**This feature was originally published on March 10, 2014. We present it here as a way to look back and celebrate 10 years of Bear World Magazine.
In 1989, I was 17, and being gay I decided to leave home, and go to London. This was a time when the Colherne was still open, and the gay scene was centered around Earls Court, not in Soho as it pretty much is today. Commuting from the outer parts of London into the city center (downtown) meant 30 -40 minute journeys of mute non interaction with your fellow passengers on the Underground. Businessmen read The Times, and I read Tales of The City, I was still underage at that point as the UK did not equalize the age of consent until the Blair Government some 12 years later.
Reading “Tales” was a statement, you had to be gay if you were reading it, or at least very gay friendly, it never lead to any flirting, but it made me feel good.
The series of books, focusing on Michael, Mary Anne, Brian and Mrs Madrigal, jumped into my heart at a time when I knew nothing of the wonderful possibilities of leading a a “gay” life meant. But here at 28 Barberry Lane, I could see it and imagine a life in a big city, where you could be out proud and love and be loved.
This week I met Armistead Maupin, strangely back in London where I First “met” Michael Mouse , and a day or two before I flew to San Francisco, for the first time (sadly only to pass through to my first Big Bear Event in the USA in Palm Springs) our paths crossing strangely, briefly but magically.
Armistead was holding court on a plush velvet couch, under a soft light in the sumptuous Soho Hotel, smiling, looking young and beguiling, his eyes boring into me, not in defiance, but sort of making sure he knew who I was.
I was not just here to meet him of course, a true honor for me in itself, but to chat about the final book ever (as Armistead confirmed quite firmly) of the almost 40 years in the making trilogy of trilogies. Tales of the city’s final installment The Days Of Anna Madrigal.
I wanted to ask about 1000 small questions pulling apart the who the why, but I had 30 minutes of precious time to find out a little bit about the series, the final book, and try and get a little insight to the man who so fully defined, what it was like to be a Gay Man living through the 70’s and beyond in the city where the worst of times, was better than the best of times anywhere else.
I Began by asking about Mrs Madrigal, and why he chose to make her a Transsexual in an era when transsexuals were just unheard of in any kind of sympathetic way.
AM: I was inspired by several trans people from the time prior to the 70’s really, in the 60’s Gordon Langly Hall who became Dawn Langley Pepita Simmons, she was from Britain and was a sort of adoptive son of the Actress Dame Margaret Rutherford, and who after gender re-assignment surgery went onto marry in Charlston South Carolina causing a storm in Charleston society, also Christine Jorgenson famous as one of the first trans people to be in the public eye in the USA.
DG: What is or has been the response from the Trans Community to Mrs Madrigal
AM: Very much grateful that she is such a sympathetic portrait of a trans-person, when perhaps the most famous literary trans woman was Myra Breckenbridge, who was not the most favorable of characters
DG: I don’t want to talk about the story of the book too much, or I will give the game away for the story, but you have a theme of reintroducing characters form the past, – that we thought might have had their time in the story – why Wren for instance? –
AM: That’s the way it works in life. People show up out of nowhere, and I liked here. She is completely self possessed as a person and showed sexuality despite being big, which when we first met her was not and I suppose still is not that celebrated.
DG: I cant think of Mrs Madrigal as anyone but Olympia Ducasis, – what are your feelings on her and her portrayal in the TV series.
AM: I asked for her. She is so very much an earth mother and very passionate, oh and she cuses like a sailor, and weeps when moved by anything. She has the most generous all encompassing soul yet can be fey. She really helped me to shape my own images of Anna too.
DG: Burning man plays a big part, you were there last year, how was the experience?
AM: Michael’s experience was pretty much mine, I really gave Chis (Armisteads Husband) a hard time, but eventually the phantasmagorical nature of the place is nothing like you have ever seen, and you learn to Relax and enjoy it and it did win me over.
DG:Are there any plans to make a movie or film of any more of the stories?
AM: Rumblings to make something, but nothing more than that.
DG: If I can ask about the 9 books, the series has a special place in my heart and I love the characters, are you able to distil your feelings, about the time you have been writing about Barberry Lane, the characters, etc –
AM: It has been a total privilege and surprise, I was not disciplined really, and if you had told me I would write 9 books all about these characters, I would not believe you. It has happened a day at a time. I am so very grateful people have followed me and the books, and hear how the stories intersect to peoples personal lives, of readers, when I meet them there is always lots of sobbing, that’s when I feel the enormity of the impact.
DG: I have to confess that I just cant think of Michael and Ben, as other thanyYourself and your husband Chris, how similar is Michael to you , and Ben to Chris?
AM: Well yes there are of course elements that I use, but I will never tell you which parts they are. And sometimes faithful sometimes nuggets of truth that I expand on.
DG: Is this the absolute last time we will see the central characters,?
AM: YES! (he says very firmly)
DG: Do you consider yourself a Bear, or do you like the term even?
AM: I don’t join things, but I am certainly happy in the company of bears. There’s a reason, we are going back to p-town bear week. I think its wonderful that the bear culture has broadened the notion of male beauty, and made people aware of there own desires and desirability and not be embarrassed, and I am very happy to be your March cover BOY!
DG: Would you write a Bear Novel? – or something with more bear centric characters,?
Micheal’s a bear isn’t he? I think you need to be on the inside of the culture etc, and then you can know whats funny and brave and worthwhile, which is why I liked the Bear City Films, and the 2nd one especially, I think that’s when I got the hang of it all. So no plans really for anything Bear from me.
DG; Whats next – do you have other ideas books?coming?
I have my One man show, and its always good to be on stage at p-town in front of slightly drunk bears. So I am preparing for a summer show at the Crown and Anchor, with some new material as I am really making the effort to create a more consisley shaped show, with personal tales about me and my experience, and some wisdom hopefully an then take it on the road.
DG; Finally Days of Anna Madrigal has entered many Best Sellers lists here in the UK and USA, what do you think is the enduring attraction , why do we love the story so much?
AM; Well its never happened before, and I am not sure why people love it, they just do. Maybe its the sense of a very logical family, proving itself true, and seeing the support groups other than family and biology has brought them. Bears are an example of a giant family something that is worldwide and personal. And people need something more than tolerance and Anna and everyone at 28 Barbary lane (which is really wherever Anna is) represents that.
I thanked Mr Maupin for his time, it had gone so fast, yet had been calm and not rushed, he gently said how professional I had been, and that’s when I cried, and we hugged. His time with me will always be cherished, and the hug and the selfie, he allowed me to take will be with me always. If you have never read tales of the city, go and get them and read them, I promise you will love them.
Photography by Christopher Turner – www.christopher-turner.com