What The Fucking Fucking Fuck JK Rowling?

by Dan H

Dan Learns That He Should Just Stop Listening To That Damned Woman
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This isn't an article, this is a rant. Hopefully that should be obvious from the title.

That title again.

What the Fucking Fucking Fuck JK Rowling. I mean really what the Fucking Fucking Fuck.

Unless you've been distracted by little trivial details like the disintegration of Afghanistan and the US Presidential election, you're probably aware that JK Rowling announced some months ago that Dumbledore Is Gay.

Okay, fine, whatever you say you stupid, sanctimonious hack. Dumbledore's gay, I'll file that with "Harry is a Hero" and "It's all about choices" under "Shit I've been told about Harry Potter which is totally unsupported by the text".

Her latest statement on the subject goes like this:
"I had always seen Dumbledore as gay, but in a sense that's not a big deal. The book wasn't about Dumbledore being gay. It was just that from the outset obviously I knew he had this big, hidden secret, and that he flirted with the idea of exactly what Voldemort goes on to do, he flirted with the idea of racial domination, that he was going to subjugate the Muggles. So that was Dumbledore's big secret.

Why did he flirt with that?" she asks. "He's an innately good man, what would make him do that. I didn't even think it through that way, it just seemed to come to me, I thought 'I know why he did it, he fell in love.' And whether they physically consummated this infatuation or not is not the issue. The issue is love. It's not about sex. So that's what I knew about Dumbledore. And it's relevant only in so much as he fell in love and was made an utter fool of by love. He lost his moral compass completely when he fell in love and I think subsequently became very mistrusting of his own judgment in those matters so became quite asexual. He led a celibate and bookish life."

Clearly some people didn't see it that way. How does she react to those who disagree with a homosexual character in a children's novel? "So what?" she retorts immediately "It is a very interesting question because I think homophobia is a fear of people loving, more than it is of the sexual act. There seems to be an innate distaste for the love involved, which I find absolutely extraordinary. There were people who thought, well why haven't we seen Dumbledore's angst about being gay?" Rowling is clearly amused by this and rightly so. "Where was that going to come in? And then the other thing was-and I had letters saying this-that, as a gay man, he would never be safe to teach in a school."
Where to begin. I mean seriously, where to begin.

Okay, let's start from the beginning.

In fact, let's go through the execrable bullshit line by fucking line.
"I had always seen Dumbledore as gay, but in a sense that's not a big deal."
By "always seen Dumbledore as gay" she presumably means "had always seen Dumbledore as fundamentally asexual, and like all middle class fucktards I assume that anybody who isn't married by the age of thirty is a woofter."

Seriously. Look at the quote again. Notice how she says that she had "always seen Dumbledore as gay" but then makes it clear that she had never intended for him to actually be involved in any variety of homosexual relationship. More than that, until she pulled Gridelwald out of her arse in order to explain how Dumbledore could possibly have made a mistake, she clearly had no intention of his ever having been in a homosexual relationship.

So what can she possibly mean by "I had always seen Dumbledore as gay"? It's simple really. She means she'd seen him as having no sexual life whatsoever, as being without sexual desire or motivation. As not fancying women. Of course she'd also seen him as rather funny, rather quirky, somewhat outrageous in a non-threatening kind of way. An eccentric old duffer with a funny line in velvet suits. The fact that JK Rowling characterises all of these personality traits as "gay" is profoundly, profoundly offensive. You are a hack, JK Rowling, a small-minded, bigoted hack.

A couple of people, after the announcement came out, suggested that they "should have guessed after they saw him in that purple velvet suit". It's a joke, of course, but it's a joke based on an offensive homophobic stereotype. An offensive homophobic stereotype which appeared to be at the heart of JKR's conception of Dumbledore as a gay man.

Right. On to the next line then.
"The book wasn't about Dumbledore being gay. It was just that from the outset obviously I knew he had this big, hidden secret, and that he flirted with the idea of exactly what Voldemort goes on to do, he flirted with the idea of racial domination, that he was going to subjugate the Muggles. So that was Dumbledore's big secret."
Okay, where to begin with this little section. "He had this big, hidden secret, and he flirted with the idea of exactly what Voldemort goes on to do". So he's got a big secret and he wanted to take over the world. So Wizard society is institutionally homophobic then? Hence his keeping his sexual orientation a secret? In that case, you'd think his enemies would have found out and used it against him. Except of course that he never actually had any variety of homosexual experience, so maybe that would have been quite difficult for them.

Or maybe Wizarding society is totally okay with homosexuality, maybe it's completely acceptable for Wizarding men to bang each other. In that case why did he keep it secret? Either way, isn't "he's gay" significantly less important than "he tried to take over the world". Why mention them in the same breath? It's not like the two are directly causally related.

After all, a woman whose works are a protracted plea for tolerance wouldn't deliberately set out to establish a causal link between homosexuality and acts of evil and violence.

Oh wait.
"Why did he flirt with that?" she asks. "He's an innately good man, what would make him do that. I didn't even think it through that way, it just seemed to come to me, I thought 'I know why he did it, he fell in love.'
I'm going to take the cheap shot now and highlight the fact that she just blithely says that having introduced this really quite significant element into a character's personal history (he seriously considered the idea of subjugating humanity) she then blithely states that she "didn't even think it through."

Excuse me while I rant again. For fuck's sake JK Rowling it's the entire fucking plot of the seventh fucking book, what do you mean you didn't think it through you fucking talentless moron. I mean seriously, what does this woman get paid for. You're fucking well supposed to think things through particularly if they're, y'know, important.

