October 23, 2007

Marc Acito discusses Dumbledore on All Things Considered

Posted in Children and adolescents, Education, GLBT issues, Literature at 5:22 pm by The Lizard Queen

On my way home yesterday I heard Marc Acito, author of How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater and the upcoming Attack of the Theater People, discuss on All Things Considered the most recent Harry Potter scandal: J.K. Rowling’s revelation this past weekend of the fact that Dumbledore is gay. You can listen to his commentary here, and there’s a transcript (transcribed by yours truly, so I take full responsibility for any mistakes or glitches) below the fold. I very much appreciated Acito’s take on the situation — he summarizes a number of the reactions people have had to the news (mine: “Huh. That makes sense. Cool.”), then connects it to his own experience as a teacher and a homosexual. I think he’s right: “In a world where sexual orientation is still headline news, too many real gay people lead fictitious lives.” Mustang Bobby of Shakesville puts perhaps a finer point on it: “It also makes it clear that a gay man such as a teacher can be a mentor and a friend without any of the lurid overtones of pedophilia that is never far from the fevered imaginings of the Christian conservatives and their perpetual adolescent fixation with sex.”

That idea connects to a post of Melissa’s from yesterday, the So-Called Public School Plague, which discusses an Associated Press report on sexual predators in public schools. She takes the AP to task — and rightly so — for playing fast and loose with the numbers. But in the context of LGBTQ teachers having to keep their sexuality or gender identity quiet in the classroom, I couldn’t help but notice another aspect of the article. It refers to a handful of incidents:

  • One male teacher stands accused of, among other things, fondling a fifth-grader’s breast and forcing the hand of another girl onto the zipper of his pants.
  • “DNA evidence in a civil case determined that [a male principal] impregnated a 14-year-old student.”
  • Another male teacher’s “bosses warned him not to meet with female students behind closed doors. . . . Police later found pornography and condoms in his office and alleged that he was about to have sex with a female student.”
  • A female teacher “conceived a child with a 16-year-old former student.”
  • Another male teacher victimized a young girl, and wasn’t taken to task for it until it happened with a second young girl.
  • A male teacher in Pennsylvania developed a romantic and sexual relationship with a 12-year-old girl.

Notice a pattern? The majority of abuse cited is male-on-female or female-on-male. Now, I’ve said before (and I’m sure I’ll say it again) that pedophilia is an entity entirely separate from normal (if you will), healthy adult sexuality. However, religious fundamentalists continue using the “homosexuality = pedophilia” talking point as if I hadn’t said anything at all (which rather makes me want to take my well-thought-out arguments and go home, except they’re out there trying to influence public policy, so I have to keep trying), so I thought this was worth pointing out. Conclusion: A GAY TEACHER IS NO MORE LIKELY TO ABUSE A CHILD THAN A STRAIGHT TEACHER IS. Thank you, and goodnight.

Is It Any Wonder Why Dumbledore Kept Closeted?
NPR, All Things Considered, 22 October 2007

Melissa Block: This weekend Harry Potter Author J.K. Rowling announced at a reading that a fictional character she created, Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, is gay. That revelation made headlines around the world. Commentator Marc Acito says he understands why Dumbledore remained closeted, because he too taught young children, and shares Dumbledore’s sexual orientation.

Marc Acito: I have to admit I was dumbfounded at the Dumbledore news. For starters, he isn’t remotely well-groomed. I mean, that beard? It’s so last millennium! What’s more, if anyone was gay at Hogwarts I assumed it was Professor Snape, who’s so bitchy he’s practically the children’s fantasy version of Bette Davis. Actually, there’s a lot we don’t know about the Hogwarts faculty. Is starchy spinster Minerva McGonagall a closeted Lesbian? She does teach transfiguration. Author J.K. Rowling has already been drawn and quartered by all the predictable factions; those who oppose her books because of witchcraft have just one more reason to ban them. After all, the number one banned book last year was And Tango Makes Three, the heartwarming true story about the Central Park Zoo’s gay penguins. Meanwhile, the audience in New York gave Rowling’s announcement prolonged applause — no surprise in a city where Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was greeted with jeers when he said there were no homosexuals in Iran. And the blogs were abuzz with accusations that Rowling hasn’t played fair, that Dumbledore’s orientation isn’t a part of the stories, and who cares anyway? He’s a fictitious character! But, like life, the truth is there, hiding in plain sight. In the seventh book, the headmaster tells Harry about the man we now know was the love of his life. Grindelwald — “You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me.” Now we can imagine just how inflamed he was. Still, Albus Dumbledore is no flamer. Add him to the long literary tradition of sad, sexless bachelors who die alone. “Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love,” he says in the final book. While there’s an indication that Dumbledore has friends at the pub in Hogsmeade, we can’t really imagine him doing the conga on a clothing-optional gay cruise, nor do we really want to. What’s more, Dumbledore’s sexual orientation does explain something about the books I never understood: why, when Harry breaks the rules, the headmaster always looks the other way. This is a wizard who understands from bitter experience what it’s like to live outside the bounds of convention.

Like Dumbledore, I too made choices about sexual orientation and teaching. I’d already been fired as a tutor for being openly gay, so I was understandably apprehensive when I got hired as a substitute at a private Episcopal school. Still, I loved teaching so much I considered it as a career, imagining my future as the irreverent nonconformist who [butts] heads with bigoted parents and a stuffy headmaster, like in Dead Poets Society, hopefully without inspiring suicide. But as a teacher, I couldn’t even answer a simple question like, “Are you married?” Like Iran, there are no homosexuals in elementary school. So it’s appropriate that we’re talking about the gay life of a fictitious character. In a world where sexual orientation is still headline news, too many real gay people lead fictitious lives. Is it any wonder Dumbledore kept his secret until now?

Melissa Block: Commentator Marc Acito is the author of How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater.



  1. […] The Lizard Queen notes, people who know much about homosexuality in fiction–or indeed about the cultural imperative […]

  2. Vixen said,

    My reaction was similar to yours-Oh that makes sense. No wonder he was so taken with Grindelwald.

    Though he’s straight, Snape’s campiness in the Potter movies are some of my favorite scenes.

  3. Marc Acito said,

    I delighted that my piece stimulated so much thought and discussion. Please take a look at my website (www.MarcAcito.com) when you have a chance for some others. Happy new year.

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