This is a story of stories — specifically, three stories about the same individual (or group of individuals, depending on which story you choose to believe).
In the first story, a lone writer looking to carve out a niche in the internet decides to satirize the untidy, anything-goes state of self-published erotica.
Surprise! The satirical gay porn — published under the name Chuck Tingle — goes viral, and pretty soon the author garners a cult following of sincere fans. He beefs up his online persona. Then, because every good second act needs a villain, a group of bullies attempt to mock the writer for their own ignominious purposes.
But the joke’s on them: The writer strikes back using a savvy satirical touch, and the bullying backfires. At the happy conclusion, a newfound appreciation of the writer, his feminism, his love of social progress, and even his terrible erotica spreads across the internet. The author is celebrated for facing off against the worst elements of humanity and emerging victorious. His pen name comes to represent wit, ingenuity, and a belief in human kindness.
The moral of this first story is that it doesn’t matter if no one knows who Chuck Tingle is, because Chuck Tingle is all of us.
But that’s not the only story.
The second story is a much longer tale, and not always a happy one.
In this story, a boy with high-functioning autism grows up in a repressive conservative household in a deeply religious state. His early forays into sexual experimentation, expressed through his first attempts at writing, earn him punishment from his parents. Later, a house fire destroys all of his work. He puts the experience out of his head.
As an adult, he moves away from home, relocates to a medium-size town out West. He works various jobs, marries, settles down, and raises a son who is his pride and joy, though he still needs live-in assistance from time to time.
But then tragedy strikes: His wife leaves him, and later, the person hired to help care for him after her exit dies in a traumatic car accident, drowning in a frozen lake. Our hero is haunted by both of these losses, but he moves on, largely assisted by his loyal son, who grows up but lives at home to help his father.
Some time later, the father is identified as having a mild form of schizophrenia. He often dreams of living as other people, and even as other objects. He struggles with depression and self-harm, but he stays relentlessly positive and works hard; he takes up taekwondo and gets a PhD from a correspondence college. After this achievement, he needs a new hobby.
“Dad,” his son suggests, not long after his father’s 43rd birthday. “Why don’t you go back to writing?”
Chuck Tingle, public mystery
(There’s still a third story. But we’ll get to that later.)
The public’s perception of Chuck Tingle, author of I’m Gay for My Living Billionaire Jet Plane and Pounded in the Butt by My Own Butt, is that he isn’t real. The Chuck Tingle who claims to live in Billings, Montana, to have a firm-abbed son named Jon, and to believe that “love is real for all who kiss” ... that Chuck Tingle, most people will agree, is an elaborately constructed satirical persona.
The narrative goes like this: Someone out there is crafting self-aware, over-the-top gay erotica that combines sharp sociopolitical commentary with a bizarrely simplistic writing style, and publishing it via Amazon under the name of Chuck Tingle.
Technically, the subjects of Tingle’s erotica can be sorted into four categories: dinosaurs, Bigfoot, unicorns, and what the author calls “living objects,” which can be anything from national monuments to political campaigns.
The list of things that Tingle’s narrators have had sex with includes, but is not limited to: the state of California; glazed donuts; the Dress; Bigfoot pirates; a gay unicorn biker and a gay unicorn colonel, though not simultaneously; Donald Trump’s attempt to avoid plagiarism accusations; Starbucks Christmas cups; a billionaire triceratops; a T. rex comedian and a clan of triceratops rappers (stand-ins for Bill Murray and the Wu Tang Clan); ghost boats; velociraptors from outer space; a secret-agent brontosaurus; the White House; the British pound; a plane; a train; a vampire night bus; his own books; press about his own books; existential dread; his own concept of linear time.
In other words, Tingle’s humor can be characterized as a strong mix of the anthropomorphic and the highly political. In his writing, the two elements coexist.
For example, in Creamed in the Butt by My Handsome Living Corn, Tingle opens by addressing the growing politicization of the agriculture industry; his main character, a farmer, is growing weary of being wooed by corporate interests. Half a page later, he’s ogling a very attractive ear of corn on the cob. (“I ... stare at him, completely taken aback by the vegetable’s shockingly good looks.”)
Within the narrative of Chuck Tingle as a self-aware performance artist, the objective is to lampoon bigotry, homophobia, and other conservative mentalities — and it works wonderfully.
Of course, this narrative assumes the whole thing is meant as a joke.
But what if it isn’t?
