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EUOLogy: Dumbledore’s Homosexuality


NOTE: NEW CONTENT HERE

I’m adding a note here in August of 2011, four or five years after writing and posting this essay. It draws attention now and then, and so I thought it was time for an update.

I will leave the entire essay, unchanged, below as I don’t feel it is usually appropriate to go through and purge things like this. It has been linked around, and forcing all of those links point to a blank wall is hardly the right thing to do.

However, I have not spent the years static on this issue. I’ve done a lot of thinking, partially because of the well-reasoned responses I’ve gotten. And so, I want to leave three notes here at the beginning.

1) Please keep in mind that this essay was not intended to be an argument for or against homosexuality, or gay marriage. It was directed at members of my own community (I wasn’t nearly as well-known outside of that community when I posted this as I am now) whom I felt were being overly critical. In doing so, I had to define some of my feelings and positions, for those who did read the essay and were not part of that community.

2) Looking back on it now, I find that—in speaking from a position of privilege—I speak of some things in a way that is likely offensive. These sorts of tones are very hard to avoid when speaking about a minority class from the perspective of one in the majority. I’m not certain I could write it now in a way that cut out that tone entirely, but I could probably do far better. If I casually offend, I apologize. Over the years, I’ve grown more and more aware of how the tone and biases of one like myself (white, male, straight) can itself be part of the problem.

3) I have changed my stance on gay marriage somewhat. After a great deal of soul searching, thought, and discussion, I now believe that the best way to approach this is to push for ALL state unions to be civil unions. I believe we should establish what the state grants a union—whether it be straight or gay—and apply those rights universally to all.

Marriage, I believe, should become an entirely religious term. Marriages should be performed by churches. In short, I believe that we should “Render unto Caesar that which is Ceasar’s, and Render unto God that which is God’s.”

This would mean a great overhaul of civil code, but I find it the only solution my conscience will allow me to advocate. I cannot be deaf to the pleas of gay couples who want important things, such as hospital visitation rights, shared insurance, and custody rights.

At the same time, I accept and sustain the leaders of the LDS church. I believe that a prophet of God has said that widespread legislation to approve gay marriage will bring pain and suffering to all involved. I trust those whom I have accepted as my spiritual leaders. I feel that what they have said is God’s will.

I believe that moving to a government civil-union-only system would appease both sides. Religiously, I have heard no opposition to the idea of gay couples gaining the rights they demand—the argument is over the term ‘marriage.’ There is worry (some would say unfounded, but the worry is there) that legalizing gay marriage would lead to anti-discrimination suits against the church for not being willing to marry same-sex couples. We believe that marriage itself is something holy, something God must seal. Letting the rights be sorted out by the government and the religious aspect be sorted out by the churches seems the best way to truly separate church and state on this issue.

And now, the original essay (which has a different focus.) As I said above, it is unchanged from how I originally wrote it. Thanks for reading, and hopefully we can continue to work together on this issue and both sides can abandon vitriol and actually TALK to one another. (And, please note, my position on this issue could change in many directions as the years pass. So maybe we’ll get another update in five years.)

—Brandon Sanderson
August 29th, 2011

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I’m not on the cutting edge of the blogosphere. Like many of us, I read about Rowling’s statements when they were said earlier this week. However, I usually like to think about things for a time before I write an essay about them. With this issue, I was tempted to simply let it go, since others have covered it quite well, and I worried about offending people.

However, I think I’m in an interesting position to speak about this particular event. I might be able to add something to conversation, and so I decided to go ahead and put my thoughts to page. I warn you that this is rather long, and does deal with religious topics, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, feel free to pass on this one!

I am a practicing member of the LDS (aka Mormon) church. I am up front about this, and feel that it does influence my work and perspective on writing.

I’m also an artist and, like many in the arts, find myself somewhat more liberal than others in my society. The trick is, my ‘liberal’ is still what most of you outside of Utah would consider ‘conservative.’ (As our friend Einstein would say, it all has to do with one’s relative point of reference.)

