Two Mary-Ann’s in the Evening

Craig Hanlon-Smith October 15, 2019

Armistead Maupin in conversation with Peter Tatchell. Brighton Dome Concert Hall, October 14th.

There are giants of our community who live amongst us, the like of whom we may never see again. An appreciation of such was indeed apparent on Monday evening as a thousand strong audience ignored the persistent dank weather to head to the Brighton Dome for an evening with Armistead Maupin, in conversation with Peter Tatchell. Tatchell cuts a slightly awkward host and yet a highlight of the evening was the sensitive occasional nod of respect to one another from these two community giants and living legends. Legend is a term which is too oft banded about but there is a reachable humanity in Maupin, in response to an audience question how does it feel to have influenced so many people? “I can’t deny it, it feels great” came the reply.

The setting for the evening could not have been more drab it was as though the Dome was doing its best to ignore its own interior grandeur and reflect in its black curtains and faded grey arm-chairs the damp October night sky. Maupin’s life experiences reflected upon in these two hours are, of course, captivatingly colourful enough to hold our attention. In an audience composed of largely, although not exclusively, gay men the age demographic suggested a lifetime of Maupin’s literature shared amongst us. One questioner pointedly asking why the shared horrors of the late 1980s were not yet reflected in his most notable series Tales of the City. “When I finished Tales in the 80’s, Michael Tolliver had HIV and in those days if you had HIV you were going to die. I didn’t want to write a story in which the gay man dies”  ‘Sure of You’ was published in 1989’. Of course Maupin doesn’t allow the evening to lean into maudlin territory and promptly lightens the mood by sharing a story of a lesbian film character killed by a falling tree as ‘she had no right to be there’: I don’t know why you’re all laughing” he jests.

Much of this evening is a reflection on his whole life which since 2017 has been shared in his autobiography Logical Family. He talks with shared surprise at his conservative youth, living and working in the heart of the republican movement with Jesse Helms and indeed a seemingly awkward encounter with former president Richard Nixon: Nixon was talking pussy with the only homosexual in the room”. Maupin reads affectionately from Logical Family and in many ways this segment is the highlight of the evening. It is an extension of the hour we have already shared but now reflected in that familiar warm wit so many in the room have shared their lives with.

There are political jabs at the narcissist leaders of both his country of birth and now this, his adopted home and a kind bewilderment at the toxic debate within our own broadening communities: You’re not going to ask the man who created Anna Madrigal whether he supports trans rights are you”? and when asked a question from the floor about fears for a disappearing community, whilst acknowledging change he is optimistic about the future: “people will find their own community”.

Modestly Maupin defers to Tatchell as the greater LGBTQ rights campaigner and what follows is a discussion of the need for both a political and cultural capital in our continuing campaigning and progress. In both fields, tonight we are in the company of giants. Long may they reign.

Logical Family is available from all physical and digital outlets, published by Harper Collins