Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dude looks like a lady

I was standing in a downtown boutique yesterday when a paunchy, balding man walked by wearing neon-pink tights, a black miniskirt, an ill-fitting t-shirt, and platform heels so high he had trouble keeping pace with the large dog he was walking on a bright pink leash.

Beside me, two women began to chatter quietly.

Woman 1: He needs to buy some new pantyhose. Those ones have rips in the back.

Woman 2: I think that’s on purpose. He’s making a fashion statement.

Woman 1: What’s the statement? Check out my crown jewels peeking out from under the skirt?

Woman 2: Something like that. He really should learn to walk better in those heels.

Woman 1: And work on his comportment. Last week I saw him spit on the sidewalk.

Woman 2: No!

Woman 1: Yes! I told him a lady wouldn’t spit in public.

What I loved most about the conversation is that the women were intent on critiquing his manners and fashion sense, but not particularly concerned with casting judgment on the fact that this was a man parading down the street in women’s clothing.

Their chief concern was the clothing itself.

It got me thinking about one of my characters in Making Waves. In case you haven’t read it, one of the guys who becomes part of the dysfunctional pirate crew is a former NFL football player turned laid-off corporate reject turned gourmet chef on a high seas diamond heist. Though he’s first introduced as Cody, he makes it clear once they’re out to sea that he wants to be known as Cookie. There are a few references to cross dressing, and his over-the-top affinity for cooking and cross-stitching makes him seem a bit effeminate.

But never once does the book make any reference to his sexual preference. Even so, I’ve seen at least two or three reviews refer to the character as gay.

None of the reviewers have been snarky about it, and no one has pointed it out as a negative aspect of the story. I don’t fault them for making the assumption, and a large majority of reviews have cited Cookie as a favorite character.

Still, I find the whole thing fascinating. For the record, Cody/Cookie wasn’t gay in my mind. Effeminate, yes. Conflicted, sure. Quirky, definitely. But not gay.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t be gay in your mind, and if that’s how you want to read the character, I don’t have a problem with it.

I’ll confess I’ve done this more than once as a reader. It wasn’t until I saw photos from the casting of the Hunger Games movie that I realized Rue was African American. It wasn’t how I pictured the character when I read the book, but when I went back and read it a second time, I realized the descriptions made that pretty clear.

Do you ever catch yourself making assumptions about a character and then realizing you’ve filled in the blanks in a way the author may not have intended? Do you think it matters? If you’ve read Making Waves, what was your assumption about Cookie? Please share, I’m fascinated.

And please let me know where I might find a pair of neon pink pantyhose in size XXL. I really ought to help that guy out.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I wonder if Bend, Oregon is the sister town of Malvern, England. We've got a town transvestite too. I'm always curious as to what wig he'll be wearing the next time I see him at the shops.

As for novel characters, I was always a reader first and no matter how much an author over described or didn't describe characters, I always saw them in my own mind as I did.

Now, when I create characters of my own, I use minimal descriptive explanations about how a character looks. I like to let the story tell the reader about the character's personality, thereby creating the way a character looks to each reader in their own way.

I haven't finished reading Making Waves yet, but I'm actually glad to know you didn't go all out and blatantly write that Cookie is gay. Whatever his character does is descriptive enough to add to the story in his own way, of what I've read so far :)

Shain Brown said...

We have several interesting people, one of which, has more than his comportment to work on. His field of endeavor is construction, his long hair is braided into pigtails on each side.

Wait, I'm not done. He wears a florescent skirt, an extra tight shirt, and dirty converse high tops with knee high florescent leggings, and a small hand purse.

If that didn't top off the image. Imagine a late eighties convertible dodge with the rear of the car covered in various bumper stickers. And yes, he keeps the tops down.

He can usually be found at the home depot picking up something.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I can't say I decided Cookie was gay. I've known too many men who had typical "female" pursuits, but who were not in the slightest bit gay.

I was probably wondering more about the female crew member at first, until she showed heterosexual interest in another character.

Living in a conservative southern town, I don't tend to see a lot of fancy dressers... but since I'm active in the theatre and music crowd in town, I know most of the open gays. According to one of my friends here, too, I live a few houses down from one of the "token" lesbian couples. I'm just grateful everybody seems to be accepted here, no matter their sexual orientation.

Sarah W said...

I've learned to make no assumptions about transvestites -- most of the most beautiful, detail-oriented cross-dressers I know are relentlessly hetero. But some aren't.

I thought Cookie was . . . huggable.

Oh, and We Love Colors online store sells hose and leggings in a variety of amazing colors and has plus sizes.

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

I'm still giggling inside. Thoroughly enjoyed the examples you used to get across your point.

My hope is, every reader gets a different idea of my protagonist. I go out of my way to describe my side characters, while trying to stay completely in my protag's head. (Who ever describes themself?) That enables the reader (my plan anyway), to empathize so well they see themselves as they read my protag's thoughts.


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I didn't think of Cookie as being gay, but I didn't entirely dismiss that possibility, either. What stood out is how accepted and loved he was by the other characters. They accepted his "differences" as part of his overall personality. Whether or not he was gay didn't matter to the other characters, and it didn't matter to the reader. (at least, not to me)

Jessica Lemmon said...

To quote Samuel L. Jackson, "You know what they say about making assumptions, you make an ass out of "u" and "umption."

