"Gay people just look like people”: J.K. Rowling shuts down reader's complaint about Dumbledore's sexuality

The author's response to a fan is the perfect retort to literary blindness

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published March 25, 2015 3:59PM (EDT)

J.K. Rowling        (AP/Dan Hallman)
J.K. Rowling (AP/Dan Hallman)

Proving yet again why she's your kid's role model – and probably yours as well -- J.K. Rowling Tuesday offered a perfect retort to a "Harry Potter" fan still uneasy with her acknowledgement that beloved wizard Dumbledore was gay.

Responding to a reader who tweeted, "Thank you so much for writing Harry Potter. I wonder why you said that Dumbledore is a gay because I can’t see him in that way," the author tersely responded, "Maybe because gay people just look like... people?" Though the original poster has since deleted her question, the succinct reply to it has subsequently become the most satisfying thing to happen on Twitter since Rowling's droll January observation that "I was born Christian. If that makes Rupert Murdoch my responsibility, I’ll auto-excommunicate."

It's been eight years already since Rowling first verified Albus Dumbledore's orientation to an audience of New York fans, responding to a question about the Hogwarts hero's love life by stating unequivocally that "Dumbledore is gay" -- and calling his doomed love for Gellert Grindelwald a "great tragedy." But it still hasn't quite sunk in for everybody.

Though her response was flip, it was a classic Rowling line, because it carried with it a far deeper message. And with it, she gave that reader who asked about Dumbledore an opportunity to learn something. That person may honestly not have understood that she already knows plenty of gay people. That she has gay teachers and gay friends and gay neighbors. Her assumption that Dumbledore somehow never seemed gay to her says that she assumes that gay people lead different lives from straight people, or that they're narrowly identifiable. And her apparent discomfort with a character in children's literature being gay speaks to the ongoing misconception a lot of people still have – that sexual orientation is all about sex, and therefore gay people are somehow unwholesome. See also the bevy of confused "That's So Raven" fans who declared their childhoods "ruined" when the show's star, Raven-Symone, came out in 2013. Hint: Gay people aren't being gay to "ruin" anything for anybody, including children.

When Harvey Milk urged, in 1978, "You must come out… Break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions," he was making a plea to all of us, to recognize that we're all just people trying to get along and live in this world we share. Homophobia thrives on the otherness of LGBT people. It says they're separate from the ostensible regular world everyone else presumably lives in. And it enables readers to boggle that a character could be gay, because a gay character would have to be defined entirely by his gayness, right? Nope. And the message that bears repeating until everybody gets it is just what Rowling says: that even when they're century-old fictional wizarding geniuses, you know what gay people look like? People.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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