“I was the first person in the world to write about AIDS”: how queer pioneer Armistead Maupin ended up in Bolton with Dame Judi Dench


When Tales of the City was serialized in the US newspaper The Pacific Sun in 1974, many readers were stunned by what they were reading.

One of the first stories to truly portray LGBTQ + characters in an authentic way, it was ahead of its time in more ways than one.

Written by Washington DC-born Armistead Maupin, Tales of the City helped spotlight San Francisco to be a liberating and inclusive place at a time when homosexuality was not accepted by the general public.

READ MORE: ‘Being gay is a lot of fun and God loves me for me,’ says new vicar of Didsbury with incredible story to tell

Becoming a worldwide phenomenon, the nine-book series has sold over six million copies, resulting in a number of films and adaptations on Radio 4.

Tales from the Town also spawned a Netflix revival series in 2019 with Laura Linney, Elliot Page and Olympia Dukakis in her last television role.

Armistead, who has since left the streets of San Francisco for London, says he’s now doing his best to put pen to paper yet again for another addition to the series.

Spending his time walking his dog in Clapham and watching The White Lotus, Armistead says the pandemic has hit hard on his creative force as he tries to write the next tale.

Armistead Maupin in San Francisco in April 2019

“I am not making much progress thanks to this f ****** confinement”, the author, 77 years old, confides to the MEN

“I discovered that I needed people and adventures around me to write mine.

“I’m not an ivory tower type writer, so although I live in a perfectly nice house, this pandemic hasn’t helped me at all.”

While he’s unwilling to divulge everything he’s written so far, he says there is hope on the horizon.

Later this month, Armistead will tour the UK for an intimate evening performance where he will tell his favorite tales and offer his own engaging observations on society.

He says the show will be a chance for him to be surrounded by people and pour the creative juices out for the first time in a long time.

“I can’t wait to be there,” he admits.

“I have the right to say whatever I want to say, so it’s a lot of fun for me.

“I’m also going to be interviewed by some pretty interesting people on stage.

“Russell Tovey is doing it in London, Graham Norton is interviewing me in Brighton and we have Jack Guinness in Manchester.

“It helps to have some of your heroes interviewing you. I admire these men so much.

The Tales of the City book series has sold over six million copies to date

“And I think it’s going to be really good for writing.”

The tour will include a stop at HOME in Manchester on October 15, but the author says it’s not his first time in Manchester – he’s been there numerous times for book tours and book signings in the pass.

He also happens to have had a very unique experience in Bolton, of all places.

“I was in Bolton for a surprise birthday party for Sir Ian McKellen at his old school just two years ago,” Armistead said.

“It was just wonderful, regardless of the fact that I got to catch a train next to Dame Judi Dench.

“For his birthday, the school kids had a Shakespeare reading and the young boy on stage is completely white and has become a deer in the headlights.

“In the front row, three people – Sir Ian McKellen, Derek Jacobi and Dame Judi Dench – all coached him.

“I’m sure he was terrified, but he will definitely remember this story for the rest of his life.”

Armistead has been an ‘adopted’ Briton since moving to Clapham with his partner Chris in 2019.

It may seem like a strange decision to some, as the author has been linked to San Francisco for over 40 years, but he doesn’t see it that way.

“San Francisco is no longer where it used to be,” he explains.

“The place I was celebrating wasn’t really there anymore, it’s now a tech city. It’s still pretty, but the beauty has been bought by 25-year-old multimillionaires.

“I have the best memories there, but we were ready for a new adventure, really.

Armistead has swapped the streets of San Francisco for London

“Chris lived here 25 years ago for about a year and came to love the place. We were basically on the same page when we moved.

“I’m lucky to be in love with a guy who wants to go to new places with me.”

The Armistead stories have a rich queer history and for many it is the first time people have been able to read about queer people doing strange things.

His books were also among the first to deal with the AIDS epidemic.

“I had lost a very close friend when I was 25,” says Armistead of the decision to include AIDS in his novels.

“He was the nicest guy on the planet. He was basically my younger brother and my logical family at the time.

