An Ode to “Tales of the City”

Chloe Webb, Laura Linney and Marcus D'Amico in "Tales of the City." Photo: Pbs
“Tales of City” cast members (L to R): Chloe Webb, Laura Linney and Marcus Marcus D’Amico. Image via SFGate and PBS.

The “Tales of the City” series is a must read for anyone of the LGBT community,
especially those of Generations X, Y, and Z.

Mary Ann Singleton, Michael Tolliver, Brian Hawkins, and Anna Madrigal. To anyone who has never heard of Armistead Maupin or his literary series, “Tales of the City,” these names may not mean anything but to those of us that have either read the books or seen one or all four of the “Tales of the City” miniseries, these characters hold a special place in our hearts.               

Written by author Armistead Maupin, “Tales of the City” started out as a series of vignettes first published in Pacific Sun, a Marin County, California alternative magazine in 1974 and then, in 1976, the stories were published in the San Francisco Chronicle.  In 1978, Maupin turned the short stories into his first book which was titled “Tales of the City”.  Maupin wrote eight other books in the series set in different eras of San Francisco, from the Seventies to the current decade.  The stories of “Tales of the City” revolve around the four characters previously mentioned as well other residents from the fictional setting of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco.    

The fourth book in the series published in 1983, Baby Cakes, was the first work of fiction to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic with main character, Michael “Mouse” Tolliver not only dealing with the loss of his lover to the virus but also in the beginning stages of the virus himself.                

The first book, “Tales of the City”, was made into a miniseries in 1994 for PBS.  This was followed by two more on Showtime in 1998 and 2001 respectively.  Twenty-five years after the first miniseries on PBS on June 7, 2019, Netflix brought viewers back to 28 Barbary Lane.               

Sometime in the mid to late Nineties, I watched the original “Tales of the City” miniseries.  While at the time, I was not a big fan of the miniseries so there was nothing about it that stuck with me. Growing up in rural West Virginia during the Eighties and Nineties as a teenager, I was still trying to figure out my own sexuality and with little help from my surroundings.

I did not know much about being gay or the AIDS crisis let alone about the “Tales of the City” books. It wasn’t until I left West Virginia that I would start to learn more about these things. Then when Netflix released the new “Tales of the City” limited series this past summer that I immersed myself in the literary masterpiece created by Maupin. 

However, my husband, who is 14 years my senior, came out in the Eighties, so he knew first-hand about the tragedy of the AIDS crisis.  A friend of his moved to San Francisco during this time and contracted the AIDS virus.  Like a large of number of gay men with the virus, the friend died due to complications of AIDS.

As I read the middle three books of the series, it helped me to have a better understanding of how it was for my husband and many other gay men living during the early years of the AIDS epidemic.

The “Tales of the City” series is a must read for anyone of the LGBT community especially those of Generations X, Y, and Z.  Upon reading the chapter “Letter to Mama” from “More Tales of the City,” you can understand that we have come a long way from 1977 when Maupin wrote these words in the San Francisco Chronicle as his own way of coming out to his parents. 

Dear Mama,

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write you and Papa I realize I’m not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be OK, if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child.

(read the whole letter at

In a time when being homosexual was considered deviant behavior, Maupin wrote as Michael how being San Francisco around so many different people there that didn’t use sexuality as a measure of worth of another human and they treated each other as a person.

The whole chapter echoes how many in the LGBT community are seeking, as Armistead Maupin put it, their own logical family.

Source: Armistead Maupin, Harper Collins, Goodreads, Netflix, and SFGate

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