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Gore, Myra, Camille & Me

There’s a new edition of Gore Vidal’s best, most prophetic – and by far his funniest – book, Myra Breckinridge

The protagonist of this 1968 satirical novel, in case you should somehow be unaware of this seminal text, is a former mild-mannered man called Myron who has been transformed via the then new-fangled science of sex-reassignment surgery, over-exposure to 1940s Hollywood movies, and the inspiring writings of the campy critic Parker Tyler, into a glamorous, goddess-like dominatrix called Myra – ‘whom’, she declares in the first line of the book, ‘no man will ever possess’.

Oh, and not forgetting the mesmerising effect of a saucy revolving cowgirl-majorette statue above a billboard on Sunset Strip that Myra regularly hails as her alter-ego.

Myra teaches ‘Posture and Empathy’ at the Academy for Aspiring Young Actors and Actresses in LA, but her/Vidal’s agenda is really one of eye-watering revenge on American machismo and conventional sexual mores. No Vaseline.

What better time to republish Myra Breckinridge, when everyone under 30 is attending the Academy for Aspiring Young Actors and Actresses? A world where Rusty Godowsky toys himself on cam for cash. And machismo is now officially ‘toxic’?

The introduction to the new edition has been written by perhaps the only person left with big enough balls to do so: the stand-up academic and essayist Camille Paglia. You can – and really should – read it here.

It’s a wonderful, learned, breathless tribute to the book and its author by someone whom I have always assigned to the same admirably ‘awkward’ category as Mr Vidal. A free-thinking, free-feeling sexual non-conformist, forever bitch-slapping timid orthodoxy into taking a look at itself – while fiercely resisting bland assimilation into an adjective that thinks it’s an identity. 

Unsurprisingly, Paglia has found herself the target of today’s new conventional mores, and the nannyish, intolerant drive to ‘safe space’ students from, well, ideas – particularly her critical views of #MeToo and the current wave of transgender activism. A petition has been set up with the aim of getting her sacked from her job at the University of Arts in Philadelphia, where she has taught humanities and media studies for decades. 

Over a thousand people have actually signed it. What a world.

One can only imagine the furious denunciations, excommunications and ‘de-platformings’ that would have been visited on Vidal himself if he were still around today. Mind you, he was often attacked during his own lifetime for his heresies by gays who felt he just wasn’t gay enough. Which usually meant not being as dull as them.

Paglia’s introduction concludes with this final peroration for the cranky old patrician – which seems also to contain a kind of coming out (and perhaps the most succinct explanation of Paglia’s appeal to many gay men) from the campy, terrifying motormouth professor whom no man will ever possess:

‘Gore Vidal was a tremendous role model for any aspiring independent thinker. He was a bold provocateur, a cosmopolitan bon vivant, and a deeply learned man of letters for whom writing was a higher calling. He scorned every establishment and turned his scathing wit against all dogma and cant. His heretical view that the terms heterosexual and homosexual describe acts and not persons was revolutionary and, to me, profoundly true. In 1991, Vidal told Francesca Stanfill for New York magazine that my first book, Sexual Personae, “sounds like Myra Breckinridge on a roll. I have no higher praise.” It was the greatest compliment of my life.’

In 2009, a few years before his death in 2012, another fan interviewed Vidal. Luckily for him, and perhaps for me too, it was conducted over the telephone, not in trembling person. 

I was of course fixated on Myra B, and included this quote from it in the piece, citing it as an example of how Myra/Vidal anticipated metrosexuality:

‘…young men [today] compensate by playing at being men, wearing cowboy clothes, boots, black leather, attempting through clothes (what an age for the fetishist!) to impersonate the kind of man our society claims to admire but swiftly puts down should he attempt to be anything more than an illusionist, playing a part.’

But Mr Vidal made it very clear he wasn’t interested in talking about Myra Breckinridge. Fortunately though, he was though at least as keen on talking about 1940s ‘High Hollywood’ movies as Myra.

The piece also contains a confession from yours truly, concerning a certain topless cowgirl-majorette photo (below).

Simpson relaxing at home, London, 1989

Originally appeared on Simpson’s Patreon.

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