Coming out of the literary closet

Every now and then, there will be a news story or blog post or literary article that claims that such-and-such a character is homosexual. The author of that piece will cite various passages to prove their point. The author will then use this evidence and their hypothesis to give their readers a new interpretation of whatever the text is. The problem I see is that these theorist are looking so carefully for evidence of homosexuality that they become like the people who can see the word sex spelled out in the sand being blown around in that scene in The Lion King. I can’t see it.

Herman Melville, pro-gay writer?

Homosexuality is an important theme in literature. It should be an important theme. Esther Bloom writes one of the better “outing” posts I’ve seen, published on The Hairpin. Bloom doesn’t have to force the issue the way writers do when they try to out Nick Carraway or Sherlock Holmes. Katniss Everdeen is a stretch in Bloom’s article, but I think she might be on to something with Queequeg. Perhaps there are homosexual characters that have been overlooked.

Bloom’s article didn’t get me thinking about which characters might be gay so much as it made me wonder if forcing a character out of the metaphorical closet matters. When I help students frame their research question for literature papers, I always ask them to think about what the author meant by including this or that character or this or that plot device. If an author intended to create a gay character but didn’t deliberately signal their sexuality to the reader and it doesn’t impact the narrative, does it matter?

Back in 2007, J.K. Rowling suggested that Albus Dumbledore was gay*. It never came up in any of the seven books. The more I think about it, the more I don’t think it matters whether or not a character is gay. What matters is that we can see characters that are gay in books where it isn’t a big deal. I would love to see more books in which being gay is normal and unremarkable. If this idea takes hold in fiction, it can take hold in society.

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* Although, if it’s an author doing the “suggesting,” can it really be called a suggestion?

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