By Paul Burston
Thu Dec 2 2010
Armistead Maupin talks about love, sex, marriage and 'Mary Ann in Autumn'
Armistead Maupin was at a book signing recently when someone suggested that he resembled a gay Santa Claus. 'That's okay,' he replied in his cheery way. 'My husband thinks Santa is hot!'Afterwards, as he sat on a low chair and people queued to get their books signed, it was difficult to know whether to kneel before him or sit in his lap. It's a measure of just how loved the author is. When British readers voted for their favourite gay books a few years ago, 'Tales of the City' came out on top. So it's cause for celebration that he's back with a new addition to the series, 'Mary Ann in Autumn'.
The new book is described as 'A Tales of the City Novel', though your book, 'Michael Tolliver Lives', also featured characters from the series.
'I wanted to write a novel about a gay man who had survived Aids, and was now dealing with middle age and beyond. And it dawned on me that I had just such a man in my repertoire, readers knew his history, and I might be able to explain his perspective through a first-person narrative. Some of the critics, especially the British ones, took it as an exercise in self-indulgence. The accusation was that I'd highjacked my own character for my own autobiographical purposes. But there's not a single character from “Tales of the City” that I haven't used for my own autobiographical purposes, including DeDe and Mona and Mary Ann!'
And now Mary Ann is back again, older and wiser.
'I've always drawn on my own experience. And the critics and readers who cringe over the notion that these characters who once made them feel so youthful are now old, are in part revealing their own fears. I think it would be in abysmal bad taste on my part to ever regret growing old. There are too many friends that I lost years ago that would have loved to have come along for this ride, and were not able to do so. I get very angry at gay men of my generation who complain about ageing. My job is just to be the best version of an old gay fart that I can be!'
Is there less awareness of HIV now?
'We had a dear friend who seroconverted the day before yesterday. A young man - in his forties. His emotional state made it quite clear that he knew what sort of road he had ahead of him. It's not easy with the meds, and it's not a given that you're going to survive. There are plenty of people my age who look like they're 80 now, because of those meds. And, more tellingly, feel that way. So it has always been, and it remains, a question of personal responsibility and self-love, I think. You have to love yourself enough not to condemn yourself to that experience. And it saddens me to think that a lot of gay men still aren't at that point.'
Illness features in the new book, but there's also love, sex and social networking. Like Mary Ann, you're on Facebook.
'Facebook and, most recently, Twitter. Twitter is a bore.It annoys the hell out of me. There are actual conversations going on on Facebook. I love a good thread, and I am the dominatrix of my thread! If somebody gets on there and starts tossing “bitch” and “cunt” around every time a woman's mentioned, they're gone. I like the civility of Facebook. There's something very old fashioned about it, I think. People swapping ideas, gently apologising if they're misunderstood. But there is something very creepy about it too, obviously, which is acknowledged in my book.'
What do you say to those who regard gay marriage as an attack on the family?
'Why are you attacking an institution if you're merely attempting to expand it? That's the question. Isn't that merely a way of people defending their own homophobia? They don't want to put a blessing on it. Well, tough shit, because they're gonna have to. They're gonna have to allow the right for people to love each other the way they want to, and choose the partners they want. Because that's what basic human freedom is about.'
'Mary Ann in Autumn' is published by Doubleday at £17.99
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