Thursday, April 03, 2014

Reading Maupin through a Savage lens

There are no more "Tales" for me - I finally read my last (technically the second-to-last, but I'd read them slightly out of order) of Armistead Maupin's "Tales of the City" series, Mary Ann In Autumn. The storytelling is just fantastic, as always, and that much more moving if you happen to be a dog person, with a small poodle curled up at your feet as you read. (But fear not - nothing that upsetting happens to any dog!)

I knew from Twitter or however else that Maupin and Dan Savage are, if not friends, people familiar with each other's work. Savage talks about Maupin's concept of a "logical family" as vs. a biological one (i.e. you move away from your small-town family that hates you for who you are, and find friends in the big city who become family), and then, in this latest (well, latest-for-me), the late-middle-aged Michael explains that he allows his early-middle-aged husband Ben to have sex with other men because that's the "price of admission" (a Savage coinage, I believe) to be with this much-younger, good-looking, kind, and generally flawless man.

The novel - well, one of the major plotlines - ends up reading like a Savage Love opening monologue. We have on the one hand Mary Ann, whose marriage to a Republican has fallen apart after she's caught her husband cheating with her "life coach," and on the other, Ben and Michael, whose only rule is disclosure. So evolved! The straights - and this is pure Savage - have so much to learn from gay men! (Or maybe not exactly the "straights" - now that I think of it, there's only one straight woman among the numerous main characters, and that's Anna Madrigal, an elderly transwoman who'd had a wife and kid in a previous life. Female sexuality is fluid in these novels.)

It might have been an interesting exploration of what changes in opposite-sex relationships, i.e. of what happens when "monogamish" converges with age-old double-standards, or how, as long as it's assumed that men cheat for variety but women only when unhappy in their relationships, the double-standard is maintained. But instead we learn that Mary Ann cheated as well, so never mind. The only concession to gender, in this context, is that Mary Ann (as a representative of Women) gets chastised for not enjoying a particular sex act that gay men (according to the novel) always do, and not the one you're thinking of. Anyway, fiction! I'd better write my own if I want it to make my arguments about society.

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