October 26, 2007

Too Gay or Not Too Gay

If you're reading this here now, chances are good that you already read elsewhere a few days ago that J.K. Rowling stated that Albus Dumbledore, beloved headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, is gay. You may not have heard, but four days before Rowling outed Dumbledore, she also declared that the content and imagery of her books is, indeed, explicitly Christian. What do these revelations have in common? Neither of them can change what has already been written.

And yet, I can't help but feel a little irritated at the level to which discourse about the books will now be permitted, nay forced, to sink. I'm not irritated at Rowling, mind you. She revealed her thoughts on Dumbledore in response to a direct question from an audience member. I don't think she was trying to drop a bombshell. What I do think is that sexual orientation doesn't play a role in the books, therefore it shouldn't play a role in the already muddied and inane waters of public discourse about the books. Insofar as the series is a prolonged argument for diversity and tolerance, there is an implicit acceptance of homosexuality, but the subject simply does not come up.

I am no great respecter of authorial intent. I have long believed that, as interesting and even illuminating as an author's insight can be, a work of fiction will speak for itself in ways that even the best writer could never have foreseen. I've been arguing for over three years that Harry Potter is Christian fantasy. It's obvious. It's in the books. That's the way Rowling wrote it, and nothing that she says can make it any more or less true. As gratifying as it was to hear it confirmed, I was surprised that she felt that she needed to. On the flip side, Dumbledore's alleged homosexuality flew so far under the radar that not even Rita Skeeter nosed it up in one of her muck-raking columns about him in book 7. It just wasn't in there.

Take a look at this rather good pair of articles by John Mark Reynolds, philosophy professor at Biola (is Martinez familiar with that name, I wonder?). I'm not sure I agree with everything he says, or perhaps I just don't agree with how he says it, but it's a good, level-headed piece of writing. "Taking Stories More Seriously Than the Author: Dumbledore is not Gay, Dumbledore is not Hetero."

This is a non-issue masquerading as an issue. If you pick a side, you automatically lose. Whether you happily accept Dumbledore as a gay character or disgustedly condemn Rowling for her declaration it says something about you, and nothing about Harry Potter, either as literature, entertainment, or anything else. As someone who understands that homosexuality is a highly-charged and deeply-complicated issue involving real people, I resent the assumptions produced by holding either opinion about Dumbledore. You know what I mean . . . If you think it's okay that Dumbledore is gay, you hate children and family values. If you think it isn't okay that Dumbledore is gay, you're a bible-thumping homophobe . . . that sort of thing.

Guess what? I don't care whether Dumbledore is gay or not. I realize (and resent) that making a big deal out of this makes me sound like I do, but I honestly couldn't be less interested. He is a fascinating and wonderful character, and I love him as I love everything else about the Harry Potter books. What I do care about is the irrelevancy of the topic to anything important in Harry Potter and the lack of maturity that results from its introduction.

On the one side, seriously, what's to be so giddy about? Check this out. Stop dancing around like you've just scored a victory that you can rub the other side's face in. On the other side, there is the equally childish "ewwy" reaction . . . particularly annoying when it comes from long-time fans of the series who now find themselves "turned off" by something that they didn't even catch while they were reading (because it wasn't actually there).

And, moving from childish to juvenile, we've got the people snickering in the back about Dumbledore wanting to hold Harry's "wand" and how now it makes sense that he never left Hogwarts to become Minister of Magic. Grow up. Isn't it funny how no one ever thought Dumbledore stayed for the little girls, but as soon as someone says he's gay he must like the little boys? When did homosexuality become a synonym for pedophilia? In any case, this is precisely why the subject should never have come up. It denigrates the discourse rather than elevating it. Our society simply isn't mature enough to talk about this like adults yet. It may never be mature enough.

I rewatched an old favorite last night: Anatomy of a Murder. It's a courtroom drama starring Jimmy Stewart. The movie was made in 1959, and there's one scene in particular that's always just blown my mind. The trial involves a murder and an alleged rape, and the rape victim's panties play a key role. When the subject first comes up, the judge makes a point of standing up and announcing that panties will be part of the discussion. The whole courtroom cracks up, and he tells them he wanted them to get their chuckles out now so the trial could continue.

It's hard to believe that a mere 50 years ago, a roomful of people older than the age of 12 could find the mere mention of the word "panties" so hilarious . . . and yet, watching the furor over "Dumbledore is gay" I realize I shouldn't really be surprised. We haven't progressed all that much. I think that may be what gets to me most of all . . . even participating in this discussion as though it were important makes me feel like I'm in junior high.

Posted by Jared at October 26, 2007 11:02 AM | TrackBack