Logical Family: A Memoir by Armistead Maupin, Harper, US $27.99, Pp 292, October 2017, ISBN 978-0062391223
Armistead Maupin was born in the mid-twentieth century in the heart of conservative North Carolina. As he realized he was not straight, he found his native South too small for him and soon took to the road in search of adventure which took him to around the world from Vietnam to San Francisco in the 1970s. In Logical Family Armistead Maupin tells of the struggle to face up to the society in the 1970 and 1980s and later and win his rightful place in the society. A formidable writer and known for his bestselling Tales of the City series, Armistead Maupin is also a gay rights pioneer. Maupin tells us about the people who influenced his thoughts and personality but, most importantly, he recalls his struggle to find his ‘logical family’ as distinguished from his biological family.
Maupin’s struggle for gay rights started in 1977 when he wrote a long letter to his ultra-religious conservative mom to tell her of his sexual orientation. This beautifully-written letter needs to be read in its entirety. He wrote, “I would not have written… if you hadn’t told me about your involvement in the ‘Save Our Children’ campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant.” He wrote that he felt, “revulsion, shame, disbelief – rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.”
Maupin continues “I know I can’t tell you what it is to be a gay. But I can tell you what it’s not. It’s not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity, it’s not fearing your body or the pleasures that God made for it. It’s not judging your neighbor, except when he’s crass or unkind.” The following lines summarize how his sexual orientation shaped him, “Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion, and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength.”
Maupin recalls that by the time he was thirteen he had begun to have dreams about kissing grown up gas station attendants. This disturbed him since it wasn’t just messing around the way the boys did on camping trips; it was flat-out romance.” He writes, “I learned the hard way to put a towel behind the toilet tank to keep it from banging against the wall when I jerked off it in the morning.” One day his father called him on this over breakfast and asked, “What was that thumping I heard this morning, son? You spent an awfully long time in in the crapped.” His father must have thought, with some degree of relief that this was the advent of girls for him. At that time, it was unimaginable to Maupin that he could have known what was going on. He was mortified just the same.
His growing visibility as an openly gay man had a downside. It made it harder to maintain a friendship with Rock. Maupin writes, “I had really just been part of his sexual sub-life, the part he didn’t show to the world, and now that I was finally the master of my own soul, it felt demeaning, even insulting, to cooperate with a movie star. It was nothing dramatic; I just stopped going to the Castle. Rock was used to others organizing his life, so I doubt that he even noticed.” In many ways, Maupin was happy to be free of the poisonous alcoholic atmosphere of the house. Maupin concludes, “It smelled of mendacity – an old Tennessee Williams word that is more than adequate for a nest of harpies living out a lie at the bitter end of the seventies.”
Maupin shows one more time that he is a formidable storyteller. Maupin helps us understand how the society treated gay and lesbian people and how they felt and struggled in the second half of the twentieth century. Maupin’s memories are inspiring. Logical Family is as horrifying as it is funny. It will bring smiles to your face and tears in your eyes. Some of the anecdotes will make you angry with the insane society he had to struggle with. But, in the end, you will be happy you have read it.