I think it is safely time to definitively state that Albus Dumbledore, the kind and arrogant professor from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was hooking up with lady witches so frequently that it would make Scott from the fraternity Slamma Pi say “… Damn dude… Respect.” That is correct. I can state with 100% accuracy that Albus Dumbledore is the most hetero-normative straight male to ever enter into the Harry Potter Universe. Why should I think any different? It isn’t like JK Rowling has made any definitive statement about this in any of her writings.
So, I’ll just go ahead and state right now that I am well aware of the statements that JK Rowling has made concerning Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality. As a young teenager growing up with the books and watching the movies as well, I can remember vividly Rowling making the definitive statement that Dumbledore was gay and had a relationship with Gellert Grindelwald before their epic battle of legend. I remember friends of mine who are in the queer community being cheerful beyond reason at the representation they had been wanting for so long. While it may not have been the first time, it certainly was one of the most definitive times that a major popular character in a beloved book was gay and the fact that they were gay had little or nothing to do with their character development. It was simply just an aspect of their personality. However, as the years have gone on, this sentimentality concerning Dumbledore has soured tremendously. Anyone who has recently read JK Rowling’s tweet about Grindelwald and Dumbledore having “intense” sexual relations can attest that her actions are beginning to ring more and more hollow as the years have gone on. What was once seen as a step forward for queer community representation in popular media has become a symbol of Hollywood safe liberalism in trying to pay lip service to the queer community… Without really doing anything meaningful in the story to represent the community.
In this article, I will argue that due to literary concept of “Death of the Author,” JK Rowling’s statements about Dumbledore’s sexuality are inherently meaningless. I will also argue that Rowling’s statements are harmful and, at worst, are nothing more than a means of placating a large amount of her reading demographic without doing anything meaningful for representation in her works.
What is Death of the Author?
Before we go any further into the fact that Dumbledore hooks up with more lusty lady witches than Mick Jagger, Ric Flair, and Ellen DeGeneres combined, we first have to discuss the concept of Death of the Author and what that exactly means. Now, this article is mainly meant to be a semi-comedic critique of JK Rowling and her actions in regards to information given by her outside of her actual body of work. As such, I am not going to provide a ten page long essay discussing its various intricacies. Just a quick and simple version so that we can get everyone up to speed on what we are talking about.
“The Death of the Author” is an essay penned by Roland Barthes, a french literary critic and scholar. Prior to Barthes’ essay on the matter, the majority of literary essays focused on the concept of “authorial intent” and the “author’s identity” when critiquing literature. Which simply means: What was the author thinking or wanting to impart on the reader through their literary text? What was Victor Hugo thinking or trying to impart when he wrote Les Misérables? What was Stephen King thinking or attempting to impart when he wrote The Stand? What was William Shakespeare really writing about when he wrote about 90 different ways to talk about someone’s penis?
Barthes argues that readers and critics must separate a literary work from its creator in order to truly understand and interpret the book. Now this has several layers to it and it isn’t just about these subjects, but the general idea for this reading is that when you are examining a novel such as the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling’s intent and vision of the overall universe do not matter so much as it does your own interpretation on what is going on based on the information given to you from the text.
If you would like to look at a general concept of the Death of the Author in question you can look at John Green and his book The Fault in Our Stars. In the book, Green takes a sort of pot shot at the idea of authorial intent when the characters in his book, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, try meet the author of Hazel’s favorite book. Hazel wants to understand what happened to her characters after an ambiguous ending. When they meet the author, Peter Van Houten, he informs them that his opinion doesn’t matter and that whatever her interpretation of the writing is just as valid as his. Once again, more to unpack there if you wish to dig deeper. But for the sake of the points I am making, I’m stopping there.
John Green and JK Rowling seem to be diametrically opposed opinions on Death of the Author in popular culture today. Both authors have similar large fan bases and are active in engaging with those audiences on the internet and in person. However, where they differ is thus: John Green is more of a proponent of people finding their own interpretations of his book and only offering some comments here and there. JK Rowling famously writes on a daily basis about the mythos surrounding Harry Potter. One very much believes in the Death of the Author while the other wishes to constantly build on her literary ideas outside of the text (or para-text).
That is about the extent I plan to write on the topic before diving into what I would like to add to this discourse which is the toxicity that this can bring to communities as well as a challenge to Hollywood liberalism. However, if you would like to know more, I recommend a video essay on the subject created by Lindsay Ellis called the Death of the Author. A lot of the subjects that I plan to discuss can also be found in her video as she makes similar points to what I will also make. The link is provided here. I suggest you watch it, it is an exceptional video.
Why is Dumbledore the Straightest Man in the Harry Potter Universe?
