Dear Larry Kramer,
Thanks for all the hard work.
P.S. I still hate you.
I don’t think anyone is really supposed to like Larry Kramer. Known for his huge ego, messiah complex, misanthropy and acidity, one always gets the feeling that in the preschool class of gay activists and writers, Kramer was the recipient of the feared “does not play well with others.” Kramer has spent the past three decades carving a place out for himself as an oftentimes radical gay activist who, unlike other gay activists, especially radical ones, offers nothing but scorn for a gay culture that, in his mind, is too focused on sex to get anything done. His work includes such titles as Faggots and The Tragedy of Today’s Gays. His major theatrical work, The Normal Heart, is quite clearly a retelling of his role in founding the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in the early days of the AIDS crisis, where the main character, like Kramer, just wishes that gay men would listen to him when he tells them that if they could only get each others’ dicks out of their asses for a second, maybe they could mobilize.
Kramer states himself pretty succinctly in Reports from the Holocaust where, after a list of ways in which gay men are denied the privileges of straights—marriage, employment and tax benefits for partnership, joint ownership of property, having children, etc.—he states, “So, rightly or wrongly—wrongly, as it turned out—many gay men decided to make a virtue of the only thing the straight world didn’t have control of: our sexuality… Had we been allowed to marry, many of us would not have felt the obligation to be promiscuous… Thus I think a good case can be made that the AIDS pandemic is the fault of the heterosexual white majority.” (274) Now, there are arguments to be made that the denial of structures such as marriage were a major factor in the development of a sexual regime of promiscuity among gay men, Kramer seems to be missing the forest for the trees in his last assertion. The “good case” that he wants to make is much clearer than he thinks—the fault goes to the heterosexual white majority in that the establishments that they had control over systematically refused to care about gay men dying.
The problem, as I see it, is that Kramer blames straight society for promiscuity, his hated enemy. Essentially, he is saying, “yes, it’s our own fault, but you made us this way. We’re so fucked up because you wouldn’t let us be enough like you.” His own sexual conservatism comes out when he asserts in the above quote that promiscuity was something that most gays were coerced into—a process that begs the question, who’s doing the coercing? Earlier in the article, he notes that he has not had sex in 5 years, himself too emotionally scarred by losing a lover to AIDS to even touch another man. While I certainly will not fault him this, I wonder, what is it that caused Kramer to be unable to find intimacy in an epidemic when other men, even Akbar and Jeff, above, could? Now, I’ll give it to him that gay men are fucked up, big time, as a gay Jew (like Kramer), it is difficult to identify the more neurotic of the communities that I am a part of (the answer, of course, is that gay Jews are the most neurotic people on the face of the planet). But the reason that we are is not that we are not allowed to be like straight people. If we were allowed to live like straights, the problems, the self-hatred, the hatred of other gay men, would persist. These are the results of the violence imposed on gay men through homophobia, heterosexism and masculine ideals. By accepting a heteronormative, psychological understanding of deviance from the domestic ideal as freakish, abnormal, and problematic, Kramer does a disservice to gay men, to those with AIDS, and to himself.