“Outing” Dumbledore

Jaime Coyne

With everything that is happening right now — wildfires leading to total devastation, the situation in Iraq and Presidential elections looming in the near future, among other things — there seems to be one topic, and one topic only on everyone’s minds: J. K. Rowling’s pronouncement that Dumbledore is gay.

Today I skimmed through a Facebook group dedicated to the subject, and noticed one topic with the heading “Where were you when you found out?”. I find it incredibly amusing, and fairly disturbing, that finding out a fictional character’s sexual orientation ranks right up there with Kennedy’s death and 9/11 in the list of occurrences that are indelibly marked in the minds of Americans, so much so that they remember precisely where they were and what they were doing. Since I only found out a few days ago, I can tell you that I learned by a friend sending me a message on Facebook. To me, this is not a very memorable way to find out news of any type, although it is certainly a comment about the importance and prominence of technology in today’s world to discover such a significant fact in such a nonchalant way.

There are many things that bother me about J.K. Rowling’s announcement. I’m all for teaching tolerance and supporting gay marriage, but this incident seems ridiculous to me. For one thing, the books are over. How does it make any sense to “divulge” insider facts about a story that has already ended? If you can’t find out this information by reading all the books, it shouldn’t be claimed to be “true” to the fictional situation. If J. K. Rowling had told the world Dumbledore was gay before releasing the seventh book, and then worked that fact into the plotline, it would make more sense. It would be a spoiler. But you can’t spoil a series that has already been read! Until now, at least.

Which makes me wonder, what was J. K. Rowling’s reasoning? Did she want to gain favor by supporting gay rights, but without any risk to herself? It certainly is convenient that she forgot to mention this tidbit until after all her books had been released, making the backlash considerably less. Perhaps she was afraid that adding homophobes to her religious persecutors would create more protest than she could withstand. It seems possible that her statement has more to do with J. K. Rowling’s image than with the actual Harry Potter books.

It is certainly good to start dialogue about sexual orientation. Teaching children to accept everyone by showing them that even their favorite heroic characters can be gay is an admirable thing. But, to me, the real way to do this is to have an actual plotline devoted to understanding such a character. Making reference to the idea after-the-fact raises controversy without giving a substantial understanding or background. Harry Potter will always hold a special place in my heart as the wonderful, exciting books that I grew up with. But when I think back on those books, I seriously doubt I will give much thought to the recent news about Dumbledore. Of all the romantic situations I worried over when I read those books, that was not one of them. Dumbledore will remain to me simply the wise and loyal Headmaster, until a Book Eight comes out to tell me otherwise.