Even though Vidal was vilified he opened the door for several gay authors. Pemberton states:
The City and the Pillar was the precursor of a number of other homosexually oriented works of literature, most notably James Barr’s Quatrefoil (1950), Alberto Moravia’s La disubbidienza (1948); Two Adolescents, (1950), Arthur Anderson Peters’s Finistère (1951), James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956), Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story (1960). Vidal helped to bring a taboo subject out of the closet, and, despite the book’s obvious stylistic inadequacies and mawkish melodrama, it helped to open the whole genre of gay literature. (Shuman)
Some question Vidal’s motives for writing The City and the Pillar. In Eminent Outlaws Christopher Bram asks, “But how many twenty-two year olds could have had the foresight?” (11) A well-educated man such as Vidal could very well have had the insight to realize the fallout the novel would cause. He had already written two successful novels and could have easily played it safe. Instead, he chose to write a novel that would cause great pain to his family and his social standing. Bram even admits that the the novel caused Vidal’s family a great deal of pain, adding that no one in Vidal’s family completely finished The City and the Pillar. Gore Vidal is accepted as one of these “outlaws who changed America” (Bram 11-12).
Vidal knew what he was doing when he penned The City and the Pillar. The dedication reads “For the memory of J.T.” This is a reference to Jimmy Trimble the young man whom Vidal fell in love with at St. Alban’s. In The City and the Pillar Revised, Vidal claims that he was through “playing it safe.” He wanted to educate the world about the “naturalness” of homosexuality; to address the misconception that gay men were mentally ill; to combat the stereotypes that plagued our nation at the time (Vidal; City…155-156). Vidal also alienated members of his blue-blood family by outing himself. Vidal had to know how his family would react to a public outing of his lifestyle.
Vidal continued on, after the fallout. For the next ten years Vidal was forced to write under a pseudonym. Facing financial crisis Vidal eventually turned to theater. He was eventually accepted back into the hierarchy of “accepted” authors. Vidal went on to write several successful novels.
Vidal felt the need to push the envelope once again. In 1968 he wrote Myra Breckinridge his first novel dealing with sexuality since The City and the Pillar. Myra Breckenridge was a story dealing with transgender individuals. American audiences changed a great deal in the twenty years since The City and the Pillar. Myra Breckenridge was very successful and was even made into a feature film. “In Myra Breckinridge, many readers who were once shocked by Vidal’s comments on contemporary society eventually realized that Vidal’s vision corresponded closely to twentieth century realities” (Petitjean). These changes were made possible by authors such as Gore Vidal who took a risk. Had The City and the Pillar not been released Myra Breckenridge would not have been received so well.
Currently there are numerous LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) publishers. This is a stark contrast from the days when Gore Vidal took a leap of faith and wrote The City and the Pillar, further evidence that literature can change the world. Vidal empowered a slew of gay authors to take up the reins and lead a revolution. Bram sums it up nicely “The gay revolution began as a literary revolution… to tell gay stories in the Fifties and Sixties (and later, too) guaranteed further hardship” (Eminent Outlaws 1). Vidal and other gay authors braved the risk, and America as a whole was able to reap the rewards.
Vidal has always marched to his own drum. In doing so he has lead a revolution on several fronts. Exposing America to homosexuality is only a small aspect of what this incredible man has done. To pigeonhole him as just a gay author betrays the very nature of what he has done. Vidal is a multi-faceted who has had great success in nearly all forms of written work. Vidal has never been afraid to make his opinion known in any venue. He continues to speak his mind about anything that he feels is an injustice.
Conditions have improved over the last two-hundred years. However, there are still heinous cases of gay-bashing going on in this country. Literature has educated and opened people’s eyes to the truth. Authors such as Gore Vidal were on the forefront of enlightening the masses to the “normalcy” of homosexuality, paving the way for future representations of gay men in literature. Sexual orientation is just a part of a person. The work of these authors has led to great strides in tolerance and acceptance. The work must continue. There have been many steps in the wrong direction. Recently a pamphlet lauding the idea of homosexual execution was distributed at Ron Paul rally. As Anne Stockwell puts it, “Times have changed since then, but not enough. We’re caught in a deadly in-between, where superficial messages of tolerance only reinforce the same old hate and fear.” Acceptance begins with exposure to our similarities as well as our differences. Educating through the arts is perhaps the ideal forum to enlighten. Unfortunately, America is sliding further away from literature. “The trends Miller has discovered point to a general decline in Americans’ critical literate practices”(America) Television and the internet are the ideal tools to reach today’s youth. Perhaps it would be grand to find a few modern day Vidals to focus their campaigns of enlightenment on the new media forms.
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