The Tragedy Dumbledore Represents
Like many people, I was surprised to read about JK Rowling’s announcement, when I picked through today’s news. So, Dumbledore is gay. What concerns me isn’t that a key role-model character in modern children’s literature is gay, but the fact that an announcement to that end could make headlines, and beyond that, be the most popular news story of the day on the BBC News website. This says a lot about the so-called victories of the LGBT movement.
Of course, its great that people now see fit to write gay characters into major works of fiction. And its great that JK Rowling has been able to come out about having done so. The tragedy, to my mind, is that this is such a big deal. Its kind of like when you see two gay men kissing in town and lots of people are turning their heads and staring; its great that they feel confident enough to be public, really saddening that this is enough of a deal for people to take any special notice.
Not for the first time do I find myself disagreeing with Peter Tatchell. In the BBC’s report, he’s quoted as saying “It’s good that children’s literature includes the reality of gay people, since we exist in every society. But I am disappointed that she did not make Dumbledore’s sexuality explicit in the Harry Potter book. Making it obvious would have sent a much more powerful message of understanding and acceptance.”
I agree totally with his opening words: this is great news for the literary world. But the way this has come out, without it being heavily underlined in the books, is what I find most inspiring. He was not The Gay Headmaster, he was Dumbledore, he was Headmaster, and he happened to be gay. Its not that people shouldn’t take pride in being Gay, its more that it shouldn’t become the one thing that stands out about them.
Its great to know the truth; a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ attitude is hugely damaging, but I don’t think that making it more obvious would have made for a better message of understanding: why does it matter that he’s gay, surely we should have assumed that some of the characters in the books, on simple statistical grounds, must be gay, and gotten on with it.
I suppose in a way the tragedy is the shock, the sudden appearance of the story as the most read story of the day. It shows that, while people are kind of OK with the idea, its still an unusual idea. In many ways, being openly gay has become a kind of ‘acceptable weirdness’; it is certainly nowhere near the status of ‘normal’ that those in the LGBT movement supposedly want it to be.
Someone told me recently that they thought the LGBT movement had served its purpose; I think this is jumping the gun massively. Sure, the Gay community will always want its own fiction, but the sad fact that Gay figures in literature are still mostly confined to specialist writing and to token characters shows that integration has still only gone so far. What we call in the world of posh academic terminology “heteronormativity” is still the order of the day (and if that sounds like a bizarre term, wait till you have “mono-hetero-patriarchal normativity” to deal with!).
LGBT people are still the jarring, head turning, ‘did you hear’, ‘each to their own’ exception in society. I myself sometimes find myself falling into this trap. I’d like to think I’m sexuality-blind, but my head turns, I make a big deal of it (particularly when its Christians) and when a man chats me up I feel somehow bad about it, when in fact I know I should find it flattering and be really chilled about it. I know its not a deal, I just have a habit of making it one.
I like it when people (appear to) feel comfortable just saying “my boyfriend” or “my girlfriend”, and I find myself disgusted at myself if I even stop to think “oh, didn’t know they were gay”. Its really a lot like thinking “oh, I thought they were normal, but it turns out they were different from the rest of us”. Really, it should just be natural, after all, gay people “exist in every society”.
The lack of progress over the last couple of years on the issue of gay marriage in the UK is perhaps a strong sign of apathy setting in within both the LGBT movement and the political establishment. As a straight person I find it all too easy to forget the pain which Civil Partnerships represent: we’ll recognise your relationship, but we’ll treat it differently, push it into a corner, and keep marriage as the boy-girl thing it always was.
Yes, key human rights have been won. But employers still concern themselves with people’s sexuality (and their gender) when its really none of their business in that capacity as the employer. And gay people are stilled denied normal marriages. And they’re still seen as a bit different, something to turn and stare at in the street or the pub. Gay people kissing isn’t something weird, its not something special, its two people kissing for heavens sake! If they were straight, one probably wouldn’t even have noticed!
This whole situation has, to my mind, only underlined the extent to which this is seen as weird in our society. Society still hasn’t changed, LGBT people are still on the margins (T people even more than LGB people) and the need for a strong LGBT campaign seeking societal transformation and the breaking down of heteronormativity is as acute as ever. And I need to stop assuming people are straight, and being surprised when it turns out that they’re not.