I heard yesterday that Harry Potter series author J. K. Rowling announced that Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts School, is gay. A friend of mine sent me a text message giving me the head’s up.
I found the news story at ABC News, and it’s true: Dumbledore is gay. I was disappointed to hear the news, but eventually my disappointment became curiosity. Why should I feel disappointed? What did it matter, Dumbledore’s sexual orientation? Why did I feel a sense of loss, together with a bit of exasperation with Rowling? Why did I also feel aggravated, even angry, after reading how Rowling characterized her intentions? I knew it wasn’t an issue of personal tolerance, for my lesbian sister-in-law and late gay brother-in-law certainly taught me something about tolerance. Why did I feel Rowling’s actions and words were somehow wrong, then?
Later in the evening, after pondering these questions, I had some definite ideas about my feelings. In no particular order, here they are:
First, she’s messing with my magic. The Harry Potter novels are fantasy novels that take the reader into wonderful, magical realms. This sort of magic isn’t to be trifled with or sullied through sex, religion, or politics. I’m reading for the magic, dammit, not the sex. I don’t want to hear about Dumbledore being gay, or about Harry and Hermione having sex, even if they are married. I don’t want to know when they lost their virginity. I don’t want to even think about the two of them being all steamy. I don’t want to think about teenage boys and their sexual drivenness, or teenage girls and their overbearing hormones, either. I don’t want to know when Ginny got her first period. I don’t want to know about McGonigal’s hysterectomy, or Snape’s closet porn addiction. I don’t care about their mundane sexual activities, their secretions, their body odors, or their secret compulsions. If I wanted to have more of that stuff in my life, I’d live in the real world and watch reality TV or soap operas or Grey’s Anatomy. We all know this is the stuff the world is made of; and we all hope for something more.
That something more is the magic. It’s the ethereal, mysterious stuff of longing, daydreams, nightmares, fantasy and great books such as The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and, yes, Harry Potter. We never had to hear about Gandalf’s sexual preferences or Aragorn’s sex life, or whether King Peter was gay or straight; why in the name of all that’s magical do we need to know anything sexual about Dumbledore? You’re ruining my magic, Rowling. Stop it.
Second, I smell something neurotic. Rowling’s announcement seems self-destructive and self-abandoning. It appears to be more of a self-defeating trick of the unconscious than the noble act she would like to fashion it. According to ABC News Rowling “considers her novels as a ‘prolonged argument for tolerance,’ and urged her fans to ‘question authority.'” What authority? Whose authority? The authority of some bygone era when we didn’t have entire television shows produced by, for, and with gay men? The authority of a place where laws prosecuting hate crimes don’t exist, and where parents don’t regularly tell their boys to stop saying “you’re gay” as if “gay” is an insult? What place is that, J. K. Rowling? Because I thought that authoritarian voice went out with those Farrah Fawcett haircuts with wings.
Or maybe she meant that her readers ought to defy the authority of the life of the transcendant, glorious spirit that pre-dates Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling and will outlive them both? That deep life of the underworld, underground, undertow and misunderstood, the one that drives people to transcendence and ecstasy; the one from which our archetypes and great myths and universal symbols arise? Question and defy that authority? Pardon me while I burst out laughing.
I suspect Rowling has some inner authority telling her to shut up and be a good girl, and she finally came out with something shocking and devilish that means, to her, a defiance of some inner authority she carries. And I think that she projected her crap onto the ‘authority’ she imagines, rather like setting up a straw man argument and then feeling all full of oneself after knocking him down. I think so, because there’s a difference between theatrical noble acts and real ones. I don’t think Rowling is being truly noble; perhaps she is, but based on what I’ve read of her quotes, if they’re accurate quotes, something is fishy in Denmark.
A noble act, in my thinking, would have been to openly portray Dumbledore as gay long before now. In a truly noble act, she might have “outed” him in the second novel if her knees were knocking over the idea, and flown in the face of potentially destructive media attention. A truly noble act is one that involves sacrifice of something valuable. Certainly, the millions of dollars she has earned are valuable. It sure seems odd to me that she waited until after the very last book was published before revealing that Dumbledore is gay. Poor Dumbledore, in the closet all that time. Why, she even had him die with his secret. What kind of a god is she, anyway?
