Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge (1968) was perhaps the first major novel in English to have a transgender protagonist. Myra, née Myron, undergoes gender confirmation surgery. In order to retain Myron's assets without being outed as trans, she pretends to be his widow. She lives a flamboyant life fueled by sex, drugs, and alcohol. At the end of the novel, a car accident compels her to have her breast implants removed. In the meanwhile, she has fallen in love with a woman named Mary Ann, so she re-adopts her previous identity of Myron and settles down with Mary Ann.

On the one hand, Myra is an engaging, attractive, vivacious character. For the 1960s, Vidal made a bold choice in having an unabashed and fun-loving trans protagonist. On the other hand, Myra is presented as self-destructive in many ways, and the end of the novel, with Myra domesticated and detransitioning, seems regressive.

How does the trans community read Myra Breckinridge? As a pioneering but flawed work? As an empowering presentation of trans identity? As a cis-normative pathologizing of trans identities? Any of those readings is defensible, and many others are possible. So I'm wondering how the novel has been seen by trans readers and their allies. I understand that the trans community as a whole might not have a consensus reading of Myra Breckinridge. I'm hoping for an answer that summarizes representative opinions, not a definitive "trans readers all say this one thing about the novel." One that includes the opinions of cis scholars such as Judith Butler whose work has informed discussion of trans identities would also be welcomed.

It seems relevant that very unusually for his time, Vidal was himself openly bisexual. His 1948 novel The City and the Pillar created a firestorm by having a sympathetic gay protagonist who does not die a sad, lonely death at the end of the novel.


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