There is just so much, so very very much, about this line that reveals JK Rowling's weakness as a writer. Dumbledore, apparently, is an "innately good man". I've already talked about how JK Rowling's personal morality seems weirdly Calvinist (or rather, weirdly similar to the way a complete outsider who doesn't really understand the doctrine of the elect would characterise Calvinism). Again we see the pathetic simplicity of Rowling's moral world. Dumbledore is "innately good" it is therefore completely inconceivable that he could ever do anything wrong ever unless he was being actively influenced by an evil external force.

And what force could be more evil than homosexual desire?

Okay, I know, it's another cheap shot. But - and yes I'm going to say it again - for fuck's sake. For fucking fucking fucking fuck's sake. For fuck's sake. Not only is she too pathetic and cowardly to let her precious, precious heroes show any signs of complexity or make any mistakes that aren't attributed to supernatural compulsion (any scene where Harry acts irrationally is the fragment of Voldemort's soul. The scenes in DH where Ron acts completely rationally are the influence of the Horcrux). Not only that, but Rowling then chooses to declare that the external compulsion which stops Dumbledore from following his otherwise infallible moral compass is homosexual love.

She elaborates, of course.
"And whether they physically consummated this infatuation or not is not the issue. The issue is love. It's not about sex. So that's what I knew about Dumbledore. And it's relevant only in so much as he fell in love and was made an utter fool of by love. He lost his moral compass completely when he fell in love and I think subsequently became very mistrusting of his own judgment in those matters so became quite asexual. He led a celibate and bookish life."
Again, she begins by reiterating the fact that as far as she is concerned "being gay" is in no way contingent upon having any kind of actual physical homosexual encounter. Again it seems that in Rowling's world "gay man" doesn't mean "a man who is sexually attracted to other men" but rather "a man who wears outrageous purple velvet suits."

Then she goes on to make it very, very clear that Dumbledore was in love with Wizard Hitler. The word "love" appears four times in the above paragraph. JK Rowling is totally obsessed with the concept of love. Lily's love for Harry, Harry's love for his friends, Snape's love for Lily. Voldemort seems to be doomed to be evil pretty much from his conception, because he wasn't born of a loving union.

Crucially, though, "love" in Harry Potter is an unambiguous force for good. All this stuff about how Dumbledore was "made an utter fool of by love" and "lost his moral compass completely" is at odds with the way that the great, redeeming power of love is shown to work at every other point in the Potter books. That, indeed, is the whole damned point of the books. Harry so loves Hogwarts that he sacrifices his only begotten ... sorry, I mean "himself" to save them, thereby protecting them all from Voldemort's curses with his Big Love Mojo.

In this context, Dumbledore/Grindelwald becomes quite horribly offensive (up there with HP Lovecraft presenting the Evils of Miscegenation as a supernatural threat in Innsmouth, or Enid Blyton casting the Gollywogs as the villains of the Noddy books). We are now presented with a great wizard, a truly good man (innately good in fact), who is debased and corrupted because he falls in love with another man. Love, which between a man and a woman, or between friends, or between a parent and child, brings out nothing but goodness and the finest qualities in all parties, between Dumbledore and Grindelwald however was baleful and destructive. In fact, you could almost say that JK Rowling presents homosexual love as an inversion of beautiful, uplifting, heterosexual love.

I'm quite sure this isn't deliberate. Prejudice never is. Nobody wakes up in the morning and thinks to themselves "hey, I think I'll be homophobic today!" Contrary to Rowling's simplistic portrayal of the issue, prejudice is not simply a matter of people being deliberately horrible to minorities. The most dangerous and pernicious forms of prejudice are, in fact, the things which people don't even think about. Things like perpetuating outdated, destructive stereotypes of a particular group and then trying to pass it off as empowering. The idea that an elderly gay man has to be a quirky, faintly outrageous basically asexual eccentric is hugely, hugely insulting.

Look. It really is this simple. You can't be both "gay" and "asexual" any more than you can be simultaneously "Catholic" and "Atheist". The moment you become an atheist, you stop being a Catholic, the moment you become a Catholic, you stop being an atheist. A man who has a single homosexual infatuation at the age of eighteen which might not even be consummated or requited and then lives an utterly sexless existence is not "gay" no matter how many brightly coloured suits he wears.

I've had about as much of this shit as I can take, but there's still more to deal with.

What's next, ah yes. Our sycophantic interviewer points out that some people were hostile to the idea of a gay character in a children's book. Rowling has this fabulous insight:
"It is a very interesting question because I think homophobia is a fear of people loving, more than it is of the sexual act. There seems to be an innate distaste for the love involved, which I find absolutely extraordinary. There were people who thought, well why haven't we seen Dumbledore's angst about being gay?"
Again, she is keen to stress that it is the love that homophobes object to, not the sex. First and foremost, this is bullshit. When the Christian Right has a go at homosexuality it's not "love" they complain about it's sodomy. You know, sodomy, from Sodom and Gomorrah, the bit of the bible which tends to be used to explain why some people think it's wrong, not for men to feel strong bonds of affection towards one another, but to actually fuck each other up the arse.

Sorry, that was crude, but Rowling seems to want to completely divorce the idea of "being gay" from the actual, physical act of homosexual sex. She wants the kudos of having a "gay character" in the book (because they're all about tolerance remember) without having to think about any of that dirty, nasty bumsex.

Indeed I might even suggest that maybe, just maybe, the reason JK Rowling is so keen to declare that homophobes are afraid of the love not the sex is because she, herself, is actually kind of afraid of the sex. Why else would she be so adamant that Dumbledore never, never, never, never had any kind of actual homosexual impulse or encounter other than his "infatuation" with Grindelwald.

Are you honestly telling me that if Dumbledore had been straight (that is to say, had dressed more conservatively and not kept saying things like "that flighty temptress, adventure!") and he had fallen in love with a woman that (a) it would have led him down the path of evil when all other heterosexual relationships in the series have been nothing but redemptive and that (b) he would have become completely asexual afterwards?

