By Jeff Walsh
Andrew Tobias is one of the leading financial writers of our day. Many of his books, such as "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need" and "My Vast Fortune" have been praised by critics for both their insight into investing and finance as well as their writing style, which is conversational and fun.
Until a few years ago, Tobias had a secret. Not that he was gay, which was known in many circles, but that he was the author of the seminal coming-out novel "The Best Little Boy In The World." This was long before coming out novels were a standard, tired genre (as they are today). At the time of its publishing 25 years ago, Tobias wrote it under the pseudonym John Reid, and it became a best-seller.
In an interview with Oasis (conducted via e-mail), Tobias said he never planned to reveal that he was the author of the book. The disclosure came during a National Lesbian Gay Journalist Association Conference, where Tobias spoke as an openly gay man to the crowd, but came out of the pseudonym closet.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary reprinting of the book, Tobias was asked to write a new Afterward for the book. The afterward ended up being a book in and of itself entitled "The Best Little Boy In The World Grows Up." In the book, which is a quick, delightful read, Tobias recounts the past 25 years of his life. The book delves into Tobias' relationships (with as much sexual description as one would expect from a financial guy. Let's put it this way, it's no Edmund White book.), his reaction to the AIDS epidemic, and he even reveals that the happy ending of his parents' acceptance in the first book had actually not occurred when the book was first published, but several years later.
Oasis: Do you think people will be surprised that the "happy ending" of John Reid's parents accepting him at the end of the first book was actually not how things occurred in your real life?
Tobias: So many people who read the first book were affected/reassured by the ending, I knew that the first thing to do in the sequel was to explain what really happened, and how I could have gone along with what turned out to be a deception. Hopefully, most will agree all's well that ends well. And the second time it ended -- early in the sequel -- it really did end well.
Oasis: What was it like being a "gay best-seller" but still unknown to the general public as its writer?
Tobias: Kind of exciting. It's always exciting to have a secret if it's a good secret. Maybe "exciting" is too strong, but sort of an "edge." Not to get too carried away here (because what I'm about to say is completely ridiculous), but if Batman had been Batman all the time, wouldn't his life have been less exciting? The humor and irony and edge of it gone a little? The adventure? Would Batboy even have cared?
Oasis: Which book was a better writing experience for you, and why?
Tobias: Both were very meaningful for me. For one thing, there is the obvious: what can possibly be more of an ego trip than writing about yourself? Trying to make sense of yourself? Me, me, me, me, me. Also, to someone who happens to earn his living writing, what a joy not to have to do research! The first one was better in that I had far fewer distractions -- and absolutely no pressure. There were no deadlines because no one even knew I was working on it. No one. The second was tied to the 25th anniversary of the first, so there was a deadline, and a million competing projects -- life is a lot simpler when you're 25 and living in a $300-a-month apartment, with no depending on you for anything.
On the substance, the first was perhaps a more gripping experience because I was stepping into the unknown. People really hadn't done this before -- a gay coming-out book. Not that I was brave enough to use my own name, but still. On the other hand, the sequel was really equally amazing for me, because it was a chance to try to share what by now had been a lot more living -- some very happy things, some very sad things -- and to celebrate the astonishing progress we've made.
I guess the answer is: I loved doing both.
Oasis: In reading the new book, I was struck by how you seemed to find very satisfying relationships which ultimately ended because of sexual incompatibility. Personally, at 30 although early in my dating life, I never thought this was as much of an issue. Were you surprised to find this to be the case?
Tobias: I guess I was surprised -- especially the first time -- because love . . . well, how could anything as dumb as the mechanics of sex get in the way of love? Yet we are, of course -- guys especially -- young guys especially especially -- pretty sex-driven animals. Which is why the French all have mistresses and why half the members of Congress may have to resign (if the current idiotic sexual McCarthyism is allowed to blossom).
Oasis: I also think we agree on the point that having multiple sexual partners desensitizes you too much for intimate relationships? Can you talk about how you arrived at that theory?
Tobias: The basics of it are pretty simple and clear. If you want to have a really great intimate relationship, then it needs to be pretty special. Something you've done thousands of times with hundreds of different people is less likely to feel -- or be -- all that special.
Oasis: Is it just a running joke for the book, or are you really *that* interested in auto insurance reform?
Tobias: Please read "My Vast Fortune," now out in paperback, for your answer. You may even find that YOU become interested in auto insurance reform. (Do you know what young kids pay for auto insurance? It is such a rip-off! But it is not, as one might assume, only the fault of the insurance companies.)
