By Daniel Pagan
On Oct. 19, J.K. Rowling shocked, amazed, and reviled many Harry Potter fans with a simple but earth-shaking revelation: professor Albus Dumbledore is gay.
Let’s forget about the NSA tapping phone lines in America even before 9/11, let’s forget about the crisis of Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, and let’s especially forget about global warming, because a character in a series of fictional stories happens to be gay! J.K. Rowling deserves to be applauded for this action, given the rarity of gay characters in literature and media, but at the same time, it is really difficult to see how this revelation is earth-shaking as it would not change anything in the stories.
It is a sad thing in modern literature and media that sympathetic, complex and humanly gay characters are few and far between, with standouts being characters such as Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain or Agent Paul Smecker in The Boondock Saints. There are few shows devoted to gay and lesbian interests, such as Queer as Folk or The L Word. It is simple to make a shallow, two-dimensional, stereotypical, gay character such as Jack McFarland from Will & Grace, or Satan and Saddam Hussein as boyfriends in South Park. These portrayals just perpetuate the stereotype of gay people being effeminate, campy weak and unmasculine “fags” who chase after straight men, like the homosexual men in sexual comedic films such as the first American Pie. In these films, characters joke about how being gay is a negative attribute, and any men who show love toward other men are often ridiculed or violently rejected. The lack of sympathetic, humane gay characters often isolates the gay community and the stereotypes being perpetuated make it more difficult for gay people to be understood. How can a gay person possibly gain acceptance from hostile parents if all the parents know about being gay is what they learn from watching television?
Rowling deserves to be applauded for her comments. She took a sympathetic, powerful professor, Dumbledore, who cared for Harry Potter and fought for his best interests in the series, and demonstrated that, while yes, he is gay, nothing changes what is essentially good about Dumbledore. Not only a powerful wizard who repeatedly defended Harry against Gellert Grindelwald and Lord Voldemort, Dumbledore is also a wise, old mentor who watched over Harry from his infancy, schooling him for his final battle with Voldemort. Furthermore, rejecting Lord Voldemort’s and other wizards’ claims of supremacy over non-magic folk, Dumbledore is of the ideology that inherent power or righteousness is flawed. He just does not care about a person’s background, as long as he or she is a good individual. He is a person of virtue, who honours his word and fights for love and against evil and believes in the ideal of love overcoming burdens and defeating evil. Basically, he is the archetypal fantasy genre wizard, like Gandalf from the Lord of Rings trilogy, only gay.
However, Dumbledore being gay changes nothing about his role in the series, changes nothing in the story, and it adds nothing new to the story. Apart from answering a few questions about how Dumbledore was able to master Grindelwald’s Great Wand and his fashion choice, Dumbledore remains the old Dumbledore, with no changes. Apart from the observation of no female loves and his “friendship” with Grindelwald that is not explicit, his sexuality is inconsequential to the storyline.
Maybe Dumbledore’s sexuality is purposefully inert to the plot to make Rowling’s point: yes, he is gay, but it is not a big deal as it doesn’t change who he is. As Dumbledore himself would say, “It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”