Be prepared to gain a new perspective on controversial and sensitive topics through storytelling when Armistead Maupin comes to Reston Community Center to share his new memoir, “Logical Family,” this weekend on Sunday, Oct. 21.
Maupin is considered as one of America’s finest storytellers on stage. He is a writer, journalist and LGBTQ activist. His memoir “Logical Family,” grew out of his critically acclaimed one-man show of the same name. Author Neil Gaiman wrote about Maupin: “the story of his life is as fascinating, as delightful and as compulsive as any of the tales he has made up for us.”
Maupin shares: “I was raised in a very conservative family in North Carolina and taught a lot of wrong-headed things, including racism and misogyny and homophobia. As a young man, I worked at a television station where Jesse Helms was the boss. I was a Vietnam veteran; I returned to Vietnam to build houses for Vietnamese naval veterans, and as a result, I was invited to the White House to meet Richard Nixon. All of that is in the memoir. I did not change my ways until I got to San Francisco and met a lot of sweet people that did not see the world the way I did. Mostly straight folks.”
When we spoke over the phone, I shared with Maupin that I come from a conservative background growing up as a Palestinian, Muslim woman. At first, he appeared to get a little upset when I asked him: “Can you describe being gay?”
“I realized that I was different in ways that I couldn’t quite name. By the time I had reached puberty, I was being attracted to boys. That is the way it is for everybody. … It is pretty much standard for boys and girls to know where their hearts lie at an early age, and most of us have to deal with ignorant, repressive cultures that don’t let that happen. When I became an activist in San Francisco, I became determined to normalize the discussion of it, so that people aren’t nervous around the topic,” said Maupin. “ … If you get to the end of that memoir, you’ll see a letter that was fictional, but that I actually wrote to my own mother, in which I told her not to worry about me, because that’s what mothers sometimes tend to do. They think, “This is a terrible fate for my child.” She used to say to me, “It might be fine now, but what’s it going to be like when you are an old man?” She thought I was going to be lonely. Well, I’m an old man now, and I have a husband. I have a career that makes me known around the world. And I’m very, very happy with who I am.”
What I also found interesting is that you started by writing a series of stories as columns.
MAUPIN: Yes, I wrote these stories on a daily basis, five days a week in the San Francisco Chronicle.
How did you come up with this idea?
MAUPIN: I was inspired roughly by the serial fictions of Dickens and Thackeray and other British writers who did this in the 19th century. It was a fresh idea. I thought if I could get people who read the newspaper every morning hooked on a story, then it would be a very good way to get myself known. And that’s what happened.
It’s a very interesting idea. We rarely find this, I think.
MAUPIN: It’s not done anymore. Well, people have tried it on the internet, but it doesn’t have the same power, because, when I was writing for the newspaper, that was what you had to read in the morning. You didn’t have the internet. You had the morning paper. And if you were following a story, you could get hooked on it very easily. It attracted the attention of my publisher, Harper Collins, in New York. They asked me if we could collect it into a novel. So they became two novels, eventually. So I’ve been telling the same story for 42 years, in one way or another. It’s already been three miniseries. It’s about to be a brand new miniseries for Netflix. [Earlier this week, Netflix announced the cast for the upcoming series “Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City.”]
As an activist, how far do you think society can accept this?
MAUPIN: Well, I don’t know, I would have to ask you how much you can accept. I plan to be fully open about my life. And I urge people to do so when it’s within the realm of safety. In many parts of the world, it’s not safe. I want to make it safe; I want people to give up the ignorance on this subject and learn that it’s just love.
Maybe religion is part of the rejection of homosexuality. Religion is deep in every culture, and in many religions, homosexuality is described as negative.
MAUPIN: That’s why I have problems with every religion. I have a hard enough time believing in a supreme being. I cannot believe in a church or the persecution of certain members of the church.
I can say that religion’s position of homosexuality creates inner conflict. It makes it harder to talk about it or accept it. This is probably why it is hard for me.
MAUPIN: Probably it is, because you were raised that way. A lot of gay people were raised with that homophobia, and they judge themselves accordingly. Eventually, they learn to become their own person and to shake that off. Some do it within the bounds of religion, because there are some civilized religions that embrace their homosexual members. That book I just published, called “Logical Family,” it’s a pun on the words “biological family,” the idea being that sometimes your biological family won’t accept you at all, and you have to form your own circle of friends and loved ones who are logical for you. And that often is because of religion.
Yes, I can understand that completely. So, when you come to Reston Community Center, you will be promoting and discussing your book?
MAUPIN: Yes, I’ll be discussing the book … I usually talk about a lot of different things, just like we’re doing right now. Some people ask questions and I talk. I’ll probably read a little bit from the memoir.
Now you are also an activist.
MAUPIN: I have been for almost 45 years, yes.
Do you see any progress?
MAUPIN: Yes, I think the world has gotten a great deal better since I was a young man. When I was a young man, homosexuality was a crime, a sin, and a mental disorder. All three things. At the same time, you were considered to be insane. Naturally, I had a hard time telling my parents that that’s what I was feeling. And a lot of kids still do today. Mostly thanks to churches. You brought them up as a reason why people don’t like gay people. And I think you’re right, that’s entirely the reason. Our churches are doing anything but operating from a godly position. They claim to have love at the root of their religions, I think most religions do, but they’re not showing it.
What I understood from my religion --
MAUPIN: And you understand prejudice in a big way because you are Muslim. You’re Palestinian; I think the Palestinians are getting a very rough time of it right now.
MAUPIN: So I understand.
I’m really open to talk about anything, so I would like to share homosexuality from an Islamic viewpoint. What I know is that homosexuality is not allowed to be public or legal in Islam.
MAUPIN: What if you and your husband had to live that way? Could you imagine how terrible that would be? If you couldn’t express your love for him at any time, if you couldn’t be seen with him? You can die in certain parts of the country if you express your love for another person, you can be killed for it. You know what I’m talking about.
MAUPIN: And that’s what we’re trying to change. … I have had Muslim friends for years. Many of them solved it by moving to another country, to here; for instance, San Francisco. I don’t want to say that religion is an enemy, but it acts like it’s our enemy all the time. I know plenty of people who get comfort from their religion, some gay people who get comfort from their religion, and that’s good for them. But I don’t want to tolerate a discipline that makes me into an evil person.
Do you believe in homosexuals adopting children?
MAUPIN: Of course. Children need love and the people who want to raise children should be allowed to do it. It’s better than not having parents. A lot of this is tied in with general sexism that it has to be a woman and a man ... If two men want to raise a child, sometimes that means the child get twice the love. That’s certainly the experience that I’ve had in meeting children who’ve been adopted by gay parents. It’s a perfectly normal thing to want to love a child, and it’s a perfectly normal thing for a child to accept that love. And that child would do a lot better than he would in a family where he was being abused or beaten or ignored.
I am so happy that I was able to have this conversation with you.
MAUPIN: I think that’s a good thing, I applaud you for that: telling me what you don’t understand and what you want to know. I applaud you for that.