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Dumbledore Is Gay: Good Guys and Literary Closets

Every single person I have ever met in my life has sent me this piece of news.

I wonder why. :-)

Dumbledore_2The news: J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books (yes, I’m a fan, suck it up), announced recently that the headmaster character, Dumbledore, is gay. It came up at a recent reading at Carnegie Hall; a fan asked about Dumbledore’s love life, and Rowling answered, “My truthful answer to you… I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” She went on to explain that Dumbledore had been in love with the wizard Grindelwald in his youth, and that Grindelwald turning out to be evil was the great tragedy of Dumbledore’s life.

Half_blood_prince_movie(As it turns out, the subject of Dumbledore’s sexual orientation had come up previously during the making of one of the movies; the director had some reference in the script to a girl in Dumbledore’s past, and Rowling had to pass him a note to gently point him off that track.)

I pretty much have just three things to say about this:

One: Neat.

Dumbledore_1I think it’s cool that Dumbledore is the moral center of the book, the apotheosis of goodness, the one character that all the good guys look to for both political and ethical leadership.

And he’s gay.

That’s just nifty.

Two: I think it’s too bad she couldn’t have said so in the books themselves.

Heather_has_two_mommiesDon’t get me wrong. I totally understand why she didn’t. If she’d made Dumbledore overtly gay in the books, then in the general public eye, that’s what the books would have been about. Everything else that the books are about — moral complexity, the realities of a resistance movement, what it’s like to be a child growing up and figuring out that the adult world is seriously messed-up, all the lovely and ridiculous magic stuff — would have become suddenly and dramatically secondary. It would have become the children’s book series about the wizarding school with the gay headmaster. It would have become the seven-volume fantasy version of “Heather Has Two Mommies.” I think it was the right decision, and if I’d been Rowling, I would have done exactly the same thing.

I just think that’s too bad.

I think it’s too bad that we live in a world where the mere presence of a major gay character in a children’s book automatically makes it a Kids’ Book About Gay.

DracoI think it’s too bad that I now have to wonder: How many other characters did Rowling envision as gay, but wasn’t able to say so? (My money’s on Draco…)

I think it’s too bad that the single most popular author in the known universe, the one author who could write her own ticket more than any author living today, still had to keep the gayness of one of her central characters a secret until the series was completed.

AwrinkleintimeIt is better now than it used to be, forty years ago or even twenty. Imagine if L. Frank Baum had announced that Glinda the Good Witch was gay. Or Tolkein with Gandalf. Or Madeleine L’Engle with Mrs. Whatsit. There would have been a shitstorm. But it’s a different time now, and the people who are mostly going to be upset about Dumbledore are the fundies who aren’t buying the books anyway because they promote witchcraft.

Harry_potter_sorcerers_stoneBut I still think we have a long way to go. I still think it’s still too bad that a major children’s book can’t have a major gay character in it without that becoming the central defining feature of the book.

Maybe in twenty years.

Harry_potter_deathly_hallowsThree: Now I have to read the whole series again. Or the last book, anyway.

Damn. What a shame.

SnapeOh, and P.S.: Snape.

No, I’m not saying he’s gay. I’m just saying: Snape. Because I am constitutionally incapable of writing an entire Harry Potter post without mentioning Snape.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve tried to identify any kind of internal reaction to this. I have failed.
    I find my conception of the books and in particular, the character of Dumbledore is not in the least affected by Dumbledore’s sexuality.
    Seriously, it doesn’t alter anything about how I see the story.
    Maybe if I reread all the books in that light I might be able to identify the odd moment that had a slightly different resonance, but I suspect such effects will be fairly minor.
    This is supposed to be big news, but really it matters so little to that story. If he was in a relationship with one of the characters in the books, that would obviously affect the relationship with that character, but that really has at most only a little to do with his relationships with everyone else.
    I think perhaps its because in my mind Dumbledore is such an incredibly strong, heroic character – the information about his sexual orientation is not going to dominate that well established stuff. It’s a bit like suddenly discovering that he bathes wearing a floppy green hat.
    If he was a very vaguely defined character it might have a larger effect on my impression of him, but then he wouldn’t be the major character he is, so I’d care less about the character, and the overall effect on the story would be similarly modest.
    I hope that some time very soon this kind of information about a character could be put in a book without it totally skewing what the book is about.

  2. says

    I have kind of mixed feelings about this. You make some good points, but so does one of my other queer blog friends who said “In American history, being grateful for the scraps massuh throws you has never worked as a strategy for gaining a full and equal place at the table.”: http://toddshammer.wordpress.com/2007/10/21/dumbledore-is-gay-part-two-or-why-rowling-was-wrong-to-keep-dumbledore-in-the-closet/
    p.s. Snape. I want to say it too, even though he’s not relevant to this post. ;)

  3. car says

    Probably not Draco, because at the end of the last book he’s got a wife and child. Aside from that, though, maybe! I always thought of Sirius as gay, dunno why. And somewhat McGonagall.
    I would have liked more obviousness with Dumbledore, too. It wouldn’t have had to be outright, just a little more on how he loved the other guy, a few sentences that could be interpreted as platonic love or romantic love. Some little clue.

