On Dumbledore being gay

So I find it really intriguing that Rowling has announced that Dumbledore is gay. We got so much backstory about him in Book 7, but not that…although, as people have pointed out, there were certainly hints if you read between the lines. Dumbledore had a passionate and intense friendship with Grindenwald…what queer doesn’t have one of those in their past, usually before they came out as queer?

One article I read online criticized Rowling for leaving this information out, accusing her of reverting back to the days when gay characters had to stay in the closet or die, or both. it also assumes that Dumbledore never had a love affair after Grindenwald. But I think this misreads what she has done with Dumbledore.

I am recalling a passage in Book 4 or 5 where Harry wants to write someone for advice, and eventually remembers Sirius, but he thinks to himself, I have no idea what Dumbledore does when he’s not in school. And I think that’s a very important moment – we never really learn anything about any of the teachers in terms of the private life, except those who don’t stay as teachers, like Moody and Lupin. We learn a little about Hagrid, because he crosses some boundaries and becomes more like Harry’s friend, but it’s always pretty clear that he’s crossing boundaries to show us this side. Do McGonagall, Flitwick, or Grumbly-Plank have families? We have no idea. So it is entirely possible that Dumbledore had hot sex at some wizard gay bar, or had a long term monogamous partner who was never around. Or perhaps being a Hogwarts professor is like taking an oath of celibacy. The point is, we never know, because it’s always through Harry’s eyes, and Harry never thinks about Dumbledore as anything but a teacher. Most of us didn’t really know much about our high school teachers’ sex lives, did we? Nor did we want to.

Yet, in allowing Dumbledore’s backstory to come out, it sends a really powerful, subtle message: He’s gay, but it doesn’t matter, because it has nothing to do with what’s really important about him. And for most of us, that is the way our sex lives work. They’re there, and they’re important, but mostly only to us. What’s more important is what kind of people we are, what we believe in, what values we live by.

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~ by realsupergirl on October 23, 2007.

10 Responses to “On Dumbledore being gay”

  1. Flip side: There is this hint that part of why he didn’t deal well with his passion for Grindenwald as a teen. So in a sense, his sexual orientation was his biggest tragedy and weakness and, on some level, the book punishes him for being gay. (And in his case, his youthful gay lust literally destroys his family).

  2. Well, Rowling has said that his love for Grindenwald was his biggest tragedy, but only because his love blinded him for seeing what he truly was. But that has nothing to do with sexual orientation – love can blind anyone, of any sexuality. That would also help add depth to why Dumbledore is so convinced that love is the most powerful magic – positive and negative magic. But I don’t see anything in the books to preclude him continuing to have relationships throughout his life – we just didn’t see it. Did he ever love anyone as much as Grindenwald? I don’t know. Is our first love ever quite the same again? No. But I think he could very well have found a companion or two in his lifetime.

  3. I think this is well-written, sweetie.

  4. You are so awesome. You capture some of what I had been thinking and put it out there in a much better way than I could have.

  5. (This is an odd thing for me to be commenting on, in that I’ve only read the first 3.5 HP books, and seen movies, er, 3 & 5. So a lot of my knowledge is random tidbits from people talking on LJ and so on. šŸ™‚ )

    I think the thing that makes the situation odd is that we have an author talking about things she has decided about her characters but not actually put into the text, thus making them sort of retroactively part of the text.

    Because I agree, Dumbledore is the sort of character whose sexuality we would normally not think or care about, both because his sex life is irrelevant to his role in the story, and because he’s the sort of person/character one tends to assume doesn’t have a sex life (the teacher thing, and also due to his age — not that older people don’t have sex lives, but one tends to assume they don’t if they are not known to have a long-term partner. A sexy young teacher, we might speculate more about.).

    So, if the fact that he was gay came up in passing in the book, I think the message would be exactly as you’re saying it. What makes people more inclined to make some sort of flap about it, or place great importance on it, is because the information was basically revealed in a press release, as news. (Not literally; but that’s how people are getting the information, not by reading it as part of the story in a novel.) So clearly it must be Important, there must be some Message, because it’s been delivered as News.

    One might speculate about why she chose to not put it in the book, but announce it to the public after the fact. I’m sure people are doing so. (And it’s possible it really was as simple as “this was something that didn’t happen to make it into the books, and since I’m always having these chats with fans, I often end up mentioning stuff that didn’t make it into the books, and this just happened to be the thing I mentioned today.” But that supposes a lot of naivite on her part…perhaps more likely is that she *consciously* decided to take that attitude, realizing people might make a fuss.)

  6. the reactions on lj that i’ve seen seem to boil down to “dumbledore is gay, woo!” or “so what?” dumbledore slashers are all excited, anyway. and people who are making a stink about jkr revealing it now and not in the books clearly don’t know what it’s like to write a book – never mind seven of them – and have all this random information about your characters floating around in your head, some of which is kind of irrelevant and most of which you can’t use anyway because it would bog down the story. but i haven’t seen anyone point out that the books are from harry’s pov and dumbledore’s sexual orientation is never going to be an issue for him because he wouldn’t see dumbledore as the kind of person who HAS a sexual orientation. which is a very good point.

  7. This is a great POV, and I was wondering if I could copy and paste this answer over in this discussion at one of my sisters journals.

  8. Sure, go ahead.

  9. While I thought the article you cited was funny and made some good points, your analysis is sound. There isn’t much in the way of explicit sexuality in HP to begin with, so it seems an unfair criticism to say that JK Rowling is somehow selling Dumbledore short by desexualizing him. The narrative perspective is realistically limited. It would be quite out of place for adult sexuality to enter the HP narrative- even adolescent sexuality (which is within the narrative sphere) is treated in a very limited fashion. I don’t think that there is anything in the text that implies Grindelwald was Dumbledore’s only sexual experience: for instance, it is clear from the outfit described in the Pensieve episode wherein Dumbledore visits Tom Riddle’s orphanage that throughout the 1970’s Dumbledore engaged in prolific sexcapades.
    Nor is it fair to say that the frequent depictions in the HP series of Harry and Ron engaging in mutual masturbation are somehow “homosexual”- that is just what you do in boarding school.

  10. LOL at the thought of the outfit Dumbledore wore when he visited Riddle. That stood out to me too. Wasn’t it like flamingly purple with sequins or something?

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