top of page

An Open Letter to J.K. Rowling: Make It Gay, You Coward

It's 2018 and every time Dumbledore tries to sneak out of the closet J.K. Rowling shoves him right back in.

Look, the last two weeks have been nothing but a backlash against the announcement that Dumbledore will not be "explicitly gay" in the next Fantastic Beasts installment, so I'm not here to rehash all of that. If you'd like a refresher on the drama-----as well as a nicely summarized list of the other issues Rowling is tone-deaf to-----I'd recommend checking out how the Harry Potter universe still can't translate gay subtext into text. And it's a problem.

Rather, I'm more interested in Rowling's response to the drama, especially since Twitter has become her primary means of social media communication and by continuing to drop tidbits about her universe there, fans are put into the uncomfortable position of whether they consider those tweets to be canon. It has become in-text evidence vs. the Word of God and on the 31st we received this:

Now I'm not here to condone abuse leveled at any author, nor am I here to deny that we haven't read the script yet, or that yes, Fantastic Beasts has at least three more installments after this one where relationships might develop further. What I am here to say is that none of these are justifications, as Rowling seems to think they are. Far from it. These supposed explanations entirely miss the point because there is no reason that Dumbledore shouldn't be "explicitly gay" in EVERY film from here on out.

We're tired of subtext. We're tired of, "It's coming later." We're especially tired of the excuse that because fans have outside information it doesn't need to be included in the canon----as David Yates implies when he says that "all fans are aware [that Dumbledore is gay]." We're actually not aware, thanks, considering that the only reason we "know" this is because Rowling said so in an interview eleven years ago. We've yet to see any in-text evidence for Dumbledore's sexuality and, frankly, until we do that piece of him might as well just be a gimmick on Rowling's part to garner support from LGBTQIA readers. This isn't just some exaggerated accusation either. I'm honestly starting to believe that although Rowling might have thought about Dumbledore's sexuality over the course of her writing (or maybe not...) she's nevertheless made it into something larger than she can handle, something that she wants to reap the rewards of without doing any of the actual work. Because in the decade since Deathly Hallow's release we've seen nothing to demonstrate that Rowling is willing to do more for the queer community than tweet 140 generic characters of "support."

Now it's important to note here that no author is perfect and that, yes, often times the sort of world building we'd love to see when it comes to characters' personal lives takes a backseat to the plot. Rowling met a similar backlash two years ago when she confirmed that Anthony Goldstein is Jewish and fans wanted to know 1. Why he was presumably the only one and 2. Why we never see evidence of that in the books. Many others pushed back against fans' outrage by asking if they really expected to read long passages about how a bat mitzvah is held in the magical world and uh... actually yeah, that would be pretty awesome. But I do understand how that sort of detail can't always be granted to minor characters (make one of the trio Jewish then...). Acknowledging that isn't the problem, it's the fact that Rowling won't give us anything at all. Fans don't necessarily expect whole chapters devoted to the magical experiences of Every Minority Ever, but we'd definitely like a reference to their diversity every once in a while. I mean, we've got a series where for six years the whole castle celebrates Christmas. Give us a paragraph about the students who are thoroughly frustrated with that holiday favoritism!

The fact that Rowling then created Pottermore---a website geared entirely towards expanding her world outside of the constraints of a narrative----and hasn't used the space to explore diversity is just another slap in the face.

And we do need explicit representation here. Back in 2014 Rowling criticized a fan who "couldn't see" Dumbledore as gay with, "Maybe because gay people just look like... people?" and it got a lot of praise in response. Because that's true and profound, right? Except not really. Not anymore. In 2018 we're beginning to acknowledge that we don't look like "just people," we look like gay people. Explicitly. Because that's what we are. Some of us do in fact embrace stereotypes like short buzz cuts and flannel shirts and more attention paid to hygiene than is considered appropriately masculine here in the U.S. We wear shirts with LGBT puns displayed prominently on the front, pants with rainbows sewn in as a patch, buttons on our backpacks saying "trans" or "bi" or "love wins." We put posters up on our office doors. We publicly subscribe to queer social media. We attend rallies and we tend to congregate in groups outside of those, so that if you find out that one person is queer, chances are a whole bunch of their friends are too.

This isn't to say that everyone has come out, or that we all display our sexuality so prominently, or in the exact same way. Rather, this is to say that we're not invisible in the manner that Rowling wants us to be. For years now she's tried to straddle a middle line that doesn't exist, claiming that Dumbledore is gay without doing anything to show us that overtly. And normally I'd never say that a single character has to "look" or "act" or "do" something considered “gay” to prove their sexuality... but in Dumbledore's case yeah, he kind of does. For the simple reason that he's the only queer character Rowling has. We were given no queer relationships at the Yule ball. The trio never experimented. Despite his clear AIDS parallels Lupin is also apparently straight... as is literally everyone else in the Harry Potter universe, despite Rowling's lackluster claims that of course Hogwarts is a welcoming space to queer youth. By eliminating diversity and fostering all of her representation off onto one character, Rowling creates a situation where Dumbledore has to be explicit about his sexuality for any of it to matter. Subtext and headcanons just don’t cut it anymore—or rather, we're beginning to understand that they never did.

So for the love of all that’s magical, make Dumbledore gay, Rowling. It would take a single sentence of dialogue, a measly scene, two minutes out of over a hundred-and-twenty. Or hell, if you don’t want to delve into Dumbledore’s story yet (if you’re really saving that for future films), then give us something else. More than ONE queer character? Imagine that! Make Queenie bi, or Jacob questioning (people can do that you know, even when they’re already clearly attracted to an individual), or let Newt and Porpentina have a conversation about how one of them is asexual… It’s a cast of six and you’ve still got a whole lot of options here.

Just do something. Now. Because you’ve spent two decades telling us that this world you’ve created is pretty much only for the white and the straight and the privileged.

And that doesn’t seem very magical to me at all.

Image Credit




bottom of page