In case you didn’t know, “coming out” is a concept from LGBT culture referring to the transition from hiding one’s sexual orientation to proclaiming it in public. Coming out has become a widespread idea, even beyond the LGBT community. For example, Wiccans jokingly talk about “coming out of the broom closet” when they tell their friends and family of their religion.
To be honest, I hadn’t really seen it this way until Rob described the shift in the narrator Chuck Oliver’s self-identification—first avoiding a traditionally rough, masculine role before finally accepting it. Oliver was “coming out of the closet” … from cautious modernity and a muted masculinity that had been reduced to mere sex, into an acceptance of the often violent realities of life and the ancient masculine roles that those realities imply and necessitate.*
Most surprisingly, however, Rob pointed out that this shift in Oliver’s self-image was timed precisely with the change in his relationship to two gay characters: “Blondie” who is fiercely out-of-the-closet and “Red” who is timidly not. When Oliver was in his closet of repressed traditional masculinity, he empathized with closeted Red and found himself at odds with the militant Blondie.
After Oliver comes out of his own closet, the two relationships flip: he finds himself perturbed with Red’s easy coming-out process and recognizes the belligerent Blondie as a sort of “brother by another smother,” seeing in his own bullied childhood a parallel to the homophobia Blondie must have faced to have become so militant. Blondie’s warrior-like out-ness is far more appropriate in a world that is, as Oliver tells Blondie near the end of the book, like “a game of dodgeball.”
Ironically, ‘Rob’ explained, Chuck Oliver comes out to his traditional male role by being more like the out-of-the-closet gay male, undermining stereotypical contrasts in gender politics without being retrogressive. The identity Chuck and Blondie share at the end cuts across the lines of sexuality, and is equally opposed to Red (who is gay) and Chuck’s earlier self (still straight): “It draws a line between the tough and the weak and defies the reader to confuse it with the line between straight and gay.”**
I was impressed with the reader’s critique, and intrigued at how the Muse had slipped one by me again! She puts so much stuff on the page that I never consciously intended.
Rob argued that these were “clone characters,” with Red representing the wrong way to deal with danger and Blondie the right way, or at least the somewhat-less-wrong way. Having read Brian McDonald’s Invisible Ink, I knew exactly what Rob meant even though I had been thinking of Red and Blondie’s relationship as developing the theme of despair, not as a way of mirroring the narrator’s inner conflict.
THE FAN CLOSET
After a short back-and-forth, I asked Rob (again, not his/her real name) if he would mind sharing these observations with other fans at Cenolithic’s website or on the discussion forums at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This was almost two weeks ago. So far, nada. A reader who had masterfully connected two types of “coming out of the closet” in Pin has decided to remain hidden in the fan closet.
Now, I totally understand the desire to connect directly with someone whose work you admire. I enjoy the great privilege to have several friends whose artistic talents I admire, even envy. I sympathize with the feeling of connectedness.
But, a sense of connectedness to the author is pretty much a one-way street. I do love to know I have happy fans, but I would love to reach even more fans and make them happy too. The more the merrier, literally.
Frustratingly, most of the feedback I have gotten for Pin, in both its first and second editions, has been in private. I’m not really sure how to take this. Perhaps it’s the kind of book people are hesitant to like out loud. Perhaps, as some friends have advised, I should make myself harder to contact online. That would put a stop to the personal emails, but I hardly think it would encourage fans to go public with their fandom.
Fans need to come out of the closet, just like Blondie and Chuck Oliver did.
Especially after J. K. Rowling’s pseudonym stunt*** demonstrated how hard even a highly praised debut novelist has it, an indie author like me simply cannot welcome timid, secret fans with open arms. New writers need enthusiasts who are enthusiastic not just to the writer himself or herself, but enthusiastic to other readers. We need word of mouth, word of pen, word of keyboard. Tell me you’re a fan, and I love you for it, but tell others as well.
We need fans to be out in the open … more than in our inboxes.
* To be fair, the lead female character in the story, Núr Lucas, has a similar coming out.
** I would prefer the terms “realistic” and “urbane” to “tough” and “weak.”
*** Of which I fully approve. She deserved to get some unbiased criticism that wasn’t overshadowed by Potter.