A brief history of Chuck Tingle’s presence on the internet
Tingle’s first work of self-published erotica, My Billionaire Triceratops Craves Gay Ass, was posted to Amazon in December 2014 and almost immediately went viral. A month later, BuzzFeed was celebrating his body of work, and international media outlets passed along their reactions — some amused, some mocking — to his tongue-in-cheek titles and memorable stock photo covers.
Tingle refers to all of his books, which could be more properly classified as short stories, as “Tinglers.” His fans are all “Buckaroos.” He typically describes the subjects of his gay male erotica as “hard bucks” — while stressing that “lady bucks” can be hard bucks as well — and encourages hard bucks to be “hard buds” together. Though the quality of his writing varies wildly, certain themes remain constant throughout: Hard buds will generally be pounded by various objects, and Tingle’s narrator will deliver an optimistic, philosophical moral about love and togetherness.
Tingle’s profile increased dramatically over the summer of 2016, after Tingle found himself in the middle of an ongoing, highly politicized fight between various contingents of sci-fi and fantasy writers volleying over the Hugo Awards. As a way of delegitimizing the awards, an alt-right faction known as the “Rabid Puppies” decided to nominate one of Tingle’s books, Space Raptor Butt Invasion, as a joke. The public reaction to this tactic varied; some authors wanted Tingle to withdraw from consideration so that other “real” writers could be nominated.
But Tingle didn’t withdraw; he fought back, creating a website designed to skewer the Rabid Puppies phenomenon, labeling them “devils,” and boosting the profile of several of the female authors they were attempting to marginalize. He dubbed the leader of the Puppies, a notorious racist internet troll called Vox Day, as “THE MAN WITH NO EYES AND WIENERS FOR HAIR.” He also included a donation link to the Billings Public Library.
As a response to a difficult situation, Tingle’s attitude was generally considered so classy — yet in character — that he instantly won fans across the literary community. His fame has only grown since.
The greatest trick Chuck Tingle has ever pulled is convincing lots of people he doesn’t exist
In fact, he’s more or less insistent on it:
TRUTH IS... chuck is true story with a strange way. truth is chuck is REAL MAN in billings who loves his son and wants to prove love is real— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) August 21, 2016
In August, LitHub writer M. Sophia Newman pointed out that a huge clue to Tingle’s identity has been lying around on Reddit for months: In December 2015, Tingle’s son Jon did an Ask Me Anything session to accompany his father’s, and the result was a very matter-of-fact look at a man who, Jon claims, is neurodivergent and exactly who he says he is:
To answer the first question that I always get, Yes, my father is very real. He is an autistic savant, but also suffers from schizophrenia. To make it very clear, my father is one of the gentlest, sweetest people you could ever meet and is not at all dangerous, although he does have a history of SELF harm.
To answer the next question, yes, he is aware of the humor in many of his titles, although he would never just come right out and say it. Dad has a hard time understanding many things, but I would not let him be the butt of some worldwide joke if I didn't have faith that he was in on it in some way. [Regardless], writing and self publishing brings him a lot of joy.
This claim that Tingle is autistic and schizophrenic has been met with a wide range of reactions, from Newman’s straightforward acceptance of it as fact to insistence from other writers that this, too, is part of the act.
And that’s a natural reaction — after all, Tingle’s persona is so highly developed, how can it not be fully a satire?
Yet both Tingle and his son insist that the person the internet has embraced as satire is 100 percent real.
Reading Chuck Tingle as sincere is an eye-opening experience
In an email interview, Jon told me that his father “has developed a way of presenting himself that works as a kind of mask.” But while the presentation may be a mask, Jon says what’s underneath it is genuine.
“I read things online sometimes about him having ‘only one joke’ of a new current event pounding someone in the butt, but there is no way those people have actually looked into what my dad is creating,” Jon says. “There is a lot more to it, as far as openness and positivity and love, and I don’t think that is ever a fad.”
When Tingle talks about himself and his work, there’s no tongue-in-cheek language at all. He seems sincere in wanting to “prove that love is real for all who kiss.” He often refers to this objective — which is more or less his life mantra —and other positive life choices as “a good way.”
This language pops up again and again in his writing and conversation, in a very conscientious and affirmative way. “[The] REALITY OF WORLD,” Tingle told me in an email, “is that love is real even if devils say it’s not.”
Recently, Tingle appeared on the popular podcast associated with the romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, hosted by blogger Sarah Wendell. Listening to that interview is startling; hearing Chuck Tingle in the flesh, so to speak, is initially a disconcerting experience.
