In the wake of author J.K. Rowling's appearance at Carnegie Hall last Friday, Harry Potter fans are left reeling from the shot heard 'round the literary world.
During her fateful stop in New York, the last in her U.S. tour, Rowling read from her most recent book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and answered a number of questions submitted by fans prior to reading. Among these was whether or not Dumbledore, Hogwarts Headmaster and Harry's trusted mentor, had ever found love. Rowling sighed, paused, and delivered her response with an almost theatrical gravity: "My truthful answer to you...I always thought of Dumbledore as gay." The audience sat in stunned silence for several moments, and then burst into extended applause.
At first glance, it would seem there is cause for celebration; for Rowling to announce that a character in her phenomenally successful series is gay should represent a step forward for not only young adult fiction and the fantasy genre, but in promoting acceptance of homosexuality worldwide. That she should choose such an important and beloved character also seems to underscore her positive representation of gay men. Also, considering Rowling has already taken considerable flak from fundamentalist Christian groups calling to have her books pulled from school library shelves for alleged Satanic undertones, her recent announcement appears to represent a brave and progressive step.
To me, however, something smells rotten in Hogwarts. To my knowledge, this announcement makes Dumbledore the first and only gay character in the entire series of seven cinder-block-sized books. In light of Rowling's attention to featuring such a diverse cast of characters (see Harry's Asian girlfriend, Cho Chang, among others), the fact that there is not one hint of an even slightly bicurious character in the books themselves seems incongruous.
Furthermore, Dumbledore is always portrayed as a strong and outspoken character; if he truly were gay, and it really was such an important aspect of his character to warrant official disclosure, would he have been afraid to say so?
In response to such questions at a recent news conference at the Winter Garden Theatre, Rowling stated firmly that she thought the truth of Dumbledore's sexual orientation was "really self-evident." She called the revelation "a key part of the ending of the story," and in defense of the belatedness of Dumbledore's emergence from the closet, she snarked, "If you were an author you might understand that when you write the ending, it comes at the end." Wow. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
The fact of the matter is that the revelation came too late for even the end of the series, despite her repeated assurance that "it's very clear in the book." In fact, the only evidence she supplies are general allusions to Dumbledore's boyhood friendship with his nemesis, Gellert Grindelwald. While I would like to believe Rowling's decision to be a genuine effort to advance our culture's understanding and acceptance of gays, her announcement strikes me as more of a sensationalist postscript. Rather than being openly supportive of gay culture when she had the opportunity in the actual series, she has chosen to capitalize on the controversy surrounding the gay rights movement to gain greater publicity for her already best-selling books. This opportunism represents a step backwards, and an insult to those she claims to support.