Now okay, I admit, that part of what makes this so creepy is JK Rowling's totally fucked up attitude to love, which stipulates that you meet the One Person Who Is Truly Meant For You In All The World at roughly the age of eleven, and then you are never allowed to feel anything for anybody ever again. Presumably once Dumbledore had pursued his disastrous infatuation with Grindelwald, the Monster in his Chest died a horrible lonely death, and Dumbledore never looked at anybody sexually ever again. Ever. For a hundred and twenty years after his eighteenth birthday.

And in fact, I think that's the basic problem with the whole "Dumbledore is gay" thing. Homosexuality (and - much like my last Fb article - this is going to sound really obvious) is contingent upon sexuality, a factor which is notably absent from the Harry Potter books. Oh sure, there's "snogging" (which appears to be the only verb fictional teenagers are allowed to use to describe kissing) but nobody in Harry Potter has any real sexual impulses. There's no sex in Potter, only "love". That's why when the mermaids take "the thing that is most important to you in the whole world" in GoF, they take the person the contestant is dating. No doubt if the tournament had taken place a year later, Ginny would have been in Ron's position under the lake. The idea that Krum might have been dating Hermione, not because he thought she was Wonderful and Special and Amazing, but because he fancied some tight muggleborn pussy ("You know vot zey say about muggleborn girls, Victor?") simply didn't enter into it.

In a world completely void of any sexuality whatsoever - homo or hetero - where children seem to be produced magically out of thin air after two people have avowed their devotion and married (hell, maybe that's how Wizards do it, they seem to use magic for everything else, it wouldn't entirely surprise me if they had an inferior magical substitute for sex to go along with their inferior magical substitutes for everything else us muggles have invented to make our lives better) it simply makes no sense to say "Dumbledore was gay and was in love with Grindelwald".

What, precisely, about Grindelwald was Dumbledore attracted to? Was it - as it is presented in the actual novel - a meeting of the minds? The thrill of meeting another young wizard who was his equal in ability and ambition? In that case how is it functionally different from a heterosexual friendship (one of the things that really annoys me about fiction in general, actually, is the way that friendship is portrayed as utterly meaningless compared to romantic love - it's why I love the Denny Crane/Alan Shaw relationship in Boston Legal)? If Dumbledore "fell in love" with Grindelwald for purely intellectual reasons, then how does that explain why he was attracted to Grindelwald in the first place? Surely if Dumbledore's attraction to Grindelwald was based on an intellectual simpatico he must have been open to the whole idea of subjugating the muggle race already. On the other hand, maybe he was just attracted to Grindelwald's long blonde hair and boyish good looks. In that case the relationship was overtly sexual, and Dumbledore shouldn't have just been able to switch off those sexual impulses because he "didn't trust his judgement". Just because you get burned once at the age of eighteen, that doesn't mean that you then stop fancying people. But Dumbledore (like most of the adults in Harry Potter) is portrayed as an utterly sexless being (which isn't inappropriate, adults in children's stories are normally played as asexual). It is simply meaningless to say "Dumbledore is gay" just as it is meaningless to say "Professor McGonagall is heterosexual". People who don't have sexual appetites don't have sexual orientation, it really is that simple. Yes, we live in a society which happens to assume that a person of nonspecified sexual orientation is straight, but that's simply incorrect. Sexuality isn't like race, you don't just get one automatically. If a character in a work of fiction is not presented as having any kind of sexual or romantic impulses, that character cannot be considered "straight" or "gay" or anything else.

In this sense, in fact, sexuality is very much the opposite of race (as I discussed in my previous article - I'm afraid I'm turning into a bit of a Joss Whedon wannabe with all this standing up for minorities I know nothing about). Race affects everything about a person's physical appearance, and if a character's race isn't specified, they'll wind up being white by default. You have to imagine a character looking like something, after all, and odds are what elements of description the author does give will wind up implying a white person rather than a black person.

Sexuality works rather differently. If a character's sexuality is not defined in the text, then it really is entirely up to the reader to decide. While it doesn't really make sense to imagine Professor McGonnagall as black (it just doesn't fit the description of the character, and besides, Rowling tends to mention when her characters have black skin) it's perfectly reasonable to imagine her being straight or gay or bi or whatever as you choose. There is simply no evidence in the text to support most of the characters having any sexuality whatsoever (at least the unmarried ones). Starting to declare that any given character is straight or gay makes no sense at all. (This is exactly why the girly posters on Sirius' wall were so annoying).

Rowling expresses her amazement that people wonder why we "haven't seen Dumbledore's angst about being gay." No Jo, that's not what they're wondering. They're wondering why we haven't seen Dumbledore's "angst" about the fact that the only person he ever loved was an evil mass murderer who he was eventually forced to face down and lock in his own prison. Particularly when - during Harry's Second year - he hires a teacher who looks exactly like the his lost love, only to have the guy turn out to be evil, and get driven mad. All it would take was one sentence in which Dumbledore admits that Lockhart reminds him of somebody he used to know. As it is the idea of Dumbledore having any kind of past at all comes kind of out of left field. The idea of him having a tragic past is even more surprising and the idea of him having a tragic past of thwarted homosexual love is utterly unsupported by the text.

Rowling's final word on the subject is this:

"And then the other thing was-and I had letters saying this-that, as a gay man, he would never be safe to teach in a school."

Again, she expresses surprise at this, but again, her surprise rings hollow. Clearly the only way she herself was comfortable with portraying a gay man was to make him completely celibate. Obviously Dumbledore was safe to teach in a school, he had no sexual drives whatsoever. Certainly there is nothing about Rowling's portrayal of homosexual love that could lead us to believe that she felt it was harmless in general. It was a destructive force in Dumbledore's life, it caused him to lose his otherwise infallible moral compass and flirt with the idea of racial domination.