“I had to make others feel this pain, so I made the decision to kill a major character, Jon Fielding, who at the time was the first AIDS death in fiction.

“I was aware of it 40 years ago and I am still aware of it today.

While his career has continued to play an important role in queer culture, Armistead says getting to this point hasn’t always been easy.

“It was a constant struggle to even put ‘gay’ on the cover of the first book,” he explains.

“The publisher didn’t want this to be mentioned and, at the time, it was something that was not really forbidden.

Armistead with her husband Chris

“They were always trying to censor me because they were afraid of losing readers.

“I didn’t feel it personally, but you were ‘officially’ mentally ill because you were gay at the time. It was a crime, everything in the culture told you not to be like that.

“For me, the joy of coming to San Francisco was that it was a chance to enjoy being sexually free and being in a place where a lot of guys and girls were doing the same thing as me.”

Armistead says he even encountered difficulties within his own family, which he says have always struggled to come to terms with his sexuality.

“It really pissed me off that once they got famous they didn’t change their mind about it,” he said.

“They always voted for Jesse Helms, who was a prominent homophobe in the US Senate and America’s most vocal anti-gay man.

“He was a very dear friend of my father and he even showed up at his funeral.

“My family managed to separate him from their son. It was like I was one of the good guys and not one of those “bad” queers.

He says that even when he was celebrated, there were times his family couldn’t even bring themselves to savor his accomplishments.

He explains: “My father once returned from a trip to Scotland to a remote country inn and a woman saw his credit card and asked for his autograph.

“We have the same name and she thought it was me.

“He was very happy with it, but it didn’t really help matters.

Author Armistead Maupin Comes To Manchester On UK Tour

“Five years ago I received an honorary doctorate from my university in Chapel Hill and invited (a parent).

“He never showed up and made up an excuse not to be able to come, but in the end I think it was because he was embarrassed by me.”

When asked how he found a way to rise above such hostility, he joked that “d ** k helped”.

Getting serious again, he adds: “No, it made me realize that I had to get a divorce – I will no longer suffer this fool with pleasure.

“I feel a lot of gay people end up going through something similar and I think that really reinforces the importance of logical family to me.

“There are a lot of people out there who love and admire you for who you are and biology shouldn’t have to force you into unhealthy relationships.”

Armistead said the recent pandemic has made people feel drawn to how the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s ostracized LGBTQ + people.

He says watching It’s A Sin – which was largely filmed in Greater Manchester – “absolutely destroyed” it, while a recent visit to the West End to see My Night with Reg also took matters into consideration. consideration.

“I really enjoyed my night with Reg, even though it’s an entirely London-based story,” says Armistead.

“The early onset of AIDS completely destroyed the gay community and it was pretty much the same everywhere.

Nina Siemaszko, Laura Linney and Paul Hopkins in More Tales of the City in 1998

“I mentioned it in Babycakes when Michael goes to London and sees a sign telling people not to sleep with Americans.

“It was really the approach to AIDS early on in Britain.

“It made me think a lot about this pandemic.

“In some ways, anyone who went through the early days of AIDS when we all thought we were going to die has found this pandemic a piece of cake. I hate to say it but it’s true.

“All we have to do in comparison now is behave, take care of our neighbors, wear our masks and get vaccinated. “

And the AIDS epidemic is something he plans to tackle in the next novel.

“It will fill a void in the Tales series and is set in England ten years after the start of the AIDS epidemic,” he says.

“This will be a partial AIDS review in England after Maggie Thatcher does her best and puts Article 28 on the books.

“I just need to start writing it now!” “

“I can’t wait to travel around the UK and be surrounded by people again,” he says.

“I have been to Manchester several times and have certainly been around Canal Street.

“The north is quite different from the south, it’s a different crowd of people.

“Manchester has a kind of vigorous vibe that I enjoy so I’m very excited to come back and be inspired.”

‘An Evening with Armistead Maupin’ takes place October 6-26 and will include a date at HOME in Manchester on October 15. Tickets available here.

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