Honestly? I read Cookie like you wrote him. Definitely quirky, definitely funny, but not gay. But, if he had uncovered that he was later in the book, it wouldn't have altered my love for the character either way.

Great post!

Patty Blount said...

In my town, there is a famous, or perhaps infamous, cross-dresser who parades down one of the main streets in sequined tube tops he wears with go-go boots. It's not his fashion sense I admire - it's his freakin' STRUT. Damn, I wish I had that kind of confidence.

As for the Cody/Cookie issue, to be honest I was much more concerned with how his size 15 Prada boot 'happened' to be in the state room Phyllis was to have used. I figured something had to be going on there...

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

I read Cookie as conflicted, not necessarily gay, yet. I liked him. I am sometimes disappointed when the idea I got about a character is different than the writer wrote him / her.
I don't think it matters unless the book is made into a movie. For example, I'm very disappointed in the man cast as Morelli in One For the Money moving that comes out in January. I pictured Evanovich's character as dark and handsome. The actor is not. Sad.

Judy,Judy,Judy. said...

One For the Money MOVIE not moving, sorry.

Elizabeth Poole said...

I never once thought Cookie (as he likes to be called) might be gay until you just now mentioned it. :D My brother is very metrosexual. He has long hair, and earring, likes to paints, is short and slender, and went through a goth phase in high school where he borrowed my eyeliner.

Yet he is completely and totally straight. Married to a wonderful woman.

I just figured Cookie was quirky like you said.

lora96 said...

Yes, i do this.

Glaring Example: Outlander. Obviously set in Scotland. Yet I pictured Jamie Fraser's uncles as Blair Underwood and Denzel Washington...who are clearly African American. I still think they'd kick ass in a movie version.

Laina said...

I know you're probably not serious but



Suz, I kinda wish our guy would wear a wig. He always looks like he's been rubbing his head on the carpet. Not a good look.

Shain, dude, this is creepy. Our guy also drives a battered old convertible covered in bumper stickers and packed with doll parts and stuffed animals. Weird.

Shakespeare, I'll admit I was playing to the stereotype a bit with Phyllis and wanted people to assume that at the start :)

Sarah W, that's the best description I've ever heard of Cookie!

Mac, I'm kinda hoping those two women don't read my blog :)

Susan, great point! I wanted it to be a non-issue to everyone, and I'm glad that's how it came across.

Jessica, in some ways, I thought of Cookie as asexual. I didn't picture him as gay, but I didn't picture him with a woman, either.

Patty, LOL, I thought about offering an explanation for how the boot came to be there, but decided it was more fun to let readers guess.

Judy, now I must go google to see who's playing Morelli. I have a hunch I'll be disappointed, too.

Elizabeth, my brother stole my underwear, but it wasn't a metrosexual thing. He was selling it to his pervert friends and making a killing.

Lora96, too funny! That's such an interesting way to picture the uncles.

Laina, I'm clicking that link RIGHT NOW!

Thanks for reading, guys!


Alexa O said...

I'm not finished with *Making Waves* yet (Getting there!), but I don't see Cookie as gay. Mostly, I think about how much I want him to be my chef.

I missed that Rue was black, and I also missed that Dumbledore is gay. And I've read every Harry Potter book at least four times, and once out loud (yes, every damn word. It took two years, but it made my niece happy!) But when I read that J.K. Rowling always thought of Dumbledore as gay, I realized, DUH.

Seal (the musician) says he never prints his lyrics in the liner notes because whatever people think they are hearing is what they should hear. I like that. I often cast myself as the female lead in books, and quietly ignore cues about blonde curly hair and blue eyes!

Renee Nickel said...

I don't usually make assumptions while reading. I am very very interested in getting a picture of the characters in my mind. I'll even go over the descriptions several times so I can see them in my head as I read. The physical descriptions have always intrigued me (well at least for the last five years since becoming an avid reader). They help me get lost in the story. I didn't see Cookie/Cody as gay, I saw him as composite of 2 men I've known in my life who were effeminate, but definitely not gay. Oddly enough those two men also resemble each other in body type and features, but could never possibly be an NFL player LOL. So I just imagined those friends supersized LOL. It worked for me.

And by the way, I really loved your character descriptions!

Mark Simpson said...

At one point pretty early on he commented something to the effect that he liked having Juli on board because was cute. That settled any questions I may have had in the back of my mind... but at no point really did I ever get an impression that he was gay.

Allie Sanders said...

I still have no clue what to make of Cookie. I know he is my favorite character and thought him hysterical. I didn't necessarily assume his as gay but I wasn't willing to peg him as perfectly straight either.

J.D. Robb's In Death series is difficult for me because I always picture the commander as white but he's described often as being black. I know he's supposed to be black but for some reason I can't seem to picture him that way.

Matthew MacNish said...

Comportment: great word!

Jason said...

I admit I never thought of Cookie as gay. Perhaps conflicted, as you said, or quirky, but his sexual orientation didn't register with me, since it didn't seem relevant to the story.

Now Rue, I pictured her as Asian. No idea why.

Caryn Caldwell said...

Really? Rue was African American? So funny...for some reason I pictured her as having pale skin and red hair. No idea why.

As for Cookie, I kept waiting to see if you would make any references to his sexual preference, and I thought it was so cool that you didn't. It was fun to be left wondering.