Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

The Outing of Albus Dumbledore

albus-dumbledore-gay.jpgI should probably stay away from this, but I can’t.  As many probably know, recently J. K. Rowling, author of the incredibly popular “Harry Potter” books, outed her character, Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, as gay.  The rightwing is predictably outraged because Dumbledore was the “moral compass” for Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a series of fantasy books for children.  Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly even claimed it was proof that there is a conspiracy to convince children that tolerance of same-sex orientation is good–this from a man who was sued by a (female) former producer for sexual harassment when he repeatedly tried to get said producer and her former college roommate to join him in a menage a trois! Hypocrisy lives.

Meanwhile, not all of the GLBT community or their allies are pleased.  Bob Cornwall notes the long, sad, history in literature and film which portrays all “good” gays and lesbians as closeted–and then having to pay for their supposed evil by dying. Is Dumbledore in that category?  I’m not sure. I didn’t see Dumbledore so much as closeted as one of those rare individuals who have a low sex drive and find it easy to be celibate. (It wasn’t until Rowling’s “outing” that I picked up on the clues that he was once in love–with the man who became his great enemy, Grindlewald.  Being forced to kill your first love could lead many people to lifelong celibacy–regardless of sexual orientation.)

What I found more disturbing is that Rowling did not make Dumbledore’s sexuality explicit in the books themselves.  After all, she claims that promoting tolerance and fair treatment of all is a major theme of her books.  She’s right:  the books deal with prejudice–the slavery of house elves, the denigration of goblins, and shunning of half-giants and werewolves.  Repeatedly, children reading the series are taught to judge people by their character and not by popular views of what “their kind” are like–and this in a fictional world in which gender equality and racial equality is a reality reflected in everything from the composition of Quidditch teams to political offices.  So, why keep Dumbledore’s sexual orientation only implicit in the books themselves?  Sure, one doesn’t want children reading explicit sex scenes–of any kind–but the only dating or love shown in the books is heterosexual.  How does that help the primary readership learn acceptance of gays or lesbians?  Shouldn’t Dumbledore’s outing have come in the books themselves?

I think Rowling stumbles here.  By contrast, I recommend the fantasy novels of the American author Mercedes Lackey, at this point.  In many ways, Rowling is the better author. But Lackey’s works, especially her novels of the fictional world of Valdemar, contain several gay or lesbian characters.  One in particular, Vanyel the last Herald Mage, is a major character who must come of age and discover and accept his sexual orientation in a very repressive family with a somewhat repressive society. It’s a powerful story of love and loss and courage and the struggles for change and acceptance–and I would recommend it highly to adolescent readers.  At this point, Lackey’s Vanyel is the better model than Rowling’s Dumbledore.

November 2, 2007 - Posted by | GLBT issues


  1. Welcome back. I have to agree with you on this one. Rowling’s announcement about Dumbledore seemed to come so out of the blue, on the spur of the moment as it were, given that there was no indication in the books themselves, that it struck me as a cheap gesture. I worry that it causes more mischief than anything else.

    Comment by Kerry | November 3, 2007

  2. Michael,

    I wonder if this conception of Dumbledore isn’t an after thought. It fills out a character, but wasn’t part of the original design.

    Now that the series is complete she’s not going to be able to develop it, though the fan fiction people apparently already are — maybe were.

    Comment by Bob Cornwall | November 3, 2007

  3. Bob, Kerry, Rowling claims that she “always saw Dumbledore as gay,” and that there are clues to this throughout the series, but especially in the 7th book. So, I think she was told by her publisher not to make Dumbledore’s sexuality explicit in the books–advice she should have ignored.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | November 3, 2007

  4. This revelation was actually previewed in this video.

    Dumbledore is in there- Can you find him?

    Comment by Will M. | November 3, 2007

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