gmonkey42: cartoon Sephiroth (unhappy Snape)
[personal profile] gmonkey42
I don't feel like doing anything productive right now so I'm going around reading people's reactions on the internets. I really like [livejournal.com profile] florence_craye and [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat's posts on it. I was reading comments on The Stranger and someone said they don't see why sexual orientation should be mentioned in children's books. Because BEING GAY IS NOT ALL ABOUT SEX. SEX ACTUALLY HAS VERY LITTLE TO DO WITH IT. It's stupid to say it's appropriate that sexual orientation wasn't brought up in Harry Potter because IT WAS BROUGHT UP. The following characters were all identified as having opposite-sex partners:
Harry
Ginny
Hermione
Ron
Remus (sigh)
Tonks (SIGH)
Hagrid
Maxime
James
Lily
Lucius
Narcissa
Petunia
Vernon
Draco
Cho
Molly
Arthur
Cedric
Fleur
Bill

That's just off the top of my head. Sexual orientation comes up ALL THE TIME in children's books because children's books include straight couples. Straight people often don't get that "sexual orientation" means "straight" too. A lot of people think just being out means you're flaunting yourself but if that's true then straight people flaunt themselves all the time, by not actively hiding the fact that they're straight. It's called heteronormativity and it's why many of us are disappointed that JKR didn't just include in DH even one sentence indicating more explicitly that Dumbledore was gay, given that she had evidently planned that he was gay, and didn't just come up with it on the spur of the moment during her public appearance (I think). It would've been easy to include it without disrupting the story. There could've been a line in Rita's book that said Dumbledore was actually in love with Grindlewald and the conversation could've gone:
Harry: "wait, Dumbledore was gay?"
Ron: "Ew!" [because it's already a well established fact that Ron is a huge asshole]
Hermione: (eyeroll) "Well, it makes sense. We've never heard of him being involved with women. Anyway, he's still the same person we knew all along."
Ron: "Yeah, I guess so."
See? And then they move on with the 500 pages of bickering in a tent, which was apparently had such important narrative flow that JKR couldn't risk interrupting it with the shocking fact that gay people exist.

The other thing that REALLY troubles me and makes me think we shouldn't give JKR too much credit is the audience question that prompted her to say Dumbledore was gay:
She was asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds "true love."

"Dumbledore is gay," the author responded to gasps and applause.

THAT DOES NOT ANSWER THE QUESTION! It was a yes-or-no question. Not "what was Dumbledore's love life like?" or similar. How on earth could she have thought that was a suitable answer? There are only two possibilities: she meant that gay people always find true love - which we know isn't what she meant because Dumbledore didn't - or she meant that gay people never find true love. That's sickening. Maybe I'm just pissed off at the moment but JKR can take her pseudo-progressiveism and all but one of her major characters being straight white males and shove them up her ass. I agree with [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat that I'd rather she hadn't said it at all.

Pretending that sexual orientation is invisible is no different from pretending we're "colorblind" and it does every bit as much damage. Characters whose race isn't stated are assumed to be white, and are portrayed by white actors in the movies. Having a story where gay people are never mentioned but practically all of the characters wind up in hetero relationships means either gay people don't exist in the HP universe or they all have to be in the closet - as I suspect is the case with Dumbledore. It's either hopelessly naive or deliberately disingenuous to claim that Dumbledore was gay the whole time but nobody ever brought it up simply because being gay was a total non-issue in the HP universe. And what about Dudley's homophobic remarks? If gay people are totally equal in magical society then why didn't Harry think something along those lines? I don't buy it.

ETA More about why I'm reacting negatively:
It's cool that JKR tried to address things like tolerance in the series except overall she did a crappy job of it. She brought up a lot of great topics like the House Elves and Hogwarts House unity and prejudice against Muggles and she ended up not really going anywhere with it. She brought up a lot that could have had thoughtful discussion at an age appropriate leven and instead it turned out the villains were cartoon Nazis and all but three Slytherins were evil, or at best self-serving.

One thing that really struck me was how in the epilogue, Ron admitted that he'd Confunded the Muggle instructor in order to pass the driving test. That just screamed to me that nothing in the wizarding world had changed. It's OK to treat Muggles as sub-human because the only bad guys are the ones who wear black and have snake 'n skull brands on their arms and torture people for fun. If you don't do that then you're fine! I'm sure Ron doesn't believe there's anything wrong with how he treats Muggles any more than Michael Richards or the kids who put on mud as blackface and made a parody of the Jena 6 incident believe they're racist. That is not a good message to send to her hundreds of millions of readers.

I felt like everything leading up to the last half of book 7 led me to expect more. If she wanted the book to be focused solely on her main theme of maternal love, and not include any resolution about theme of human rights (or in the HP universe it would be "being rights"), then why bring it up at all? And the tolerance theme isn't just fans reading too much into it, according to this BBC News article
[JKR] said she regarded her novels as a "prolonged argument for tolerance" and urged her fans to "question authority".
While "don't go on a megalomaniacal ethnic clensing rampage" is good advice, most people can probably figure that out for themselves. Getting at more subtle issues about equality would have been more helpful. Is it better that she tried to include a message about tolerance, even though she screwed it up, rather than not trying at all? I don't know but it disappoints me.

Although I will say it's a credit to JKR and the Harry Potter series that it spurs serious discussion on real-life issues.

January 2012

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