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‘My, Professor Dumbledore, what a big wand you have!’

So JK Rowling has outed Albus Dumbledore, wizard supreme and mentor of Harry Potter, as being gay. She admitted this last Friday at Carnegie Hall in New York City when a young fan asked her if the headmaster of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardy had ever fallen in love.

“My truthful answer to you … I always thought of Dumbledore as gay,” said Rowling. Apparently she had to veto a scene in the script of the next Harry Potter movie where the good professor reminisces about past (female) loves by crossing it out and writing “Dumbledore is gay” — because Dumbledore was in love with his childhood wizard friend Gellert Grindelwald. It helps explain Dumbledore’s delay in later fighting an evil Grindelwald, among other aspects of the books.

Why tell us this now, after seven books have made publishing history? No one had ever asked before, said Rowling in a press interview this week. She also said at a writing festival in Toronto: “It has certainly never been news to me that a brave and brilliant man could love other men.” Alexander the Great, anyone?

She did not, however, want to comment on whether her “outing” of Dumbledore might alienate the world’s homophobes. “He is my character. He is what he is and I have the right to say what I say about him,” she explained.

Rowling’s revelation drew more than 3 300 comments on über-Potter website The-Leaky-Cauldron.org. Most comments were very positive (though the site administrators did note that hateful or intolerant comments were deleted). Here is a sample:

  • “He can’t be gay and cool?”
  • “This is a victory for homosexuality the world over.”
  • “Now, I really think Ian McKellen should’ve played him.”
  • “Perhaps my age has made me jaded, but instead of a revelation, it seems so tabloid.”
  • “Totally didn’t need to know that.”
  • “No straight man can pull off those robes with such class.”
  • More seriously: “There will be parents now who won’t want their kids reading the books because Dumbledore is gay,” wrote one fan. Very true. But consider how many children of adult homophobes have already devoured all the Harry Potter books …

    What does this mean for Dumbledore? He was already presented as an asexual figure; it’s not as if passages from the books suddenly take on steamy new meaning (though I am tempted to reread them all to check). It adds a twist to his already complex character — not only was he struggling with aiding Harry Potter in defeating Lord Voldemort, but his personal demons also included his hidden homosexuality.

    What Rowling did, intentionally or not, was to give to the world a strong, sensitive, moral hero, letting readers grow to love him, and then proving that gay people are just as worthy of love and attention as their heterosexual counterparts.

    Would it have hurt her book sales had she spilled the beans earlier? Probably. There are still too many bigots among us — and I’m sure the movies that remain to be released may meet some additional conservative Christian outcry. But the Potter juggernaut would have rumbled on mostly unaffected, I would venture.

    Now just imagine if other famous authors had made similar revelations about their protagonists: Did Romeo secretly fancy Mercutio? Was there more than elementary friendship between Sherlock Holmes and Watson? Why did Scrooge end up a bitter old bachelor?