This is not a Defense of JK Rowling

(but it is in favour of waiting and seeing, for me, anyway. You do what’s right for you.)

(imagine that the Jude Law Dumbledore leaning back with that slightly disappointed expression on his face is looking at that David Yates article and the entire way JKR handled Dumbledore’s sexuality reveal)

Re this.

If you’re inclined to be angry and disappointed because Yates said Dumbledore’s sexuality isn’t “explicitly” going to be in this upcoming HP extended universe movie, I understand. Maybe Yates spoke clumsily, maybe he means that Dumbledore’s complicated past with Grindelwald will be onscreen, just in a sneaky, hinty kind of way that maybe isn’t “explicit” but that doesn’t leave room for heteronormativity, but even so, it’s disappointing. Dumbledore is gay, he’s gay, he’s gay. There should be some way of placing that onscreen without jumping too far ahead into the Dumbledore/Grindelwald backstory or whatever.

Gay people don’t magically become heterosexual when they’re single or not infatuated/in love with someone. If Dumbledore is focused on other things and only sneaky/hinty focused on his past feelings for Grindelwald in this movie, there are other ways of throwing queer fans and viewers a bone and nodding to Dumbledore’s identity onscreen unambiguously because of course it’s well past time for that. It should have been in the books, explicitly.

But.

(OK first it was Yates who said everything. He’s the director. If “Dumbledore is gay make it clear” wasn’t written in the script he could certainly have added it in himself. He’s not getting a pile-on, I noticed. Nobody is “done forever” with David Yates. Just the successful lady writer. I’m not saying don’t call my favourites out for things because they’re women and my favourites, but do note that we seem to expect perfection from her and not really from him. Guys. Come on.)

(Second, everything everyone has said about “you need to be explicit otherwise no one will know they’re queer” is absolutely true but I kind of sort of a lot think in this case it… isn’t)

(Everyone knows Dumbledore is gay)

(Ask everyone you encounter tomorrow about Dumbledore; they all know he’s gay)

(In A Very Potter MusicalSequel, and Senior Year Dumbledore is explicitly gay. In the Epic Rap Battle between him and Gandalf, Dumbledore is explicitly gay. It’s like… a thing that everyone knows. Voldemort is bad, Dumbledore is good, and he’s gay)

(It wasn’t in any of the books or the movies explicitly and yet everyone knows he’s gay)

(Very few authors can pull that off. None of them should, really. It isn’t fair that it worked in this case. But it did. It doesn’t mean Dumbledore is great representation, because he isn’t. Because he can’t be, if the only confirmation of his identity is a footnote. But there is an overwhelming sense of “Well people just won’t know that the character is gay unless you state it explicitly,” and yes that’s true, in all cases but this one. This is the exception that proves the rule, and it’s the exception that proves that even if you can pull this off, you shouldn’t. His orientation should have been explicitly in the book. It wasn’t. It’s annoying. It’s heteronormative as hell and honestly it’s hurtful. But everyone knows Dumbledore is gay.)

(97% of the people who watch Grindelwald’s Crimes or whatever it’s called are going to be watching it knowing Dumbledore is gay even if there isn’t so much as a wistful glance in Grindelwald’s direction on Dumbledore’s part. Doesn’t let the filmmakers off the hook, but, we should be honest about that. Gives us a chance to say, hey, look, do the actual hard work of getting representation right rather than just having it be a footnote, because this isn’t good enough. Leaving it at “Dumbledore doesn’t count because it’s not explicitly in the text” will cause a lot of people who won’t do basic extrapolation (and you know they won’t… because you know you have to tell them in the book that the character is whatever marginalized identity explicitly for them to accept it, so of course they need this one thought all the way through for them as well) to look at this situation and think, “Um, everyone knows Dumbledore is gay so this is clearly wrong.” The problem isn’t that no one knows he’s gay. The problem is that JK Rowling, because of decades of heteronormativity, didn’t think it was necessary to make it explicitly clear in the book that Dumbledore was in love with Grindelwald even though that sort of detail actually does add to the themes and character development, but it’s made explicitly clear that Madame Pince has a crush on Filch, which is not important at all. Dumbledore counts and is super useful to the representation conversation because he counts precisely as an example of how you do it wrong: yes, he’s gay, personally I think it’s generally good for the world that he’s gay, but his being gay is apparently an unimportant bit of trivia and doesn’t need to be known explicitly for readers to understand him, and that is the problem.)

