A repulsive hero

Gore Vidal was a brilliant writer who occasionally had repulsive opinions.

by Trent M. Kays

Gore Vidal died last week. An amazing man of letters, Vidal left behind a legacy I generally love: one of caustic bluntness. It’s hard to gauge what effect Vidal’s writing and commentary on society had on contemporary writers. He was as prolific as he was blunt, and he found the pen far mightier than the sword.

As a writer, I can’t imagine a more enigmatic figure to have as role model. Certainly, I did not agree with everything Vidal wrote or said, but I did respect his passion. Vidal’s persistence in standing his ground in the firestorm of negative publicity is noteworthy and, sometimes, honorable.

I first encountered Vidal through one of his novels, “The City and the Pillar.” Published in 1948, it caused quite the stir because it was one of the first novels to include an overt homosexual character. In fact, homosexuality is the dominant theme of the book. Indeed, I read it, and I was shocked. I wasn’t shocked by the content of the book; the timing of its publication shocked me.

A novel published in 1948 with an overt homosexual theme is nothing short of astounding. It was much in line with Vidal’s way of writing: an in-your-face writing style, and while it caused many firestorms, it also gave him great notoriety.

He inspired me. However, Vidal was not always admirable. He was famously known to be dismissive about sexual assault in one instance. In an interview with the Atlantic, Vidal had this to say about a 13-year-old rape victim: “Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?” His words here are irritating, like grains of sand stuck in your shoe after a trip to the beach. I want them gone. I want them to have never existed, and I want Vidal to be sympathetic and understanding toward victims of sexual assault. Yet, those wants will never be fulfilled.

That wasn’t the only poor opinion Vidal held. He believed that President Franklin Roosevelt was responsible for the Pearl Harbor bombing. He thought that President George W. Bush was complicit in the Sept. 11 attacks, and he might have been transphobic to top it all off. Is it possible this man was one of the greatest writers of the 20th and 21st centuries?

It’s not easy to hold a poor opinion. This, of course, doesn’t excuse Vidal’s poor opinions. I find them disgusting and repulsive. He was one of my writer-heroes, but he wasn’t without faults. Vidal was tragic, and his tragedy was his ability to hold onto such abhorrent positions.

Vidal was always a critic. He even suggested that President Barack Obama give up on pushing health care through Congress and considered American values to be nothing more than lying and cheating. This man was a bile-spewing critic of the first degree. He was politically always on the left, yet he seemed perpetually irritated with all politics.

If nothing else, Vidal taught me to be blunt when no one wanted bluntness and to say things that no one wanted to hear. I just wish that he had better understood his poor opinions. Some things demand respect, yet Vidal didn’t always give it.

I don’t believe in heaven or hell. But if I did, I imagine Vidal is stuck in purgatory walking between the gods and the devils irritating both and shunned by both for eternity.

I’m sure he’s perfectly okay with that because I doubt he’d have it any other way.