Friday, 26 October 2007

I wish she hadn’t done it! On the outing of Dumbledore

It seems impossible this week not to make some sort of comment on the fact that She-Who-Need-Not-Be-Named has outed Dumbldore as gay. This is one of those events, relatively minor in itself, which I fear will no doubt have major repercussions, some of which are as yet unsuspected.

I have some difficulty in writing about homosexuality. I have very little empathy for it, which makes treating the subject with sympathy difficult. I am also aware it is a subject of enormously strong feelings. Being gay is such a core feature of homosexual people that to be negative about it is seen as a personal attack. It is also a subject of such complexity that it needs careful unpacking; for example are we to endorse even the most promiscuous sort of homosexuality? A blog is hardly an appropriate location for a discussion. Nevertheless I feel that some comment must be made, so here goes.

I wish she hadn’t done it for many reasons. Let me begin with the literary problem. She has effectively added an amendment to the books which now, for better or worse, require their re-evaluation. The pivotal Dumbledore-Harry relationship must surely be now be reconsidered. It is a wise rule that once a book is written, authors leave their finished work to the readers. This has an unfortunate air of ‘Harry Potter: The Author’s Cut.’

Secondly, she has chosen to throw her considerable weight on one side of what is perhaps the biggest and most painful cultural battle of our time: whether homosexual relationships are as equally valid as heterosexual ones. I remind you that this is no light issue: to accept such a legitimisation is basically to reject the Bible’s authority in matters of sexuality. And if the Bible is kicked out of the bedroom, then it will soon be kicked out of the boardroom and the schoolroom. Its authority will be utterly undermined, and all we will have left is some edifying stories and some pious promises. I feel that she has done this because she is a modern Western woman and it’s the thing to do.

Thirdly, and most worryingly of all, she has bought this pained and complex battle into children’s literature. When I taught in Beirut in the early 1980s there was a universal (and generally held) agreement amongst the trigger-happy thugs of the warring militias that the campus of the American University of Beirut was off-limits. In the same way, I think there has been something of an unspoken consensus that it was not right to wage this battle in the presence of children. But at a stroke JKR has brought the war into the school library. I regret this, not because I think the gay rights issue cannot be countered at this level, but because I believe in an endangered thing called childhood in which such matters remain over the horizon. The all too vulnerable area of childhood, long eroded by commercialism, is now threatened by warfare over sexual orientation. (Incidentally, had it been the evil Voldemort who had been outed, then I trust I would have been just as irritated.)

Finally, I regret it for a selfish reason. It makes our lives difficult as writers. Do we now have to declare some sort of affidavit that ‘no character of ours will be subsequently outed’? Let me pre-empt that. Let me say here, for the benefit of my readers and for posterity that no character good or evil I have written of in the Lamb among the Stars books is gay. But I wish I hadn’t had to say it.