[Content Note: The following contains Rape Apology, Transphobia, and Cissexism]
If you hadn’t heard: Gore Vidal is dead. While the hagiographers are still pinning down just the right words to eulogize him, I’d like to interject a not at all respectful or kind or complete assessment of the man’s life, before we’re all drowning in happy horseshit.
I’ve read two of Gore Vidal’s novels and started a third last night in between watching episodes of Breaking Bad from season three and gchatting about Fiona Apple’s latest album. I’d like to talk about those books but first I’ll start the conversation elsewhere, with a quote from the man himself. The following comes from a 2009 interview in The Atlantic that the wonderful and inspiring Amadi tweeted a link to last night:
In September, director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for leaving the U.S. in 1978 before being sentenced to prison for raping a 13-year-old girl at Jack Nicholson’s house in Hollywood. During the time of the original incident, you were working in the industry, and you and Polanski had a common friend in theater critic and producer Kenneth Tynan. So what’s your take on Polanski, this many years later?
I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?
YES. YES I EXPECT YOU TO FEEL SOMETHING FOR PEOPLE WHEN THEY’VE BEEN RAPED, SEX WORKERS INCLUDED, YOU INSUFFERABLE SHITBIRD.
To cut to raw quick of the thing, Vidal asserts he has special insight into the situation gleaned from being a part of the Hollywood scene around the time Polanski’s underage victim was drugged and raped. He’s adamant that Roman Polanski was prosecuted because of Anti-Semitism and not because he drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl in Jack Nicholson’s house. If I spent a week doing nothing but writing vitriol aimed at Gore Vidal I could not disrespect and dismiss him as much as he disrespects and dismisses Polanski’s victim — it is really something to see.
The idea that this girl was in her communion dress, a little angel all in white, being raped by this awful Jew, Polacko – that’s what people were calling him – well, the story is totally different now from what it was then.
DAMN VIDAL DON’T HURT ‘EM. That is a fucking rape apology bar to beat. Trying to win a rape apology-off against Gore Vidal would be like trying to outlimbo prosciutto. Vidal doesn’t fuck around with “How old was she?” or “Was she drugged?” he skips right to “Yeah, but was she wearing her communion dress?” Did she give implied consent by taking off her white communion dress and wearing literally anything else?
I’ve made a lot of private decisions about my media consumption that might be considered intellectually fanatical since Polanski was arrested. I haven’t watched Moonrise Kingdom because Wes Anderson signed the petition to release Polanski. When people fawn over Tilda Swinton I ignore it, knowing she signed it too. There are a lot of Scorsese films, most of what is considered to be his best work, that I put off watching for years that I’m never going to see.
I don’t have a lot of dealbreakers, but defending rapists is definitely one of them. I take charges of Anti-Semitism very seriously, but I also know that sometimes (as when people show even a sliver of support or concern for the state of Palestine and its people) accusations of such are misused to shut the conversation all the way down. What I know is that whatever super insidery knowledge these people had, their primary quibble was that International Film Festivals should be a safe space for auteur rapists and not for people they might rape. What is the rule of law next to cinematic vision, I ask you? Hasn’t Polanski been through enough, fleeing to Europe and having to attend the Oscars via telecast… LIKE AN ANIMAL?!?!
Fuck all of those people. Fuck this bullshit petition that doesn’t even have the courage to accurately describe what he did, and then wanders up its own ass to demand the release of a rapist to aid a diplomatic relationship between France and the US, for fuck’s sake. Fuck Gore Vidal, fuck his defenders, fuck you, yes you, reading this, who wants to say something about respecting the dead. Save it for ur blawg d00d, nobody here gives a fuck.
Like I said, I’ve read two of his novels. The first was The City and the Pillar, his third novel, which turned him from the promising young grandson of a senator into a political pariah for its depiction of unabashed homosexuality. After that I found a copy of Myra Breckinridge in my hometown’s only used book store (since defunct) and read it twice. I do not know, as a cis guy, what reading that book is like for a trans person. I know that when I first picked it up I was enraptured by the grandiosity and high theater of Myra’s narration, and soon after ordered the sequel, Myron. Over the years I would see the book on my shelves, growing more and more sinister as the context of the preceding novel changed for me, as I started to clue into the parts of the story that rely on stereotypes and attitudes about trans people that routinely get them excluded from public and private spaces, denied adequate medical care, and murdered.
The narrator Myra Breckinridge spends most of the book lusting after a young acting student named Rusty, becoming increasingly more obsessed as it is slowly revealed that Myra is a trans woman. The apex of the novel is the scene in which Myra is giving Rusty a physical examination on some flimsy pretext and rapes him. Because TWIST TWIST TWIST TWIST Myra’s trans identity is really just an alternate personality, one that drives her “real” personality Myron underground, hijacks the body they share and uses it to commit sexual violence. At the end of the novel Myron reasserts himself and gets married to a woman, finally destroying the renegade Myra.
In summary: according to this book trans people’s identities are a form of mental illness and if you’re not careful, they’ll rape you. GORE VIDAL: RADICAL FEMINIST?!?! If you are enraged by trans people not spitting out a detailed gender report every time a cis person looks in their direction but not by trans people being murdered by their intimate partners and total strangers, then I think you’ve just found a shelf mate for Janice Raymond’s The Transsexual Empire HAHA J/K I KNOW YOU SLEEP WITH THAT SHIT UNDERNEATH YOUR PILLOW. Or if you use every discussion about trans people to misgender them and paint them as aggressive, scary rapists out to “trick” you into intimacy, you are not just a shambling pile of misfiring neurons, you are a person who needs this book in their life.
Myra Breckinridge was made into a movie starring Raquel Welch, which I have not seen, but parts of which you can view on Youtube. I’ve added it to the top of my family’s Netflix queue and when it comes in I’ll watch it and report back. I’m reading the sequel right now and will be blogging as much Vidal “perspective” as I can muster this week.
This morning I wanted to slide this into the discussion before it devolves into accusations that we’re pissing on Vidal’s corpse because we’re all catty, jealous philistines who want to outlaw humor and most forms of pleasure, triggering the exasperation we’ll be feeling that the conversation went right back to THAT place so quickly, the way it did after Hitchens died, the way it does whenever an Important Man dies and people have something to say besides “My, my, that was an IMPORTANT MAN!”