To be - well perhaps fair is too strong a word - but to at least admit that there exists doubt of which miss Rowling could theoretically be given the benefit, I am sure that she did not deliberately create a situation in which her only canonical homosexual relationship was primarily sexless and ultimately destructive. I am sure she did not mean, by "outing" Dumbledore, to perpetuate the idea that homosexuality is only acceptable so long as it is not acted upon. That doesn't change the fact that this is exactly what she did, and by repeatedly asserting that Dumbledore's flirtation with genocide was not attributable to a flaw in his character, but only to his "infatuation" with Gellert Grindelwald, she makes matters worse.

Ultimately, this article concludes much the same way my last article began. It is all very well for Rowling to say that Dumbledore's sexuality "shouldn't matter" just as it is all very well for the Sci Fi channel to say that it "shouldn't matter" whether Ged is played by a white actor. But the fact is that it does matter and it matters deeply, and the fact that Rowling cannot tell why it matters, why maybe the fact that her books - albeit accidentally - send the message that homosexual love is perverse and unnatural might cause problems, is only further evidence of her failure as an author.

A plea for tolerance indeed.
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Comments (go to latest)
Arthur B at 11:31 on 2008-03-17
A pet theory: Rowling only decided that Dumbledore was gay after she finished writing the series. She was giving a question-and-answer, someone asked about Dumbledore's love life, she was vaguely aware that a lot of internet people would be made very happy if it turned out that one of the HP characters were gay, so she blurted out that Dumbledore was gay and reeled out the Grindlewald connection as spurious evidence. Pretty much everything she says in that quote strikes me as someone rationalising, improvising, and retconning, retconning, retconning into the future, essentially making shit up on the spot to try to explain why a) we never saw any sign that Dumbledore was gay in the actual books and b) why Dumbledore being gay is at all important or worth mentioning.
Rami at 11:49 on 2008-03-17
The more I read from you, Dan, the less I want to ever read Harry Potter.
empink at 13:21 on 2008-03-17
@Rami
At this point, I'm right there with you. This is one of the worst things about being a fan of anything written by hacks-- if you wait long enough, they'll rip apart everything that was marginally good about it and scribble all over it with fuckwit pens. I'm not sure when I decided to stop listening to JKR's stupid public announcements, but I'm firmly set on doing that as much as possible now.

I don't know if you're familiar with how anal fanfic writers can be about what does and doesn't belong in canon? Well, the movies don't count for me (on account of them mostly being SHITE), and no word that JKR says after the fact counts, ESPECIALLY everything she's said after the last book came out. I half wish I could strike books 7, 6 and maybe 5 (and what the hell, how about 4) from the list as well, because though they're spread-your-hands-and-sigh okay, just about every plot point introduced in those books is rushed and unedited and stinky.
Arthur B at 18:28 on 2008-03-17
I think cutting the series off at book 3 is a reasonable stance. Rowling was always at her best when she was straining against the bounds of the 300-page large type children's novel format; book 3, in particular, is my favourite in the series. Once she became big enough that her editors either didn't dare say "no" to her or realised that the books would sell like crazy whether or not they actually bothered to edit them, the downhill slide began. Book 4 is good and fun, but I still feel that it's a step down from the first three; aside from the tri-wizard tournament and the little glimpses we had of the wizarding world beyond the UK, I can't think of any cool elements in it which weren't introduced (and handled more effectively) in the earlier books.
empink at 20:34 on 2008-03-17
Book 3 was my fave one as well. Man, I just wish some editor had just hung in there, you know? I still love the HP world (well, more like I love it as it was in the first three books) of yore. It was flawed and there were some gaping holes in it if you knew where to look, but it was also a really fun read way back when. Now, with chest monsters and Undying Love and rampant intolerance all over the place...eeurgh.
Dan H at 22:22 on 2008-03-17
A pet theory: Rowling only decided that Dumbledore was gay after she finished writing the series.

Weirdly, "it was completely pulled out of her arse" is - to my mind at least - the generous interpretation. I'd rather believe that she made up "Dumbledore was gay" on the spot than believe that she intended him to be gay from the start, and decided to express this by making him wear outrageous purple suits and never never mention being sexually attracted to another man.

Certainly there's evidence that she sent a "Dumbledore is gay" note to one of the film producers, when he was going to have Dumbledore reminiscing about an old girlfriend.
Arthur B at 22:46 on 2008-03-17
Certainly there's evidence that she sent a "Dumbledore is gay" note to one of the film producers, when he was going to have Dumbledore reminiscing about an old girlfriend.

Yeah, I think this has been confirmed by the director in question, now that I think about it.
Sister Magpie at 14:05 on 2008-03-18
Somebody mentioned recently how there's no interest in sex or romance but a lot of interest in playing house. I remember being struck by JKR using similar phrasing to describe Charlie and Sirius and whether Charlie was gay or Sirius had a girlfriend. It was something like "He's not gay. He's more interested in dragons than girls/He's too busy being a rebel to have a girlfriend."

Setting up again a situation where either you're one of the characters who are meeting their true love and marrying for life, or else there's a lack of interest in girls, iow you're asexual. (They're interested in girls enough not to be gay, but not interested enough for a relationship. Teen!Sirius has pictures of girls on the wall, but in the one scene where we meet him attention is specifically drawn to him being disinterested.) Since she's giving out everybody's future you start to notice there's no such thing as divorce or living with somebody without being married, or dating people without ever getting married or being in a committed gay relationship. It's who they married, or else how they're not interested in something else instead of that.

Characters are supposed to date others in a superficial way (snog them, at least) before settling down with the true love, but that's about it.

