Since you know me well (I think that we are close like that), it will come as no surprise that I can’t help but think of the good and bad with this announcement. Well, okay, I mostly think of the bad. Hey, this is a blog entitled the Center of Gravitas. Go elsewhere for images of My Little Pony and recipes for gumdrop cookies.
On the good side, it’s great that such a well-loved childhood figure will now have a legend of gayness around him. Those “in the know” will inform new readers about the author’s statements about Dumbledore. It will surely go into the Potter lore.
In some ways, of course, I appreciate Rowling’s effort to gay-up Dumbledore. Aside from Harry himself, Dumbledore was probably the character that captured most people’s imaginations. His death in book six (Should I have mentioned there would be spoilers here?) left many faithful readers feeling like they had lost a close friend.
For those who don’t know the Potter story (My God, how have you managed that?), a young orphan boy is rescued from his abusive guardians with the discovery that he is eligible to attend a special school for wizards. Well, except that the school is only open nine months a year and the wizarding version of social services is apparently quite inadequate. So, Harry gets returned annually to face cigarette burns and beatings for the summers (when he can’t use his magic to defend himself).
On his way to the school, he hears the legend of Dumbledore. According to
It comes as little surprise that many real-life queer adults (and probably queer kids) found the Harry Potter stories appealing. All tales of magic tap into some basic fantasies about control and power. The queer, though, are also often attracted to narratives involving the sudden revelation of hidden worlds or exposed secrets. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Harry literally lived in a closet up until the events of the first book.
I had therefore been annoyed that Rowling had failed to make any of her characters explicitly queer. This latest turn of events, sad to say, does not really help us.
Now I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but a gay Dumbledore is not much of an improvement on the same old queer images that we have seen elsewhere in the popular media. 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.
Obviously, I don’t imagine that Rowling conceives of herself as hostile or homophobic. She means well – I hope.
Still, Dumbledore fits a particular type of queer image that makes heterosexuals feel comfortable. He is helpful, attentive, a good listener, asexual, and a little sad. Dumbledore never once discusses his own sexuality or acts on it (given the tragic results that happened the one time that he did, who could blame him?). He certainly never burdens the heterosexuals around him by making them think about his sexuality, either. Instead, he does what all gay men should do: Devotes his life to helping good, heterosexual men and (sometimes) women achieve their goals. He is so devoted to helping the heterosexual hero in the books that he even returns from the grave to do so.
While Dumbledore is immensely powerful, he never uses that power to advance his own cause or to help his fellow queer wizards and witches. Heck, he can’t even be bothered to conjure up a disco ball and some mojitos for the local gay bar. Instead, he always marshals his magic to shore up the inherent strength of Harry the hetero. When he isn’t doing that, he also serves Harry some candy and shores up his ego. All the while, we are to believe, Dumbledore is secretly tormented because he will never find true love as (because he is?) a gay man.
Imagine Dumbledore as a magical mix between Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the long-suffering Martha Dobie from The Children’s Hour. One can imagine Dumbledore vacillating between crying to Harry “I’m so guilty” and advising “You should always start applying wizarding cream from the back of your head.”
Moreover, by only revealing Dumbledore’s sexuality outside of the actual text, Rowling has kept up the notion that queer men and women are not appropriate content for children's literature, much less a reality of their world. Even Uncle Arthur was a more explicitly gay figure.
Dumbledore’s outing is therefore an unhappy compromise for queer visibility. Sure we get to claim his swirling robes as our own. We can even marvel at the firworks he creates that would make the Fourth of July on Boston Harbor seem like a sparkler in a wet saucer.
What we still don’t get, though, is an actual hero who reflects our realities. Queer youth, in particular, don’t get to see the real queer heroism of an individual fighting for the right to love and/or ball whomever he wants. We don’t see individuals making a space for themselves with almost no support from anywhere else in society as hostile attacks rain down on them.
Instead, we get Dumbledore, who simply gave up on his own queer life and rights. He might have been a great wizard, but he was a lousy gay man.