturn last summer and recent reductions in access to abortion pills.

What comfort can any of us find in times like this? I find myself turning to research and writing as a form of activism, and to my “spins” for emotional comfort. But how I engage with them has changed over the years.

I grew up, and the bullying didn’t last forever. I have a lot of friends who celebrate my neurodivergence and queerness, rather than ostracize me for it. In that sense, I don’t need magical school stories the same way I did as a child. Now, it’s more about connecting past and present, and seeing how I’ve changed since the ‘90s and how the genre has. Most of all, it’s about knowing the generations growing up after mine are more likely to see themselves in the books they read and the cartoons they watch.

From where I’m standing, we don’t need another Harry Potter adaptation. We don’t need a rich, white, abled, cisgender, heterosexual woman with limited feminist views representing or speaking for us.

Feminism isn’t just for the most privileged women in the world—it’s for all of us. It’s for autistic trans men who know with all their heart that they’re men. It’s for Latinas with ADHD who love snakes, spiders and books about witches. It’s for trans girls who were bullied and saw themselves in Hermione, Ginny or Luna, just like I did, and learned the author they idolized was just another bully. It’s for lesbians who are sick of straight women using our identities to justify their transphobia. It’s for people with disabilities who just want to be treated like people and make our own decisions about our lives.

What we need are new stories. Better stories. Stories that better represent human diversity and actively seek to include as many different voices as possible.

Terrace’s The Owl House was one of those stories, and while I’m heartbroken it ended sooner than it should have, I know there will be more.

Toni Morrison once said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” If you have a story to share with the world, especially if you don’t see people like you writing those stories, please believe me: Your story matters.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Kaelyn Ireland (they/she) is an early-career scholar currently studying political discourse around reproductive justice issues and how it is represented in contemporary popular media. They are pursuing an M.A. in American Studies from Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, GA.