Of course some would say it's a kids book (when they're not saying it's a book that dares to be gritty and realistic and the way life really is!) and it's not about the soap opera lives of the characters. And that's true of the books. But the interviews have become about that in large part and it's consistent with what little is in the books.
Arthur B at 17:15 on 2008-03-18
Somebody mentioned recently how there's no interest in sex or romance but a lot of interest in playing house.

To be fair to Rowling, she's not exactly free to frankly explore the sex lives of the Harry Potter character. If she'd been able to stick to her original plan - of writing books which would grow for the readers, pitched at kids around the same age (or perhaps 1 or 2 years younger) than Harry is in the book in question, it'd have been different: publishers are much more comfortable about discussions about people's sex lives in books for older teenagers than they are in books for 11-year-olds.

As it is, Potter unexpectedly became a publishing phenomenon, and it took more than 1 year to write each book, and Rowling realised that each book would have to cater not only to people who'd been in the original target audience and were reading from the beginning, but anyone aged 5 to 85 who had jumped on the bandwagon since. It's no surprise that boyfriends and girlfriends don't do much more than kiss and hug, and it's kind of unreasonable to suggest that Rowling should have made the characters interested in more than that.

Where Rowling horribly fails, as you point out, is in the romance angle. It's entirely possible to write romantic subplots which are kid-safe and yet nuanced enough to engage with a teenage and adult audience. (At their creative peak, the guys at Disney were able to do so, repeatedly, for movie after movie.) Rowling doesn't even try.
Arthur B at 17:17 on 2008-03-18
(I tell a lie: she does try, once, in Goblet of Fire, with the big dance and Harry and Ron's hilarious failure to be gentlemen leaving their dates weeping by the end of the night: I think that part was really nicely observed. It's one of the few genuinely interesting parts of the fourth book. Of course, it was funnier in the movie than in the novel.)
Sister Magpie at 18:31 on 2008-03-18
It's no surprise that boyfriends and girlfriends don't do much more than kiss and hug, and it's kind of unreasonable to suggest that Rowling should have made the characters interested in more than that.

Absolutely--no point in criticizing an author for what she's not doing in the first place. I would say another place where "romance" is done well is with Harry and Cho's date in OotP--another place where everything just falls flat for both parties. And one reason it does is that you've got two specific, different people actually trying to have a conversation and connect.

With the "real" romances they're more just magically zapped onto the characters like a love potion. It's not really about these two people having stuff in common and getting to know each other, it's just picking out, as a reader, who their intended is going to be.

The romance plots are more like the mystery plots that way--for instance, you don't see Harry growing to like Ginny as a character, you figure out the clues like Harry randomly watching her, or feeling annoyed when she leaves him, or she responds correctly when he's almost killed someone, or has a chest monster, or her smell is in the love potion. Along with telegraphed stuff like "Ginny was the most awesome person on the team" etc.

I actually doubt she ever planned on dealing frankly with sex or this kind of romance since it doesn't really seem to interest her, at least in this series. I don't get the feeling she's really holding back.
Wardog at 10:55 on 2008-03-19
I guess I'll just throw a couple of pennies into the discussion fountain. I think what annoys me most is the media song and dance routine that accompanies each book (you can say that this isn't Rowling's doing but she interacts massively and voluntarily with her fanbase), the disparity between what the books actually *are* and *do* with what Rowling seems determined to *insist* they are and do. You see, I don't care a damn about Dumbledore's sexuality and if Rowling had just said in passing "well, I guess, I always thought he was gay" that would be fine: what drives me up the wall is the fact that we're meant to take this as yet further evidence that the Harry Potter series isn't just a bunch of kid's books about a boy wizard but Serious Literature addressing Meaningful Issues. It's basically just cheating. It's like she wants the kudos of being open minded about gay people without actually having to face the fact that being so noticeably in fiction - especially children's books - is likely to make her unpopular in a few circles. Have some fucking courage.
Dan H at 11:01 on 2008-03-19
Absolutely--no point in criticizing an author for what she's not doing in the first place

As Kyra points out, while I don't think there's any point in criticizing somebody for not doing something they were never trying to do, I think it's totally okay to criticize somebody for not doing something that they were not trying to do but which they never the less claimed they were doing.

I'm not going to complain that somebody doesn't cook me dinner if they haven't offered to, but if somebody offers to cook me dinner, and then does an enormous poo on a plate and serves it to me, I think I have the right to be peeved, and I don't think "but I wasn't trying to cook a meal, I was trying to take an enormous poo" isn't really a defence.
Sister Magpie at 16:14 on 2008-03-19
I don't think "but I wasn't trying to cook a meal, I was trying to take an enormous poo" isn't really a defence.

LOL! Words to live by. But yeah, that's why I don't think it's a problem when she doesn't write detailed romance or get too deeply into sex, or the sex lives of adults, since she doesn't really claim to be doing more than matching people up for plot reasons anyway.

But the plea for tolerance, the "right versus easy," the choices stuff--all that is set out as what the books are supposed to be admired for or at least what they're saying. So you can't help but question places where they don't actually do that. Or since DH, whenever she talks about Dumbledore it's like it sounds like she's talking about her choice to do something realistic or daring with a gay character that strikes a blow against homophobia in children's lit, when she didn't even write the gay character to begin with. She could talk about hypothetically what she'd think about a writer who actually did put a gay teacher in a YA book (and there are plenty), but what she did was after-the-fact say a character was gay and then kind of add, "Sure he was gay. That's why he went evil. Wasn't that clear?"
http://baihehua.livejournal.com/ at 05:37 on 2010-01-01
Here's another item to be added to the "shit I've been told about Harry Potter which is totally unsupported by the text" list:
"The world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters."
It's stated once by Sirius, and never backed up by anything else.

(I've been showing my brother the world of HP sporks, where I found this item.)
http://fintinobrien.livejournal.com/ at 06:23 on 2010-01-01
"The world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters."


