Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dumbledore's Sexuality

While I understand why some parents might be concerned about their kids asking, "What does it mean to be gay," I expect that to be more of a problem in the abstract than in reality. "Gay" is a playground insult which is in use long before kids have any true conception of its meaning, and if kids haven't already asked about it I somehow doubt that the "outing" of Dumbledore is going to inspire them to press their parents for a definition. I undersand also why some people may be concerned that the disclosure somehow normalizes being gay, and thus shouldn't have been made - I just have no sympathy for that position.

In the Dallas Morning News, a columnist writes,
Stop talking about what Ron will do for a living, whom Neville will marry, what kinds of creatures Hagrid will raise.

If you didn't put it in the books, please don't tell us now.

I guess I don't want you to stop explaining completely. I'd love to know more about what inspired some of the plot details in the books. If you want to dish about how you decided on those particular inscriptions for the headstones, how you came up with the names for the characters, or how you cleverly planned the religious underpinnings of the broad arc of the story – I am all ears.

But telling us that Dumbledore is gay, as you did last week? Why would you do that?
Rowling has long been sharing those other details - bits of trivia and character details that, although vivid in her mind, ended up on the literary equivalent of the cutting room floor. Up to the Dumbledore disclosure, the same people who lament that they don't want to know anything beyond what is on the written page maintained their silence. And although they complain, as does this author,
Is Dumbledore gay? He is for you, apparently. But unless you said it in the actual books, must he be so for me? Your saying so now makes it harder for me to imagine anything different.
Why is it necessary to imagine anything different. When Richard Harris died, I could easily imagine Sir Ian McKellen being cast as Dumbledore - would it have made any difference to the character? If you start to read more into Dumbledore's nonsexual interactions with his student, merely because the author imagined him as gay, that's not really a problem with either the literature or the author's disclosure, is it. As a Time editorial suggests, some who hear the disclosure deem it somehow relevant to Dumbledore's mentoring young Harry Potter?
But here is a gay man as de-sexed as any priest—and, to uncomfortably extend the analogy, whose greatest emotional bond is with an adolescent boy: scarred, orphaned, needy Harry.
Well, that type of nonsense helps explain why teachers, real and literary, would choose to remain closeted. News flash for the slow on the uptake: Being gay doesn't make you a pedophile.

There's another side to this - people who are arguing that Rowling was correct to include a gay character in her book, but that he should have been overtly gay, and that she should also have considered having gay relationships between students. This, to me, seems to be the engrafting of the opposite set of political beliefs onto the disclosure - that if an author imagines a character as gay or is sympathetic to ideas of equality, that must be overt on the page even in children's and youth literature. Had Rowling announced, "Professor McGonagall is straight," would they have made equal demands that she have been described as dating somebody such that her sexuality would have been obvious? It's not quite an equal situation, as the assumption people tend to make in the absence of information to the contrary is one of heterosexuality, but within the confines of youth literature (save for the subgenre focusing on particular "coming of age" issues) the sexuality of teachers and school administrators isn't relevant to the story.

As for students, it is difficult to imagine how a reference to a gay couple, whether made in passing or fully developed as a subplot, would be more than a distraction. Would it have helped us understand the main characters better? (Let's see... Hermione? Immediately accepting. Harry? Perhaps surprised, but otherwise unaffected. Ron? A misunderstanding of some sort, followed by acceptance. Does that about sum it up?)

The author of the Time editorial complains,
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.
As far as we know, not one of the teachers at Hogwarts has ever had a fully realized romance. Yet you obsess over this one? That's pathetic, and a little creepy.

1 comment:

  1. Two of my 9-year-old daughter's classmates in elementary school have "two mommies", so I wouldn't have thought this would have been much of an issue for her.

    But when I made the analogy between Dumbledore and her friends' parents, she objected. The parents are LESBIANS, she said firmly, not the same thing at all.


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