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.