Can we please stop giving JK Rowling cookies over Dumbledore

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.

15 thoughts on “Can we please stop giving JK Rowling cookies over Dumbledore”

  1. you have got to be kidding me. wow how closed minded and judgmental you are. I see no problem at all with Dumbledore being gay, you need to open your eyes and realize that gays are not all queers. Many people are gay and you wouldnt know unless you saw them holding hands with another male or that they told you.

    I highly doubt that Harry would’ve been homophobic, his aunt and uncle were very judgmental of anything different from them but Harry is not like them.

    1. You don’t tend to see two men or two women holding hands because they get abuse and violence thrown at them. Funnily enough, this tends to colour their view of the world, and they act differently to straight people as a result. But of course, it’s easier for straight writers not to think about this and write gay characters as “just (straight) people”. It also helps that they don’t have to think about how icky it is for them to kiss.

  2. Just assumed there were other “normal” state funded magical schools, less bothered with appeasing aristocratic, dynastic power, where people like that Centaur teacher went to get their qualifications, however, I lived in a posh area with this population of boarding school kids who’d only ever return during the holidays who we didn’t really mix with.

    Anyway, Harry will find out about all that stuff at Wizard University.

    “Harry Potter and the The 4am House Party Conversation on “Identity Politics” Going on Between Stoned Werewolves, Drunk Animagi and One Muggle Neurology Student Who Knows They’re at the Wrong House Party and Won’t Say Anything For Fear of Being Eaten” is a book I would cherish.

  3. It feels cheap just to announce dumbledore as gay long after the series ended, but are seriously saying someone’s character can only be truly judged based on whether they have romantic relationships? Shipping is daf, who gives a fuck who dumbledore is boning, it’s not what made him an interesting character. Heaven fucking forbid they ever make an asexual character who has no time for sexual politics, the shippers will riot

    1. It would have actually been more in keeping with the characterisation and more exciting representation of Dumbledore WAS asexual.

      1. In my head cannon Dumbledore was asexual. It fits the character of the old wise sage, and little things about his character just clicked with that for me. When JK outed him, I was able to adjust to that, but it did always bother me, and this post sums up perfectly why.

        Dumbledore can be gay, and you can have gay characters who don’t “seem gay”, and there can be barely any canonical reference to it, IN A WORLD WHERE THERE IS REASONABLE REPRESENTATION IN THE FIRST PLACE.

        We don’t want crumbs, we want our share.
        Also I heartily agree to the idea that JK’s only saying it now that the homophobes can’t boycott it, I’m fairly sure that’s what at least her publicist wanted.

        Whilst I’m on the subject, JK vehemently denies that Remus and Sirius had a relationship, and that really really bugs me. There are literature devices for establishing a romantic couple all over those two.
        It’s like a slap in the face for JK to deny that Sirius and Remus are gay, but insist Dumbledore is.
        Which is really annoying because I do like those books.

  4. Great post.

    I can understand that Dumbledore being gay meant something to some people; for younger fans, he will have been the first canonically gay character they encountered. So it’s better than nothing (and there are other fictional settings which still have zero LGBT characters), if only just.

    But one queer character, out of dozens, whose sexuality isn’t even referred to in the text itself? That’s nothing to boast about.

    (And before someone says ‘but the books don’t really focus on the sex lives of the adults, so what’s the big deal with not mentioning homosexuality?’ – as the original post says, there are plenty of heterosexual relationships in the books. Off the top of my head: Lupin and Tonks, Hagrid and Madame Maxime, Lily and James, the Weasleys, etc…)

    Maybe in the early 90s, when Rowling started planning the books, a lack of queer representation was more understandable; but looking at them now it feels a bit embarrassing. In years to come it’ll just look awful.

    I haven’t read any of her post-Potter books; I wonder if she’s learned her lesson and actually included any openly queer characters? If not, feeling proud for Dumbledore is even more disingenuous and hypocritical.

    1. Oh yeah, plus: Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione.

      Admittedly a gay Harry would have made for a rather different story (fanfic has provided plenty of examples in that department!). But it’s interesting that the heterosexuality of main characters is so normal we usually don’t even think to question it.

  5. i actually read Grimwald/Dumbledore as a couple, but still agree with you. fMy issue is the oh yeah he is gay as an after thought, cos u dont know about their relationship until Deathly Hallows and so there is no way to know Dumbledore was gay until the series was over.

  6. I’ve not read the books, my friend started reading the books after seeing the first few films then stopped and said “the books are far better than the films which miss so much out”. I’ve seen all the films, and never once thought of any of the characters as being gay. Someone of Dumbledores age we don’t tend to think of in sexual terms anyway (isn’t the character over 100?) I know jk has said that he’s gay, but for her to say that and it not to be included in the films… I’m planning to watch them all back to back anyway, as at least for me, I got easily lost – that could be me, that could be bad editing or something else.

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