23 October 2007

dumbledore gay?

This is a copy of a message I posted to a professional listserv to which I belong, in response to the list's discussion of J.K. Rowling's "outing" of Dumbledore.

I always look for the queer. I've wanted there to be some queerness in HP for years. I really do like the books a LOT, and re-read them frequently. But I'm only totally critically blinded by one author (Philip Pullman), and JKR pisses me off (pardon my language). I have my queer-spotting goggles on all the time (tongue-in-cheek), and I never got that special feeling when i read Dumbledore. He wears purple and likes chamber music - are those my queer cues? He was intellectual best-buddies with Grindelwald? Again - not too erotic.

And I would argue that sexuality matters, always. The absence of Dumbledore's alleged homosexuality is a glaring kind of presence in the texts. He isn't written as gay; he's written as friendly old God. It's cheap and cowardly to claim queerness so long after the fact. And yeah, the books have Harry's POV, but he's not a 5-year-old happily cuddling with his friendly gay teachers; he's a teenager, especially after book 4, who understands the world in a sexualized and complex way. We also get a LOT of secondary reportage on Dumbledore, and - I'd have to re-read for sure - I don't recall any hints of Dumbledore's gayness. He's "mad" and "eccentric" which maybe signal gay - eccentric old bachelors means gay, right??? in 1940 or so? There are also Dudley's weird anti-gay jokes in early Book 5 - he makes jokes about Harry saying "Cedric" in his sleep. And Harry's enraged (which in some ways, he should be - being taunted about Cedric sucks, but I can't help reading that as partly the defensive anger of straight gays when they are accused of being gay).

Waller made me grin with relief when he stated, emphatically, there IS no Dumbledore other than those marks on the page. I frankly don't give a flying fig what Rowling had in her mind for 15 years. In MY mind, for years, I've had any number of things, none of which exist. I've got a whole delightful invented backstory for Howell, before he becomes Wizard Howl (in Diana Wynne Jones's outstanding book, Howl's Moving Castle). This doesn't make it TRUE. I believe in story, and creativity, and storytelling, but Rowling is obsessively controlling about her texts in a way that makes me want to call bullshit.

MY take: how could you possibly create a rich and loving and emotionally complex relationship between the gay male headmaster and a male student without everyone and his grandma shrieking PEDOPHILE!!! ?? I keep thinking of the scene in Book 5 when Dumbledore cries as he tells Harry how much he, Dumbledore, loves Harry. Put your queer goggles on (insert homophobia lenses first) and suddenly you have a creepy pedophilic predator on your hands.

I really resent the way Rowling continually fleshes out her books in interviews and talks. I don't CARE if it's in response to a question asked by a paraplegic little girl with cancer who was orphaned in a third-world country; if this stuff is so important to OUR understanding of the texts, it had better be in the books. I'm pretty loosey-goosey on my fetishization of The Book, and still this bothers me.

In another context: I don't want Philip Pullman to tell me what happens to Will; I want him to MAKE it happen through writing. JKR's statements about her characters are like me discussing the garden I have in my head, but that doesn't yet exist, and possibly never will. My tulips and apple trees and weigela and climbing roses are fabulously detailed in my head. But until I turn the soil and plant them, they aren't real.

the thing is, I really do like these books. I like imagining the Potterverse, I like daydreaming about the classes at Hogwarts, and the contents of Honeydukes, and what the limitations on magic might be. But if Rowling has more story to tell, she needs to write it down. If she can't let go of her Potterverse, then she either needs to continue developing and creating it, or she needs a good therapist.


Trina H said...


I posted my own, less academic but equal in spirit, comments on Eschewing Myopia.

Way to go. I'm glad we have you on our side.

Elizabeth said...

And a double YES!!! I, too, posted on this, but in more of an irritated huff. Thanks for passing on "there is no Dumbledore, only those marks on the page." And for your cogent examination. there was a funny and poignant piece on this on NPR by a gay male (former) teacher who tried to be out at school. (It's linked on my blog.)

ArtfulSub said...

Marketing stunt. You have to realize that Rowling's Books aren't an exception in that they're wildly popular with children. They're an exception in that 20 something and soon 30 something people STILL read them.

Examining the demographics of that exception caused her to make her statement.

She's very happy with the publicity. The only thing that could make her happier is a round of condemnations from TV preachers.

I believe she described the entire series as a "long plea for tolerance" at the same press event.

Something like that.

Marius said...

I couldn't agree more. To be honest, I've never read any of the Potter books, but it seems kind of pointless to out one of the characters after the fact. Many bloggers seem to agree.

By the way, this is an awesome post!