OH MY GOD DO YOU GUYS REALIZE THAT WE COULD HAVE HOT YOUNG GAY DUMBLEDORE
A DUMBLEDORE WHO’S CASUALLY DATING OTHER GUYS AND UNASHAMED
A DUMBLEDORE WHOSE SEXUALITY IS ACTUALLY VISIBLE ONSCREEN
Dumbledore’s gay? Not in my HP books. (And yes, I know about JKR’s publicity stunt.) Also, never gonna happen. Also also, I don’t want to see more of Dumbledore. I never liked him.
Dumbledore is gay in your HP books, sorry. He’s coded. If you don’t know what coding means, get a copy of the Celluloid Closet and enjoy a jaunt through the history of coded media sending signals to queer readers to alert them to the presence of queer characters in narratives.
All of the times when Dumbledore wore flamboyant clothing are coded. In Sorcerer’s Stone he wears a “flowered bonnet”, so he literally dresses in drag for a moment. At one point he wears a “flamboyant” suit of bright purple velvet, purple being a color that is explicitly coded as the color of gay pride),
Like so. The word “flamboyant” is also coded queer, as it’s one of the most commonly used descriptions of queer men and one of the common synonyms of the other most common description, “flaming.”
Another huge moment of coding is the time when Rita Skeeter is interviewed about her upcoming article on Dumbledore in DH. Skeeter, who stands as the series’ bastion of conservative media prejudice and blatant innuendo, calls Dumbledore’s relationship with Harry “unhealthy, unnatural, and even sinister.” She also speaks of Dumbledore wanting “tolerance.” These are both words that are coded to refer to queerness; they are words that are both constantly used in the debate over gay rights. And notably, these words are generally only used in debates over the queer and genderqueer rights movements, not any other kind of marginalized subcommunities.
In that same interview, after all the veiled hinting, Skeeter also makes a comment about Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald that is literally a bawdy sexual innuendo: talking about the famous duel, she says, “After they’ve read my book [in which she goes into great detail about their reiationship], people may be forced to conclude that Grindelwald simply conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand and came quietly!” which is…. as blatant as this series has ever gotten in terms of lewd sexual puns.
And considering how intensely passionate Dumbledore is on the subject of Grindelwald himself, that more or less speaks for itself. The time when he said that Grindelwald “inflamed” him as a young man was just him being excited?
But this is the exchange that, when I read it, at the time, when I was reading Book 7 for the first time, long before JKR outed Dumbledore, made me stop and wonder if DD was gay.
In chapter 8 of DH Harry finds Elphias Doge and tries to ask him about Dumbledore. Doge gets really flustered and evasive, and then the Weasley’s Aunt Muriel comes over and says that before Dumbledore got all respected, “there were some mighty funny rumors about Albus.” Doge turns red-faced and immediately denies this.
This moment, at the time I read it, instantly came across to me as a closeted man defending another closeted man, especially in the context of the heady speculation about Dumbledore & Grindelwald. The word “funny” has historically been used as a euphemism for “queer” as a way of describing gay people, and Doge’s reaction was very familiar to me, because I’ve seen that closeted man reacting that way. To me, this was another clear moment of coding Dumbledore’s sexuality—I just didn’t realize it at the time. When I read it, I assumed that it was a deliberate metaphor for being gay, the way Lupin’s werewolf narrative is a metaphor for queerness and AIDS.
I wasn’t the only person to read the novels this way, and pick up on all this coding. But it wasn’t just a metaphor. Here’s another person who picked up on it, too, as early as 2001—Steve Kloves, the screenwriter for the HP films. From a 2010 NY Times interview:
Similarly, he said, he always suspected that Dumbledore was gay, though this was never stated explicitly in any of the books, and though Ms. Rowling had to point it out to him in the margin of one of his earlier scripts, lest he put in a confusing line implying that Dumbledore was reminiscing about a girl he once knew.
Let’s just sit on that for a moment. In the middle of the series, JKR was telling the screenwriter for the HP films that Dumbledore was gay.
Finally, Andrew Slack talked a while back about all the philosophical clues that tell us Dumbledore was gay, concluding with the fact that none of us knew he was gay, just like in real life.
So please, before you make a kneejerk assumption that just because two men weren’t sucking face in the pages of your intermediate children’s fantasy, there was no visible representation of Dumbledore as queer, please recall that people like me, whose identities are already at the margins of our societies, are trained to look for them at the margins of the media we consume. It’s called “coding” because the characters use signs that ONLY WE CAN SEE. In a publishing industry where publishers routinely tell authors that they can’t make characters gay, and in a society that was already wanting to burn JKR at the stake for peddling witchcraft, it’s possible that JKR hoped that she could insert this character’s queerness at the margins, and that we would recognize him, the way we recognized ourselves in countless media over the years, from Sherlock Holmes to Point Break.
I’m not going to say that I think Dumbledore’s outing was handled well, or that I think Rowling’s “if I’d known how happy it would make you all, I would have told you earlier,” was anything but a massive dismissal of her own failed opportunity. And I also want to stress that for me, personally, anything she gained in outing Dumbledore she lost in taking two characters that had hitherto been largely queer-identified, Tonks and Remus, and marrying them off to each other in a short-lived self-sacrificing hymn to heteronormative nuclear families.
But Dumbledore was gay. And the fact that now we may actually get to see that explicitly laid out for us onscreen isn’t something new that JKR added in after the fact.
Instead, if it happens, it will hopefully be a sign that things are changing for the better, and that Rowling is more confident in her readers’ reactions to Dumbledore’s queerness now than she was six years ago.