All right. So. People seem to be under the impression that there won’t even be a nod to the complexities of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s romantic and/or sexual past in this movie, which is about, I think, the war between them. If that’s the case, yeah, that’s stupid. Personally, I think what Yates means is that Grindelwald and Dumbledore aren’t going to make out onscreen in this one. Because. Well. Grindelwald is a genocidal dick and Dumbledore isn’t. So.

Personally, I think it would be pretty much impossible for JKR and Yates to have made a movie about their war without nodding to the complex history of the two characters. I do on the other hand think it’s possible to say something worded badly in an interview about your upcoming movie that you can’t spoil because it isn’t out for another several months and you weren’t planning on detailing exactly how the complex relationship shows up onscreen because you want people to pay the money to see it. I’m not saying all the people complaining should shut up and wait and pay and go see, because it’s up to you what you spend your money on. I understand if you’d rather spend it on queer creators’ stuff. That’s great. That is obviously the better choice, especially considering that it’s pretty much a given that Dumbledore/Grindelwald is going to be problematic. It’s just that I’m struggling to understand how it’s even possible for there to be not even a nod to the context of the Dumbledore/Grindelwald past here, and I’ve landed on, “He just misspoke.”

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe they really did try to get away with depicting Dumbledore’s famous defeat of Grindelwald without any clear reference to their romantic history.

What I do know for sure is that if they ever actually get around to depicting that relationship, Dumbledore and Grindelwald is… not going to be a nice story.

But I’m still looking forward to it, I have to admit.

I’m looking forward to it because: it is going to be fascinating, fitting into a pattern of tragic romances that JK Rowling has already written into the main story as well as a couple of peripheral stories, all of which are heterosexual. It is going to be a bit of a mess, too, simply because this romance is going to be at the very least tragic and it’s probably going to be way worse than just “tragic,” and, well, why is the only gay relationship depicted in the Harry Potter universe going to be a tragic, toxic sludge? And once it is depicted, there will probably be specific aspects of this relationship that will fit into typical bad tropes and stereotypes about gay men and their relationships, unless JKR manages to pull off the frankly impossible and avoid all of those entirely. Ultimately, I think the whole thing will be useful to dissect and critique. Especially because, before I knew he was gay, I thought Dumbledore was ace. And I think, given what we know for sure about Dumbledore, he could still be somewhere on the ace-spec. THIS DOESN’T EXCUSE ANYTHING. I’m not trying to say that my head canon ace Dumbledore solves the problem of his gay identity not being explicit on the page because OF COURSE IT DOESN’T. I just mean that JK Rowling does interesting and maybe a little bit problematic and maybe still sort of intriguing things with her tragic romances, as far as ace and aro people are concerned, and this relationship is going to shed more light onto what and how I think about all of that.

(But yeah, I don’t like that Johnny Depp is in it. I don’t like that JK Rowling defended keeping him in the movie. I really don’t like that.)

And as much as I’m looking forward to the inevitable critiquing, I’m also extremely wary of how this is all going to turn out, with regards to Dumbledore himself. I love that he has flaws and weaknesses, yes. I’m worried that he’s going to turn into a tragedy, romantically speaking. He is a tragedy where his family is concerned, and that’s important and needs to stay. I don’t want him to be a romantic tragedy, though, and I kind of think that’s how this story ends.

I think that because I saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I saw the extremely creepy, unsettling relationship between Grindelwald and Credence. I saw how Grindelwald was manipulating Credence’s obvious feelings for him. He used the word “friend.” They both used the word “friend.” But. I saw what I saw.

I was looking for it, too, because I also read Deathly Hallows. Yates, in his movie version, skimmed almost entirely over the Grindelwald/Dumbledore’s past thing, but I still remember the book. Dumbledore got all white-supremecyish as a young ‘un. Partly he was inclined towards that because of what happened to his sister.

