[Spoiler warning: If you have not read the Heroes of Olympus books, and you plan to, you may want to skip this article.]
I have always been a huge fan of children’s literature. Books aimed at kids a bit younger than me tend to make for nice, light reads, and they tend to be fun and captivating ones at that. What we’re starting to see in children’s literature is an introduction of LGBTQIA+ characters, which makes me incredibly happy! Introducing children to the LGBTQIA+ characters helps normalize it for them, which makes their own self-discovery that much easier. But not every author does this in a way that actually helps anyone. Let’s take a look at two gay characters in popular children’s series: Harry Potter’s Albus Dumbledore and Percy Jackson’s Nico diAngelo.
I love Harry Potter. Just ask the Hufflepuff Quidditch magnets on my fridge and all of my other paraphernalia. It’s a series I’ve loved for almost a decade now. But as I grow older, I grow more and more critical of the story while still holding my love for it. One of my big reasons is this: Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality. J.K. Rowling has said in interviews that Albus is gay and was in love with Grindelwald. And my question is…were we reading the same book J.K. wrote? Because as far as I can read, there is no real textual evidence anywhere that Dumbledore says he is gay. Some say that this is due to his relationship with Harry where it would have been inappropriate to state his sexuality. But even then, when we learn about the entire Grindelwald story, just a little bit of dialogue to tell us how Albus felt for him would have made it a hundred percent more clear. A simple, “He loved him,” would have even sufficed. But we don’t get that. We don’t get a shred of evidence of his sexuality except in an interview years after the books have already gained popularity. We never get to see how other characters interact with Dumbledore in this way, knowing he’s gay. Something tells me that the conservative Pureblood families would have had something to say about that. In my opinion, this doesn’t do the sexuality justice. Should a character’s entire plot be their sexuality? No, of course not. But a person’s sexuality–especially when it is outside the “norm”–tends to be a large part of it.
Now let’s talk about Nico diAngelo. He was my favorite character in the original Percy Jackson series. And when he came out to Jason in House of Hades, I may have squealed on the airplane I happened to be reading the book on. The scene where we find out about Nico’s sexuality hit me hard. He’s talking to Cupid about the thing the son of death is the most afraid of: love. More specifically, the fact that he was in love with Percy Jackson, a member of the same sex. We have to remember, Nico spent most of his life growing up in World War Two before he was sent to the Lotus Hotel with his sister. Not the most supporting environment for a gay youth. We read into the torment Nico must have felt, and as someone who struggled with their sexuality so much they hated themselves for it: I could relate. And I imagine many other LGBTQIA+ youth reading the story could too. Nico is a relatable character, someone running away from a part of himself he doesn’t want to acknowledge. He doesn’t think people will support or understand him.
Jason assures Nico that his secret is safe with him, but that none of their friends would bat an eyelash if he told them. He offers his care and support. But most importantly he assures Nico that this is nothing to be ashamed of, that he is not a freak, or broken, and that it is okay to love who he loves. This was a vital part of this scene. Not only do we get Nico’s confession, but we get reassurance that this is okay. Reassurance like this is something LGBTQIA+ kids need so desperately, and if they can get it from their favorite book characters, fantastic. Is the way Nico’s sexuality is written perfect? No. But it’s a step in the right direction.
The difference between Dumbledore and Nico’s sexuality is that Dumbledore’s appears to be written in as an afterthought. Maybe even just something for shock factor. Nico’s makes him more three-dimensional. It is used to forward not only his plot, but the plot of the whole story. It makes Nico more real and relatable. It’s relevant. I can’t say the same for Dumbledore.
So note to authors, especially in children’s literature: when introducing an LGBTQIA+ character, try to make your character more of a Nico and less of a Dumbledore.