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A Monumental Life

September 13, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 180
Photo: Christopher Turner

Photo: Christopher Turner

Armistead Maupin Reads From His New Memoir

by Steve Desroches

Legendary writer Armistead Maupin is coming to Provincetown to officiate a wedding. The author of the Tales of the City series will assist in marrying film and television producer and director Alan Poul and Ari Karpel in a Jewish ceremony at the foot of the Pilgrim Monument along with a lesbian rabbi. Poul produced the television version of Maupin’s San Francisco in the seventies stories and will direct the upcoming Netflix take on the famed books on gay life. Just imagine it. The monument that commemorates the landing of the Mayflower in Provincetown and the Pilgrims, with their puritanical ways, will host a gay Jewish wedding. Maupin, whose family claims to be descended from William Bradford, chuckles at just how things do change.

Born in Washington, D.C., and raised in North Carolina, Maupin was very much a son of the conservative South. And his story of changing from a staunch conservative and close friend of Senator Jesse Helms to gay rights pioneer and liberal activist, in addition to his groundbreaking writing, is well known. But you don’t know the half of it.  His life story to date is fascinating and is the subject of Logical Family: A Memoir, his latest book (and his first nonfiction work) from which he will be reading at the Crown and Anchor this Thursday night. While he will be in town to perform a ceremony at the foot of a famous monument, his new book outlines a very different experience he had at another famous national monument: he lost his virginity to a man at the battery in Charleston, South Carolina, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired upon: Fort Sumter. It all sounds so romantic, like a Tennessee Williams play.

“If it had been the right man it would have been,” says Maupin. “He was just the first one that came along.”

The right man did come along, as he and his husband Christopher Turner have been married since 2007. Like many, Maupin marvels at how far LGBTQ rights have come. But there is a firm resolve in his voice, the kind you would expect from a man who witnessed and chronicled the Harvey Milk days of San Francisco, about the work that still needs to be done in every aspect of equal rights for all, particularly as we fumble along in the first year of the Trump administration. Maupin certainly knows something about disastrous presidents. A Vietnam veteran, Maupin was invited to the White House by President Richard Nixon in what Maupin describes as an orchestrated PR photo op to counter John Kerry and his organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Maupin recalls in his book how Nixon cornered him and began talking about how attractive Vietnamese girls were.

Logical-Family-Armistead-Maupin-book-coverIt was not long after that Maupin began a political and cultural 180 as he explored his sexuality and gay life in San Francisco, a universe away from his conservative southern upbringing. Elements of his own life and experiences certainly went into Tales of the City, first published in book form in 1978, with eight more volumes to follow. But Logical Family reveals the life of the person who created such iconic characters as Mary Ann Singleton, Michael Tolliver, and Mrs. Anna Madrigal at 28 Barbary Lane in his magical San Francisco, a city he famously left five years ago, but has since returned. And he’s paying a much higher rent than he ever imagined when he moved there in the 1970s. Like Provincetown, San Francisco can often bask in the warm glow of nostalgia, pining away for the days when things were better and easier. But as they say, nostalgia is reality’s drunk cousin. When writing Logical Family Maupin made sure to not make the good times better or the bad times worse, but to craft a story that is as he remembers it, without the glorification of the 70s. Maupin adds that much nostalgia is mourning the loss of youth and that whenever someone thinks a particular decade was the best, and that any subsequent era can’t hold up, they are often talking about themselves rather than the times. Youth may be fleeting, but good times are not as Maupin quotes Mrs. Madrigal saying, “You don’t have to keep up, dear. You just have to keep open.”

As much as humans may be prone to romanticize the past it’s hard to see how anyone will be able to do that about now, says Maupin. He recognizes the forces at work, as they are familiar to him from his upbringing in the South, his days as a staunch conservative, and then the many decades he’s spent fighting former friends ever since. As a son of the South he feels quite comfortable in supporting the removal of Confederate memorials, as he knows exactly why they were built: as a monument to white supremacy.

“The whole point of those memorials coming down is the final acknowledgement of the horrible atrocities that were done to human beings with slavery,” says Maupin. “Those that defend them are romanticizing Gone With the Wind or some bullshit story their grandmother told them.”

Be it Black Lives Matter or combating misogyny or working for LGBTQ rights, it’s all interconnected. You can’t demand liberation for yourself without speaking out for others, says Maupin. As his work has always touched upon, Logical Family speaks to the communities that many gay people created for themselves in response to the rejection they received from friends and family after coming out. And marriage equality and many issues of our times have created stark choices of right  and wrong. Maupin no longer tolerates the line from anyone, including his own family, that their support of homophobic politicians has nothing to do with their love for him.

“You hear people say, ‘Don’t discuss religion and politics,’” says Maupin. “I’m sorry, but life is all about religion and politics these days.  If your family or someone in your family doesn’t get that, they don’t love you enough. It’s time to discard them. You deserve better.”

An Evening with Armistead Maupin is at the Crown and Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Provincetown on Thursday, September 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets ($25/$35) are available at the box office and online at onlyatthecrown.com. For more information visit 508.487.1430.