I find myself more socialist than most living around me, and find myself FAR more liberal when it comes to free speech and exchange of ideas. However, I also accept my church’s stance against gay marriage.

I try my very best to be understanding of all viewpoints, but at the same time it’s a very important part of my core philosophy on life that there is immutable TRUTH in the universe. I haven’t honestly worked out all of my own opinions on this issue. I’m still thinking, exploring, and talking to people on both sides. However, if asked to do so, I would vote against legislation that would give an official stamp of approval to gay marriage. The simple reason is this: I honestly and sincerely believe that in voting against such legislation, I would act in the best interests of those who are gay.

(I realize that this probably sounds ridiculous to gay people reading this. You likely don’t want me acting in your best interests against you expressed will, and I can understand that. However, please try to understand me. My conscience will not allow me to do something—even at your request—that I feel will bring you a great deal of pain and suffering at a later date.)

I don’t resent or even oppose the bringing forth of such things for a vote. I understand why others might vote in a different way than I would. I do not resent those who wish for changes in this area. But I must hold true to what I believe. This wouldn’t stop me from voting for a president who supported gay marriage, as I’ve voted for presidents who take money from the tobacco lobby. Politics, and presidents, are far more complicated than one issue. However, if the issue itself is presented to me for a vote, I must remain true to things I believe and hold sacred. I feel that doing otherwise would be a betrayal of myself and the things I uphold.

(Again, please don’t write me to argue for either side on gay marriage. I’m still studying, reading, listening, and making up my mind. This is my stance at this point, and I would prefer not to argue.)

Anyway, all of that up above is just to give you a point of reference. That is who I am and what I believe. That said, when I read the article where Rowling ‘outed’ Dumbledore, my first thought was “Hey, that’s cool.”

Why? Several reasons. First off, as an author, I like to know about characters and understand their motivations. Learning something additional about Dumbledore is interesting to me, as it expands my understanding of the story and him as a character. I thought it was a nice little tidbit, then moved on.

Of course, I did presage—as many of us probably did—the media storm that would follow. I wasn’t ready, however, for how bitter a lot of my friends and my family would act toward Rowling and her books. Mostly, this essay I’m writing is for them: the people on the conservative right who were bothered by Dumbledore’s outing, and now feel that the books are somehow ‘ruined.’

(I know those of you to the left are probably rolling your eyes at all of us on the right. This essay probably won’t make you any more hopeful of our ‘coming around.’ I hope those of you who advocate gay rights will be bemused at our curmudgeonly ways, instead of ranting and yelling at us. One of the things that interests me most about this debate is that those who cry for open mindedness often seem to be as hateful and unwilling to look from someone else’s perspective as the people on the far right. Rationally work to enlighten us through thoughtful nudging. Don’t call us idiots and homophobes. It really doesn’t help.)

Rambling text, check. Off topic tangents, check. Wild attempts to placate both sides in a self-effacing way, check. Likelihood of this all blowing up in my face anyway, check. Always nice to know that I’m consistent with these essays, if nothing else. Anyway, for those who care to read on, here are the reasons why Rowling’s announcement isn’t something you conservatives should feel bitter about, as explained to you in four points by a half-liberal, half-Christian-nut-job fantasy novelist.

Point One: Rowling wisely chose not to include talk of Dumbledore’s homosexuality in the text of the seventh novel. I think she is to be commended for this. Not because it’s a big deal that Dumbledore is gay, but because I think it would have BECOME a big deal to a lot of people if she’d mentioned it in text, thereby turning the seventh book into a debate over gay rights. Dumbledore’s sexuality would have overshadowed everything else that happened.

The sexuality of any of the adult characters had no place in these books. Teenage hormones are appropriately dealt with, but in a lighthearted way. To talk about Dumbledore’s sexuality in the books would, I think, have been counter to the tone of the novels.

