LAST REFUGE OF SCOUNDRELS.
Forget the founding fathers. Novelist Paul Lussier wants to introduce you to the true movers and shakers behind the American Revolution.
"The transvestites, the prostitutes, the blacks, the Indians, the queers!" Lussier exitedly proclaims between sips of tea at his Manhattan apartment. "Most people don't know, for example, that a cross-dressing whore was chief among those responsible for the freedoms that our country enjoys."
That "cross-dressing whore," historically identified as Deborah Sampson, is just one of the real but little-known heroes of the American Revolution whom Lussier evokes in his first novel, Last Refuge of Scoundrels (Warner Books, $26.95). A smart, rambling, revisionist account of colonial America's fight for independence, Scoundrels has won raves from writers as diverse as Studs Terkel and Jonathan Kozol. What's more, the Warner Bros. movie version of Scoundrels is already in development. (Think of it as the anti-Patriot.)
For Lussier, the openly gay 41-year-old writer who's already a successful television producer (ABC's upcoming Savage Grace: The Mayflower Crossing, which he also wrote, and Fox's acclaimed early '90s drama Doing Time on Maple Drive), publishing this novel represents a deeply felt new direction. "Not that I haven't enjoyed my success in movies, because I have," he says. "But up till now I've been whistling in the dark."
A onetime critical studies and literature major at Yale who researched Scoundrels for almost a decade, Lussier believes the history we learned in school presents only one side of the revolutionary story--the side that flatters colonial fat cats like Paul Revere and John Hancock. In reality, says Lussier, "feeding the struggle for independence against Britain was also the struggle of blacks, Indians, and cross-dressers--a general yearning for a greater sense of freedom."
Scoundrels offers us a broader, queerer history, narrated mostly by John--a fictional composite of several young men, notably John Laurens, one of George Washington's chief aides-decamp. The lonely young son of a merchant who brands him a sissy, John runs away to join the rebels after falling for the curiously charismatic Deborah (based on Sampson). A prostitute and a spy, Deborah is just as effective as a soldier--when she dons male drag, which is often. The novel follows the colorful duo through a number of landmark moments, including the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and Valley Forge, with each event restaged "from the people's perspective," as Lussier puts it.
"Once you blow the dust off the war of independence and see the truly revolutionary impulses of those fighting, you learn our country owes its freedom to a rebellious spirit that was written out of history by the founding fathers," he adds.
Take the unconventional love between his two protagonists, for instance. John and Deborah are rarely together, and when they are, they're sparking each other's imagination, not ripping each other's underthings. Is their love really more like a friendship between a gay man and a lesbian? "Well, I certainly keep that possibility alive," Lussier says, grinning. "The 18th century didn't look at sexual identity the way we do. The people on whom John and Deborah are based were likely gay. The suggestion in history is there."
Even today, Lussier insists, "there's a chasm between the war for independence and the revolution. The first [revolution] was consummated in Yorktown in 1781, and the other is ongoing." He counts the American Revolution's rebellious spirit as the wellspring of America's entire counterculture, including landmark events like the Stonewall rebellion--a battle that was largely fought by black and Latino drag queens but whose symbolism was later appropriated by the white gay middle class. "The status quo has a vested interest suppressing the American Revolution," says Lussier. "And it's not even conscious. But the revolution's energy lives in rock music, in Ralph Nader's followers, in disaffected and disappointed Gore supporters. In the streets!"
Find more on Last Refuge of Scoundrels and Paul Lussier at www.advocate.com
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|Title Annotation:||interview with Paul Lussier, author|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Mar 13, 2001|
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