(a girl and a man)
My first trip to San Francisco was in 1979 with a friend named Phil. I met Phil I recall through the Gay Community Center on Lafayette Street a few years earlier. His story of coming to the Center was one of the classic coming out stories I remember from those years. He had recently been discharged from the Navy and had wound up in Denver. His home was rural Ohio and his Catholic family very conservative and probably not fond of queers but totally unaware that there own son was one of those people.
Phil related to me some years later that he had first actually seen me at a party and thought I was the butchest thing he had ever seen when I walked in wearing my winter leather jacket – that was, he said empathically, until I opened my mouth and the whole masculine illusion evaporated in a Nellie mist. I loved him despite of this tacky and very snarky story.
Phil had apparently walked around the block at the Center many times before getting up the nerve to come in. There he met several others and quickly became a fast friend and member of our budding community. We remained close until his death in August of 1994 from AIDS. He died at home in the arms of his true love. I had been summoned to get there quickly but walked in just minutes after Phil took his leave.
Our trip to San Francisco was magical in that I totally fell for that City and all its magic. Phil had been there before while in the Navy. I believe several times – Fleet Week perhaps – though that I don’t know that for sure. He showed me all the sights and sounds and we sampled many different tastes.
This year of 1979 was momentous for me for many reasons but one little thing that happened was I was introduced to the work of Armistead Maupin. Tales of the City was published in 1978 and was essentially his columns on life in the City syndicated in the San Francisco Chronicle. The stories consisted of an eclectic cast of characters whose lives crisscrossed through that novel and eight more to follow culminating in the most recent release The Days of Anna Madrigal. Good friends of mine owned the local Gay Book store and I suspect that is how I got turned onto the book.
The novel’s stories and many adventures often revolved around a straight female charter named Mary Ann Singleton. She, soon on arrival in San Francisco, was living at 28 Barbary Lane in a large multi-story dwelling on Russian Hill managed by one Anna Madrigal. My initial visit to the City and my budding connection with a few Radical Fairies from the Bay area provided a modicum of familiarity with the characters, adventures and environs described in Tales of the City.
So as it turns out Anna was a male to female transsexual, pot-growing/smoking landlady who was mentor to all who came through 28 Barbary Lane. Her early years were spent growing up in a house of ill repute in Winnemucca Nevada, in an establishment run by her mother.
I was certainly very familiar with and predisposed to like her character from the first book on but this was cemented when the first three books of the series were immortalized in a PBS (originating in the U.K.) and Showtime miniseries in which Anna was played by the flawlessly cast Olympia Dukakis. These are available on DVD and highly recommended if you haven’t seen them, but do read the books first.
I think it is safe to say that LGBT literature and literature in general is bereft of positive, powerful and dynamic Transsexual characters. Though I suppose one could argue that Maupin’s books don’t fall into the category of great literature, whatever the fuck that is, they are much loved, iconic tomes in the pantheon of queer literature documenting our generation. I certainly enjoyed reading them and this was magnified and has been enhanced with my growing knowledge over the decades of the City of San Francisco starting back in 1979 thanks to my friend Phil.
What I would have not given to have my shit together enough to have moved to San Francisco in the late seventies and to then have fallen under the spell of a powerful female mentor like Anna Madrigal. I downloaded the last in the series –The Days of Anna Madrigal – to my Kindle this week and ripped through it in a couple days. Lots of loose ends about Anna get tied up and the ending is really wonderful and plays out in the only place it could really, at Burning Man in the Nevada desert.