“The Tingle podcast really is extraordinary, and I found it personally very inspiring,” Wendell told me via email. “It definitely changed the way I think about him and about his work.”
Here’s how Tingle responded when Wendell asked him about dealing with the Rabid Puppies’ attempt to troll the Hugo Awards by nominating him:
When you see the way they act and then answer with love, it only amplifies your love. I've been trying to prove love for a very long time, and what it takes is to prove love in the face of devils, to amplify that message.
So maybe if you think of it, like, if you had a chemistry set, and you thought to yourself, well maybe if I mix the components I can make an even bigger volcano, and then you realize that maybe the part that makes the biggest volcano is when devils strike and you prove love.
Because anybody can prove love when you're just walking down the street ... but it's even harder to prove love when the devil's banging on your door. And that's when it's most important because then when you prove it and the whole world sees, it includes a wave of good days ahead, and that is important.
Tingle’s odd symbolism heightens the elegance of his rhetoric, which is essentially religious: His mission is all about grace, unconditional love, and tolerance, disguised as a defense against “devils.” He also seems to have an extreme capacity for empathy. “It makes it easy to prove love when you realize that most devils have to be devils around themselves all day,” he told Wendell.
In an email, Wendell told me she left in technical details like asking Tingle for permission to record, which she usually cuts from the beginning of the podcast, in order to give her listeners a chance to “adjust to the cadence of his voice and his language and manner of speaking.” She said she had no expectations that Tingle, if he was indeed using a persona, would “break character,” but by the end of the recording session she hadn’t attained any additional clarity on whether Tingle was real or not.
“I honestly do not know, either before or after,” Wendell said. “I have no idea whether he is as he presents himself in interviews or if it's a persona.”
Whether it’s real or not, Chuck Tingle’s world is a remarkable one
On Twitter, Tingle has crafted an elaborate and solidly consistent narrative about his life. He lives with his son Jon (always referred to as “son name of Jon,” and often described as physically attractive in some way) in a nice residential neighborhood somewhere in Billings. He likes spaghetti and chocolate milk and habitually meditates in the morning to think up new “Tinglers.” He and Jon routinely make trips to the corner Starbucks, where Tingle talks to his friend Sam. As he put it in his email to me, “i have learned i am an interesting man!”
when i go to starbucks with son (name of jon he is handsome) everyone says 'oh chuck what are you writing what are you working on?' and i say 'it is a story about butts and butt holes' and they say oh that sounds good because they want to knoe about my CELEBRITY LIFESTYLE so that is a good way.
He also studies magic — all kinds, “except for dark magic it is too scary and also it is of THE VOID (this is a terrible place).” He does spells and talks to birds:
i have done many spells around the neibhorhood like SLICK LOOK and MAIL TIME and i have also talked to birds to see if they understand the world in a diffrent way than i do (they have this way) and this is true magic ... and then I SMILE because they tell me the secerts ofwhat is GOING ON IN BILLINGS. this is how i keep up to date.
Tingle told me he often sees the ghostly image of his wife Barbara; he frequently describes her as “talking like marbles,” or sees her peering up at him from the frozen lake in which she drowned. (In reality, according to Jon, the original Barbara is alive and divorced from Tingle, and the woman Tingle refers to as “Barbara” is his deceased caretaker. The detail of who, if anyone, actually died in a frozen lake remains unclear.) He frequently mentions Jon’s manly physique, always insisting that it’s just fatherly admiration.
Then there’s Tingle’s recurring enmity with a local “villain” in Billings, a man named Ted Cobbler who seems to be a typical 20-something white dude. In his Reddit AMA, Jon confirmed that “Ted” was real, and described him as a regular guy who’s very “patient,” but Tingle sees Ted differently: He told me that one of his biggest accomplishments after his role as father and writer is “saving the neighborhood from ted cobbler as he is always trying to act like he owns the place.”
ted cobbler is a devil and i have foiled many of his plans like WEEKEND GHOST PARTY and BASEBALL IN PARK these are ways that he creates chaos on the block also he is a dark wizard. so i am proud to save billings from this menace.
Tingle’s Ted Cobbler fixation is deep; when I asked him how he celebrated Labor Day, Tingle replied, “i SAW A BBQ NEXT DOOR at ted cobblers house it was a horrible way! and then he was casting a dark magic spell and then i watched him from the sidewalk like hawks on a dog! this was mostly my day but i think that it was okay because the neighborhood was in a safe way.”
