I have been a Harry Potter fan for more than half my life. Like most Harry Potter fans, I am largely annoyed by the paucities of the source material and have spent probably longer than I should reading and writing fanfic which addresses these huge gaps. And, like most fandom types, I have a tendency of casting a queer eye over the source material and concluding that pretty much everyone is enjoying rampant same-sex relations.
I was surprised, then, when Rowling announced, after the bestselling series was complete, that twinkly-eyed headmaster and creepy child-groomer Albus Dumbledore was the gay character and that obviously he had been in a relationship with naughty miniboss wizard Grindelwald. Really? He was low down on my list of characters who were probably LGBT. There was nary a hint of homosexuality going on in canon. One would have thought, at the very least, Rita Skeeter might have luridly made innuendoes in her scurrilous The Life And Lies Of Albus Dumbledore.
Rowling has been in the media eating the plates of cookies handed to her over her dealing with a fan who said they couldn’t see Dumbledore as gay. Her response? A variant on the old “gay people are just people” trope. While on the surface this is true, it’s often a cop-out for hetero authors who completely failed to pull off writing a queer character.
Rowling went wrong in numerous places in her portrayal of Dumbledore as a gay character, not least because there is not even a hint of it in the actual series she wrote. It is not sufficient to out a character through word of god after you’ve made your bajillions on the series, when it’s too late for the homophobes to boycott. And when a straight person writes a queer character as “just a person” they are drawing on their own hetero views of what constitutes “just a person”–which is invariably straighter than a Roman road.
The Harry Potter universe is brimming with parts where people’s heterosexual love affects the story. Take, for example, Snape, who did everything he did because he really wanted to bone Harry’s mum but she wasn’t into him because he was a magical racist. Take Voldemort’s parents and the wizard mind-control rape that happened because of a hetero crush. Or how about all the dramatic tensions surrounding Hermione Granger’s love life? Rowling clearly knows how love can drive characters to develop, and propel a plot forward.
And yet all of this is completely absent with Dumbledore. Which is a crying shame, because a gay Dumbledore could have added so many interesting dimensions to the story. How would Harry react to discovering his idol was gay? I’d guess he’d probably be a bit homophobic at first due to his upbringing in suburbia with small-minded types, and then get over it which would be interesting to see. Did Dumbledore and Grindelwald wear their hearts on their sleeves, since the wizarding world is apparently so inclusive according to Ms Rowling, or did they keep their relationship a secret? How did that affect what went down between them? How did Dumbledore feel when his beloved turned evil? Surely that must have hurt his heart, especially when he ultimately had to fight the man he loved. Did Dumbledore ever love again?
Instead, all we get is the same old chate wise magic dude, in the same vein as Obi Wan Kenobi or Gandalf. Canonically, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin appear to have more of a homosexual relationship, because at least they sent Harry a joint present together.
JK Rowling failed at bringing queer content to Hogwarts, and we should stop giving her cookies for this completely invisible representation. For queer content, we’ll have to stick to fandom. I don’t see Dumbledore as gay–because JK Rowling completely failed to write it.