So Dumbledore won’t be “explicitly gay” in the next Fantastic Beasts movie, or so says director David Yates.
This raises a few questions, the key one being what the heck does it take to be “explicitly gay”?
Also, Dumbledore isn’t gay.
“Uh, no”, you’re saying. “Ms Rowling knew all along that he was gay and what you just quoted proves it will be confirmed in a future film”.
Fantastic Beasts is an expansion of the Harry Potter universe. That original universe was established in a seven-part book, and eight-part movie, series.
And in that series, Dumbledore is not revealed to be gay.
Ms Rowing might have known in her head that Dumbledore was homosexual. Dumbledore might get, or be revealed to have always been, gay in a future film.
But there is no evidence in the original universe, the bedrock upon which all other Potter-related works will be built, that Dumbledore is gay.
You can, of course, be gay without there being “evidence”. And after Rowling’s statement, some fans dug back into the source material for clues.
These clues include mention of the fact that Dumbledore wore a “flamboyantly cut suit of plum velvet”, that he once said “I do love knitting patterns”, and that gossip Rita Skeeter notes that Dumbledore had “an unnatural interest in Potter from the word go”.
Sidenote to fans: an older man having an “unnatural interest” in a boy isn’t evidence that Dumbledore is gay. It’s evidence of something completely different and, since it’s uttered by a character notorious for twisting the truth, it’s unfair to burden old Dumby with it.
Hindsight being 20/20, it does look like Rowling was plowing some gay stereotypes into Dumbledore’s subtext.
But, subtext, no matter how fierce a shade of plum, is just subtext.
We live in a hetero-normative world and as a man, if you don’t confirm you are something “other than straight” by word or deed, then you are presumed to be heterosexual. You don’t need to have man on man anal sex wrapped in a rainbow flag while singing I Will Survive to prove your gaiety. But some wink-wink suggestions about favourite colours and knitting won’t affirm it either.
But this is JK Rowling’s universe, so let’s play by her rules. Dumbledore is gay and was gay all along. He was gay, but we were never told or shown that. So that means for seven books and eight films, Albus Dumbledore was left in the closet.
The final film in the series was released in July 2007. Rowling confirmed Dumbledore’s sexual orientation in October 2007.
I admire JK Rowling. I especially admire her politics. She’s brave, generous, and an undisputed LGBTQ ally.
But why, if she knew Dumbledore was gay, did she choose to confirm it only after it was too late to make it canon? Why did she decide to tell, and not show?
There’s some subtext that can be read into her actions: that being gay is something to hide, which in turn means it’s something shameful, a dirty secret. See, that’s the problem with subtext, it is open to interpretation. It is suggestion, not confirmation.
When she finally did “tell”, this is how Rowling chose to introduce gay Dumbledore to the world. “Falling in love can blind us to an extent”. And she added that Dumbledore’s love was his “great tragedy”.
More subtext: Dumbledore’s sexuality brought him unhappiness, so much it drove him into the closet. The Gayngst is strong with this one.
It’s hard not to be disappointed that in the most successful series of novels of all time, the key gay character’s love dare not spoke its name. The closet is a sad, dark place and I don’t wish it on anyone, real or fictional.
Getting an in-world confirmation of Dumbledore’s sexual orientation won’t undo the past, but it’s something. Gays are still under-represented in popular culture, so we’re very good at accepting the “somethings” that come our way.
But, equally, we’re better than being just a “something”. We are better than being left out of the original story, our sexuality retconned with a “Homo-Him Revelio” that arguably has done more harm than good.
Seven books, eight movies, and now another two films and still we should just “wait and see”? This may be the world’s most protracted coming out. Someone should tell Dumbledore it gets better. However, given the messy history that has already defined his gayness, I suspect it’s only going to get worse.