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26 October 2007

The Inevitable Post about Dumbledore

"The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance,"
-JK Rowling

I find with all things Harry Potter, that I really enjoy it, until I start thinking, and then I get irritated. It was the same with Rowling's recent announcement about Dumbledore's sexuality.

At first I thought "awesome! positive gay characters in children's literature!"

And then I thought 4 things.

Thing #1
"He is my character. He is what he is and I have the right to say what I say about him."
Once your book is published, it doesn't belong to you anymore. It belongs to your readers. Let THEM tell YOU what happens next, not the other round.

Thing #2
"If I'd known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!"
No. You should have announced it years ago anyway. You should have put it in the books. You are probably the most influential human being in the world for young people. You have more power to influence young people's attitudes than the United Nations, Sesame Street and their parents combined. You had an opportunity to present them with a positive gay role model, and you chose not to, I assume, because you were scared of the reaction from the religious right.

Thing #3
[Rowling] didn't feel the need to be explicit about Dumbledore's sexual preferences because she wanted to focus on character development.
I'm going to skip over the fact that many gay people might find that sentence deeply offensive.
Dumbledore was brave. Dumbledore liked to stick it to the Man (no pun intended). Dumbledore was never afraid to tell anyone his opinion, no matter how powerful or dangerous they were.
Except no one in the Harry Potter world knew he was gay. Not Harry, or anyone else that we know of. So he was in the closet.
So if a man as open and brave as Dumbledore felt he needed to keep his sexuality a secret - exactly what kind of a world is the Potterverse? How homophobic must the world be for Dumbledore to conceal such an important part of his identity? That's not a "positive message" at all, or a "prolonged argument for tolerance". It's sad and regressive and scary.

Thing #4
Seriously. Like Rita Skeeter wouldn't have known and put it in her book.


Kate C said...

I'm very ambivalent about the whole gay Dumbledore thing. I don't know that we do know that "no one knew" -- it just didn't come up in the context of the story (except in the backstory about Grindelwald, of course, where it would have made perfect sense to at least give a hint for more sophisticated readers that Albus was infatuated -- I'll have to look again; maybe JK actually did that and I was too dense to pick it up).

I'm not sure how Rowling could have just dropped it into the story -- oh, by the way, Harry, though this has nothing to do with the story, I'm gay? For all we know Albus and Minvera McGonagall sat around of an evening over a glass of Firewhiskey discussing their next visit to the Kweer Klub in Diagon Alley, or whatever the Potterverse equivalent might be.

Or MAYBE it never came up because in the wizarding world, nobody cares? Wouldn't that be great?

But yes, I do take the point that it could have done a whole lotta good to get it/him "out" earlier -- and let's face it, by book 7, the Hogwarts Express was unstoppable. Such reticence seems, well, wussy, and less than Gryffindor-worthy!

Jellyfish said...

As your previous commenter says, I just wish she'd woven in some hints for us discerning older readers. I mean, there always seemed to be a lively gay subtext lurking about (in the tradition of all good english boarding school stories) and plenty of people have easily read Tonks or McGonagall as gay, to name just a couple... Seriously, Joanne, you couldn't have thrown us a freaking clue? Must we beg for everything from you like rat-pellets? Especially in the Grindelwald stuff. (I mean, if even Dollard didn't pick up on it, I refuse to believe there's anything there.) Suddenly announcing it now now is just lame, and smacks of what I believe the fangirls call 'retcon.' SUCKS.

I'm also sorry that it puts paid to Byron's theory that Dumbledore was fucking Madame Pomfrey ('Well, he's always calling her Poppy...')

Anonymous said...

All salient points, especially number 3. It seems to me to either be a convenient afterthought to continue driving publicity, or a gutless decision she took to not out D'dore during the writing of the story because of the religious right (who were already deeply divided over HP). Or - third option - her characterisation of D'dore was so cliched that she couldn't bear to disturb the frailty of that cliche through introducing something about the characer that was ... I don't know, interesting.

Shannon said...

When I first heard about this (on Salon -- excellent article if you want to look it up) my first thought was that immortal line from "Heathers":

"I love my dead gay son!"

Where the unspoken but crystal-clear question screams out: yes, but would you love him gay if he wasn't dead?

Dumbledore alive and gay? Problematic for JK.

But she loves her dead gay wizard...

Susanne said...

Good post. She felt free to be explicit about Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny's sexual preference, as well as most of the other heterosexual characters, so this seems like a cop-out.

Why not put it in the books? Is it because the books are aimed at kids? All the more reason to present them with a range of sexual preferences beyond the heterosexual norm I think.

Budgie said...

Not that this has anything to do with yor post, but why did you e-mail me about this?