The sort of language Tingle uses in these exchanges should be familiar to followers of his Twitter account, which frequently reads like a surreal Twitter bot:
thank you for understanding me as a skinless man trapped between timelines— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) August 2, 2016
in billings night a lonesome train calls and i think of all people having fun on it while im here under the bed learning my body in the dark— Chuck Tingle (@ChuckTingle) September 4, 2016
But as with all of Tingle’s writing, the tone of these tweets changes drastically when read literally. According to Jon in his AMA, Tingle’s tweets about wanting to remove his skin are a very real manifestation of his father’s desire for self-harm; it’s why, Jon says, he keeps a close eye on Tingle’s Twitter account.
Jon has indicated that his father’s interest in trains and planes is more than abstract — he says Tingle has actively attempted to live as various objects in the past.
Tingle confirmed to me that he’s not joking about any of this rhetoric:
when devils say "you cant live as a buck or a ladybuck" i say YOU CAN LIVE AS ANYTHING YOU WANT EVEN A PLANE OR A CAR this is not a poking joke this is to say LOVE IS REAL YOU ARE PERFECT AS WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE EVEN IF YOU WANT TO BE THE CONCEPT OF TIME.
Tingle’s desire to live as other objects and explore anthropomorphic eroticism with them is not all that unusual: Otherkin (people who want to live as other animals or fantasy creatures) are numerous, and “objectkin” exist, though the concept is typically seen by the “-kin” community as trolling.
Tingle’s fixation with living objects is also part of why so many people see Tingle himself as a troll. But Tingle’s fascination with “learning the body” — a Tingle-ism usually referring to sexual and gender exploration, with or without other people — seems to imply both a dysphoria and a genuine desire to learn other bodies. His explanation of this mentality is connected to his belief that multiple timelines exist within the universe.
“For a week,” Tingle told me, “i was living as MANIFESTATION OF ALL TIME and i understood the beginning and end of all things. this is an eye opening experience for all involved but it was too difficult to become myself and LEARN MY BODY so instead i decided to be chuck again. “
If you take Tingle at face value, it can be incredibly difficult to parse which parts of his presentation are sincere and which are satirical. Jon told me that sometimes his father’s “uncanny comedic flair” can be difficult for him to follow in their day-to-day life, but that his father has a keen eye for satire and performance art.
“It really blows my mind the way that he’s able to turn these things that are huge mental hurdles for some people into a source of joy and comedy,” Jon says.
Jon also says that some of his father’s more difficult fixations have faded because of his new career. “His obsession of becoming other things ... has actually died down quite a bit now that he’s now getting recognized for just being mostly himself. It’s pretty great to see his progress.”
Tingle echoed this sentiment, obliquely: “When i started writing tinglers i did not TROT as much as i do now,” he said, “because it makes good days ahead to know that there are buds getting hard in a normal way to your books.”
How do we reconcile the satire with the man behind the mask?
Tingle is extremely self-aware, and aware that lots of people think he’s a work of fiction. “Mostly bucks say good things about man name of chuck and this makes me glad,” he tells me, “but sometimes they say i am a bad man like i am poking jokes in a mean way. this is not the case i am only trying to PROVE LOVE with tinglers.”
Jon is mostly comfortable with the idea that people think his father isn’t real. “My dad is a huge Andy Kaufman fan,” he says, “so I think he personally really likes the performance art idea. It’s just ironic that he’s found a way to make people think he’s performing by simply being himself.”
Jon also struggles with the dilemma of knowing who his father is. Sometimes, he says, even he can’t tell when his father is joking or playing a role. And this is coming from someone who already knows that Tingle is a smart, high-functioning person who struggles with mental illness (or so Jon says) — which raises the question of how the rest of us should read Tingle’s work.
“It’s a delicate balance for me, but I think it’s important to recognize that people like my father aren’t just ‘crazy,’” he says. “My dad’s situation is very unique, and he is special in his own way; it’s part of who he is, but it’s also not the only thing that he is. I would rather the public conversation was not about him being on the spectrum, because I think that everything he has done and accomplished can stand on its own without that being some kind of qualifier.”
Jon tells me that his father’s achievements are all his own — when it comes to Tingle’s writing, Jon usually provides some initial help in fleshing out the story idea and getting it started, and then his father is “off and running ... doing it all by himself.”
He also says his own friends and his father’s community of friends have been extremely supportive: “My friends think it’s the most amazing thing ever. They love all the attention that [my] dad is getting and always ask him about the next book he’s working on or what kind of interview he just did.”