Instead, Rowling waited until afterward. This news comes as an insight into the character after-the-fact, released in a way that will allow us to understand Dumbledore better without dominating the story. Those of you on the right who are ranting and raving—or even just feeling bitter—should, in my opinion, commend her, rather than giving her back-handed compliments. (Such as “Well, I still like the books, even if this does kind of ruin them.” Or “Why’d she have to go and do that to what could have been a perfect story.”)

Some of you think that she did this just for publicity. You think she made it up recently, after finishing the book, and is simply trying to get ‘in’ with a certain crowd. I wonder why you would say things like this. You love the woman’s books, you waited eagerly for the next one to come out, you commended her writing and her narrative. Now you refuse to take her statements at face value? You assume she’s lying just because she says something you don’t agree with?

I suggest giving people the benefit of the doubt. She implies that she had this in mind for the character for some time. I respect her as an author; I will trust her word.

Point Two: DEPICTION is NOT ENDORSEMENT.

Conservatives and artists have gone the rounds about this one since the days of classical Greece. (And probably before.) The fact of the matter is that gay people exist. They’re a part of the world, and regardless of what you think of their sexual orientation, they are no more likely to be “good” or “bad” than any of the rest of us. Putting a gay person into a story isn’t an attempt to say “Look, you should all be gay.” It isn’t even, necessarily, an attempt to say “Being gay is all right.” It’s simply being true to life.

(Note that I think that Rowling does, indeed, think that there is no moral issue with homosexuality. However, the depiction of Dumbledore in the books in no way implies an attempt on her part to ‘subvert’ your children or endorse homosexuality. If I were to depict an LDS person in a book, it would not be an attempt to convert people to my church; it would simply be an attempt at representing the world around me.)

Point Three: This should be an opportunity to show some good old-fashioned Christian understanding (something I always think is in short supply). Can’t we prove that we can accept people (even fictional ones) with whom we disagree while at the same time taking a stand against the things they do?

What would you have writers do? Never put gay people into books? Ignoring the existence of something you don’t approve of is NEVER a good way of dealing with it.

“But, I don’t want to read books with gay people in them,” you might say. What are you going to do? Not shop at supermarkets where gay people work? Avoid streets they might drive down? What are you going to do when a family member tells you that they’re gay? If we ignore the existence of homosexuality and same sex attraction, it will slap us in the face. Worse, we risk becoming the prejudiced bigots the other side already thinks that we are.

We can accept that some people think differently than we do without endorsing their actions. Why is it so easy for LDS people to read (and write) books about others who drink recreationally without repercussions, yet at the same time get so bitter at the mere off-handed mention that someone in some story we liked might have been gay?

This is an opportunity, not a tragedy. It can lead you to explaining your opinions and, perhaps, making a good impression on people. You can’t do that if you’re speaking bitterly about how much this ruins the books—that just sounds spiteful.

Look at it this way, my morally conservative friends. If your children hear you speaking with bitterness about discovering that Dumbledore is gay, how are they going to respond if they start feeling same sex attraction themselves? They’ll assume you’re going to react to them with the same bitterness. They will suppress and hide their feelings. (And yes, that’s a bad thing.) Would you not rather have them know that you’re understanding enough that they can come to you with what they are feeling, so that you can lovingly—and encouragingly—explain to them the LDS perspective on dealing with these emotions?

You may think that if you shelter your children, teach them right, and are spiritual enough, you’ll never have to deal with one of them thinking they might be gay. I can point you at a couple of families who did just that, and it didn’t work. I have neither the time or will to get into the “nature vs. nurture” debate with you on this one. It doesn’t matter. Whether it’s learned or innate, homosexuality is something that families who are just as spiritual, loving, and careful as yours have to deal with. Explain and love. Don’t ignore.

(Another note to those who might be reading this who are, themselves, gay. No, I don’t believe that homosexuality can—in many cases, at least—be treated and ‘cured.’ I do believe, however, that impulses of attraction between people of the same gender are something that can and should be resisted, in the same way that my impulses of attraction toward women who are not my wife can and should be resisted. You probably believe differently. I’m okay with that. End note.)