The other part of his anti-Muggle bigotry is that he was in love with Grindelwald. And Grindelwald, it was strongly hinted at, had manipulated Dumbledore.

My prediction for their relationship onscreen is that it’s going to be extremely toxic. We know it ends horrifically. The details of it that we have so far seem to suggest that it fits into a pattern of romantic tragedies that are already explicitly detailed in the books as romantic tragedies.

There are several of them. And they’re all heterosexual and explicitly and unmistakably romances in the actual text. So. Yeah. Here are the ones I remember off the top of my head:

Snape and Lily

Super toxic. Snape is definitely in love with Lily, his best friend, but he’s also convinced that becoming a Death Eater is the only way forward for him. He wants power, being so powerless himself. He chooses that over her. Because it’s a book, of course it’s literally him who gives Voldemort the information he needs to eventually kill Lily. Snape begs for her life, which is why she’s able to die and save Harry.

As far as we know, he wasn’t in love with anyone else, ever. He maybe never had a romantic and/or sexual partner, ever. I’ve seen a lot of people criticize that for being juvenile or unlikely but, no, it fucking isn’t. It happens, it’s a thing, for a lot of different reasons. And sometimes people rarely or never feel those feelings that compel someone to seek out those relationships to begin with.

(JK Rowling seems to know that without really knowing that there’s a word for it. See Charlie Weasley for the best example. This is a periphery story, just like Dumbledore’s sexuality is. I know people like to read opportunism into her post-publication declaration of Dumbledore’s being gay, but I’ve always seen Rowling as curating a huge amount of backstory information for all of her characters. I believe her when she says she always saw Dumbledore as gay. I assume she knew he was in love with Grindelwald before she name-dropped the dude on the Chocolate Frog card in Philosopher’s Stone. I don’t think she was trying to score “ally points.” I think she was just being clueless. Which is not an excuse, but there is a difference. But apparently these things, like Dumbledore being gay and Charlie being ace, are not explicitly stated in the text because she considers those details to be trivia, irrelevant to plot and theme. That’s a pretty large problem because, first, Dumbledore being in love with Grindelwald absolutely changes how we read that history. Dumbledore being romantically in love with Grindelwald explicitly absolutely would have enriched the thematic resonance and all of the character development we were getting there with him. And second, I think most of us these days understand that separately from theme and plot, a fictional character’s identity matters. And that JK Rowling seems to not understand that, or that she seems to not understand that there’s work that authors need to do to ensure that people don’t just read white, straight, cis, able-bodied, thin, allo, and so on and so forth into every single character because they’ve been trained to do that through decades of the huge white canon, is the actual problem here. Dumbledore could easily have said to Harry, “… oh and I was also in love with him.” It would have worked, it would have been explicit, it would have been easy, and ultimately it seems that JK Rowling didn’t think it was important to make sure the readers knew what she was implying, whereas in other, hetero, quick little romance stories it’s absolutely clear that it’s a romance.)

(Honestly, though, considering how many characters of hers I can read ace into, I maybe have a little niggling about a certain author and a certain ace-spectrum and I’m not even a little bit sorry)

(If she is an ace egg, that doesn’t excuse any of this, of course. And I know we’re complaining about needing more than just our head canons. Still. It’s not often that fictional characters fit so easily into being read like this and I can’t separate it from how I interpret all of the romance, tragic and not tragic, implied and explicit, in the story.) 

On the other hand, maybe the tragedy of Snape’s first and only love compelled him to live a life of self-loathing and self-loathing–induced celibacy. Which is kind of silly, or it’s kind of Arthurian Romantic, take your pick.

I’m picking a-spec Snape because it makes more sense and is less sad, but you do you.

The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron

We get this one in a whirlwind reveal while Hogwarts collapses around Harry and company. The Grey Lady was beautiful, narcissistic, and a thief in life. The Bloody Baron was some guy who was in love with her in life. He confessed dramatically, she was like, “Ew,” and then he murdered her. And then, overcome with remorse, he killed himself.

What sticks out to me for this one is that Rowena Ravenclaw was the Grey Lady’s mom and the broken relationship between her and her daughter was the actual tragedy here, rather than the Bloody Baron being terrible, which is kind of nice.

