On Oct. 19, under the careful attention of a fan-packed Carnegie Hall, J.K. Rowling was asked the question:
“Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?”
Her answer uncloseted one of the world's most beloved characters, Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts headmaster and wizard extraordinaire. Dumbledore, she revealed, was gay. In his youth, he had fallen in love with Voldemort's evil predecessor, Gellert Grindelwald, and had his heart broken in the process.
The news spread immediately. Internet bloggers had a field day, posting thousands of comments, concerns, shouts of joy and condemnations. It got mention in Time, Newsweek, and at ABC News online. The Stranger's blogspot, “The Slog,” read like an escalating shouting match from “The O'Reilly Factor.”
While some bloggers were angry at the fact Dumbledore's sexual identity is never mentioned in the actual books, others were happy to see a role model for queer youth. Many bloggers said that they felt the comment was contrived for publicity, while others defended Rowling's act as brave as it most likely wouldn't help book sales.
This public debate may seem surprising in a populace generally too apathetic to vote. But one thing is certain: Rowling's comment hit upon a cultural hot spot, one that elicits strong responses.
Tina Koch, program coordinator for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance, said that she was excited to learn about Dumbledore.
Carol Cordray, president of The Harry Potter Club, said that she wasn't very surprised that the wizard was gay.
“My group of friends and I are very glad that Dumbledore has been outed,” she said.
Maybe the controversy is to be expected. Harry Potter has garnered a huge following of fans. And not just any fans, true fanatic fans. Just check out the online fan fiction or one of the three million Web sites dedicated to all things Harry Potter.
According to Cordray, Western's Harry Potter Club has about 20 regular members. Besides discussing the books and watching the movies, the club also plays a muggle version of Quidditch and has lessons put on by students in such areas as Defense Against the Dark Arts, Herbology, History of Magic and Care of Magical Creatures. They are also hoping to put on a Yule Ball with potential attendance of a Harry Potter-themed band to entertain the crowd, Cordray said.
All of the attention to Dumbledore's sexual status does ask some important questions. As one blogger put it, just because Dumbledore “likes a bit of wand,” does that mean his sexuality must overshadow him?
Nancy Johnson, Western professor in English education, said she was baffled by the media's response to this one aspect of the character, which has made Dumbledore's sexual status precede the books in importance.
“It reminds me that an author knows a lot about their characters that aren't necessarily important to the books,” she said. “It wasn't Dumbledore's story.”
Many bloggers and a Time opinion piece pointed out that not outing Dumbledore in the books seems to imply that he was ashamed of his sexuality.
“There are a lot of dimensions about characters that we will never know,” Johnson responded. “I didn't know my teachers' sexual preferences and I didn't want to know.”
When the first young adult books featuring queer characters were published they often focused on the hardships of coming out and accepting one's sexual identity, said Donna Qualley, associate professor of English. Now, books also feature characters whose homosexuality is not the focus of the novel or their personality, she said.
Hopefully, the novel will show that a character can be gay without announcing it, Qualley said.
“It shows a very wise and kind man, who is a fair-minded, strong individual and also happens to be gay,” she said.
Often, assumptions link gay men to pedophilia and now that Dumbledore is gay his interest in Harry is in question, Johnson said.
“I think this is a sad commentary on who we are as human beings,” Johnson said. “Can't an individual love and care for another human being without having it be sexually motivated?”
“This works against assumptions of relationships between an adult male and a boy,” Qualley said. “It normalizes male relationships. I wish there were more figures like that.”
Qualley described young adult literature as often portraying young characters pushing away from authority and lacking in mentor-type characters.
“Dumbledore guides Harry, he doesn't tell him what to do,” Qualley said.
Initially, many readers assumed that Dumbledore was heterosexual.
“We see Dumbledore and assume he's straight if it's not said that he's gay,” said Qualley. “What if we lived in a world that didn't make these assumptions about sexuality?”