I'm not interested in Dumbledore's sexuality and Harry Potter fans shouldn't be either
Before I really get into the latest Harry Potter drama, I should make you aware of a couple of things.
Firstly, as an English literature graduate and post-graduate student, I’m a big believer in letting the text speak for itself. This may not change your opinions on me. Secondly, more controversially: I’m not actually a huge Harry Potter fan. This may change your opinions dramatically.
Whilst I appreciate the world-building and some of the thematic and narrative thrusts the novels and films take, I would never consider them to be my favourites. The hype and excitement around them has passed me completely by. Truthfully, I was even a little relieved when the final book was released in 2007: now, at least, I thought the drama could die down.
That, however, is not what happened. And it’s why I think this latest in the long saga of fan outrages about the series has erupted. Last week, David Yates, the director of Fantastic Beasts 2, revealed that they will not be exploring Dumbledore’s sexuality ‘explicitly’ in the film. This has provoked an outpouring of anger from fans, some of whom believe that this should have been central to the plot of The Crimes of Grindelwald. It’s even led some to send angry messages to J K Rowling, demanding to know why she has written this into the screenplay. She has responded less than tactfully.
But let’s just pause this for one second. Let’s actually think about what’s going on here. Fans are upset that a character whose sexuality was never a major part of the series they loved will continue to do things which are much more important than his sexuality. There’s an outcry that a film which is exploring the dark side of magic in a universe which has captured billions across the globe is not also a coming-out story.
Because here’s the thing: Dumbledore was never gay. Not explicitly. Never in any of the books or films did he express a sexual desire for a man, refer to a romantic relationship or even a crush. Perhaps there were clues, such as throwaway comments or – apparently – his clothes. But no actual confirmation.
That is, until Rowling ‘outed’ him in 2007, revealing that she had always imagined him to be gay. Somehow, this then became canon, alongside further revelations from the author concerning Sirius Black’s birthday and which house Harry’s son was sorted into. Between the dedicated website Pottermore and Rowling’s own Twitter account, facts and anecdotes have been added to Potter-lore continually even after the series itself finished. But that doesn’t make them gospel. It doesn’t even really make them relevant.
Fans should not be shocked that Dumbledore’s sexuality will not be dealt with ‘explicitly’ in the upcoming film - and I’m going to keep reiterating that word ‘explicitly’ as it both amusingly suggests future films could become X-rated and completely proves my point. For seven whole books and nine whole films, Dumbledore’s homosexuality has been very much on the backburner. Rowling may have always imagined him to be gay, but she never wrote that. These were details that she dreamt up, character traits to help her in her writing, but she never thought to include them in the 1 million+ words which make up the original series. Why? Because they’re just not important.
Rowling’s persistence in continuing the Potter-myth has long bothered me. I feel as though, if a revelation were vital, it would have found its way into at least one of the books. The reactions to the potential heteronormativity of Fantastic Beasts 2 are, in part, precisely the author’s just desserts for refusing to let go of Harry and Hogwarts. Having opened her door to throw out the occasional tidbit to her legions of fans, she can hardly be surprised by the pushback when one of her canonical revelations turns out not to be so canonical after all.
Yet the fans too are responsible for their own disappointment. This is an opportunity for them to see their much-loved character on screen again, battling the forces of evil. His sexuality is completely irrelevant in this context. What his relationship with Grindelwald is remains to be seen, but a cheap label is actually totally against the spirit of a series which advocated tolerance for all. Dumbledore frankly deserves better.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was my favourite film of the franchise and I’m looking forward to the story continuing this year. What I’d urge fans to do now is to consider the roots of their love for the world of Harry Potter, going back to the original texts. I’d urge Rowling to exercise a little restraint in her need to ‘reveal’ facts that she never considered relevant before now. And I’d urge everybody to at least give the film a chance before writing it off because it doesn’t include storylines you want it to. After all – what would Dumbledore do?
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