  4. says

    The world as whole is slowly moving towards increasing sexual but, yes, it will take maybe another century before gay does not equal “ugly” in the minds of most people – the press included. All that buzz about Dumbledore being gay tell us how disturbing is this matter… If Rowling had said that Dumbledore used to be a bloody violent hooligan in his youth, no one would have written more than a couple of lines about it…

  5. Skeptyk says

    As I was reading the last book, I said to my son that I had read Dumbledore as gay for a couple of books (it made sense to me and, yes, it pleased me) and it was nice to see something of his adolescent love for Gellert. The relationship, and its fallout, both challenge, and eventually mold, Albus’ very compassionate, humane ethical sense.
    Dumbledore was always forgiving of others’ youthful missteps, it is part of what makes him a good headmaster.
    As for Draco, well, I still think he’s gay. He would not be the first gay man living with, and even loving, a wife, because it is what his culture expects of him. And I do not mean wider wizardworld culture, but the rich racist culture of the fading aristocracy the Malfoy’s represent. Malfoy would be just another closeted Republican, IMO. Pity him (and if he tries to take our rights away, out him).
    I also do not think, despite what JKR just announced, that grup Harry is an auror. So there. I kind of wish Rowling would shut up about the backstory and future of her characters. Let the fans do all that now. Her very authorship gives such, well, AUTHORity to her pronouncements that it may extinguish the creativity of fanfic and daydreams.
    Part of the charm of having a huge impact on a huge readership in the blogosphere is the creative ways the fans carry forward the story, and the world made in the books, individually and collectively.
    I know that Tolkein spent more years than JK has been alive tweaking and fleshing out Middle Earht and all of Ardas, but, significantly, that world did niot intersect this real world at any point. Harry’s world IS mostly our world, except for these wizards, and their culture intersects ours about as much as the Rom or the Travellers do, which is to say, not much.
    Oh, I am rambling. Blame the drugs. I am taking some powerful pharmaceuticals for a walking pneumonia (and a boogie woogie flu).
    PS: Snape.

  6. says

    I haven’t finished reading the series yet, because I only read up to each movie. But I had two reactions to hearing that.
    1) neat
    2) so what?
    I agree with all your points on our society’s reactions to homosexuality with regards to this book. But Dumbledore’s sexuality is completely neutral to the story. He is not a romantic figure, he is a father-figure and a political/social leader. Who he schtupps in his spare time (or did in his past) is totally irrelevant to the story.
    I think it’s great that such a popular series includes a gay character in such a prominent and positive position within the story.
    I also think it’s seriously annoying that a big deal has to be made over it, just as a big deal has to be made over anyone’s sexuality that doesn’t include non-consensual harm.
    “OMG, Dumbledore is gay!”
    Yeah, so what? It’s just as good of a story as it was before I knew that.

  7. Willo the Wisp says

    I have mixed feelings about this. What’s the use in revealing this now the series is over? There’s nothing in the books that suggests that Dumbledore is gay.
    On the other hand, it’s nice to have a gay character who is just incidentally gay. More often than not, a gay character’s sexuality is woven into the plot in a way that a hetero’s never is. They’re often used to teach the straight characters/audience/readers lessons about love, and if there’s a gay couple one of them usually has to die, again teaching the straight characters something about love in the process.

  8. ssjessiechan says

    I have to agree with you on this one. I was surprised that she announced it like that, but not that it was true. I must admit I suspected it a bit already, and it has truly shaped him into the great character that he became as an adult.
    However, was she right to hold it back? Let the story be the story she was trying to right, and not become a big argument about something else entirely? While I have to agree that yes, it would be nice if she had taken a stand, bust him out of the closet and made him shake his booty in the hater’s faces… what would that have accomplished? Only destroying the vision of the story she WANTED to write, and possibly losing the loyalty of fans who might feel the sudden shift of focus contrived.
    On the other hand… letting Dumbledore’s gay-ness NOT be headline news… strikes me as being progressive in itself. If someone tells me they have an outie belly button I don’t suddenly change my opinion of them. Finding a character has green eyes after all doesn’t make me do a quick survey of my moral compass. The fact that his sexuality is personal to him and NOT a contrived plot point makes it more real. Dumbledore was a real person who had real problems, real desires, and real love–and just because he was “different” than the “norm”, doesn’t mean that had to be a lesson in tolerance or a martyr for love. He was who he was, and we love him for it.
    Though I can’t be certain this was her intention, I must say that my respect for Rowling has only increased.
    Though I agree on the point about letting us do the fanfiction part. ^_~
    Snnnnnaaaaaape! (PS, did anyone else play SNAPE bingo at the last release? Yelling it is FUN.)

  9. Eclectic says

    “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay”. But ultimately she didn’t make a firm decision, because she didn’t have to take a position. Because it doesn’t matter to the story. Because, guess what, people are more than their sexual urges.
    I think even the most monomaniacal sex writer has to agree with that. (Unless you’re counting Sigmund Freud.)
    All this kerfuffle over a world-class wizard makes me think about Bella Abzug’s line on equality: “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”
    Oh, and as for patently flaming characters, how about dear old Gilderoy?