Merope Gaunt and Tom Riddle

Merope is a victim of constant abuse. She brews a love potion in order to catch Tom Riddle’s attention. It works. It’s a love potion. It’s rape.

They get married, have a baby, she stops feeding him love potion, maybe, Dumbledore speculates, out of remorse, or maybe she was hopeful that he might really have fallen in love with her by then.

But no. It was rape.

Voldemort had been conceived, though. Tom Riddle leaves, Merope gives birth and lets herself die from heartbreak after naming the baby after his father.

Voldemort grows up not understanding “the power of love.” Deliberately, I think. I think somehow he understood that hopeless, delusional love for his father was ultimately a horrible experience for his mother, and that a love potion had taken away his father’s ability to choose, and that both of his parents chose not to love him because it was too much. I’m open to other interpretations, because Voldie was a bad dude even when he was a little kid, but Dumbledore gives him a bit of the benefit of the doubt while he is a student at Hogwarts and I think that means he was capable of turning out differently, but, upon learning the sad, twisted story of his family, he started making some wretched, soul-mutilaty choices to try to avoid the same fate as his parents.

I think JK Rowling is saying, with these three doomed love stories, that love is painful. It’s hard. It’s almost not worth it, except, in the end, it is. Because even if you mess up and then you have to live as a regret-ghost because you did a terrible thing, or as a regret-living person because you did a terrible thing, your only other option is to cut your soul into eight pieces and your greatest ambition in life becomes trying to murder a baby, so, love people however you do that, and try not to get them killed indirectly/directly murder them.

There are also lots of non romantic, non sexual, also doomed love stories that aren’t tragic in the same way as those romantic ones are:

Harry and Lily

It all comes back to this, again and again. Lily loved her son enough to die for him, of course she did. She saved him doing it. Eventually he emulates her and dies for everyone he loves as well, to save them. Lily’s last moments are horrifying and not your typical awesome, self-sacrificing hero standing between a monster and the innocent. She’s begging, crying, powerless without a wand. She endures it anyway, dies anyway, because she loves her son, and it’s what saves the wizarding world, eventually.

Sirius and James

I think Sirius is aroace. You want him to be gay? Go for it. But I think all of the telling “not interested in the hopeful girl in the exam” and “pasted posters of Muggle women and motorcycles to annoy bigoted parents, not out of interest towards the women” hints can be read either way. And either way, Sirius loves his friends. He thinks he’s doing the right thing, making Peter be the secret keeper. When it turns out he was wrong and his mistake gets Lily and James killed, Sirius pretty much gives up on his own life. A lot of factors beyond Sirius’s control come together to land him unfairly in Azkaban, but those factors that he can control he misuses out of rage and grief.

When he escapes, he does a lot of sulking and almost ruins his newfound relationship with his godson because he won’t grow up and be responsible. It’s very understandable. The murder of his best friend ruined his life. Still, it’s clear, made clear all the time, every time Sirius talks about James, that having James in his life makes it worth living for Sirius, who had been miserable right up until he met and was accepted by James on the train. Love is messy and Sirius doesn’t navigate it as gracefully as he could have, but ultimately it’s his core, making him different in all the ways that matter from his evil cousin as she kills him.

Harry and Hedwig

I’m not over this.

Harry and Dobby

I’m not over this either.

What Harry keeps learning, every time someone dies, is that love is awful. But worth it anyway. Knowing that you might very well lose the people you love doesn’t mean shutting yourself off from them and choosing not to love.

But do note that in the romances, Snape doesn’t love again, ever. The Bloody Baron certainly doesn’t. Merope couldn’t even love her son after Tom left. Tragedies, the lot of them.

So… what’s going to happen to Dumbledore, after Grindelwald?

Dumbledore and Grindelwald

I’m convinced we’re going to see this onscreen. And here’s how I think it will go.

They probably are going to have a whirlwind romance. It might be cute. For a bit. But they start feeding off of each other’s bigotry, and eventually it will become clear that Grindelwald is manipulating Dumbledore’s feelings for him in a way that is disturbing but not as disturbing as the Credence thing because at least here they’re the same age and neither of them are troubled, abused teenage boys.