Let's give Rowling some credit here. The world is divided into good people, Death Eaters, and incompetent Ministry heads. :-)

(And since I can't post in the Playpen, I'll say this here - Happy New Year! Maybe one of my resolutions should be to get an account here. :-P)
Hi there! I discovered this site fairly recently, and I'll be sure to hang around when I can. Being a disillusioned Harry Potter ex-fan, I'm enjoying your opinions and insights tremendously. I hope it's not too late to add a couple of words to the discussion?

This article's raised some points I find very interesting. At first I brushed off Dumbledore's coming out as a ploy to keep Harry Potter in the media spotlight, but I have to agree with you that there is, on closer sight, so much to take offense about.

There's one thing I'll quibble about, and that's your point that "people who don't have sexual appetites don't have sexual orientation." I don't fully agree that being gay is contingent on physical consummation/requitement of a homosexual relationship, because of how I've heard asexuals relate their experiences. According to the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, many asexuals do feel attraction to members of a specific gender (see the paragraph on 'Attraction'), even though they don't characterise this as something sexual. Consequently, there are people out there calling themselves 'gay-asexual' or 'straight-asexual' without any sense of contradiction.
I don't know if this concept of 'romantic orientation' has been deeply or widely studied - this information comes more or less entirely from personal anecdotes. But it seems to be pretty widely accepted in the asexual community. So, I'm wondering whether you knew about this and don't buy it, or just hadn't heard about it before?

Personally, I'd always thought of Dumbledore as plainly asexual. In any case it still stands that making him gay in any sense, only to have his one gay relationship founded on something dangerous and irrational and leading to destruction, is no real validation of homosexuality.

Could it be said that Dumbledore is another Snape in this sense? Snape, too, had that one tragic love affair, the outcome of which left him celibate for the rest of his life. I'm inclined to take this as evidence that neither Dumbledore nor Snape were really ever capable of forming healthy long-term relationships with other people.
Arthur B at 17:03 on 2010-02-13
I don't know if this concept of 'romantic orientation' has been deeply or widely studied - this information comes more or less entirely from personal anecdotes. But it seems to be pretty widely accepted in the asexual community.

I think the crucial thing there is that, as the AVEN site makes clear, asexuals don't feel any need to take the attractions they feel into a sexual dimension. You can't really call it a "sexual" orientation if there is, in fact, no sexual component to it - it would be like calling atheism a religion (as certain maddening fundamentalists are wont to do) because you "have to have faith in something, even if you have faith in nothing". "Romantic orientation" is probably a much better term for what AVEN are describing there.

Either way, it seems a moot point because Dumbledore doesn't show that sort of attraction to anyone in the series either.
Melissa G. at 17:48 on 2010-02-13
I think that the problem with what JKR was saying was that she was asserting that asexual Dumbledore was, in fact, a homosexual not a homosexual-asexual. It goes into that whole "safe gay" stereotype that happens in the media a lot. You'll see gay characters but they'll never be given relationships and love interests portrayed with equal action to the straight ones. It's like, "We have no problem with you being gay; we just don't want to hear about any of that nasty buttsex!" It comes off like JKR basically wanted to get all the praise for having a gay character without having to *actually* portray a true gay character.
Yeah. I was just picking at Dan's point that a functionally celibate character can't be called 'gay' in any sense, since perhaps they can, if you look at them a certain way.
As you've said, the problem is that Rowling was out to create a homosexual, not an asexual of any colour, and went about this by effectively neutering him and sweeping any signs of sexuality under the carpet. But then, Dumbledore isn't a great example of your everyday asexual, either. (They're not all geeks, freaks and/or figures of towering genius isolated from the common crowd ...)
Melissa G. at 15:57 on 2010-02-14
It was definitely an interesting point/idea! Thanks for sharing it! :-)
Sister Magpie at 15:17 on 2010-02-19
Had to link you to this:

http://www.snitchseeker.com/harry-potter-news/j-k-rowling-explains-grindelwald-dumbledores-relationship-dracos-wand-transfer-71142/

She's explaining the DD/GG relationship more clearly--iow, making it even more clear there was no sex ever. Also, she claims the big wand transfer moment with Harry yanking the wand out of Draco's hand was supposed to show that Dumbledore's plans came to nothing because it came down to two teenaged boys tussling, but I still think it's because by doing it that way Harry doesn't even have to notice anybody else to acheive victory. The alternative would have probably required somebody taking spotlight off of Harry in his big moment.

And also, Dumbledore's ridiculous chess game *does* work via author machinations far too much for it to come down to chance. If she wanted to show it coming down to chance she should have used the events of HBP where Draco completely overturns Voldemort's and Dumbledore's plans for him and have everything be a crap shoot from there. Imo.
Arthur B at 15:36 on 2010-02-19
I think the best way to respond to Rowling's pronouncements these days is to scratch your head and say "Harry Potter? I think I remember that. Wasn't it inspired by Twilight?"
Frank at 16:04 on 2010-02-19
Wow. I remember a time when a JKR interview would be dissected and discussed. Now, hardly anyone even knows she's talking. I wonder if it's because of the end result that's book seven or if it's fans finding other things to squee about.
Dan H at 16:28 on 2010-02-19
Sorry, haven't checked comments here for ages:

@Person Using OpenID: I'll freely admit that asexuality is one of those things I know very little about. I'm totally okay with people self-defining as "straight-asexual" or "gay-asexual" or even as "bi-asexual polyamorous" but there's a difference between real people and fictional characters. If I thought JKR had researched Asexuality as an orientation, and had deliberately constructed Dumbledore as a canonically gay-asexual character, that would be great, but there's a big difference between that and her saying "Dumbledore is Gay" and then following it up with "but he certainly never had any of that dirty bumsex".