Anyway, back to the parent with the child. You speak of the Harry Potter books as being ruined, at least in part, for you. How is that going to make your children think? If they feel same sex attraction, will they worry that they’re ruining your life? Even worse, what if they think that the existence of gay people in the real world ruins life for the rest of us? Is this REALLY what you want to be teaching your children?

Better to have a beloved fictional character present you with an opportunity to talk to your children about these things than to have them get hit in the face with it when one of their siblings or friends declares they are gay.

(Besides, in another side note, LDS people might want to notice that Dumbledore might have been gay, but in the material we’ve been presented, he never acts on any of those feelings save for one event long ago. Might that not suggest to you that in recent years, he has been resisting the impulse? Would that not make him noble? Why grow indignant about a NON-PRACTICING gay man? Seems like shooting yourselves in the foot to me.)

Point Four: Straw Men serve nobody.

I think that some people are so miffed because they looked up to Dumbledore. If it had been a less respected character, it wouldn’t be such a big deal to discover they were gay.

Well, look at it this way. If I were going to put a gay person into one of my books—and I do intend to do so at some point—I would make absolutely certain to make them strong, competent, and worthy of respect. Why? Because I worry about my internal bias, and feel that the only way to be respectful—and, in a way, loving—of those who disagree with me is to present their case as BEST I can.

If you believe in truth that transcends all of us, as I think many of you do, then that truth should be able to stand on its own against the strongest of arguments its opponents can make. Nothing annoys me more than a ‘straw man’ depiction of a character. This is where an author creates a character who disagrees with him, and then has that character make flawed (sometimes idiotic) arguments that don’t accurately represent the beliefs of the other side. Often, these characters exist in a book simply so they can learn the error of their ways. (I’m looking at you, Dan Brown.)

If you believe strongly your point is correct, then it should be able to stand against good, intelligent, and capable arguments made by people on the other side who are honorable and reasonable. For sake of argument, I will use Captain Planet. This was a cartoon show during the 90′s in which all of the villains were evil people who wanted to pollute and destroy the earth. Captain Planet fought them.

Each of the show’s villains were presented as despicable, disgusting, slovenly, and malicious. The show’s good intentions—that of teaching reverence for the environment—was, in my opinion, sabotaged completely by creating inane, exaggerated villains. Sure, Captain Planet can beat the slugeman who pollutes for the sheer fun of it. It’s an easy battle; everyone can see that sludgeman is an idiot. By working so hard to fight him, Captain Plant comes off—in my opinion—like a weak, ridiculous fool.

When writing, I always say that the strength of the antagonist determines the strength of the protagonist. If you’re going to disprove an argument, you’d better make that argument as solid as you can—otherwise I’m going to assume that you’re INTENTIONALLY leaving things out because you know your own argument is inferior. Captain Planet has to fight these ridiculous villains because he doesn’t have good enough arguments to debate intelligent, good-intentioned people who happen to believe differently from himself.

How does this relate to Dumbledore? I’m not trying to present him as an antagonist or a villain. All I’m saying is that if you believe in the truth of your message, then you shouldn’t care if someone decent, respected, and intelligent is depicted as believing differently from yourself. Decent, respected, and intelligent people can be wrong—and you can still respect them. It’s okay. That doesn’t threaten our points, since we (theoretically) believe that they are eternal and stronger than any argument we could make.

It’s not a threat to us to have someone we love turn out to be gay, and if Rowling were going to choose to make a character gay, I’d have pointed right at Dumbledore. Picking a villain would have been a bad choice; picking one of the children would have made it too much a central theme of the books. Don’t look and hope for straw men. Look for people who believe differently than yourself, but who are the best of the best—men like Dumbledore. Because talking, exchanging ideas, and learning from them will only make your arguments stronger.

Anyway, that’s what I think. It’s late, and I should sleep. Once again, this probably has lots of typos in it. It has been revised since being written, and will continue to be revised as I read through it and decide what to tweak.

Brandon