The dictionary defines ‘gay’ as an adjective denoting cheerful, lively, carefree disposition. Another given meaning is homosexual, lesbian, queer. When we were teenagers, the only meaning for gay was cheerfulness and fun. Being gay was considered good and never frowned upon. This was when we were growing up on stories by Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton and R.K. Narayanan. And none of these writers ever held audiences enlightening with us on the sexual preferences of their characters.
Today, teenagers have J.K. Rowling and her millions of young readers the world over ravishing every new Harry Potter book with alacrity and gusto. The devotion and loyalty young minds have for Harry Potter is unique, more so because the books are translated in major languages of the world. Having such a mega readership may have compelled Rowling to divulge not the plot for her next story but a secret that has set the young minds wondering. She declared before a large gathering that Dumbledore, the wise and lovable patriarch of Hogwarts, is gay. “I do not find it unusual for a kind, intelligent, gentle old man to be gay,” she said, reacting to the debate that has since generated.
What she forgot to remember was that her books cut across cultural and language divides. A Chinese or an Indian parent is an equal contributor to Rowling’s burgeoning wealth as the English or American parent. The same Indian parent may find it rather unusual for her child to read about kind, gentle gay men running a hostel full of young and impressionable minds. And this isn’t about me being for or against homosexuality.
Talking to children about homosexuality may not be such a taboo in the US or Australia, but how many Indians are comfortable with discussing such issues with their young seven-year-olds? Call it old-fashioned, but the fact is even liberal parents here would not be sure that they want their kids to read books where homosexuality is a declared attribute of a major character.
My seven-year-old daughter is into Harry Potter and also reads the newspaper. She wanted to know what ‘gay’ means and why Dumbledore is gay. I tried hard, but there was no way I could explain ‘gay’ to a seven-year-old without getting into complicated discussions about adults and sex. My 14-year-old was rather blasé about it — and smirked during our talk.
So what did his friends think of Rowling’s declaration? “They read it on the Net and we all had a laugh. They thought it was silly of Rowling to say it and they wanted to know why there was a need for her to declare this information as it does not affect the storyline. Or does it, Mum?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the need for Rowling to reveal her character’s sexual preference was driven by commerce.