To use an analogy, it's like when male comic artists insist that the hyper-sexualised outfits of their female characters are actually signs that they are strong women who are comfortable with their sexuality who have chosen to dress that way, and that it would be sexist to deny them their choices. Fictional characters don't make decisions, and they don't really have sexual orientations. Dumbledore, and a great many other canonically "gay" fictional characters doesn't shy away from homosexual activity because he's "gay-asexual", he does it because Rowling, like a great many other writers, is squicked out by homosexuality.

@Sister Magpie: No no no no no no no. I think the "aha, that is the final irony" thing was around a long time ago. It was stupid back then and it's stupid now. The sad thing is that it would almost be cool if there was *any* textual recognition of the fact that Harry won by dumb luck, but there wasn't. We are instead supposed to accept the mutually contradictory ideas that Harry *at one and the same time* won because of an ironic fluke *and also* because of his personal virtues.

Again, it's alarmingly Calvinist - good luck in and of itself is evidence of moral superiority.
http://lunabell14.myopenid.com/ at 23:20 on 2010-07-27
I don't know if being a lesbian helps to validate your opinion at all, but regardless, I can agree that making Dumbledore gay is offensive at worst and silly at best.

Now, I don't have problems with the idea of Dumbledore being swayed to do bad things due to his attraction to someone or being in love with them. It's something that really happens, and would actually be a kind of cool layer, to show that love doesn't always create good things. The fact that Dumbledore's gay, which isn't even supported as being gay in the books (btw, he could have shown "angst" it at King's Cross when he was re-telling this story. Why not add that if you're going to throw in the whole stupid backstory anyway? Probably because there was a fear of controversy. But hey, she still wanted credit for being tolerant.) is ridiculous. Why did this horrible evil have to come from a gay crush? A woman could also have been the motivation to be all Nazi-like (and he could've been straight). Or even just a friendship (as it's presented in the fucking books)!

Although honestly, the whole muggle-ruling dream of Dumbledore's was a waste of space. He's evil enough by being a manipulator who knew about Harry being a horcrux and not telling him about it. We don't need the backstory to do any of that.
Ashimbabbar at 14:05 on 2014-04-12
"HP Lovecraft presenting the Evils of Miscegenation as a supernatural threat in Innsmouth"
considering the protagonist finds out he is one of the Deep Ones actually, and that it pretty much rocks to be one ( " we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever" i.e. as close to Heaven as possible for an avowed atheist like HPL ), you could make a pretty good case for the opposite.

Otherwise, I wondered whether Dumbledore's gayness would not "explain" in Rowling's worldview ( such as it is… ) his covert manipulative strategies ?
Arthur B at 15:04 on 2014-04-12
Given how hostile the Deep Ones are shown as being to humanity in Shadow, and given that in general having the otherwise calm and rational narrator who's been telling the story abruptly start talking like a dyed-in-the-wool cultist feels deeply creepy, I think you would have to work very hard to say that Shadow Over Innsmouth is a pro-miscegnation story.

I mean, you could give it a pro- reading if you were really wanted to, but it'd require you to ignore a hell of a lot of stylistic and narrative choices before that reading was remotely supported by the text.
Ashimbabbar at 12:26 on 2014-04-13
Not exactly hostile - they claim they'd rather not wipe out mankind… and they appear to use it as a source for sacrifices and a breeding-ground. It's more an utilitarian approach.

But I understand your point that it is a deeply racist story, that is, that people's actions are basically defined by their genes. As long as the upstanding New England genes predominate the narrator is all for exterminating the eldritch fishmen, and when the long-recessive Deep One genes take over his mind changes correspondingly…
( and it WOULD be a pretty disgusting story, I agree, if it was about white and black instead of human and deep one ).

Still what in my opinion makes it worthwhile as a story ( besides HPL's style if one likes it ) is the tension that is, I think, in the narrator's and was HPL's own - the need for a community that would accept him, and his problems with the actual communities he had to deal with*. Here, although I agree in a very twisted way, the narrator finds his family and his place…

* which overlaps here with the other tension in his works, between attraction and repulsion for the eldritch

http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 16:09 on 2014-04-17
Coming to this discussion very, very late, because I wanted to comment on it back in the day and somehow never did. Three points (I think):
1. Being celibate in no way negates a person's basic sexuality. I feel strongly about this as a practicing Catholic. Sexuality is a continuum, and it is something ALL human beings have, celibate or otherwise.

2. That said, I was always completely puzzled by how gay readers of Harry Potter embraced Rowling's statements as promoting tolerance. They absolutely don't, for two reasons (these are things two and three-)

A. Dumbledore, as depicted in the later books, is NOT a good person. He is arguably a sociopathic narcissist. He is certainly self-absorbed, secretive, cruel, and manipulative, and he also makes errors of judgement. The "epitome of goodness" he is not!

B. Also, and all too obviously, his homosexual love leads him into evil. He only becomes "good" (for those who think he's ever good - I don't) when he renounces his love. In what way does this promote tolerance?

I think 2B is Dan's main point, and it's dead on the money. A livejournaller called Raisingal has a whole analysis of love in the books and her conclusion, if I'm remembering correctly, is that they are completely anti-gay. But 2A has been my main point from the time the last book was published. I can't see how Dumbledore is a good example of anything.

My two cents!
Daniel F at 03:38 on 2014-04-18
A few more thoughts in response. ;)

Being celibate in no way negates a person's basic sexuality. I feel strongly about this as a practicing Catholic. Sexuality is a continuum, and it is something ALL human beings have, celibate or otherwise.


Two things there, I think.

