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#QueerQuote: ”All Men Are Liars, Said Roberta Muldoon, Who Knew This Was True Because She Had Once Been A Man.” – John Irving

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John Irving Via YouTube

Today’s quote is from The World According To Garp (1978) Roberta was the former Robert Muldoon, a tight end for the Philadelphia Eagles. She was known for her “quick hands” and strength during her American football career. She is six-foot-four and weighs 180 pounds, though she was 235 while playing football.

Roberta is a close friend of T.S. Garp and his mother, Jenny Fields. She had sex reassignment surgery after reading Jenny’s book, ‘A Sexual Suspect’, which prompted her to contact Jenny.

Not all of Roberta’s life has improved from the surgery: Roberta receives hate mail from football fans for her choice. One fan letter remarks that he hopes Roberta gets “gang-raped by the Oakland Raiders”. Fans of the Eagles switch teams and other tight end players change positions to avoid a transgender stigma. There is also controversy surrounding her possible employment as a sports announcer. Networks agree not to hire her even though she has full football knowledge. Roberta rarely pays attention to the drama, though, and allows Garp to look at her hate mail more than she does.

She becomes a mother figure to many younger transwomen, one of whom marries Garp’s son.

The 1982 film version has John Lithgow in the role of Roberta Muldoon. He was nominated for an Academy Award. He won Best Supporting Actor from the New York Film Critics Circle Awards and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for the role.

Lithgow as Roberta with Robin Williams as Garp, 1982, Warner Bros via YouTube

 

Irving is the best ally the LGBTQ community has in a literary giant. The acclaimed novelist and Academy Award winning screenwriter, adapting his own The Cider House Rules (1999) for the screen, is the very definition of ”straight, but not narrow”.

His first bestseller, The World According To Garp, features a comic but heartfelt and humane portrait of a transgender person, probably the first I had ever encountered in literature. Since then, he has explored gay and transgender themes in The Hotel New Hampshire (1981) with a gay brother, A Son Of The Circus (1994) with gay twins, and several other novels including gay characters and themes.

In the summer of 2013, I read his terrific novel, In One Person. Irving puts gayness as the center theme in the novel. Bisexual Billy Abbott, is the book’s hero, the story takes him from his upbringing through the AIDS crisis in NYC and beyond. Irving proves that despite his tough-guy writer image, his compassion for sexual minorities is real and deep.

Irving has been open about the influence of gay authors on his writing. He lists Edmund White among his inspirations. He also has a gay son.

Irving:

”I can’t accept that Gay Rights, or the rights for people who are Bi, or the rights for Transgender people, are as ‘hotly debated’ as they say. I think those people who can’t accept sexual identity as a civil rights issue, are moral and political dinosaurs. Their resistance to sexual tolerance is dying; those people who are sexually intolerant are dying out, they just don’t know it yet.”

In 1979, after I finished reading The World According To Garp, I thought it was a very angry novel, and the subject of intolerance toward sexual differences upset me, although I found it thrilling. Garp is a radical novel, in a political and violent sense. A man is killed by a woman who hates men; his mother is murdered by a man who hates women. It is also very funny and heartwarming. Irving:

”Sexual assassination was a harsh view of the so-called sexual liberation of the sixties; I was saying, So why do people of different sexual persuasions still hate one another? ”

 

 


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