and doing isometric squats with your lover, even though it makes you look ridiculous.
Maupin’s characters have created a microcosmic world that is as real and urgent as our own lives. There’s Mary Ann, the bobbysocks girl from Cleveland who takes the local TV station by storm and is lit from within by blazing ambition. and Mona. the cynic, pretty well lesbian, who still thinks Sixties-style. There’s Michael ‘Mouse‘ Tolliver. the cutest gay in fiction and a deliberately incurable romantic, and Brian. erstwhile hell-raiser turned practising domestic. while the threads run back to Anna Madrigal. the Barbary Lane landlady who tacks joints to the doors of new occupants. and spices her cookies with something more potent than nutmeg.
Obviously. as a gay writer profiling the gayest city, Maupin‘s stories have an understandable slant. But he can’t be regarded as a gay writer, period. Not only does he deal fair-handedly and fondly with straight situations, but he brings none of the aestheticism or exclusivity ofwriters like Stephen Spender and Aldo Busi to
homosexual love. Bath-houses and cowboy rallies are only passing features, as is the act ofsex. Equally important is walking the poodle, putting out the rubbish bags and non-orgasmic massages. With cunning simplicity, the gay life has been neatly suburbanised.
For Maupin, being proclaimed as the Gay Oracle is something of a burden, ‘Because my message is much broader than that. It has to do with dropping these barriers, not building them higher, and it makes me very sad to see gay people retreating into a comfortable little community they have created for themselves which doesn’t relate to the rest ofthe world, because that to me was not the point ofgay liberation. The point ofgay liberation was to break down barriers to the extent that who we are no longer mattered to anyone, including ourselves. There’s no question in my mind that that‘s why Tales ofthe City, as far as sales are concerned, soared far above all other gay fiction, because it shows gay men and lesbians in the context of the world at large, and that’s what we miss when we create situations where we make ourselves feel more isolated and peculiar than before.’
The first three books, created from the newspaper series, were frothy, quick-fire, contrived and fun. By the fourth, Babycakes, Maupin had faced two critical problems; by now the AIDS epidemic was spreading fast over the city and the States, and had already caused the death ofone ofhis closest friends; consequently, he had to decide on his own artistic response. ‘I knew that I could either continue with the series and avoid all mention of AIDS. or else somehow attempt to include it into what was basically a comic narrative. It was an enormous challenge. But I felt that that would be the best way I could serve my fiction and best serve the people who needed to find some way out of the holocaust.‘
As a result, he scored a literary first by killing offone of his characters who had contracted the disease, the first fictional AIDS victim. After this ‘I had a hard time going out to the
grocery store. People would stop me in the street and accuse me of being perverser mean. Even gay people.’
After Babycakes, an emotional nadir, his writing has picked up, capturing some of its old jauntiness. But running beneath the repartee and comic juxtapositioning is now a sombre undertone, as he deals with day-to-day life under the Damocletian sword of HIV. Yet, for all his muted seriousness, optimism is a virtue he works at. ‘I see the goodness in people; I mean, I look for it. I“ don’t find it then I find new people.’ He is proud to have a Pollyanna-ish outlook: ‘I think it’s a real challenge to have a rose-coloured vision of this particular world we live in!’
With his long-standing lover Terry Anderson, who is insistently open about being HIV positive, he lives in a Spanish-style house in the Mission District (along with the imaginary cast ofBarbary Lane). Together they run ‘Literary Bent’, Maupin writing, Terry commercialising. ‘Terry is very much involved in the process. He runs the business side . . . and takes a great burden off me sol can remain a creative child.’
The last in the Tales series is published in Britain this month. Sure of You, the title drawn from a snippet from Winnie the Pooh, is the most winsome of the sextet, leaving many stray ends and unanswered questions. It’s time, though, for Maupin to move beyond the security of his glove-snug, invisible family. Already he has worked as one of the librettists for the Broadway musical Heart’s Desire, and the next venture is underway: a novel in the first person from a woman’s viewpoint.
As he talks, it’s clear that Maupin is weary of beating the homosexual drum and is, in his terms, a little ‘gayed out’. He seems eager for the day when he will be seen not as Maupin the gay writer, but simply as Maupin the novelist. who has followed a century behind Dickens as a social observer and conscience tapper of immense humanity and humour.
Sure of You is published by Chatto & Windus priced £12. 95 .
‘It makes me very sad to see gay people retreating into a comfortable little community they have created lor themselves which doesn’t relate to the rest ol the
world . . . The point of gay liberation was to break down barriers to the extent that who we are no longer mattered to anyone, including ourselves.’
The List 23 February — 8 March 1990 9