Armistead Maupin: “We’ve always pined for the old days, & people now do it about the 1960s & 1970s. I don’t do it. I really don’t.”
Maybe he doesn’t, but I do. His Tales of the City books are the very essence of my halcyon days of gay liberation & years before the advent of AIDS.
A summer day in 2007, I was lying naked at Collins beach on Sauvie Island, just outside of Portland. Because I am, or rather was a redhead, I need to be in part shade or dappled sunlight. I was surrounded by dozens of hot gay men, at their little setups on the beach, alone & in groups. I didn’t want to be doing it. I was embarrassed. I wanted to appear hot, yet cool. But, I had burst into tears & was whimpering like a little girl while reading Armistead Maupin’s new installment of the Tales Of The City series- Michael Tolliver Lives. I was shedding tears for the reunion with some of my favorite characters in literature, but also for my own loss of innocence & the glance at my own mortality. But mostly, I was crying for the beauty of the writing, & the pleasure of having the main character- Michael Tolliver still be alive after a presumed early death from HIV.
I read the original Tales Of The City in the serial installments from the San Francisco Chronicle, alerted to them from friends in the city. I savored each one. Maupin revived the Dickensian serial novel, which makes you laugh, makes you cry, & makes you wait for the next episode. I had a real romance with San Francisco in the 1970s, & spent as much time there as I could muster. I was living in L.A., & PSA Airlines (now long gone) had a “Midnight Flyer”, a no reservations, stand in line, $20 flight from LAX to SFO. I would take advantage of the deal. The Midnight Flyer was my introduction to the Mile High Club. Only in the 1970s, could a young man travel to the City By The Bay to get laid, & then have it happen on the flight there. I didn’t even need to touch ground!
As each new book in the series would be released, I would get myself to the Different Drummer Bookstore (in the 1970s & 1980s there were actual Gay Bookstores) on Capitol Hill-Seattle & I would purchase the latest installment of Tales Of The City. I wouldn’t read it though. I would go back to book #1 & start at the very beginning. It was 18 years between Sure Of You & Michael Tolliver Lives. It was great, if slightly emotional, to be back with my friends from Barbary Lane.
Armistead Maupin is a Southern Gentleman born to a conservative, Christian family in Washington, D.C., & raised in North Carolina.He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Maupin worked at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, a station then managed by future U.S. Senator Jesse Helms. Helms nominated Maupin for a patriotic award, which he won. Maupin says he was a typical conservative & even a segregationist at this time & he admired Helms, a family friend. He later condemned Helms at a gay pride parade on the steps of the North Carolina State Capitol. Maupin is a veteran of the United States Navy; he served several tours of duty including one in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. Maupin claims he was gay since childhood but didn't have sex until he was 26 & only decided to come out in 1974.
Maupin's former partner of 12 years, Terry Anderson, was journalist & gay rights activist. Ian McKellen is a friend & former lover, & Christopher Isherwood was a mentor, friend, & influence as a writer. He was once a fuck buddy of Rock Hudson: 'I'm the age now that Rock was when he picked me up, so I can understand how he felt ,how his fame limited his freedom. You get kinder as you go along.”
I was born across the bay in Oakland, & I have spent a lot of time in San Francisco, including the entire summer of 1972. When I mention this to gay men of a certain age & a dreamy faraway look will come over their faces & they will tell about how much Maupin’s Tales meant to them. I once knew someone that had asked to be buried with his copies of his books.
Maupin has an uncanny ability to gently point out how alike we all are, gay or straight, liberal or conservative: we all need love, we all ask for a little kindness, & we're all in it for the long haul. Last year I savored Mary Ann in Autumn, the latest in the series. It had me so engaged, I had to force myself to read just a short chapter a day, just to draw out the experience of being back with my beloved characters once more. Maupin continues to take me by surprise, amuse, & touch me. This novel made smile, laugh out loud, & gave me a crazy cathartic cry at the end.
Maupin is married to Christopher Turner, a website producer & photographer whom he saw on a dating website & then "chased him down Castro Street, saying, 'Didn’t I see you on Daddyhunt.com?'" The Maupin/Turners were married in Vancouver, BC in 2007, though Maupin says that they had called each other "husband" for years prior. They live in San Francisco with their labradoodle.