History: An Open Letter to Larry Kramer
Submission J. Ricky Price, TNG contributor
J Ricky Price is a PhD Student studying Queer Politics at the New School for Social Research.
Dear Mr. Kramer,
First off, let me personally and sincerely thank you for your art, activism, and anger. I want to congratulate you and everyone involved with A Normal Heart on its success and your much-deserved Broadway run. As a young high school student from Wyoming, I used a monologue from A Normal Heart for college scholarship auditions. The scholarship I received from Whitman College allowed me to get the hell out of Wyoming in 2000. In more ways than one, your life’s work has without a doubt saved my life. Thank you for that.
With that being said, I respectfully ask you to shut the fuck up about the tragedy of my generation. I have listened to your speeches, essays, and interviews over the last decade and while I agree with so much of what you say about the joy of being gay, about the hatred that exists for people of difference, about the nature of our oppression, I cannot sit idly by as you continue to ignore my generation’s contribution to the history of LGBTQ folks. Yes, we came of age after the plague. Yes, coming out of the closet is much easier because of the path forged by the generations that came before us. Yes, we must use a condom every time we have sex. Yes, AIDS is still a neglected global crisis. Yes, LGBTQ folks are still regularly beaten and killed in this country. Yes, laws are still homophobic. Yes, the schools are still homophobic. Yes, we all live in a culture prone to historical amnesia. Yes, there is still a lot of fucking work to do.
Being a gay man in America has changed tremendously in the last twenty years: We are no longer the specter and symbol of death and this has changed our politics and activism. I do not want to evangelize today’s movements in response to your demonization of them. There are tremendous conflicts which have yet to be resolved in our community, namely racism, classism, transphobia, and ageism — all of which prevent queer communities from uniting under one giant rainbow flag. However, to wax nostalgic about a time when these differences seemingly didn’t exist is, frankly, bad history. To understand gay history is to understand that the labels we use to describe our shared experience have always been imperfect, limiting, and contested. Young folks today find empowerment in the term queer, a label you reject because its theoretical implications contradict your method of historical analysis. That is your right, but so long as you reject the work and ideas of my generation on this basis, you blind yourself to moments, projects, and possibilities where the young and the old (and the middle) can find spaces of unity.
For the past year, I have volunteered with an advocacy group for gay elders, run out of the LGBT Center in Manhattan. I wish I could say this was motivated by an altruistic nature, but unfortunately I do it because I’m a selfish academic who studies the intergenerational tension in the LGBTQ population. I am constantly shocked, however, at how many young people volunteer unselfishly for advocacy groups for gay elders, simply because they are starving for connection with LGBTQ elders. In fact, rarely do I meet a young LGBTQ person who is not intensely interested in connecting with previous generations or someone who doesn’t have some curiosity about gay history. Where are you finding all these tragic gay men who don’t care about their history? So many that you can make these universal declarations about my generation? I cannot understand or comprehend what living through the plague was like, nor can I comprehend what the movements of the 60s and 70s were like. If I know one thing about history it’s that it isn’t simple. You’ve described the plague years as ones filled with death and community. The 70s were full of sex and emptiness. There is more to these periods of history than these simple dichotomies. There is more to my generation, as well. I just ask that maybe you talk to some of us who are trying to bridge the gap before you condemn us all next time.
I have compiled a partial (and certainly not-exhaustive) list of young and old folks working on LGBTQ history projects, fighting for equality and equity through activism, and proving that my generation is not as tragic as you purport. I hope you find it useful, informative, and I hope you contact some of these projects to offer your voice, experience, and anger.
J. Ricky Price
PhD Student, The New School for Social Research
For more information, check out:
We Are the Youth is a photographic journalism project chronicling the individual stories of LGBT youth in the United States.
FIERCE is a membership-based organization building the leadership and power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth of color in New York City.
Bridging the Gap: Intergenerational Theater project
Queers for Economic Justice: is a progressive non-profit organization committed to promoting economic justice in a context of sexual and gender liberation.
I’m From Driftwood: Record and archive stories of everyday LGBTQ life in America
Impact Stories: LGBTQ Californians from the 1960s-80s
The Make It Better Project gives youth the tools they need to make their schools better now! Through our website and YouTube channel, youth and adults can work together to make schools safer for LGBT youth right now.
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