Sometimes my topics come to me very clearly, practically written in fact, but other times, they buzz around like irritating gnats, difficult to ignore but impossible to catch. I feel compelled to put something down, but the who what when where whys are all jumbled up. I can only start at the beginning and hope I end up somewhere worthwhile by the end.
So, Friday, I went to see The Jane Austen Book Club with a friend. It was a cute film based on a cute book. It has a little more going for it than one might imagine, but it's fluff, moderately nutritious fluff. It's a story about a book club formed in response to the crisis of one of the members, whose husband leaves her for another woman. The members work their way through the Austen oeuvre and through their lives and in the end, there's some happily-ever-after business and some satisfactory-for-now business, with couples coming together and what-not. In the film this is reflected with the obligatory montage of happy couples, which includes a shot of the token lesbian couple in bed. I was into the movie, I was enjoying myself, when suddenly, accompanying the truly benign sight of two attractive young women chastely cuddling, the woman next to me hisses, yes, literally hisses "disgusting." The woman next to her concurs, adding a "gross" for good measure.
I was stunned, apoplectic with stunned-ness, actually. My first instinct was to dump my bucket of popcorn on her, except that I didn't have any. At least, it's fun to imagine that I would have. Truth is, I didn't know what to do. I wanted to tell the little old lady off, but tell her what? "You are a nasty bigot lady!" Clearly she knows, and does not much mind. I know that plenty of people are nasty bigots in private but apparently my naivete knows no bounds, because I thought we were past the day when people thought it was okay to say stuff like that in public.
The next day, I went to see Spamalot with some friends. Spamalot, a musical based on the Monty Python oeuvre, is not a shining beacon of political correctness or high culture. It won my approval early in Act I by devoting an entire song to ridiculing Andrew Lloyd Weber. Later in the show (spoiler alert!) when the knight who turns out to be gay marries the charming prince he rescued from a tower, he offers the line "Just think, a thousand years from now, this will still be really controversial." I took that as my answer from the universe regarding the nasty biddy at the movies. That plus the fact that I can talk about this woman in public and call her a nasty biddy and she'll never know, ha ha! You've been DISSED in the blogosphere, bigot beeyatch!
Then I came home, turned on my computer, and learned that Dumbledore is gay. Now, this should be the perfect end to my essay. World coming full circle. There may be nasty biddies at the movies in Tacoma, but they're dissed on Broadway and one of the world's most beloved children's fictional characters is gay. The world moves forward.
Except I must confess, this Dumbledore news? It has bummed me out. Okay, not the news itself I guess. I don't find the revelation shocking or surprising or disappointing. It neither adds nor detracts to my appreciation of one of the most wonderful characters ever created. Oddly, I am reminded of the moment when my mother sat me down, in all grave seriousness, to tell me as gently as she could that my favorite aunt was gay. The atmosphere was so charged, my mom was clearly braced for me to flip out or weep or do something. But for me I just thought, "oh, yes." Now that you mention it, of course she is. It wasn't "Ah-HAH! That explains everything!" I hadn't spent any time before then wondering if she was gay. But when my Mom told me, it made sense, and I was happy to know that my aunt was happy, and relieved that it wasn't something awful, like "your aunt is dying" or "despite our best efforts, your aunt has joined the Republican party."
So what is depressing me about the outing of Dumbledore? This morning when my clock radio alarm went off, they were playing a montage of Dumbledore lines from the movies intercut with Jack McFarlane lines from Will and Grace. Lines such as "It's not our abilities that make us who we are but our choices" intercut with "when two men fall in love and are greased up like pigs at a spring fair…" Dumbledore's future seems sadly clear to me. He will become a standing punchline for Jay Leno jokes. He will grace the cover of The Advocate. His likeness will become a fixture at gay pride parades. Parents will sit their children down to have grave and gentle conversations about their favorite fictional character.
And all along the way those things about Dumbledore that make him so special: his hard earned wisdom; his compassion for even the worst the world has to offer; his obstinate confidence that right will out; his greatness and his imperfection. What will become of these?
The truly frustrating thing about bigotry is its reductive nature. It takes the wonderful complexity that is a human being and reduces it to a single caricature. The woman at the movie theater who upset me so much sat through the same movie I did. She watched the same characters struggle and evolve, but in the end, at least in regards to the character of Allegra, she couldn't or wouldn't bring herself to see the person behind what she'd labeled a perversion. Unfortunately, the same can be said for whatever the opposite of bigotry is. That force that drives The Advocate to out dead people and movie stars who've decided that they'd rather not share who they share their beds with. It's all two sides of the same coin, taking a single characteristic of a person and transforming it into everything worth knowing about that person.
The re-reading of Potter-verse has already begun, with close analysis of every Dumbledore related word. Particularly close attention is being paid to the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald, the wizard young Dumbledore first befriended but eventually defeated, which J.K. Rowling recently characterized in a speech as a romantic attachment. When I first read about Dumbledore's attachment to Gridelwald, the passionate charge in the relationship was clearly there. Rowling isn't a subtle writer. Yet I was also so clearly reminded of incidents in my own life where I formed an overwhelming attachment with another person.
There's nothing so amazing as experiencing a "meeting of the minds," when you meet someone who "gets" you. There's a movie called Heavenly Creatures which portrays this circumstance so clearly, and also portrays how this kind of intense, passionate teenage friendship can go completely, horribly wrong. As a film librarian, I had a patron complain about this movie once — and when I say complain I mean this person was completely beside themselves, they were so upset by this movie which was, they insisted, clearly advocating for teens to kill their parents. Unfortunately for the person who wanted the film removed from the system, I was enthralled by the movie. I actually considered sending them a thank you note for suggesting I watch it.
Now, I've never murdered any of my parents, nor faced a former friend in a wizard duel, but I related to both these stories under discussion here, because I've been young and felt alienated and discovered a friend who felt the same sort of alienation at the same time. Even though I'm an actual grown up now, I can still feel exhilaration when I read or view a work of art that captures a universal human experience so beautifully. And my question to J.K. Rowling, or my concern or my confusion or whatever it is that's making this gnat buzz around me, is "Are you telling me that I got it wrong?" I thought I was reading about a universal human experience, something that Rowling is generally damn good at capturing. Was it in fact a "gay" experience? In labeling Dumbledore gay does Rowling wish to expand my understanding of him, or narrow it? I believe that Rowling means for it to expand. In a perfect, wonderful world, it does expand. Certainly learning that my aunt was gay expanded my understanding and appreciation of her life.
Perhaps my distress is that I know it's not a perfect world. This missive has come full circle, but in the wrong direction. We're back to the nasty biddy at the movie theater, and the clumsy activists at The Advocate, who think it's more important to label something GAY than to recognize a universal experience. It's a world of Jay Leno punchlines, and stupid sound clip montages on the radio. It's a world which, now given permission, will do it's damnedest to reduce the character of Dumbledore into a caricature in rainbow robes.