Warning: very mild and ever so slightly homoerotic spoilers below!
Ever since J.K. Rowling revealed Dumbledore's sexuality over a decade ago, it's been one of the most perplexing aspects of his character. Sure, you can read between the lines and find what you might suppose are nods to his homosexual proclivities throughout the Harry Potter books. But I guess when it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in the series (both the books and the movies), I found myself wanting more. I don't want subtext! I want it right there on the page, plain and simple, black and white! But we all know the obvious, that Rowling can't rewrite the series to be more overtly inclusive. That's why, when I found out a young, strapping Dumbledore would appear in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, I saw it as a rare opportunity. To fill in the colours a little bit. To give us a gay Dumbledore, damnit!
It didn't help that we were hearing all kinds of conflicting things from those behind the film. Director David Yates said the movie would "not explicitly" address his sexuality. J.K. Rowling said he would be openly gay, and to trust the the latter films would delve deeper. Then Yates spoke about it again, saying his sexuality would be obvious to viewers. Well, dear reader, I have viewed the footage, and I've come to some conclusions.
As someone who desperately searches for hints of gayness in all media I consume, I will say that yes, I did indeed get some ~vibes~ from dear Albus. Here's the extent of it throughout the film:
- In one scene, a big group of angry wizards shows up at Hogwarts to convince Dumbledore to help them defeat Grindelwald. The Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement gets all up in Dumbledore's grill, trying to convince him to fight against Grindelwald. "Weren't you guys, like, super close?" He asks. (I'm paraphrasing.) "Like brothers?" Then Dumbledore stares straight into the camera, like he's on The Office, and says something like, "We were closer than brothers." OK, maybe he doesn't stare into the camera, but he may as well have! There's an awkward silence before the scene continues.
- Later, when he's alone, Dumbledore goes to hang out with the Mirror of Erised. In the mirror, he sees the young versions of both himself and Gellert Grindelwald. It's a flashback of sorts; the two young boys each cut open their hands and press their palms together, interlocking their fingers. The blood floats up from their cuts and intertwines, eventually turning into a vial. They've made a blood oath, vowing to never fight each other.
You guys, that's it! That's all we get! Maybe some pained eye-pining from Dumbledore, but that's really it. I guess, on some level, Yates didn't really oversell it. He's right; we can presume, from these clues, that Dumbledore is gay. But I'm tired of presumption. This is a glimpse at Dumbledore's past. I don't doubt that we'll return to it in the next films, but there are easy tweaks that could have made his sexuality more explicit.
Consider, for instance, the Mirror of Erised. The mirror is supposed to show you your deepest desire, right? So why does it show Dumbledore a flashback to something that already happened?! That's not his desire, is it? To relive a grave mistake the precludes him from fighting against a very evil and very powerful viewer? That's a plot device to show us how the blood oath was made! Shouldn't they at least be, I don't know, kissing or something? Shouldn't they be lying on a bear skin rug, giggling and sharing secrets? That sounds more like a deep desire to me. Not this painful memory.
If not a Mirror of Erised reveal, Dumbledore simply could have said it out loud. He doesn't necessarily need to blurt it in front of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, I get it. And I'm not suggesting that's what should have happened. But, I mean, he seems to have a pretty trusting relationship with Newt Scamander, right? Would it have been so hard to tell him? To say they were in love, once upon a time? To explain why they made that vow and can't fight against each other?
I know we have three more movies in the franchise, and I'd like to believe Rowling when she says his sexuality will be even more explicit in future films. But this is pretty typical LGBTQ+ fodder when it comes to pop culture. These sorts of implications have always, always, always lived in the subtext, there for queer individuals to find, where conservatives can ignore it. I'm tired of seeing it this way. To me, there were obvious moments to include more a conspicuously gay Dumbledore, and I wish they had. Hopefully, we'll see more, because this is just not enough. And, frankly, I'm worried it'll never be more than just that: subtext.