It was my greatest pleasure a few years ago, to give him my book, The Bisexuals Guide to the Universe, when we met a booksigning at the West Hollywood Book Fair. We traded our respective autographed books.
“A book about bisexuality? Well, there’s always a need for that,” he told me. When I described it as a light-hearted fun book about the subject, he added, “Even more important, yes! A book about bisexuality should definitely be funny.”
It was a ringing endorsement. Although he invited me up the hill to his house on Outpost Drive, I never got up there, and I regret that. A few times this past month, I saw an ambulance trying to navigate up the steep driveway, and one time about two weeks ago, it was stuck. I was concerned that I’d be reading his obit someday soon.
What Gore Vidal did in both his fiction and his talks is become a face to an undefined sexuality. He hated to be defined himself, and he said a lot of profound things about the subject.
Here are a few:
* “The reason no one has yet been able to come up with a good word to describe the homosexualist is because he does not exist. The human race is divided into male and female. Many human beings enjoy the sexual relations with their own sex, many don’t; many respond to both. The plurality is the fact of our nature and not worth fretting about.”
* “Sex is a continuum. You go through different phases along life’s way … and if you don’t, you’ve been sort of cheated.”
* In his first big hit, which was his third book, The City and the Pillar, in 1948, he dealt very positively with a same-sex relationship, and how the characters Jim Wallard and Bob Ford fell into sexual relationship quite by accident. Bob becomes heterosexual and when he later meets Jim, he is revolted to discover that Jim is still in love with him. It doesn’t end well.
* “We’re trained to see only male or female and to plot people into those categories when they actually don’t fit neatly at all. But if we pause, watch and listen closely we’ll see the multiplicity of ways in which people are sexed and gendered. There exists a range of personal identifications around woman, man, in-between–we don’t even have names or pronouns that reflect that in between place but people certainly live in it.”
* He didn’t like to be defined as gay himself, saying that there is no such thing as a homosexual person, only homosexual acts.
*In the Biblical epic “Ben-Hur” he wrote the screenplay to turn former friends Ben-Hur and Messala into ex-lovers, and the lead character bisexual.
* In Esquire magazine in 1969, he wrote:
We are all bisexual to begin with. That is a fact of our condition. And we are all responsive to sexual stimuli from our own as well as from the opposite sex. […] regardless of tribal taboos, homosexuality is a constant fact of the human condition and it is not a sickness, not a sin, not a crime […] Homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality. Notice I use the word ‘natural,’ not normal.
* Political commentator William F. Buckley once described Vidal as an “evangelist for bisexuality.”
* In his 1968 satire “Myra Breckinridge,” the title character is gay but is turned into a femme fatale. There’s cross-sexual interest of all kinds, including a traumatic sexual session that turns a cocky young actor gay.
* He referred to himself as a “gentleman bitch” and has been described as the 20th Century’s answer to another bisexual writer, Oscar Wilde.
* Gore Vidal lived the life of a bisexual, and famously had affairs with both men and women. He was briefly engaged to Joanne Woodward before she teamed up with Paul Newman, and he had relationships with actress Diana Lynn, novelist Anaïs Nin and others. He had a life-long relationship with Howard Austen, whom he planned to be buried next to in Washington, D.C.
He will be truly missed.