The first is that the word 'sexuality' is somewhat ambiguous in its definition, and can be used to refer either to a behaviour or to an orientation. In one sense your sexuality is your sexual life; in another sense your sexuality is a set of instincts and internal psychological markers you have. It can easily be true that Dumbledore's sexual life is one of celibacy while whatever internal sexual instinct he has is directed towards other men.

The second and probably more important is that it works a little differently for fictional characters. Real people have immense depth, and a nigh-infinite number of psychological layers that we can never truly come to grips with. I daresay most of us don't even understand our own thoughts and desires, much less those of others.

But a fictional person is not a real person. While we understand that a real person has countless character traits we will never experience, a fictional person is only those traits which are depicted. Dumbledore the literary construct is not depicted as having a sexuality. It's pointless to speculate about Dumbledore the real person, because he is not a real person. He only has reality as this construct.

He only becomes "good" (for those who think he's ever good - I don't) when he renounces his love. In what way does this promote tolerance?


It promotes tolerance in a very milquetoast, lazy way that doesn't care to actually engage with people who are different. Whatever you think about homosexuality, bland platitudes aren't tolerance. It seems to me that a social conservative who thinks homosexual behaviour is morally wrong but who sighs and lets people get on with it is showing more genuine tolerance than such a marketer of platitudes.

But yeah, the dominant picture of romance in the Potter series is "You meet your One True Love at age sixteen, court them through school, get married shortly after graduating, have children, and spend the rest of your life in faithful marriage." There's not much to argue there; Rowling isn't exactly subtle. I suspect the idea might be that that's the only sort of romance appropriate to show children.
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 17:00 on 2014-04-18
Oh, Dan, I don't think there is anything milquetoast about it. I don't think Dumbledore's having been led to evil by his gay love promotes tolerance at all! And I don't think you do, either.

You're absolutely right about the extremely conservative picture of love in the Potterverse. And I understand you now - you're also right in saying that Dumbledore, as depicted throughout the series, is asexual, not gay.

BTW, for a really good SF/Fantasy with a genuinely asexual heroine, may I recommend R.J. Anderson's "Quicksilver"?
Daniel F at 21:00 on 2014-04-18
Um, before we go any further: I am Daniel, not Dan. Entirely different people. Sorry if there was any confusion! I just wanted to throw my hat in as well.
http://mary-j-59.livejournal.com/ at 04:38 on 2014-04-19
Sorry, Daniel! I should have noticed. And I'm glad you chimed in. It's true that the sort of lukewarm "tolerance" these books exemplify isn't awfully praiseworthy.
Daniel F at 10:20 on 2014-04-19
No problem. I noticed the potential confusion shortly after posting. Just the risk of sharing a name, I guess.

Still, the whole area of sexuality is difficult. It seems to me that there are a lot of contradictory impulses guiding this sort of text, and they’re all locked into a particular idea of what sexuality is. Rowling does give us a very middle-class-romanticised picture of the sexual life, but I do think she probably honestly wants to be tolerant. When she said that the Potter series was a protracted plea for tolerance, while I don’t think that’s a true statement about the series, as a statement about what Rowling wishes the series, or about the sort of person Rowling wants to be, it’s got more meat to it.

I’m in an odd position here, because I’m a bit of a horrible old social conservative myself, and while I think Rowling’s version of tolerance is pretty worthless, neither do I particularly agree with the opposite line. Honestly, I think the very behaviour/orientation distinction I just made is flawed. Sexuality is a set of internal psychological markers and it is behaviour out in the world, but it’s also a social construct. A person’s sexuality is always expressed in and mediated through shared social ideals. And I’d better leave it there before we get too deep!

In any case, I really don’t think that having a gay lover will turn you evil, and I agree with how problematic it is to imply that in the context of a series where heterosexual love is almost always ennobling and redemptive (cf. Snape). I suppose I’d also jump on Rowling’s constant link between love and sexuality. Dan touched on this point in the article, and it might be worth further exploring. The idea that sexual interest might not be accompanied with love seems alien to the series. In a sense, the Potter series doesn’t include any sexuality at all: it only has love. Or ‘heteroromantic attraction’, if you prefer, but I think the word ‘love’ gets to the bottom of it.

The climax of Deathly Hallows is the exposition of Dumbledore’s theology of love, if you’ll pardon the term, where living ‘without love’ defines Hell. As demonstrated by Voldemort, it’s a sort of self-maiming of the soul. So much, so watered-down-secular-Christianity, but what's annoying is that Rowling’s exemplars of what love is are… rather messed up. Even if we leave aside the identification of love with heterosexual family romance, the way love is expressed in the series is incredibly passive or invisible. Harry going to his death, Snape pining over Lily, Ron doing absolutely nothing to pursue Hermione, and so on. Hermione even asserts ‘Dumbledore loved Harry’ a few chapters from the end. What’s important is that you love, not that you ever express that love.

Hence also, I imagine, why it can be significant that Dumbledore ‘loved’ Grindelwald despite never doing anything to express that love, sexually or otherwise. In the Potter series, loving someone is something that you do quietly inside you which doesn’t have to be expressed.

(And then if you’re good you’ll get a happy middle class nuclear family somewhere down the line. That's what happy endings look like, right?)

Whereas… I don’t know, I’d like to believe that love is a little more dynamic than that.
Tamara at 11:35 on 2014-04-20
The odd thing is, I think that while I largely agree that HP is a bit mincing when it comes to Grindlewald/Dumbledore, it's also kind of interesting in a way the rest of the series often isn't. The whole lovers-enemies, subtexts and contradictions, blurring of moral and personal lines and assumptions in the D/G dynamic is just much more complex and compelling than most of the tepid, somewhat fiat-y relationships in the books. (This with the caveat that I haven't actually read since I was the 'right' age to be reading it and may have emphasized aspects I now find more interesting as an adult. That said, I did spot and find them interesting as a kid/teen too.)
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