Now is the opportunity I plan to take to give my reasoning why Dumbledore has had more straight heteronormative sex than the entire number of attendees of a porn star convention. Just as discussed in Ellis’ video essay and, if we take Death of the Author into account, Dumbledore is neither straight, gay, or asexual. His sexuality is never once explored in any of the books from the main series, the movies, or subsequent spin off books that have been created for the Harry Potter universe. There are certainly moments where it is alluded to in subtext. The most poignant being when Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship is discussed in any great detail in the main series of books. Their relationship is never explicitly discussed but it can be inferred that the two were close and, at least, best friends. While Rowling states numerously that Grindelwald and Dumbledore played with their bedroom wands until they both painted their walls white, it isn’t even stated definitively that they have even held hands with the fingers laced, let alone dated. The interpretations given in the book is that they are simply close and allows the reader’s mind to construct what that means. But that doesn’t really mean anything involving their intimacy. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley are close. Harry Potter and Hermione Granger are close as well. However, Harry doesn’t date either of them. While there are copious fan fictions on the subject and Rowling has even stated that she may have wanted Harry and Hermione to end up together, it doesn’t matter because in the text of the book they are never a couple. Just because Dumbledore and Grindelwald are close does not mean that they dated and Rowling making the definitive statements does not alter the fact that it still did not happen in her books.
As such, I am free, as a reader and fan of the Harry Potter books, to add whatever relationships I want that is prior to the text, after the text, or any moment that isn’t covered in the text. Harry Potter may have ended up marrying Ginny Weasley and, together, created three children. But there is nothing stopping me from saying that Harry eventually divorced Ginny, abandoned his children, and married his true love Neville Longbottom. Why? Because fuck you! I can do what I want with the text given to me. Same goes for Dumbledore. Since Dumbledore’s sexuality is never explored in any meaningful sense, I can put whatever I want into that gap left by the author. Before the books, after the books, and when Dumbledore isn’t being written about or seen in the movies. I can say, and be justified in my belief, that Dumbledore is constantly having a twenty witch gang bang slathered in peanut butter on the second floor of the Three Broomsticks in which a broomstick is being used in ways I will leave to your imagination.
NOW! I do want to state that I am not advocating for Rowling to ever add something so graphic to her books or that Dumbledore’s sexuality NEEDS to necessarily be explored. However, if it was Rowling’s intent to have Dumbledore always be gay, as she has stated copious times, to not add it to the text makes her intent and desires worthless. It is not in the text so it does not exist.
I also want to state that this is where I am going to differ from Ellis’ video essay to a larger extent. In her essay she states that it is difficult, in this day and age where the internet exists and information is easily accessible to the author, that the para-text and added information given by the author has to be taken into account. Regardless of text or para-text, Ellis states that it shapes the opinions and world view of those reading, thus making it important. Where I am going to differ from this fact is the area of choice given by the author to the consumer concerning the para-text and how that choice nullifies any inherent worth. It is not important if you do not want it to be important and your stock in its importance is completely up to you, the reader.
When it comes to reading Harry Potter, I cannot deny that Ginny Weasley and Harry Potter date or that they get married. It is in the script of the book. The same way I cannot deny that Ron Weasley dated Lavender Brown before he married to Hermione Granger. I also cannot deny that Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley married. It is in the script of the book. It is concrete. However, I do have the ability to say that Hermione and Harry left their Weasleys and got together in a three way couple with Harry, Hermione, and Lavender Brown. Now, JK Rowling can certainly tell me definitively that this is not the case to my face. She can even spit in my face for suggesting this occurs. She can tell to the whole world that I am wrong and a lot of people will take her word over mine in that regard. However, I have the power to ignore her words because it is never added to the books, movies, or official canonized stories.
JK Rowling states on Pottermore and on her Twitter page A LOT when it comes to the Harry Potter universe. I do not even have the energy to go through even a portion of them here. However, the problem with para-text is that, even though it influences you as a reader because it is the author making these statements about her created universe and even though there is some written word on the way the universe is built, I can still choose to discard aspects of the para-text that I do not like as a reader of the content. I can choose to accept whatever I want to accept and discard whatever I want to discard without giving a damn about the perceptions or writings created by Rowling herself.
Let’s take the case of Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship into account again as well as my own perceptions when I read about it as a teenager. When I first read the book, I thought that Grindelwald and Dumbledore’s relationship was the same as Ron and Harry’s. I thought they were best friends and that their story was a cautionary tale that if Ron and Harry did not check each other on potentially dangerous lines of thinking, they can end up walking down a dark path. When Rowling stated that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were a couple, something I didn’t pick up from the text, it did influence my way of thinking and I was very happy. HOWEVER, I can still choose to discard this if I so well choose.
Even though Rowling may shape the world view and ideas of her fans and readers through her words. The fact that I can discard whatever I do not like about the para-text and include whatever I want from it makes the para-text inherently meaningless. It isn’t part of the dinner, it is the mint in a jar you can take, if you want, at the end of the meal at a restaurant. It only serves as a guide to shape someone’s own view’s of the universe and can be discarded at will if it doesn’t jive with the universe the consumer has created in their mind. The author is still very much dead, they just left a will and testament that can be ignored.
