Becoming Isis, putting Osiris back together

even in the midst of your weeping or rage.

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
In which I have feels (again) about the Dumbledore-is-gay issue.
penniless and inkstained, employment, writing, novels-in-progress
delirieuse
I'm going to copypasta from Tumblr here, because DW/LJ are semi-permanent, and Tumblr is the digital equivalent of newspaper - tomorrow it'll just be a wrapper for fish and chips. And I suspect this is going to come up again.

This is in reference to these two images:



And the following comments appended to them:

Svetlana-Del-Rey (no longer on Tumblr):
Was she going to slap you because you never in any way made him gay in the actual books, taking zero risks/doing absolutely nothing for gay characters in literature, and only announcing your “authorial intent” afterwards for a cheap shot at looking like an ~ally~


Takealookatyourlife:
Gay people are just normal people. We are not told about any of the Hogwarts professors love lives, other than Snape, and it would be completely out of character for Dumbledore to walk around telling everyone about his sexuality.

Did you want her to make him dress in glittery platform boots, a crop top, and decorate his office in rainbow flags to make it more obvious for you? Would that be enough of a stereotype to appease you people? Or what? Please tell me. I’d like to know how you think a gay character is supposed to be portrayed.

And did you miss the Grindelwald chapters in the ‘actual books’? Or was that also not obvious enough for you? Did Dumbledore need to whisper “always” wistfully in order for you to connect that he had romantic feelings for Grindelwald? Maybe you are American and need them to gaze longingly into each others eyes with awkward close ups of their fingers almost grazing each other that Hollywood thinks means ‘true love’.

It didn’t fit into his relationship to Harry to ever say “I’m gay”, and so it was not stated explicitly (you might have noticed the book was told from Harry Potter’s perspective).

The point is though, that he is a homosexual, well respected, powerful, and very loved wizard- and his sexuality doesn’t matter because no one else thinks it matters. a.k.a. no one cares that he loves men, and that is wonderful.


“No one cares that he loves men, and that is wonderful.”

Of course it is. But that still doesn’t equal visibility. Who cares if Dumbledore is gay in her head? Assuming there are 200 students per year level (is there any place online that has crunched these numbers? Just curious), there are at least ten gay students per year level. That’s at least 70 students (on average) in Hogwarts at any one time who prefer their own gender, or who like both. Nowhere are they present in the narrative, even as background colour. Hermione doesn’t pause from her SPEW crusade to tell off a homophobic classmate who’s picking on Luna for leaving Ginny a Valentine.

I didn’t get introduced to a single gay, bi, or trans character. I know who Ginny Weasley dated, but at no point did JKR mention that Neville and Dean had a thing for the whole of fifth year. Or whatever.

Not mentioning that Dumbledore is gay in the books doesn’t really mean a goddamn thing to the QUILTBAG readers who are forever looking for characters like them in fiction and not finding them (unless they read Justine Larbalestier). Yes, I thought that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had subtext. But so do Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. And as a QUILTBAG person, we’re used to reading our own narratives on books. But reading between the lines doesn’t make it a ‘textual’ interpretation, one supported by evidence.

QUILTBAG people are invisible in media, almost all the time. When you read closing chapters like the one at the end of the Harry Potter series (Gillian Rubenstein did one at the end of her Space Demons trilogy, and I hated it about as much), nowhere does it say, “And ten years later, Seamus Finnegan came out of the closet and lives happily with a Muggle”. In so many books, in so many movies, heterosexuality isn’t just the default, it’s THE ONLY OPTION. So even though you can read homo motives on characters, you know that in the next book, in the annotations, in an interview with the author, it will be made clear that those two are “just good friends”. Gay people aren’t just invisible; we’re completely absent. So we doubt our own judgements.

I’m glad that Jo thinks it’s important enough to stress in interviews that Dumbledore is gay. It makes her, the person, the private individual, a gay ally. But it does not make JKR, the author, a gay ally. And it doesn’t make the Harry Potter books queer friendly.

This entry was originally posted at Dreamwidth.

  • 1
I honestly tend to think this gets pushed into wayyyyy too black and white.

Because, you know, you're right. Visibility is a huge issue, and it's one that adds huge problematics to "well, we don't know any teachers' orientation or lovelife", etc, etc. And it would have been a hundred times more meaningful if there had been any clear statement in-text of his orientation.

On the other hand her word-of-god statement isn't meaningless because let's be real here: despite it being good postmodernism, most ordinary readers DON'T believe in death of the author, and do believe her statements have weight on canon. Which means that, since she's now so public about it, the vast majority of readers now see Dumbledore through that lens. Old ones have to deal with it and new ones will just assume.

As good as it could be? Fuck no. A missed opportunity? Fuck yes.

Totally meaningless/a betrayal/whatever? No, not that either. It's imperfect, but it's not nothing.

Pretty much exactly this. Of the two people you quote, if I'm going to choose which one I agree with (more, at all), it's the second one all the way.

Plus, http://gadge.livejournal.com/372463.html.

Well, to be clear on my own behalf, I don't actually agree with the stated position of the second quote, either. That's kind of my point: both of the quotes, and thus both of the implicitly offered positions, are sufficiently marred by black-and-white, one-or-the-other, zero-sum thinking that I think they're both wrong.

It's not "wonderful" that Dumbledore's sexuality is invisible, and there are entirely casual, entirely non-plot-or-characterization-marring ways of having put it in, including having either Dumbledore himself or Rita Skeeter mention that he was once in love with Grindelwald - it doesn't need mushy scenes or overt romance, but a simple reference (like the one that would have marked Dumbledore as heterosexual in one of the movies that Rowling firmly vetoed) to "a wizard I was in love with at the time" or some such would have been entirely appropriate and, if it were a het thing, would be almost invisible. (Due to the society we live in, the queer reference couldn't be invisible, but that's not the text's fault). I think Rowling missed an opportunity, I think it very much weakens the significance on several levels, and I can wish she had done what I suggested above or even something braver. So I disagree with the second poster there.