  10. Josie says

    More on the terribly important issue of whether the epilogue, assuming we don’t ignore it, guarantees the characters’ sexual orientation: If memory serves, the epilogue information is 20 years in the future. So, not only could Draco, for example, be closeted, he could also discover his true sexual orientation at 38 or whatever he’d be then, and proceed to make up for lost time,and fans could write lots of porn about it. Just a suggestion…
    snapesnapesnapesnape

  11. S. A. Bonasi says

    Rereading certain parts of the seventh book is downright lovely. I’ll give Rowling credit; she wrote the Dumbledore/Grindelwald relationship as gay…just without using the g-word.

  12. Pi Guy says

    I will look for clues to his sexuality when I re-read the series (planned for next summer if I can wait that long) but, as most have noted here, who gives a flying fuck? I can’t see how that would make Dumbledore’s influence or noble pursuit of goodness any less.
    Snape…

  13. says

    I’m bisexual and have the rather amusing habit of reading all characters – except rampant homophobes, whom I tend to read as so deep in the closet they have a hanger up their ass – as, erm, situationally flexible when it comes to sexuality. (It also makes for great fanfic.)
    It’s a good place, in my opinion, being able to appreciate the view around us without hangups about the body. That’s me, however, and I know most people don’t agree with me. :) Their loss.
    At one point or another, I’ve read Dumbledore, Snape, Lupin and Sirius, even Harry a couple times, as gay. Just because. In a world with werewolves, shape change spells and pretty damn cool tricks like the Floo network and Apparition, what matter the gender as long as everyone is happy?
    Ah, well, maybe in another few decades, it won’t matter and our grandchildren (okay, someone else’s grandchildren, since I’m childfree) will look back and think we were nuts and making too much out of something that is normal and natural.
    oh, and Snape….yummy. Always worth a mention. :)

  14. Patience says

    Ginny was clearly at least bi. She played for the Hollyhead Harpies–the feminist, implied dyke team. Adding a layer of non-heterosexuality into the already weird relationship she has with Harry only makes it more interesting (he loves her because she looks like his dead mother? Wtf?).
    Tonks was a dyke (had the hots for Hermione, naturally), and Remus was terminally in love with Sirius (who probably rather dallied about with James, causing abject jealousy and unrequited love on Remus’ part). I remain convinced theirs was a sham marriage and probably an open one. I suspect an open marriage with Bill and Fleur, too, but that could be all the porn I’ve read to that effect speaking.
    Draco always seemed like a repressed gay man to me, too. Snape was asexual, though, except possibly in conjunction with Hermione.
    I think what pissed me off about the epilogue was actually just how much everyone had conformed to the stereotyped expectations others had for them. Hermione and Ron had been set up as romatic foils from the start, so despite their gross incompatibility, they felt compelled to get married. Same with Harry and Ginny, and every other pairing mentioned. No one there was gay. Funny, that.
    The best post DH fanfic I’ve read is Inell’s (currently unfinished) ‘Worth the Wait’ which deals with Hermione and Ron’s divorce, and her affair with Teddy Lupin.

  15. says

    “Snape was asexual, though…”
    NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!
    Have you gone completely mad, woman? :-)
    BTW, I totally agree with you about the epilogue. Everyone marrying their childhood sweethearts and living happily ever after. Yeah, right. It needed at least one messy divorce. But then, romantic relationships never were Rowling’s strong suit. Almost all of them just seem deus ex machina to me.

  16. a. says

    Arguing about the sexuality of fictional characters… why does it remind me so much of Christianity? :)

  17. Anonymous says

    do you really have any proof that he is gay??? i mean really-just because he has a problem with his love-life doesn’t mean he is gay! besides he is an old man! on the other hand, he was embarrassed to tell about his love-life and that is a big problem! I bet that somebody that he falls in love with, even if they don’t love him back, will marry him for his money anyway! i mean he has been in lord of the ring and Harry Potter and those are two HUGE success movies. he sholuld have loads!

  18. says

    Late to join the party here. . . I was just clicking around the Web, looking for something to read while I procrastinated (and my housemate was slowly driving us both insane by playing Freezepop’s “Shark Attack” over and over again), and I realized that the thing which interests me most here is how it provides a concrete realization, a sort of readily accessible laboratory for investigating what might otherwise be rather abstruse issues. What **happens** when we read a book? What sorts of information do we employ in building the world of a story in our heads, and why do we consider some types of information legitimate and not others?
    Some people were happy that the Harry Potter books got all those small children into reading. I’m happy that the Dumbledore-is-gay fracas made questions of literary theory less, well, “academic”.
    Snapesnapesnape. . . .

  19. j says

    This makes me happy not for any, whatever, societal reasons or something, but just because I have been fantasizing about the dumbledore/grindelwald relationship since i read the book and i am now proven to be a harry potter genius.
    awesome

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