Hollywood Liberalism and Why this is Toxic to the Queer Community
I would like to start this by addressing some criticism I am anticipating about what I have just written. Some criticism may be the fact that, even though this is still para-text, it is still some form of representation. Rowling has stated that Dumbledore is gay and, more over, that he had rough and passionate sex with Grindelwald that was more akin to a violent and visceral mating display than any sort of sex you and I will ever be familiar with. So, why is this still a problem? Well the reason being is because Rowling wants the adoration and acceptance of the queer community fans of her books… However, she doesn’t want to alienate the other aspect of her fans that may not like the queer community thus propagating and legitimizing homophobia and hateful ways of thinking. In fact, by wanting Dumbledore to definitively be gay (which is something she has stated often) but not putting it in her books or any widely distributed media, Rowling is essentially stating that her homophobic fans are more important and deserve to be placated more than those who are not homophobic.
Rowling is not the only problem here. This is something that is indicative of safe Hollywood liberalism. Popular culture has a problem when it comes to queer community representation. They do agree that it is something that should be represented because then they can siphon money out of a marginalized demographic yearning for representative characters. However, they also do not want to alienate a group of people who dislike anything that isn’t heteronormative. Take the live action recreation of Beauty and the Beast in which Disney stated that LeFou would be the first explicitly gay character in a Disney movie. However, when the Disney movie was released, LeFou never once stated he was gay or was in a relationship with a man. The entire “gay” aspect of him was completely subtext and easily dismissed. This gave the viewers who dislike queer community or wish the queer community would remain invisible to perpetuate their world view and discard this aspect of the character. Even things that are positively received, such as the character Bill from the successful Naughty Dog game, The Last of Us, is heavily alluded to be gay and was formerly in a romantic relationship with the character Frank. While it is all but stated that Bill was gay, that he was dating Frank, and that there are a number of sticky gay pornographic magazines laying around his safe haven, it is never stated that he and Frank were dating. As such, it gave players the opportunity to ignore this aspect of the character if they didn’t like the concept of a character being gay.
Hollywood liberalism and “queer community” representation has a “I want my cake and eat it too” mentality when it comes to presenting gay characters. They typically do not want to challenge homophobic people who play these games, read these books, or watch these movies. They do not want to acknowledge that those in the queer community exist or that they are just as normal as anyone else. Because, if they did so, it would alienate the homophobic demographic. Instead, they want to prey on the fact that those in the queer community are looking for any form of canonized queer characters that they will be placated by subtext and para-text while still gaining money from the homophobic demographic and perpetuate inherently toxic culture.
JK Rowling is one of the worst offenders of this Hollywood safe liberalism. Because she goes further than what is typically seen in Hollywood. She makes definitive statements on a character’s sexuality, such as Dumbledore, and states that her entire intent was to make him the gayest human being next to Elton John and Freddy Mercury. However, she never once canonizes it in her text. Thus, it gives consumers of her media every opportunity to accept or reject this reality. At least other forms of media, such as Naughty Dog or Disney with Beauty and the Beast are unabashedly paying lip service to the queer community. They do say they are gay in the subtext and para-text and then go lower than the bare minimum. However, Rowling positions herself from time to time as an explicit champion of inclusivity with a large portion of her fans being members of the queer community. Then, when opportunity arises to definitively make the character gay in any sort of media such as book or movie that matters, she balks and hopes that her Twitter page and Pottermore will satiate her fans. This is less of paying lip service to a community as it is a deliberate tactic that preys upon fan expectations.
There is no better representation of this than Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. He is a character who was stated and accepted to be a homosexual character. He is also a character that is generally accepted by the general populace as gay and that his relationship with Gellert Grindelwald occurred. However, this relationship still ONLY exists in subtext and para-text and can still be dismissed by anyone who doesn’t want to accept it. Death of the Author is very much in effect and it gives people an “out” if they don’t want to accept the character as gay.
The purpose of this article has been a critique of JK Rowling and the fact that she uses subtext and para-text to represent queer community characters without ever explicitly stating that the characters are members of the queer community. As such, through Death of the Author, their representation is inherently meaningless until it is canonized in a form of consumable media that is distributed to the mass public. Even sites like Pottermore that skirt the lines in this gray zone are not nearly enough considering the fact that it can also be discarded by fans and nonfans. Pottermore isn’t an official book, it is a fan page. While it may be canon it can still be ignored for those who just want to “read the books or movies and enjoy the story told there.”
Now I am not advocating that there needs to be a book or a movie that details Dumbledore getting gay with every wizard that is willing. I am not advocating for there to be a book that is just the romance of Grindelwald and Dumbledore that is a hack knock off of a Nicholas Sparks book. However, what I am advocating for is that JK Rowling be held responsible for her toxic treatment and exploitation of the queer community by offering para-text and subtext stating or alluding to gay characters without canonizing them in a story that definitively clarifies their sexuality. This isn’t harmless actions by Rowling, it is a dirty and underhanded tactic to placate a marginalized group without ever acknowledging their existence. So, until the moment that Dumbledore introduces a character as his boyfriend, kisses, holds hands with, or explicitly acknowledges his sexuality, I will be forced to say that Albus Dumbledore and Madame Pomfrey slapped their old saggy naughty bits together until they were redder and more swollen than an over inflated quaffle.