Tales of the City

As part of my work with LGBT Youth Scotland, I introduced Armistead Maupin in front of a crowd of 350 at a reading in Edinburgh on Thursday. I think it’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever spoken in front of, and I’d made into a Big Giant Deal because Tales of the City meant so much to me as kid (and as a grown up kid), that I really didn’t want to mess it up.

I didn’t. The people from Waterstones were lovely and supportive, and Armistead and his husband were lovely – a genuinely nice, warm pair – and I got some nice feedback afterwards.

Really thankful for my job and all the cool stuff I’ve gotten to do this month!

Here’s the speech I gave:

February is LGBT History Month here in Scotland, a cultural event which Waterstone’s in Edinburgh have always been hugely supportive of, and I’m delighted that they’ve asked me here tonight to introduce this evening’s guest.

LGBT Youth Scotland have managed and promoted LGBT History Month since 2005, when it was established to mark the repeal of Section 28, the law which prohibited the promotion of homosexuality in schools in England, Scotland and Wales.

LGBT History Month is an opportunity for us to celebrate the lives and achievements of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, and highlight the contribution they have made to society.

LGBT History Month is a chance for us to tell our stories, and celebrate our often hidden histories.

To that end, History Month and literature have always been a neat fit.

It’s an honour to have Armistead Maupin in Scotland this month to celebrate with us – a genuine pioneer of LGBT literature, Armistead Maupin began his career as a reporter in South Carolina, before moving to San Francisco in 1971.

In 1976 he launched his groundbreaking Tales of the City serial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Since then, he has gone on to write eleven novels, including nine books in the Tales of the City series, the most recent of which, The Days of Anna Madrigal, he’ll be reading from tonight.

The cultural impact of Tales of the City can’t be underestimated.

It has gone to be adapted into a hugely successful television series starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney, and a musical featuring songs by Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters.

A lot of people I know have a Tales of the City moment.

My own came in a library in Northumberland. As a 16 year old growing up on a council estate in England, my life was a million miles away from San Francisco and 28 Barbary Lane, but Armistead Maupin’s characters offered me a lifeline.

Unlike a lot of the LGBT literature I’d read – and there wasn’t much of it, in a time before discreet Amazon purchases – Tales of the City wasn’t just about going out or coming out.

These were real characters, with real lives, living in a real city: Mary Ann Singleton, the blond Cleveland refugee, a secretary seduced by San Francisco.

Gay everyman Michael Tolliver, a romance-addicted boy-next-door.

And my favourite, the soft-spoken, joint-smoking, kaftan-wearing Anna Madrigal, watching the comings and goings of San Francisco with ‘Wedgewood blue eyes’, everyone’s fantasy grandmother.

When I found out that the last book in the series would delve into Mrs Madrigal’s own hidden history, I was over the moon – as she makes her arrangements to leave like a lady, Mrs Madrigal would finally let go of some of the cards she’d kept so close to her chest all these years.

Of course, I’m sad that this will be the last book – although I’ve heard that one before – but it’s a fitting end to a hugely influential series that has inspired generations of LGBT writing.

Ladies, gentlemen and everyone in between, he invented San Francisco – Mr Armistead Maupin.