16th November, 2010
Author Armistead Maupin, 66, is best known for his Tales Of The City novels which started as a column in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1976. He returned to the series after an 18-year break in 2007. The latest book in the series, Mary Ann In Autumn, is out now.
One of your new characters is a female-to-male transsexual. Did you have to do much research?
One of my friends is a transman who was enormously helpful when I was writing the character of Jake. He told me to ask whatever I wanted. I write about what’s going on around me.
Were you surprised by anything he told you?
I got a clearer vision of what it must be like to be someone who was born female but who now wants to be a man loving a man. That’s the situation with my character, Jake. He goes to gay bars looking for male companionship but doesn’t have the one thing a lot of the guys in the bars are looking for. That makes my own romantic quandaries pale by comparison. Gender and sexuality are completely fluid and independent of each other. I’ve been exploring that notion since 1976.
Weren’t your publishers unsure if they wanted to include the character in the last book?
That’s true. I had the same problem with Anna Madrigal, the male-to-female transgendered character, 34 years ago when Tales Of The City was written as a newspaper column. They refused to include the fact she was a transsexual until the column had been in print for at least a year. They thought it was possibly threatening to their readers.
Is it depressing you’re still facing the same issue 30 years on?
Publishers always trying to read the minds of the public. I had an editor and agent tell me I went too far in the last book when I got specific about gay sex. There were probably people who were put off by it but I don’t care. I’ve always tried to keep the story true to my own emotional landscape.
Have things got better or worse for the gay community in the US since you started the books?
It’s got both better and worse. People forget 35 years ago the subject of homosexuality was taboo. Now the subject is open and stories about people fighting for their rights are covered in the news. But as a consequence churches and politicians have become organised against it. In some ways they’ve made life more of a torture for gay teenagers today.
Is that what’s behind the recent spate of gay teenage suicides in the US?
Yes, it’s not about stopping bullying in schools it’s about stopping bullying in the pulpits. There’s a YouTube campaign called It Gets Better in which gay adults address gay kids. They’re saying ‘enough is enough’ and they’re supporting young people. Parents who rail against homosexuality in front of their children are, in the cases where those children are gay, committing child abuse. They’re torturing their children over something they can’t change.
Why’s the situation more extreme in the US than it is in Britain?
The fundamentalist sects don’t have a grip on your country the way they do on ours. You wisely threw out your Calvinist witch hunters 400 years ago but they landed in the US and have never gone away.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I write and re-write endlessly before I proceed with the next paragraph. Writers’ manuals often tell you to spill it all out and go back and re-write it but I don’t.
How’s the Tales Of The City musical going?
They’ve just done the first presentation and it’s set to open in June 2011. I wasn’t familiar with Jake Shears’s music before he was proposed as composer and he’s done a great job.
What’s been your most extravagant purchase?
I bought a small antique woven Native American basket for my husband for his birthday. The tribe that lives near us in the mountains made it and the dog ate it.
Mary Ann In Autumn published by Doubleday is out now.
Frances McDormand & Cynthia Nixon read Tales Of The City!
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Aimee Mann - Charmer
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