Oasis: When I heard that you "came out" at the NLGJA conference, that was the first time I heard that you were both gay and John Reid, and having been only familiar with you as a financial guy, my immediate reaction was "oh, another gay Republican." (I apologize for that now, btw) But it was an opinion I actually kept until reading the new book. Is that just a glaring error on my part or is there a common misperception that you are Republican?
Tobias: It's just a glaring error on your part. Although if former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld or Los Angeles mayor Dick Riordan were typical of the Republican party, then it would be nothing to take offense at. Once upon a time, there were LOTS of good Republicans. (Lincoln springs to mind.) And there still are quite a few.
Oasis: What were you like in high school, and what was it like returning there to speak years later as an openly gay man?
Tobias: I was wound very tight, wildly competitive, completely and totally closeted. [As for speaking there,] It was a great sense of . . . not accomplishment so much as fulfillment or peace or something to be able to stand up there, so many years later, and be honest and positive. The reaction from the kids was great and a couple of months later the school asked me to join the board of trustees. I loved that they did that AFTER I had made this speech.
Oasis: You are in the generation of people most affected by the AIDS epidemic. Even at 30, I still never had anyone close to me diagnosed as positive, but yet only several years earlier, gay men lost dozens of their friends to this plague. How did it affect your views on safer sex?
Tobias: As for safer sex, there was no such thing or term pre-AIDS. Once the need for it became clear, and it became a matter of life and death -- as it remains today -- it became the only sensible way to live your life. IT IS SO CRUCIAL THAT YOUR YOUNG READERS UNDERSTAND THIS AND *OWN* IT, EVEN AT 3A.M. WITH A BUNCH OF BEERS IN THEM AND A GREAT-LOOKING, HEALTHY-LOOKING GUY AT THEIR SIDE. A lot of my healthiest looking young friends from those days are now dead.
Oasis: If you your life to live over again, what changes would you have made?
Tobias: I'd have grown two inches taller and never shorted Amazon.com.
Oasis: Since you've known Clinton for a long time, do you have any opinion on what many consider to be his mis-steps regarding the gay equal rights movement? Do you think he's been positive for us? I'm mainly curious what you think of essays likes Andrew Sullivan's, where he says we would have been better off if Clinton never brought the issue of gays in the military up rather than bringing it up and then not defend it adequately, to the point where now gay servicemembers are actually in greater jeopardy.
Tobias: Andrew is a very nice and completely brilliant fellow, but he's way wrong about this. On the specifics he's probably right -- now that a spotlight has been shone on gays in the military, on balance it's probably caused MORE pain, not less. But overall and for the future, it was very positive (and I hope things even in the military will change to reflect that). The entire world saw that the President and First Lady were on OUR side, that many university presidents and senators and congressmen and labor leaders and bishops . . . and on and on . . . were, too. They saw outstanding people like Tracy Thorne and Margarethe Cammermeyer and Joe Stefan and Jose Zuniga (soldier of the year) on TV, night after night -- being treated with obvious respect by the Ted Koppels of the world . . . In other words, for the first time, and because Clinton chose to put the gay issue on the agenda in the 1992 campaign, and then to follow through on the specific gays in the military promise (albeit with rotten results) he had naively made during the campaign, IT WAS CLEAR TO THE WHOLE WORLD that we were there, that most of us were fine citizens -- their siblings or colleagues or employees or employers or cousins or aunts -- and that not a few of us were pretty exceptional (Jose was *soldier of the year!*). And while it did nothing to change Jesse Helms' mind, it brought people like Barry Goldwater to come out for us, and just totally changed the world. Gay-positive characters on sitcoms blossomed, a far broader swatch of America (and the American media) came to accept us as part of America's positive diversity. Sure, we have a long way to go. But Clinton is an absolute hero on this.
Oasis: Any financial advice for queer youth?
Tobias: That book is called "The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need."
Oasis: Any more general advice for our readers?
Tobias: Work hard, save your money, treasure your friends, don't become slaves to the tobacco companies (they're laughing at you, all the way to the bank), get involved, look at the big picture, live light on the land, vote. This isn't just a nice time to be alive or an interesting time to be alive. This is the make-or-break century for the human race. After 5 billion years since the planet was formed, it's come down to this. All the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place faster and faster, along with the explosion in technology. How you live your life matters.