LOGICAL FAMILY By Armistead Maupin
Maupin is internationally famous as a writer and LGBTI activist. In writing this memoir, it must have been tempting to gloss over the long years he spent in the closet but, to his credit, he devotes almost half the book to those years. In his early life he was a completely different person, set on pleasing his Southern (USA) father and aping his deeply conservative Republican views. He served in the Vietnam War and was rewarded with an audience with President Nixon. But Maupin’s journey is likely to be familiar to many gay men who feel compelled by bonds of family, religion and politics to conform. What freed Maupin was a job offer as a journalist in San Francisco, which took him across the country, away from the constraints of his family.
He quickly embraced all the new freedoms San Francisco offered. His first apartment was a block from Lafayette Park, a very busy beat and the bathhouses. There’s a section about his first meeting with Rock Hudson and how they became friends. Maupin (fresh from the closet and duly enthusiastic) was frustrated by Hudson’s inability to contemplate these freedoms for himself. They became cruising and occasional sex buddies, but the friendship ended when Hudson’s AIDS diagnosis hit the headlines and Maupin confirmed that he was gay to a journalist.
Maupin copped considerable criticism for it, but doesn’t shrink from what he did. “Once the press could talk about Rock’s homosexuality, a whole new dialogue could open about AIDS and the people whose suffering had been ignored… Rock’s hospital room received 35,000 letters of support from fans saying they loved him just the way he was.”
Fans of the Tales Of The City books will delight in the detail about the genesis of those novels (they began as a newspaper serial) and details that fed the creation of those popular characters. The famous “Letter to Mama” from Tales (reprinted as an epilogue in this book) was Maupin’s own coming out to his mother. It elicited no response from her at the time but later in the memoir there’s a moving scene of acceptance. Maupin’s parents visit him in San Francisco, meet and enjoy the company of his friends, and even attend a spontaneous memorial for Harvey Milk, who was murdered during their visit.
This memoir is Maupin’s best work to date. The writing is more nuanced than his Tales novels and his account of his slow awakening and transformation is candid and unsentimental. He is unafraid to paint himself in an unfavourable light and his story will ring true for many, especially those of his generation. Importantly, this book may provide inspiration to those who still struggle with the closet and its confining strictures.