Myra Breckinridge

by Gore Vidal

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Myra Breckinridge is twenty-seven years old when she inherits her dead husband’s portion of an acting academy, which is co-owned by a former “singin’, shootin’, cowboy” star of radio and movie fame. Myra, who begins her narrative by describing herself as a woman “whom no man will ever possess,” in appearance imitates such former film stars as Fay Wray, Jean Harlow, and Lana Turner. Myra declares that the novel form is dead and that there is no point “to writing made-up stories.” As far as Myra is concerned, the films of the 1940’s were the high point of Western artistic creation, although she believes it is in her time being surpassed by a higher art form, the television commercial. According to Myra, her real mission in Hollywood is to fulfill her destiny of reconstructing the genders.

Myra characterizes herself as the “New Woman” whose “astonishing history” she is recording as part of therapy for her “analyst, friend, and dentist,” Dr. Randolph Spenser Montag. Myra characterizes her co-owner in the acting academy, Buck Loner, as “not the man he had been when he made eighteen low-budget Westerns; now he is huge, disgusting, and old.” He is also trying to seduce Myra, despite her being the widow of his only nephew, Myron Breckinridge, who had drowned the previous year while riding on the Staten Island ferry. Myra implies that Myron had not taken his own life.

In his part of the narrative, Buck details his deceased nephew’s homosexuality and career as a movie reviewer. Loner has hired a private investigation agency, Flagler and Flagler, to examine the deed to the academy and make a careful investigation of his nephew’s widow, Myra; he is hoping to find a loophole that will prevent her from inheriting a property he feels is his alone, despite the academy having been built with money from Myron’s mother, Gertrude.

Myra considers it her mission in life to teach such aspiring young stars as Rusty Godowsky and such old cowboy stars as Loner what it means to be a man in the age of “Woman Triumphant.” As Myra declares, “To be a man in a society of machines is to be an expendable, soft auxiliary to what is useful and hard.” Myra believes there is nothing left for the old-fashioned male to do, no physical struggle to survive and mate. She defines men as travesties who can only act out the classic hero who is a law unto himself, moving at ease through a landscape filled with admiring women. Thrilled that that period of masculine domination has ended, Myra suggests that women are living at the dawn of the age of “Women Triumphant, of Myra Breckinridge!”

Myra reveals that her dead gay husband, Myron, had been abused and humiliated by many men. Myra plans to avenge Myron with a three-point plan that calls for reviving the “Female Principle”; forcing Buck to submit to her demand that she take over his acting studio; and demeaning the macho, all-American Rusty Godowsky by first breaking up his relationship with his girlfriend, Mary-Ann Pringle, and then raping him with a dildo.

Loner is informed by Flagler and Flagler that the will is valid and that Myra can indeed inherit her dead husband’s portion of the acting academy. Myra thereupon assumes her place in the academy. She befriends Mary-Ann, who is, as Myra puts it, “as stupid as she seemed.” Mary-Ann, believing everything that Myra says, forces her macho boyfriend to enroll in posture-training classes with Myra. Myra thus has her pawns in place. Buck is lusting after her, Mary-Ann believes her, and Rusty...

(This entire section contains 945 words.)

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is continually being humiliated in posture-training class.

When Loner hires the Golden State Detective Agency to tape phone calls between Myra and Dr. Montag in New York, he draws mistaken conclusions from a reference to Montag’s having witnessed a “marriage” in Monterey. He is flabbergasted when the agent, his former lover, Letitia Van Allen, takes a shine to Myra.

Myra and Letitia have lunch and become fast friends. Letitia questions Myra’s involvement with Mary-Ann, asking if their relationship is lesbian in nature. Myra denies it and implies, on the contrary, that she is interested in Mary-Ann because of Rusty. Letitia confides about her past, when she had bedded every “stud in town who wants to be an actor,” but when she asks Myra if she is shocked, Myra tells her that she considers herself the new American woman who “uses men the way they once used women.” Myra confides to the reader, however, that she is not so sure of herself. She wonders who she is and how she feels. Eventually, she questions her own existence: “Do I exist at all? That is the unanswerable question.”

Myra’s plan is put into full effect when she has a nighttime posture lesson with Rusty. She has him strip, ostensibly for a preliminary health examination before referring him to a doctor who specializes in correcting spinal problems. Myra conducts the examination as a professional might. She probes his rectum with a thermometer and questions him about his sexual history. Finally, she manipulates his genitalia before subjecting him to what she calls “the final rite.” Myra feels triumphant, believing that she has completed the young man’s humiliation. She does not guess that Rusty enjoyed the experience.

Myra Triumphant is, however, brought down by an automobile accident. Her hormonal balance is upset, her breasts vanish, and she sprouts a beard. Buck discovers that she is, in fact, Myron, who had changed his gender. Rusty becomes actively gay, and Myron/Myra marries Rusty’s former girlfriend, Mary-Ann, and lives happily ever after.