Monday, October 22, 2007

Fruit of the Broom

I was very surprised to see the caption "Dumbledore Gay" on a news broadcast while I ate breakfast at my hotel in Philadelphia on Sunday. I was not surprised to see the coverage of the fundamentalists who are quite upset by this revelation. Since mid August, I have read the entire 7-book series twice. As I said, I was quite surprised, because nowhere in the entire series does Dumbledore out himself. Instead the public and posthumous outing of this esteemed Hogwarts official was made by author J.K. Rowling, quoted as saying "Dumbledore is gay, actually" at a recent Q&A session in New York.

This news tidbit has been reported in the muggle media as well as in the Daily Prophet. The Quibbler is reporting record sales of its issue reportedly exposing Dumbledore's old flames. Officials in the newly instated Shacklebolt Administration have refused comment, saying that "the personal lives of our fellow witches and wizards is none of the Ministry's concern." The Daily Prophet interviewed several bargoers at Merlin's Beard, a popular hangout for witches of a certain persuasion in Hogsmeade's fabulous Horizont Alley. One witch, quoted on the condition of anonymity, reported that she is "proud to hear that Dumbledore's sexuality is finally out in the open." She says that "it is time for the Ministry of Magic to recognize that witches and wizards represent a broad spectrum of individuals" and "that it is time for the discrimination to stop." Another patron "doesn't see what all the fuss is about." He says that since "Dumbledore wasn't exactly a Hippogriff Hawk and only made the occasional appearance at Showtunes Tuesday, it shouldn't matter who he slept with." If nothing else can be said about this revelation, it is that the owls will surely be flying for some time. No comment was made available by Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry by press time.

I applaud Rowling's characterization of one of the pillars of the Hogwarts community. When I originally read the Harry Potter books, I was dismayed at the lack of openly gay characters. It seemed to me that the gay community deserved representation in this modern take on the struggle between good and evil. Still, I thought to myself that since the books were geared to a younger audience, it might not be an appropriate venue for this particular battle against evil. Of course, there are good ways of exposing children to diversity, and I had hoped at some level that Rowling would be able to work it into this series.

Of course, now that Professor Dumbledore has stepped out of the proverbial broom closet, fundamentalists are coming out of the woodwork. I'm not particularly sure how this affects their children since they already wouldn't allow them to read the books (see my earlier post). Of course from all the commotion that they are making, one would think that the books have Dumbledore skipping classes to go to circuit parties or being seen at less-than-reputable Hogsmeade establishments in drag. The fact that Dumbledore seeks for the other Quidditch team has little bearing on the well-being of the readers of the acclaimed series because Dumbledore spends his entire tenure at Hogwarts in the closet.

I'm not sure what upsets the fundamentalists more, the fact that Rowling recognizes that there are such things as gay people or that she portrays a good person as homosexual. Maybe it's just a misunderstanding. It could be that the fundamentalist community is rallying against what they see as a historical inaccuracy. By their (convoluted) logic, in the great battle of good against evil, surely all of the homosexuals would have been on the side of Mr. Voldemort.

What is really at stake here, however, is something far simpler than a battle over children's books and gay rights. Fundamentalism's take on literature and symbolism seems to be based on a tenuous dichotomy wherein literature can reflect Truth or is meaningless. Meaningless, however, does not mean harmless from the zealot's viewpoint. From their perspective, revelations like Rowling's make their struggle harder by empowering free thought. For fundamentalism, any viewpoint of reality which allows symbolism to dilute the Word through interpretation is dangerous. Rowling's books offer a non-Christian interpretation on the struggle which fundamentalism claims to have a monopoly on: good versus evil. By attempting to reflect some semblance of reality in her books, Rowling has attempted what the fundamentalist community sees as a deliberate and offensive assault on their version of reality, which does not leave room for empowered women or openly gay persons.

The fact of the matter is that the Harry Potter books are true to form. In real life, we interact with gay people every day. Many of us have gay mentors and friends. Not all of those people live publicly gay lives, and like Dumbledore carry the burden of the closet in silence. This newly established battle over Dumbledore's legacy demonstrates how entrenched anti-homosexual feelings are in today's world. It is a shame that Dumbledore must symbolize the truth that many people live every day of their lives. I commend Ms. Rowling for her symbolism and her advocacy on behalf of those of us who find ourselves in yet one more alienated minority group.

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