Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Erika Brady, Joseph Goodwin, Michael Ann Williams

Degree Program

Department of Folk Studies and Anthropology

Degree Type

Master of Arts


This thesis intends to demonstrate that, because of the unusual circumstances of its writing - a semi-journalistic piece produced during a period of crisis in the real-life community fictionally depicted - Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series stands as an unusually accurate and reliable ethnographic source for information concerning the gay male subculture of San Francisco in the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, not only the practice and behavior themselves, but also reflecting their personal and communal function. The methodology employed in demonstrating this thesis is necessarily subjective. Like gay folklore scholar Joseph P. Goodwin in More Man Than You'll Ever Be, the seminal study of the folklore of gay men in the United States, I am a gay man, who, to some degree, draws on personal knowledge and observation to recognize and identify elements of gay folklore depicted in the fictional milieu I have chosen to study. This is unavoidable to an extent: ethnographic work within the gay communities has been limited by a number of factors, including the covert nature of the group, the biases of exoteric analysts, and the lack of observations informed by insiders' perspectives. Nonetheless, the groundwork that has been accomplished by Goodwin and a handful of other scholars provides an adequate basis for comparison between the "real" world, professional folk study, and the fictive domain of Armistead Maupin.

In addition to an examination of gay oral folklore in the novels - including how gay oral tradition informs both the content of the novels and Maupin's authorial voice - this thesis also considers aspects of gay customary folklore and gay material culture, including how the content of the novels chronicles some of those folkloric forms and how the novels themselves have become a significant part of gay customary and material tradition. To a large degree, folklore functions in gay folk culture to encourage communication and cohesion and to divulge important psychological insights into the minds of many group members.


Anthropology | Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Folklore | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Literature in English, North America | Social and Behavioral Sciences