I’ve always liked Edmund White’s refusal to get with the contemporary gay hypocrisy program and shrewishly condemn promiscuity in the hope that this will deliver lots and lots of wedding presents.
In contrast to that pasteurised movie Milk, which lied shamelessly about gay men’s sex lives in the 1970s to make it easier for them to lie about their sex lives today, White, a veteran gay-libber who first started libbing around that time – in bath-houses, back rooms and along the piers – insists on telling it as it was, genital warts and all.
That said, I’ve frequently found his work to be insufferably gayist. Edmund is a five star, old school gay chauvinist – so literally fucking proud to be gay and so obsessed with ‘coming out’ (and attacking those that refuse to join his party) that sometimes I just want to slap him.
Which is why I laughed out loud when frail old Gore Vidal, veteran dissenter from the orthodoxies of sexual identity politics, recently reached out of his wheelchair and did just that, repeatedly, in The London Times. Asked about White’s fictionalised portrayal of Vidal’s letter-writing relationship with the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh in the play ‘Terre Haute’, The Gore lambasted White for portraying him as ‘another queen’, only writing about how ‘being a fag is the greatest thing on Earth’ and – in a fantastic phrase that will stay with White forever, like an immortal red handprint on the side of his face – “vulgar fag-ism”.
Probably it was the ‘vulgar’ part that stung White most (his prose, especially the earlier efforts, sometimes looks as if it’s been fisted by a thesaurus) and provoked the bitchy response in an interview in Salon this week (‘Edmund White comes out swinging’). Ed describes Gore as a ‘nasty, awful man’, claims sorrowfully to have tried to help him in the past by inviting him to dinner to introduce him to ‘cute boys’, very kindly reminds us of his great age, the fact that he’s wheelchair-bound, his alcoholism, his loss a few years ago of his life-long companion. Practically spelling it out for us in a campy stage whisper: Bitter. Old. Queen.
But apparently this isn’t enough. He also tells us that Vidal is a ‘complete lunatic’ and that ‘it doesn’t bother me what he says about me.’ Yes, dear, but if it doesn’t, why go on so? And on, and on….
‘I don’t know what he’s famous for anywhere, really, because I think those historical novels are complete works of taxidermy. Nobody can read those. “Myra Breckinridge” was funny but light. The essays are what everybody defends — but a friend of mine who did a volume of the best essays of the 20th century said they’re all so topical that they’ve all aged terribly. I don’t know where his work is.’
Ed, sweetie. Even if everything that you and your terribly important literary friends have to say about that ‘nasty awful man’ were true, bitter old alcoholic crippled Gore would still be ten times the writer you are.
And, oh, about 100 times the man.