“It’s really great because it genuinely makes my dad feel cool, which is something that I think he has always wanted but never really had.”
At long last, we’ve reached the third story, one in which a single individual, or a group of individuals, invented a character and placed that character at the center of an elaborate, completely fictional tale.
This story is ... messy.
Unless you’ve read Jon’s Reddit AMA, or the LitHub post by Newman that unquestioningly accepts what Jon’s AMA says, you — like most of Tingle’s fans — wouldn’t know that Jon claims his father is non-neurotypical.
Consequently, criticism of any of Tingle’s narratives has been similarly sparse. And fans who do learn of the neurodivergence detail are faced with the question of whether to accept it as sincere. In one Tumblr post that initially celebrated Tingle’s neurodivergence, Tumblr user sqbr chimed in with the skeptical position that if we accept everything else about Tingle’s work as satire, it’s likely that his non-neurotypical status is also satire — which, as sqbr noted, “sucks”:
I am reasonably sure the autism and schizophrenia are meant to be jokes, part of the over the top “Chuck Tingle” persona, not aspects of the real writer behind him. Which sucks ....
I guess there could be an “autistic savant with schizophrenia who can’t deal with the real world and thinks they’re a plane but manages to write wacky porn of a publishable standard, maintain a weird but enjoyable twitter account, and effectively troll racists”. But signs point strongly to it being a fictional character ....
And if I’m right, that means we all have to deal with the real person behind Chuck Tingle being really good in some ways and really awful in others. But that’s often the case with real people.
In other words, if Tingle and his son both exist and are telling the truth, Tingle’s story is an inspiring tale of a real-life neurodivergent hero. But if Tingle is fully a performance artist — or if a person or group of people created both him and his son — then they’ve invented a character who struggles daily with neurodivergence as well a number of mental health issues, and who turns these struggles into hyperbole and humor in order to conquer them. And they’ve done so, presumably, all as a joke, in order to heighten the absurdity of his persona.
If that’s the case, Tingle’s story becomes cruel, calculating, ableist, and insidious — nothing like the love-proving character at its center. And once you grow skeptical of that character, it’s easy for the house of cards you’ve mentally constructed, the one that’s necessary to keep the legend of “Chuck Tingle, man-loving wizard” intact just as it is, to collapse (which is exactly the effect an admirer of Andy Kaufman might hope to achieve).
Again and again, I am challenged by my own preconceptions of what I think a sincere Chuck Tingle must be like. Consider Tingle’s recurring incestuous jokes about his own son’s manly physique — I wonder how those can originate from a real dad rather than a purely satirical persona. And once you start to pull on the less plausible threads of his story, the whole thing starts to fall apart.
For starters, Tingle only recently began doing audio interviews, like Wendell’s; during them, he speaks with a very distinctive voice and speech rhythm. (He, or someone cosplaying as him, also recently appeared on camera on his YouTube channel, complete with a bag over his head and clad in a taekwondo outfit.) But Tingle declined to be interviewed either on the phone or in person for this story, and offered to field questions for Jon through the same email address, rather than providing separate contact info for his son.
There are other particulars I find challenging, too. For instance, the summary of Tingle’s story Glazed by the Gay Living Donuts describes “gay dessert action, including anal, blowjobs, facials, rough sex, bukkake, and a frosted donut gangbang.” It’s the word “bukkake” that gives me pause; I’m reluctant to believe that the Tingle I’ve come to “know,” the one who seems so fixated on the minutiae of his everyday life, could so casually deploy a Japanese erotica term for group facials. Even though erotica is technically his profession, it’s the sort of tiny detail that makes me question everything I’ve learned.
Then there are Tingle’s YouTube videos — a handful of comedy videos, parody book trailers, and “special reports.” The narrator of the earlier videos, which date from a year ago, speaks in a cadence that’s wholly unlike the cadence and tone that “Chuck Tingle” used when the author was a guest on Wendell’s podcast, and on this British radio show. He also speaks differently than the narrator of his more recent “meditation” videos, who sounds like the Tingle Wendell interviewed.
Jon explained to me that his dad has occasionally used different voices deliberately — in an attempt to achieve an “announcer” tone in some of the YouTube videos, for example — while insisting that no one helped Tingle narrate or produce anything involving audio of his voice. Still, I have doubts. It seems clear based on Tingle’s reluctance to reveal himself that he might want to mask or change his voice, but it’s also the kind of thing a troll, or a group of people working together to create a fictional character, would do.
