Dear Armistead Maupin,
I realize this might be rather unorthodox, but, as you’ve been living amongst the wacky, wild & wonderful of San Francisco these past 41 years I thought you could handle a tiny, missive of an intrusion. Now don’t panic. It’s nothing scary. I’m not one of the critics who bemoan your decision to leave our City. This is just a clumsy attempt at a thank you/love letter from a fan and fellow citizen of our beloved San Francisco.
We have met by the way-repeatedly in that unique San Francisco fashion-over the years. You know how that is: Friends of friends, shared interest/passions and the odd one offs here and there. When you were partners with my friend, writer and activist, Terry ‘Tez’ Anderson, we rubbed elbows at several Queer literary functions, Queer rights gatherings and even the odd occasional intersecting of paths whilst pursuing daily chores in the Castro.
Sadly I never got the chance to ‘know’ you. I could’ve pushed to do so hard but honestly I thought you must’ve been weary of that kind of thing after all these years of notoriety. I surmised, in my best Zen fashion, “if our paths were meant to entwine eventually they would.”
Now I hear through the Homo Town Crier-aka Gerard Koskovitch curator of the GLBT History Museum-you’re moving to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a change of pace. You will become another San Franciscan ex-pat, living abroad, one of our adopted sons spreading the gospel of unique thinking to those in need of San Francisco-esque enlightenment.
Frustratingly life has thwarted my plans I realize, and in all likelihood, I won’t get that chance of letting life evolves and we end up being pals. Another reminder that our beautiful City is actually behaving like a cloddish brute of Big Metropolis instead of the homey Hamlet I sometimes pretend it to be. Reality being the bearer of such things as, well reality, I thought I’d wave good bye to you from here, the walls of our new blog, Castro Biscuit, before you go exploring the next big Southwest chapter of your life.
In 1986 I was living in Cleveland. I was that square peg in a round hole fellow. A Midwest Punk Queer who’d failed at being a successful drug addict/hooker/dealer and was licking my wounds after an attempt at New York City fabulousness on the near dead shores of Lake Erie.
A friend noticing my dour, ongoing, Goth/Death Rock mood loaned me a copy of your first book, ‘Tales of the City’ and, despite my misgivings-I was a bit of a snob when it came to “literature” (imagine Thurston Howell, III’s voice here) fell in love with it hook, line & sinker. The story, your characters, and to a degree you. I inhaled the rest of your books in the series. I felt transformed and transfixed, as if a long dead light in my heart had been relit. I who’d felt so lost for so long-even after getting sober at the then unheard age of 22-discovered amongst the pages of your book a reassuring truth; There was after all place for someone as odd as me in this dismal world after all and it was called, ‘San Francisco’.
By the time I’d finished the third book in the series I’d devised an escape plan. Within months I was living here with the support and unconditional assistance of two other ex- Clevelanders, pals John and Mike, who’d traveled West ahead of me. Soon many other friends followed our example and used my place in the Lower Haight as a jumping off spot for their own adventures here. We became part of a new Queer wave of San Francisco colonizers.
I used the real life bars and businesses mentioned in your books as a personal atlas to
Queer San Francisco living. I got hired at the now defunct, 24/7 eatery, Church St. Station. I slung vittles graveyards alongside drag queen co-workers and dagger line cooks. I met all the denizen’s of SF club life. Underground Punk Rock heroines like Deanna Mitchell of the all female band, Frightwig, became close friends.
I picked up bar shifts at The Stud and The End Up. I entered and lost the wet underwear contest there on Thursday night, but, got laid by a mohawked motorcylce boy, Ray, as a consolation prize. I tea danced at the long gone I-Beam in the Upper Haight, made friends with the door girl, Esther and ended up going to almost every Punk, Funk and Rock show held there for the next three years.
I helped fight AIDS in the street, start clubs, influenced culture, fell in love for the first time, moved to The Castro like all good Queers did and eventually became a well recognized married pair. I got engulfed in the feeling of being ‘part of” this magical Bubble by the Bay. I’d found my Tribe and strove to do everything I’d ever day dreamed about just like you’d pushed your books characters to do.
Two plus decades later and nearly every person I’d befriended in my early, formative years-who survived the plagues of AIDS, speed, & economic displacement-are still my friends to this day. Without a doubt in my mind, I can honestly say it’s due in no small part to you, your wonderful, inspired writing and the force for living you imparted amongst those pages that light the fire that led me here.
I know without hesitation this isn’t the first time you’ve heard this sort of story from one of your readers. It’s a tale I still hear from young Queers who’ve pushed their way out of closeted nests and not so loving family circumstances to search out our People and our own small slice of heaven.
Where ever I’ve gone in the world since moving to San Francisco people always know that I’m not ‘from’ where ever I am. In Los Angeles, London, Indianapolis. I meet people and within minutes they always say the same, “You’re not from here are you?” I always grin and reply as I imagine your infamous landlady, Anna Madrigal would, “No. I’m a San Franciscan.”
It seems I, like so many, was a San Franciscan born in the wrong city and t just took us a while to find my way home. All Atlantians come searching for the Motherland one of Anna Madrigal alluded once in one of your story lines. Your books, it seems, for many are still the secret maps they use to guide them home.
You will be missed Mr. Maupin. I will miss knowing you are here amongst foggy streets, roaming about, observing and eavesdropping making literary plans with what you mine from a life led here. I will miss over hearing some new Gay waif excitedly tell their twink pal
how they saw you at Walgreens on 18th street and how ‘cool’ that was. I will miss the occasional sighting of you as we stand side by side in a crowd at 17th & Market trying not to stare at the naked guy whose bejeweled junk hangs dangerously near by posing with yet another wide eyed tourist.
I will miss wondering if this is perhaps the awkward moment when I try to be ‘relaxed and unobtrusive’ in your presence when all I want to do is hug you and say with all earnestness-”thank you for helping me find home.”
Reading back over this I know it to be well beyond the normal level of decorum one generally uses when speaking to a virtual stranger. But to me you’re not a stranger just a friend I’ve seen in The Castro for years that life and circumstance never let me get around to making.
Best of luck, sincerest thanks and gratitude for clearing the road for all of us who followed, and now, get a chance to live out our own personal Tales of The City.
(An earlier version of this appeared in the San Francisco based Queer Lit Porn Mag/Zine, ‘Handbook’)