Growing up gay in a dreadful Southern California suburb was made bearable for me after I discovered Gore Vidal in the early 1970s. I was around 14 and would disobey my parents and watch The Dick Cavett Show (or late into the night, Johnny Carson) where Vidal would appear and ignite intelligent, scintillating conversation with the hosts.
I recall seeing Vidal on Carson once where he explained how absurd it was that humans shit in the same water that they eventually drank. He’d come on the show to advocate developing a more sane approach to sewage, I forget the details, but his passionate rationality impressed me like crazy. Not just his rationality but his certainty about his rightness was beguiling. There was a way to be ‘right’ without being an asshole (a style which was opposite that of my father’s), and that made a bigger impression on me.
I don’t think I consciously knew Vidal was gay (or as he would define it: the practitioner of homosexual acts). Vidal wrote: “There is no such thing as a homosexual or a heterosexual person. There are only homo — or heterosexual acts. Most people are a mixture of impulses if not practices.” But as a budding queer I did respond to him as the sort of adult male I wanted to emulate. He was informed, stylish, wry and not possessed by a bitchy, negative anima complex. As soon as I could I began to read Vidal’s writing — understanding perhaps 60% of it at the time. (I just felt smarter knowing that I was making the effort). For me, his finest form was the essay — a clear parade of searing syntax that flowed, like lava, right from the center of his glowing brain. Read more