J.K. Rowling's long history of discussing — but not depicting — Dumbledore's sexuality
It’s been almost 12 years since J.K. Rowling first declared that Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Hogwarts headmaster and half-moon-spectacle enthusiast, was gay. The Harry Potter author made headlines in October 2007 — just a few weeks after the series’ final book, Deathly Hallows, was published — by revealing that the white-haired wizard had, as a teenager, fallen in love with his friend-turned-rival Gellert Grindelwald.
At the time, Rowling’s declaration was met with a mixed response: Some hailed Dumbledore as a triumph for LGBT representation, a major gay character in one of the most influential children’s series of all time. Others, less charitably, questioned why Rowling chose to reveal this news after publication, without mentioning Dumbledore’s sexuality in the canon text.
The divided reaction wasn’t exactly a shock, but what is surprising is that we’re still talking about Dumbledore’s sexuality more than a decade later. And despite all that discussion and several years of new films, Rowling still has yet to confirm the wizard’s orientation in a book or on screen.
Although the Harry Potter book series ended in 2007 with the corresponding film series finishing off in 2011, the Wizarding World has lived on in behind-the-scenes dispatches from Pottermore, the two-part play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the prequel film series Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Dumbledore has popped up as a character in each. Last year’s Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald centers on the complicated relationship between the power-hungry, hatred-stoking Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) and the young, idealistic Dumbledore (Jude Law, taking over from Richard Harris and Michael Gambon). Here is a story that gives Rowling ample opportunity to explore that passionate, romantic history she revealed back in 2007, and still her screenplay fails to do so. Which raises the question: Does Rowling’s LGBT representation really mean anything if it isn’t actually represented in the text?
Rowling sparked new discussion this week by yet again mentioning Dumbledore’s sexuality in an interview that’s featured on the new Blu-ray/DVD release of Crimes of Grindelwald. “It was passionate, and it was a love relationship,” she says. “But as happens in any relationship, gay or straight or whatever label we want to put on it, one never knows really what the other person is feeling. You can’t know, you can believe you know.”
Below, EW breaks down the Harry Potter franchise’s long history of alluding to Dumbledore’s orientation, without actually depicting him as gay on screen.
October 2007: Rowling reveals Dumbledore is gay
The author appeared at Carnegie Hall in 2007 to answer fan questions after the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. When asked whether Dumbledore had ever found love, Rowling responded that she “always thought of Dumbledore as gay.”
She went on to explain that she saw the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald — who became close as teenagers before Grindelwald chose to pursue dark magic — as a romantic one.
“Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was,” Rowling told the audience. She also said that she asked the Harry Potter filmmakers to delete a line in the Half-Blood Prince movie where Dumbledore reminisces about a girl he once knew: “I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter: ‘Dumbledore’s gay!’”
March 2015: Rowling responds to a fan who says they “couldn’t see” Dumbledore as a gay man
Years later, Rowling continued to reiterate Dumbledore’s sexual orientation in interviews and online. When a Twitter user told her they couldn’t “see [Dumbledore] in that way,” Rowling replied, “Maybe because gay people just look like… people?”
November 2016: Rowling hints that the Fantastic Beasts series will explore Dumbledore’s sexuality
Rowling returned to the Wizarding World by writing the screenplay for 2016’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a new adventure set long before Harry’s birth. Before the release of the first Fantastic Beasts, Rowling participated in a press conference, where she discussed how the upcoming Fantastic Beasts films — a planned five-part series — would further explore the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald.
“I can’t tell you everything I would like to say because this is obviously a five-part story so there’s lots to unpack in that relationship,” the author said at the time. “You will see Dumbledore as a younger man and quite a troubled man — he wasn’t always the sage… We’ll see him at that formative period of his life.”
She also directly addressed Dumbledore’s sexuality and hinted at how it might be portrayed in future Fantastic Beasts movies: “As far as his sexuality is concerned… Watch this space.”
January 2018: David Yates says the second Fantastic Beasts film won’t “explicitly” reference Dumbledore’s sexuality
In an interview with EW, Fantastic Beasts director David Yates caused an uproar by confirming that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald would “not explicitly” make it clear that Dumbledore is gay.
“But I think all the fans are aware of [Dumbledore’s sexuality],” Yates said. “He had a very intense relationship with Grinde lwald when they were young men. They fell in love with each other’s ideas and ideology and each other.”
Shortly after Yates’ comments were published, Rowling suggested on Twitter that fans were jumping to conclusions and that Crimes of Grindelwald is only “part of a five-movie series.”
Several months later, Law, who plays the young Dumbledore in Fantastic Beasts, echoed Yates’ comments, telling EW in an interview, “ I suppose the question is: How is Dumbledore’s sexuality depicted in this film? What you got to remember, this is only the second Fantastic Beasts film in a series and what’s brilliant about Jo’s writing is how she reveals her characters, peels them to the heart over time. You’re just getting to know Albus in this film, and there’s obviously a lot more to come. We learn a little about his past in the beginning of this film, and characters and their relationships will unfold naturally, which I’m excited to reveal. But we’re not going to reveal everything all at once.”
March 2019: Rowling confirms that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had a “sexual dimension” to their relationship
According to Radio Times, which first unearthed Rowling’s comments from the Crimes of Grindelwald Blu-ray/DVD, the author and screenwriter says Dumbledore and Grindelwald had an “incredibly intense” “love relationship.”
“I’m less interested in the sexual side –— though I believe there is a sexual dimension to this relationship — than I am in the sense of the emotions they felt for each other,” she says, “which ultimately is the most fascinating thing about all human relationships.”
Maybe one day we’ll even see that fascinating “love relationship” on screen.