Author Armistead Maupin is celebrating his first week as a married man. Make that his first week as a legally married man — legal in the United States, that is. By Canada’s measure, he has been married more than a year; Maupin and his spouse Christopher Turner traveled to Vancouver to exchange vows in February 2007.
The couple had planned to marry again in the U.S. this summer, following California’s ruling legalizing gay marriage, but they were delighted to find they’d receive international reciprocity.
“We have been fighting for so long for these basic protections and the civil rights that heterosexual couples enjoy, and I think people will be surprised when they see, day by day, that it’s not really that earthshaking to the rest of society,” said Maupin, who will speak Monday (June 23) in the Literary Legends Series at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. “For us, of course, it’s everything. It publicly validates those relationships that we’ve treasured but that haven’t been formally recognized before.”
It’s a fight that Maupin has been a part of for decades, in his life as an activist and in his work as a writer. His “Tales of the City” series, inspired by life in San Francisco’s gay community in the 1970s, was born as a newspaper serial, published as a series of novels, reborn for a PBS miniseries and is now being re-imagined as a Broadway musical. And this spring, he published the latest installment in the series, “Michael Tolliver Lives,” after a 20-year break from the character.
When we last saw Michael, he, like so many of his friends, had been diagnosed with HIV. Things didn’t look good. But as the years passed, Maupin came to understand that he was part of a band of survivors, and that Tolliver was part of that same band.
Band of survivors
“I realized that Michael Tolliver was still alive. I decided to revisit his world and see how he was doing as an older man,” said the writer. “When I was younger, I wrote about the joys of being young in an amazing time and place. Now that I’m older [Maupin is 64], I’d planned to write a book about an aging gay man. This side of life doesn’t get much attention, and although it’s wonderful and exciting to be young, and there are downsides to growing older, right now I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. I am in love, I finally understand what true love really is, and my days are so much more meaningful today. I wanted to write about that.”
In the series, Tolliver’s San Francisco resembles a rarefied and protective small town, a “Gayberry” rather than an impersonal metropolis, and readers will be delighted to run into several of Maupin’s beloved old characters in this new book. But the times have changed in many ways — GPS, cell phones and blogs color the new millennium, and Tolliver’s musings on contemporary gay life don’t always turn up roses. As the character reconnects with his conservative Florida biological family (while dealing with similar issues in his chosen family), he runs into the attitudes that make this week’s reversal on the gay marriage issue such a milestone.
“In some ways it’s gotten easier to be gay, and in others it’s harder,” he says. “Thirty years ago it was an unspoken thing; it was taboo, we were in the closet. Now we’re out, but if you’re from a fundamentalist Christian family, it can be terrifying to come out, because those groups have vilified us so much and poured so much energy into their hatred. It’s like the anti-civil right movement of the ’60s. People justified their hatred and mistreatment of blacks by something they thought they understood from the Bible.”
Yet this warm and friendly book is not a political statement. “My readings always amaze me, because they are attended by people of all ages, whole families who saw the PBS series, people young and old, and straight and gay. It’s not just a gay series,” says Maupin. It’s just a story about family and friends, and life (and a little sex) in the city.
What: Literary Legends Series: Armistead Maupin
When: 7 p.m., Monday June 23
Where: State Theatre, Minneapolis
Amazon Bookstore lives, too
We recently reported that the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative was closing its doors. But wait! We now hear that that the venerable feminist bookstore has received a reprieve. A new owner, Ruta Skujins, has decided to carry on, and as we speak, the shelves are being restocked and inventoried (the store will be closed today, June 18). More news on this to come.