Dumbledore cuts off their relationship when he realizes that he doesn’t actually want to be an “Enslave the Muggles” kind of guy. Or is that why he cuts it off?

Is it actually only when Arianna almost kills them all, and when one of them, accidentally, maybe, kills her, that Dumbledore ends it?

And then Dumbledore is idle. He won’t confront Grindelwald as he begins his atrocities, because he is terrified that Grindelwald will confirm that it was Dumbledore’s spell that killed his own sister. Probably also because of all of the complex romantic/sexual feelings, too.

When I was a kid and had no idea that asexuality was a thing, I still always picked up on and paid special attention to characters that didn’t have romances. Dumbledore was an old guy, unmarried. It seemed right to me, that he should be unmarried. At some point I thought to myself, “I just don’t think he feels that way about people, and that’s why he never got married.”

And then JK Rowling said he was gay.

I think Dumbledore can be a-spec too. Maybe the type of feelings he has for Grindelwald are rare or almost absent, and for him they strike only once. Because while it’s possible that post-Grindelwald Dumbledore did some dating and romance and stuff (which he could still have done even if he is actually some sort of ace and/or aro), I kind of sort of a lot think he absolutely didn’t. Maybe it’s because he usually doesn’t think of people in romantic and sexual ways, like I thought when I was a kid.

Or, maybe, and I think this is the winner here, it’s because it fits into the pattern those other tragic romances all fit into and he fell in love young with a guy who turned out to be manipulative on the one hand and genocidal on the other and they got into a fight that killed his sister, and as punishment for himself, he chose to never love again. Something like my interpretation of Voldemort, but much less extreme. He chose to never pursue romantic love again, because he didn’t consider himself worthy of it.

That’s what I’m expecting, anyway.

Based on all the Harry Potter I’ve consumed throughout the years, I think I’ve picked up on Rowling’s Harry Potter love and tragic love and tragic romantic love patterns. As much as I think she’s kind of writing her way around the a-specs, I think she really does love a tragic romance where it goes bad and the one partner decides never to do it again maybe because they’re broken now, and maybe it’s because they’re still trying to grapple with the after-effects, and maybe it’s because they only feel those things rarely and it just doesn’t happen again for them. All of that is there, possible, to read into these romances. When we finally get Dumbledore and Grindelwald it will probably be there too.

There’s a lot to say about this story, the way I’m expecting it to happen. There’s good stuff there, maybe, and there’s some problematic stuff as well. Maybe it will happen completely differently. Maybe Dumbledore did love other men afterwards and it was never discussed because it wasn’t relevant to the plot but, like, pepperup potion is though. And also firecrabs. And flobberworms. And Sir Cadogan. THERE IS A HINT AT A ROMANCE BETWEEN MADAME PINCE AND FILCH. SO.

Whatever happens, it’s kind of crucial that Dumbledore is stated to be gay, and that this statement comes separately from his complicated and very likely toxic relationship with Grindelwald. Because the Dumbledore/Grindelwald love story is a tragedy, and Dumbledore being gay is not a tragedy.

I’m looking forward to analyzing this love story, critiquing it, wondering about what went wrong and what could have been better and what, hopefully, works about the portrayal of this relationship. But Dumbledore’s identity should be its own thing, not only onscreen tied to a toxic romance. That I can say right now, without waiting to see any of the movies or waiting to see how the relationship itself is portrayed.

I hope Yates apologizes to Rowling about that interview, btw. Also I hope both of them do the thing, or that they have done it already, because it honestly isn’t that much to ask for. And I hope we all keep reading and recommending stories that are explicitly about queer people and those that are written by queer authors, because that is always a good thing. This tag contains all the ones I read last year. So far, this year, I’ve read Let’s Talk About Love which has a biromantic asexual protagonist, and I’m reading Beneath the Sugar Sky of the Wayward Children series which features an ensemble that includes a trans boy, an ace girl, and maybe the lesbian girl shows up again. I’m only halfway through but I’m hopeful because she’s my favourite.

erm

Literally all I want is pie.

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