I disagree categorically with the first poster for a few reasons, including outright bad faith and also a skewed idea of the world (only in small and particular communities is there that much social currency in "being an ally" that anyone would ape in that direction without sincerity in order to cash in on it*, and I think there's a chunk of one corner of tumblr in specific that really forgets that, to the detriment of its discussions), but also because that end is wrong too: it's not perfect, ideal or wonderful, the way it was done, but it also does matter and it's not meaningless and it's certainly not a punch in the eye or any other metaphorical attack**, and it does do some good, even if the good it does is focused mostly (and I don't agree that it is, but that's neither here nor there) in forcing extremely heteronormative people to confront that if they love their fictional dead Headmaster, they love their fictional dead GAY Headmaster and that he's the same person.

It's not perfect, but perfect can be the enemy of the good; the good may be less than I'd've liked or could have been, but 50% of the good I want is better than 0%. I think the fact that the debate is inevitably framed in the perfect-or-nothing way is obnoxious.

So there's that.

*I would imagine the amount of hate-mail she got about that announcement was appalling and possibly frightening, and given precedent likely included death threats. Especially for a woman who succeeded at something and a CHILDREN'S WRITER, taking any kind of overt queer-positive stance is going to result in uproar.
**as a writer, frankly, I don't think it has anything to do with anything other than it really is BUGGERING ANNOYING for people to be Wrong about one's characters, even if it's about something that you didn't manage to put in the text: I have the advantage of knowing what people would do with it and why it would be pointless in the very quarters I'm most worried about, but if you'd caught me ten years ago, I'd've been prone to doing the same thing on a purely authorial "no you have that wrong let me fix it" level.

Again, you are exactly correct. In attempting brevity I skipped some nuance.

The only difference I'd say is that I'd have put the percentage as more than 50% good, because I do think on a cost/benefit scale the downside to Dumbledore coming out in the books is rather immense, especially as the series exploded. There is not a chance in hell that there would not have been a media firestorm over 'character from beloved fiction comes out', with Dumbledore's sexuality overshadowing even the deaths in terms of focus, and would change the way the books were received in ways that they didn't really need to be. Especially as the specter of paedophilia, however completely unfairly, would the come to haunt the book.

But as she never had to have him come out - we agree that it doesn't exactly flow naturally from the text, that she revealed it at all is, I think, quite worthwhile. I went into it a bit in the link above, but basically she made it explicit in a highly detailed canon, and that alone is worthwhile. It doesn't make 'the Harry Potter world' part of queer canon, but it's certainly revealed to be queer-friendly.

Even ignoring the unfathomable amounts of slash written within it by fans.

Yes, I thought of the Skeeter option when I was discussing this with my roommate that night. It seems like such an obvious option to have been overlooked.

And I totally agree with you about the bad faith of the first poster (the turn of phrase makes me laugh considering the main schoolboy antagonist's surname).

And I agree, with you for both of your footnotes. And although I grok the "but you're wrong about one of my characters!" ... it's really because she failed to make it clear that gay people exist in this universe in even a tangential way, which is a shame. Poor storytelling.

I don't agree with either of the two people I quoted. But the second person irritates me because zie has set up a straw man argument with the glittery platforms remarks.

(Also, whee! I have missed having discussions with people on Eljay. Also I haven't seen you for an age and we should remedy this.)

On the other hand her word-of-god statement isn't meaningless because let's be real here: despite it being good postmodernism, most ordinary readers DON'T believe in death of the author, and do believe her statements have weight on canon. Which means that, since she's now so public about it, the vast majority of readers now see Dumbledore through that lens. Old ones have to deal with it and new ones will just assume.

This is true. But only if those readers have actually read the comments that she's made in interviews and online, which I'm not sure is that large a proportion of readers, particularly children (as opposed to the adult fanbase).

It's imperfect, but it's not nothing.

I concur. And I grok that she'll have got flak from socially conservative readers. But it's still a problematic act (that she couldn't include it in the book) and shines a light on how effed-up Western society still is about sexuality.

(Indirectly related anecdote: I had a gay friend at uni & we were swapping coming out stories. He was told by his mother "Are you sure? Because you can never be a teacher if you are.")

I was trying to comment on this on tumblr, because you know me and my rereblogging squeamishness, but missing-e wasn't behaving.

What I wanted to say was: Yes. I wish it didn't matter whether Dumbledore's sexuality was explicitly stated (because it could be anything) but the fact is that there has not been such representation in media that it could be anything, and in the absence of explicity, people just default straight. So while I really like the second view, and it's what I aspire to see be the case, you're right and it's not and it would have been really good if JKR could've made it clear in the books (without Making A Statement) that this respected and complicated and wise and HUMAN character was gay. (It would've been ever better, as you also point out, if some of Harry's schoolfriends had just, incidentally, been queer.)

Silly missing-e. *thwips it* (Although I've finally installed it at work and it is ~*AWESOME*~)

So while I really like the second view, and it's what I aspire to see be the case, you're right and it's not and it would have been really good if JKR could've made it clear in the books (without Making A Statement) that this respected and complicated and wise and HUMAN character was gay. (It would've been ever better, as you also point out, if some of Harry's schoolfriends had just, incidentally, been queer.)

Yes yes yes. Exactly what I was trying to say. Good. :D

  • 1
?

Log in