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Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship was “intense” and “sexual” says JK Rowling

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The author has revealed more about her character’s back stories. Now it’s time for the Harry Potter franchise to reflect that on screen.

For many Harry Potter fans, one of the most frustrating things about the more recent iterations in the franchise has been the treatment of the character of Dumbledore.

At first, creator JK Rowling and Fantastic Beasts’ director David Yates revealed that Dumbledore was gay and in love with Grindelwald, a cause for celebration for many queer Harry Potter fans yearning for representation in pop culture, albeit tempered by the fact that this queerness was in no way present in the actual text of Harry Potter.

Then, Yates revealed that Dumbledore would not be “explicitly” gay in the Fantastic Beasts movies, something that Jude Law, who starred as the young Dumbledore in the Fantastic Beasts film, confirmed. Why? Well, neither star nor director could offer any clear reason other than that a character’s sexuality isn’t always relevant to his or her overall story. But that answer, in an era in which the power of representation has become more evident than ever before, just isn’t good enough. 

Dumbledore’s sexuality needs to be reflected in the Harry Potter franchise from now on 

Whether or not a depiction of an “explicitly” gay Dumbledore would have pushed the narrative forward or driven a plotline or deepened our understanding of his character’s relationship with Grindelwald is almost beside the point for many fans. 

Much more significant for them is that the Harry Potter franchise had the opportunity to show millions around the world that people – wizards, even – can be gay, and that their stories deserve to be told. According to them, Harry Potter completely squandered that chance.

It would appear, though, that Rowling is trying to make amends. On the DVD commentary for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the author has shared more information about Dumbledore’s sexuality and his relationship with Grindelwald.

“Their relationship was incredibly intense,” Rowling said on the commentary. “It was passionate, and it was a love relationship. 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.” 

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Rowling continued: “So 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, which ultimately is the most fascinating thing about all human relationships.”

JK Rowling wants you to know that Dumbledore and Grindelwald had a sexual relationship

We agree that the intense emotional element to Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s past is a fascinating element to both of their characters, and tells us so much of the man that Dumbledore once was and the man that he would grow into by the time we first meet him in the Harry Potter books.

But also in the year 2019 it is not good enough to tiptoe around the edges of queer sexuality in a pop culture product in this way. You don’t get to say that Dumbledore is a gay character and that he has an “intense” and “passionate” sexual relationship with Grindelwald without even alluding to this onscreen. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too. 

We’re not saying that the next Fantastic Beasts movie needs to have a sex scene. But if it’s true that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were in a sexual relationship then say it out loud. Call it by its name. The next Fantastic Beasts movie needs to reflect Rowling’s more recent comments on screen or risk losing faith with the fans who are frustrated by Harry Potter’s inability to move with the times.

It is important that Rowling talks about Dumbledore’s sexuality and identity, but now it’s time to take that from subtext to text. Because the power of that representation – of showing that the stories of queer people deserve to be told, and that they can be told as part of one of the biggest franchises in the world – is too great to ignore. 

Images: Warner Bros, Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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