Yes, I was surprised that JK Rowling announced to a packed audience that Dumbledore–the wizened wizard of Harry Potter World–was gay. Frank Beekman was there. I was surprised when I read the news, because aside from him being a single headmaster of a British boarding school, nothing about him seemed remotely gay to me. (At least on the page. Michael Gambon’s film characterization is wee bit femme-y.) My gaydar didn’t go off whatsoever while reading the books, which is a problem, considering that there are several hundred characters wandering about through those seven books and none of them were described as even fey. Even wimpy Neville Longbottom, who had the gayest name, turned out to be Mr. Heroic Last Second Man and ended up marrying some other minor female character. So, yes, the Dumbledore being gay was surprising. And utterly awful.
Instead of synthesizing what others have said and making it sound original, I’ll just post some choice quotes, with the occasional commentary.
Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore hardly destroyed the closet around the fictional character. On the contrary, she only pointed out how tightly those closet doors were sealed.
If we are to now read Dumbledore’s experiences as those of a gay man, then the image he presents of our lives is an unhappy and empty one. Think I am being unfair? Let’s review the stereotypes that Rowling used to “hint” at Dumbledore’s true desires:
- His childhood was marked by a violent/absentee father, an overbearing mother, and dysfunctional siblings (Did Rowling consult Freud for her views on homosexuality?).
- His one and only love interest, Grindelwald, turned out to be a psychopathic killer.
- His one and only love interest was unrequited.
- The rest of his life is riddled with loneliness, despair, guilt, and regret.
- His adult brother, Aberforth Dumbledore, is hinted to be into bestiality (on several occasions) with goats.
Despite his many magical powers, Dumbledore is not much of a queer hero. By the last book, he seems tangled in a web of pathology created by his unhappy homelife. His adult queer desires for Grindelwald are rejected and misplaced.
Indeed, the question at Carnegie Hall that prompted Rowling’s revelation asked if Dumbledore knew “true love” in his life. In response, the author stated, “Dumbledore is gay.” Are we to assume that being gay precludes the possibility of true love? Were Dumbledore’s queer desires not “true love,” but a twisted mistake? This seems more than confirmed when Rowling declared that Dumbledore’s love was his “great tragedy.” Boy, howdy, when has gay love not been perceived of as a tragedy in the hetero media? I’ll just gesture in the general direction of Brokeback Mountain.
It seems like a case of J.K. Rowling trying to retroactively bestow a level of adult complexity on her characters that they don’t possess on the printed page. A writer confident in her powers wouldn’t feel the need to announce details like this after the fact. [Well, she shouldn’t be confident. She’s a hack. The last book was so badly plotted, written, and ended that I was embarrassed to have paid money for it. –Ed.]
Rowling may have had the best intentions, but her execution ultimately undermines any attempt that she thought she was making for tolerance, because she gave us a closeted, lonely, dis-integrated character. If she had really wanted to argue for tolerance at the level of sexuality, Dumbledore’s sexuality would have been woven into his character and fully integrated JUST AS IT WAS FOR ALL THE STRAIGHT CHARACTERS. As it happens, she wrote a closeted, pathetic, tragic homosexual character, and then outed him after the fact. She can keep those table scraps.
And, finally, my absolute favorite article is by John Cloud at Time:
But as far as we know, Dumbledore had not a single fully realized romance in 115 years of life. That’s pathetic, and a little creepy. It’s also a throwback to an era of pop culture when the only gay characters were those who committed suicide or were murdered. As Vito Russo’s The Celluloid Closet: Homosexuality in the Movies (1981) points out, in film after film of the mid-century—Rebel Without a Cause; Rebecca; Suddenly, Last Summer—the gay characters must pay for their existence with death. Like a lisping weakling, Dumbledore is a painfully selfless, celibate, dead gay man, so forgive me if I don’t see Rowling’s revelation as great progress.
Am I making too much of this? Undoubtedly. Some of the best Star Trek fan fiction—and there is so much you couldn’t read it all in a lifetime—involves steamy Kirk-Spock love affairs. [As I’ve mentioned in the past. –Ed.] So it will be with the Potter world, as Rowling has acknowledged. Lasting books cease to be their authors’ property; we are now all free to imagine a gay life more whole and fulfilling than the one Rowling gave Dumbledore. But it would have been better if she had just left the old girl to rest in peace.
And that’s that. Thanks, JK, but, really, you should have kept it to yourself. Or written better books.