As a devout fan of the Harry Potter series, I was quite delighted when I heard JK Rowling announce Dumbledore was gay. I remember her recounting an encounter with a homophobe who had been upset at her declaration and dissing the said homophobe in question. It seemed enough at the point. The inherent gayness of Dumbledore had been enough. But not anymore.
Over the years there a certain displeasure has been expressed at the closeted sexuality of Albus Dumbledore and some fans have defended Rowling for not mentioning it in the books or the movies, saying “it was not relevant to the plot”. It made sense. Technically. Of course, just because someone is gay does not mean they have to parade it around. Of course, just because someone is queer does not mean that their personality does not have a dimension beyond their sexuality. Of course. Of course…
But there is something to be said about being visibly, loudly gay. Especially when all of the 120837 heterosexual couples’ heterosexuality in the book was not concealed or closeted. Only one supposedly gay character’s sexuality was. The point is not to berate but to emphasize on this difference in treatment.
While we may like to believe our sexuality belongs strictly to the personal domain, in reality it is political and very public. Racial and sexual identities are also very important in the project of nation-making. Harry Potter is a part of Britain’s national identity. Voldemort’s inflatable image floating in the London Olympics of 2012 is an example of the adoption and announcement of Harry Potter as part of British identity and culture. In this national project then, would a gay Dumbledore not have space?
For he is the headmaster of the most prestigious school in Britain, and an internationally reputed wizard and a consistent father figure and guide to Harry, our protagonist. As an out-of-the-closet individual, he might have had considerable influence not only in the books but also outside of them. Dumbledore is human for he is also proven to be an extremely flawed human being.
In his youth, he had been enamoured by the ambitions of Gellert Grindelwald, his friend — and later lover, as announced by Rowling in an interview. But a mention of romance between the two is absent from the text and cinema. These absences are heavy for they already add to the anxiety of being closeted, of existing as taboos, unspoken and silenced. Why must the one gay character be left unmentioned, left in silence? Why must the closet be nailed and buried?
Kath Woodward in The Politics of (In)Visiblity Being There says, “Sex and sexuality are often constructed and lived within the field of vision. The field of vision is also highly political as sexual politics and the trend towards ‘raunch culture’ demonstrate.”
What this means is that sexuality is constructed in the public space, it is announced and pronounced, and like Butler reminds us, performed. This performance of Dumbledore is therefore half-hidden from us.
A certain image of sexuality — of heterosexuality — is circulated in society which forces its audience to accept its authority as The Sexuality and imitate it. Any deviance from the set path is termed criminal. Therefore sexuality in the public space becomes a space for contestation, for protest and for creation of new meaning by dissenters.
Dumbledore was supposed to be our dissenter who created this space for us. Amidst Harry’s kisses with Cho’s, Ron’s kisses with Lavender and Hermione, and Hermione’s kisses with Viktor; among the romances of Hagrid and Madame Maxime, Fleur and Bill, Molly and Arthur Weasely, Snape and Lily, Remus and Tonks, Luna and Neville (in the film) etc., perhaps a gay character, a gay Dumbledore visibly cutting through this heterosexual space could have been revolutionary, could have been… enchanting.
There is an alarming dearth of LGBTQI characters in children’s literature and Dumbledore could have been our beacon of light. Upon receiving largely positive response on Dumbledore being gay, Rowling had remarked, “If I’d known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!”
Well, the new movies in the Harry Potter series seem to be hinting at a possible openly gay Dumbledore so perhaps all hope is not lost! Dumbledore may be openly and loudly gay. And to remember the wise words of Adrienne Rich who said this about naming and making our identities known:
And in breaking those silences, naming ourselves, uncovering the hidden, making ourselves present, we begin to define a reality which resonates to us, which affirms our being.