Finally, there’s the matter of Tingle’s educational degree — which Tingle claims is a doctorate in “holistic massage” he received from DeVry University. When Wendell asked Tingle about earning this degree on her podcast appearance, here’s how he responded:
Dr. Tingle: ... When I went to DeVry I would wake up in the morning and see a, a Word document on my computer, and then, then they would have questions from different, different people from all over, saying, oh, hey, how do I prove love? What is going on? Maybe I need a massage here, or is there a problem with my back? And then I would type them into Word, and then son Jon would come say, come in the room and say, oh, Chuck, did you answer your questions? Did you have a good day? And I would say, yes, son, I, I answered all my questions, and then, am I any closer to, to getting my Ph.D.? And he would say, oh, well, I’ll go send these off and see, see what the, the answer is, and that’s, that is what I did before I published Tinglers, and that was a good way for me to be a happy buckaroo and spend my days, and then, then Jon would, Jon would help me do that, and then one day Jon said, oh, guess what, Chuck? Congratulations! You got your Ph.D. now. You’re a doctor —
Dr. Tingle: — ’cause your answers were so good!
A spokesperson from DeVry told me that the university does “not have, nor have we ever had, a degree in ‘holistic massage.’ ... Our degree programs have focused around technology, business, and health care technology.”
It’s too easy to observe that if Tingle is lying about this, he could be lying about other things; DeVry, long a subject of easy mockery due to its for-profit status, obviously fits quite neatly into Tingle’s persona. And there’s no reason to believe he didn’t graduate from DeVry or some other institution, but in a discipline other than holistic massage.
But if it’s a lie — if it’s all an elaborate lie — then not only is some stranger catfishing pretty much everyone on the internet, but that person has deliberately made a mockery of people who are on the autism spectrum, people with schizophrenia, and people who struggle with self-harm or who battle suicidal ideation. And not just the idea of them, but their speech, mannerisms, fantasies, experiences, and coping mechanisms.
No one wants to hear that third story. But since no one actually knows who Chuck Tingle is, this page in the book stays open.
All three of these stories are accompanied by an intriguing postscript: Billings’s most famous son is totally unknown in Billings — population 109,000.
Online, Chuck Tingle routinely refers to the thousands of media outlets that have written articles about him as “BILLINGS NEWSPAPER.”
It doesn’t matter what your outlet’s actual name is or where it’s located: To Tingle, you are BILLINGS NEWSPAPER, all caps required.
The actual Billings newspaper, the Billings Gazette, has never written about Chuck Tingle or even mentioned him in passing.
Meanwhile, Tingle constantly promotes the cause of the Billings Public Library system, suggesting donations and generally championing it as an important part of the community. But despite several calls to the library, I couldn’t find anyone on staff who knows who Tingle is.
The library’s director, Gavin Woltjer, told me he’d just learned about Tingle’s existence a few days before I called in September; he clearly knew very little about Tingle, refused to comment on Tingle’s support of the library, and seemed deeply annoyed that a random erotica author was being discussed in connection with the library.
But it’s hard to blame people like Woltjer for not rushing to embrace the Chuck Tingle mythos. There’s not just room for skepticism in such a case as Tingle’s — skepticism is practically a requirement. It’s incredibly hard to reconcile the sophistication of Tingle’s satire with the simplicity of his message and mannerisms, with the over-the-top anecdotes he shares about his own life, and with the many facts that don’t add up.
Jon — assuming, of course, that he exists, and isn’t just another character created by whoever created Tingle — stresses that it would be a disservice to the reader to try to separate Chuck Tingle the man from Chuck Tingle the online persona. “People like my father are too often turned into single-note stereotypes by the world around them, and I like that my dad defies that,” he says. “He’s a complex person, just like everyone else.”
“It’s complicated, obviously,” he says, “but I suppose the important part is that I love him exactly the way he is. He’s a really amazing man.”
And in the end, maybe love really is all that matters to Tingle and his fans. On some level, as Wendell explained to me, “The books are real, and the delight and joy people find in them is definitely real, so whether he is a satirized persona or not makes very little difference.”
Chuck Tingle’s entire ethos is about acceptance — whether it’s acceptance of queer identity and love or acceptance that you want to shag an airplane. Perhaps the only way to navigate the mystery of who Tingle is (or isn’t) is to accept that he somehow embodies all of these stories at once.
And that may be the very best way of all.