So J. K. Rowling made an offhanded remark during a Q-and-A session that she thought of Dumbledore as being gay, and now there’s a huge uproar of people writing crap about how wrong this is — but I’m not irate because I’m homophobic, mind you! I think gay folks are fine! Oh, no, I have perfectly rational reasons for being angry and hostile about this! It’s because I believe with heart and soul that the work must speak for itself! And there are no clues about this in the books, so it’s just my perfectly normal and non-prejudiced reaction to this blatant display of political correctness after the fact that makes me froth! at the mouth! in! this! way!
Which is all bullshit, as you can figure out in about five seconds if you imagine the lack of a fuss there would be if her offhand revelation about Dumbledore had been, say, that she’d always thought of him as having had a similar but heterosexual romantic attachment in his youth. Wait a minute, would be? In fact, J. K. Rowling has been making plenty of equally innocuous remarks about her backstory for the books in public appearances all over the place, and nobody in the press has even taken notice of it, let alone let forth with the howls of outrage we’re currently getting. But now the tidbit du jour is that one of the characters is gay, and suddenly everybody is a passionate, angry advocate of the principle that “the work must speak for itself”.
Most of the time the opiner will also make a point of saying that the Harry Potter books aren’t very well written, maybe even adding that the books would have been better if things like Dumbledore’s gayness had been more evident, just to see if we can rub a little salt into the wound we’d like to believe we’re important enough to inflict. Personally, I’m not for the life of me going to defend Ms. Rowling’s leaden prose, but if you think the work isn’t any good, what the freak do you even care whether or not it is being allowed to speak for itself? All over the country, innocent college students are being fed the most ridiculous and countertextual postmodern notions about the characters of Beowulf, Hamlet, and Humbert Humbert, for crying out loud, and not a peep out of you; but now you’re charging to the rescue of Dumbledore? Where are your priorities, man?
And a little bit of unconscious homophobia doesn’t have a thing to do with it, eh? Well, good for you.
By the way, fans have been speculating about precisely this issue, Dumbledore’s sexuality, in discussion groups around the Internet for months. Why? Because there are freaking hints about it in the books, that’s why.
This Time essay, charmingly titled Put Dumbledore Back in the Closet, is not only a typical snark-a-thon, it contains this maddening statement:
Yes, it’s nice that gays finally got a major character in the sci-fi/fantasy universe.
The author’s examples to back up this remarkably ignorant statement? There are no gay characters in Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. Well, there you go.
I guess the appearance of gay and other sorts of alternatively sexed characters since at least the 1970s in books by minor, unimportant, scarcely known science fiction writers like, oh, say, Robert A. Heinlein, Ursula K. Le Guin, Mercedes Lackey, Theodore Sturgeon, Poul Anderson, Orson Scott Card, Lois McMaster Bujold, and Samuel Delany don’t count. We’re only talking about major works of science fiction. You know, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter books.
Sorry, guy, but science fiction got around to making gay characters a normal part of the human landscape well before any other literary genre, or at least among those genres that you could peruse outside an adult bookstore. Same-sex relationships were common in science fiction when they were still rare and controversial in other genres.
Fun fact: The San Francisco gay and lesbian bookstore “A Different Light” gets its name from a 1978 repeat 1978 science fiction novel featuring a relationship between two men.
(One might also ask how the Time writer knows that Gandalf isn’t gay. Is there something establishing his heterosexuality in the books that I’m forgetting? Or are we just assuming that anyone not explicitly identified as gay is therefore straight, and isn’t that assumption itself unconsciously homophobic?)
I’m not saying I’m a Harry Potter fan. I’ve seen the movies so far, which I thought were charming but nothing more, but I tried reading the first book and was bored by chapter five.
I’m just getting royally irritated at the dozens of columnists raking Rowling over the coals for this, the steam rising off their printed pages even as they adopt the pose that they aren’t homophobic at all, oh no, they’re just literary purists and have been so all along. Mm-hmm.