So she didn’t out him in the first, second, or even fourth novels. She wrote all those novels and she pretended that he was heterosexual by letting all of us think so. We didn’t even consider the possibility that this grand old bachelor might be gay. He was sexless, timeless, and ageless as his sort of archetypal character ought to be. We didn’t have to worry about him being too friendly with our girls or our boys. Throughout the entire seven books, Rowling let us believe that Dumbledore was either celibate and as sexless as a priest, or else straight. In fact, she said in the ABC interview that the issue of Dumbledore’s sexuality didn’t come up until the filming of the sixth Harry Potter movie, and even then it was supposedly only conveyed through her marginal, handwritten note in the script. We’re supposed to believe that the same Hollywood that sensationalizes everything sexual and prides itself on tolerance kept quiet about Dumbledore’s deep, dark secret? Riiiiight. I do believe in magic, I do, I do, I do, I do, I do!
I think that Rowling’s inner orphan hasn’t quite found her home yet, and she’s having problems with some of her upstart inner archetype committee members since she’s not writing Potter books any more. What otherwise would have been dealt with through the creative process has been temporarily gagged and had to find a way to overcome the gag order. This is the way she chose to do it, and it doesn’t look real to me. It looks worse than contrived; it appears somewhat neurotic.
Third, I’m sad about the loss of Dumbledore as a Wise Old Man archetype. In Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious, Jung wrote about this archetype, indicating that the whole archetype arises from the animus (the male aspect), and involves both dark and light aspects. Thus, a myth will have a dark lord and a light lord, such as Gandalf and Sauron, or Dumbledore and Voldemort, or Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader. Both characters together are used to represent aspects of the wise old man. The archetypal idea being communicated is that the same character who heals may also wound; that no one, even the wise old man, is entirely good. Jung described the function and appearance of the archetype thus:
The frequency with which the spirit-type appears as an old man is about the same in fairytales as in dreams. The old man always appears when the hero is in a hopeless and desperate situation from which only profound reflection or a lucky idea–in otherwords, a spiritual function or an endopsychic automatism of some kind–can extricate him. But since, for internal and external reasons, the hero cannot accomplish this himself, the knowledge needed to compensate the deficiency comes in the form of a personified thought, i.e., in the shape of this sagacious and helpful old man (Archetypes 218-219).
The wise old man has a spiritual character built on moral qualities; he represents knowledge, reflection, insight, wisdom, cleverness, and intuition. Certainly, Dumbledore might embody all those qualities and still be gay. Even the love he had for the Dark Lord’s predecessor, Grindlewald, might be forgiven if, from his error in character judgment, Dumbledore learned wisdom. Even so, by using a fictional character as a soap box for tolerance for homosexuality, Rowling has ruined the magic for lots of us. She has ruined it by subverting a male function and feminizing it by injecting gayness. Who wants to imagine Dumbledore together with Grindelwald any more than we want to imagine Harry and Hermione having sex on their honeymoon?
And is this what we’ve come to, our culture, when an entire generation of boys and girls has a gay wise old man who will come to point the way when the hero has lost his? Now the wise old man aspect of the animus–of all that is masculine, creative, and energetic within a human being–is to be portrayed by a symbol of emasculation, whereby men become more of a better best girlfriend than a real man?
Rowling took something awesome, a modern expression of some of the deepest, most long-lived, and most profound archetypal material we have seen in recent decades, and she trivialized it by ruining the magic, tearing down an archetypal symbol, making a fool of herself and her readers, and expecting us to clap happily like children hurrah’ing a lit birthday cake, all in the name of tolerance.
J. K. Rowling, you can take your straw man and light him on fire and do a shaman dance while chanting voo-doo incantations and sticking him full of pins if you want, but there is no way you’re going to get me to believe that this is all about tolerance and creating a kinder, gentler world. Someone with your gifts and place in the world ought to be going out there and creating a better Harry Potter series, if tolerance and understanding are your real goals, with a gay main character on a quest for wholeness. You might have endured his anguish, loneliness, rejection, and bewilderment through seven or eight different novels, and really showed people what it’s like to be gay in this world or the world of the past. And you could have written that character to be vibrantly alive, spiritual, and ultimately whole.
But you didn’t do that. You tricked us, you lied to us, and then you lied to us again and made us accept that load of crap and expected us to be quiet about it because it would be oh so politically incorrect and rabidly wrong for anyone to write what I’m writing.
Well, guess what, J. K. Rowling? I just did.