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It’s a peculiar space occupied by writer and D.C. native Florence King. A self-described “conservative feminist lesbian,” King penned the bulk of her withering, witty columns in the 1990s and 2000s for National Review, a publication that once questioned President Obama’s masculinity because he has two daughters. A lesbian feminist spending most of her career writing for a publication that as recently as February was still publishing rude things about Sandra Fluke might seem odd, but trying to pin King down proves tricky.
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In her rollicking memoir Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, King’s flatly hilarious about her bisexuality, writing, “No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street.” In one essay, she joked: “The joker in the deck of lesbian fidelity is female vanity: no woman of fifty is going to undress in front of a woman of twenty no matter how much she might lust for her.’’ She also wrote erotic novels that surely would have shocked the hell out of her very proper Southern granny.
Yet King, now mostly retired and living in Fredericksburg, Va., later regretted revealing anything about her sexuality, saying she didn’t want to be associated with any sort of gay rights movement. And her colleagues at National Review seem to find no contradiction in supporting her writing, though within their own pages there is little support for gay people. Giving glowing press to political candidates who liken gay sex to bestiality doesn’t affect one’s preferences for beautiful writing, apparently.
“She’s probably the most talented writer of the English language in the past 50 years,” publisher Jack Fowler told me. “I couldn’t wait to read what she’s written next. I can’t say that about most people.”
According to Fowler, King had a tremendous admirer in the magazine’s founder, William F. Buckley, who once rather famously called Gore Vidal a “queer” and an “evangelist for bisexuality.”
“Bill was just a huge Florence fan,” says Fowler. “He really wanted her in every issue.”
And no one cared about her sexual identity? “It was never discussed,” Fowler says. “She’s discussed [it] openly, she regrets it, that’s her business. It never shaded anything.
“She wrote porno novels, and she was bisexual. So what?”