Tuesday, October 23, 2007

But What If Dumbledore Says He's Not Gay

By which I mean sometimes characters have a mind of their own. The recent perturbation in the force caused by Rowling's outing of her own character (and wouldn't that be a nice dilemma for ethics class) makes me think of my own fine novel -- caught now in the half-world of manuscript, tapping at the windows of publishing but not yet let inside -- in which certain of my characters turned out to have minds of their own.

My novel, which takes the back of the hairbrush to a Christian college in the middle of nowhere, was half-written in 1976, half-written in 1982 and rewritten last year. When I reread it before rewriting, I was suddenly struck how homophobic one episode was. It wasn't intended so. At the time, I would have said the novel was one long hymn to tolerance and kindness -- except for my "impatience" with fundamentalist education, which impatience has its savage moments.

Yet there the scene was. Times change. Perceptions sharpen. The world moves ahead. And when I read again what I had written I thought: "BIGOT!"

So last year I'm rewriting, tweaking, altering a detail, sharpening the self-knowledge of my protagonist and suddenly -- and it seemed out of nowhere -- as my protagonist begins to defend himself:

Well I guess Professor Hands is not a homosexual, I said.

“Of course, he’s gay, you nasty little homophobe” the Og said. “But he chooses not to prey upon the juicy boys that surround him every day….”

“So easy for the praying with to turn into preying upon,” the Bear said.

“He has a very nice boyfriend who teaches down the road in Muncie at Ball State,” the Og said. “Professor Hands would teach there himself, but he has only a Master’s degree, and the standards at Ball State are high….”

“Astonishingly high,” the Bull said, “a fact that begins to explain the genius of David Letterman….”

“Though who can explain genius,” the Bear said.

“So there it is,” the Og said. “Professor Hands is one of those rare men of character who should be honored, not tormented, trapped as he is among the Pharisees.”

“I think he’s actually a Druid,” the Bull said. “But that’s neither here nor there.”

Well, he looks gay, I said just to say something.

“You think you can tell?” the Bull said. “Would it surprise you to know that one of us is gay?”

“Not merely gay but deeply and sincerely gay,” the Bear said. “One of three.”

“One of you three?” Cliffy said. “But there’s the Lady Bear!”

“Neither here nor there,” the Bull said.

“Lady Bear could be a very lovely boy who has found his own special space in which to flower,” the Bear said, looking neither more nor less manly than usual. “Certainly you have heard of chicks with dicks.”

Certainly, I had not, not even in the Iron Room. Judged by the expression on his face, neither had Cliffy nor had he ever ever wished to.

I love that little exchange because it came from nowhere. It was not intended. It was not considered beforehand. It was not vetted, polished and then plugged in. And the part I love -- and the point of this discussion -- is even though I created the characters and even though, of course, one of them is gay because I, as author, have the right to know, I cannot tell you which of them is gay.

Well, that's the point, the "textual thrust," that not knowing, but to my surprise I am still on the outside looking into my own conceit. I could decide, but then I'd just change my mind.

When my book is in its 17th printing and the fans are lined up, I'm not saying "Don't ask, don't tell." Ask all you want. But I can't tell. I don't know, and unless I begin once more to write (not talk) I never will.

I mean, none of them look gay.

1 comment:

Deanne said...

Keep up the good work.