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3 May 2011, 9:00 am 2 Comments

Gay Rights Hero Thinks Kids These Days Aren’t Gay Enough

This post was submitted by Topher Burns

Courtesy Wikipedia/David Shankbone

Larry Kramer, legendary and cranky gay-rights gadfly, is still mad, but this time instead of directing his righteous discontent at the establishment, he’s speaking out against gay youth.

Kramer’s 1985 play “The Normal Heart” opened recently on Broadway, and he spoke with Salon.com for an interview about how his views and the world around him have(n’t) changed. He spoke about how he feels that younger gays are apathetic. His most telling quotation discussed gay identity:

“I am a gay person before I’m anything else. I’m a gay person before I’m a white person, before I’m a Jew, before I’m a writer, before I’m American, anything. That is my most identifying characteristic and I don’t find many people who would say that.”

To me, this is the basis of why I don’t agree with Kramer’s criticism. When I hesitated to come out in high school, my deepest fear was not homelessness or violence, social exclusion or AIDS; it was losing my identity. I thought to myself, “I am so many things, I don’t want to give it all up just to be ‘gay.’” Part of this fear was based on a desperate shortage of positive gay role models, but part of it was also a response to attitudes within the gay community. I didn’t want to have become a different person, lose all my friends and my interests, to become a Gay Man instead.

In earlier times, I think the attitude of “you’re in or you’re out” 100 percent gay identity made more sense. The dangers were more grave and there was not much place to be “gay AND [Fill in the blank],” whether the blank was “father,” “lawyer,” or “football fan.” But I think the very core of my perceptions about my own homosexuality (and incidentally the core of the attitudes on this blog) is that it’s just another part of me. I am not gay first. I’m not a contant political agitator or a Fire Island circuit boy. I’m gay, but also I’m an American, a man, a New Yorker, and a writer. I don’t feel that being one of these precludes me from seeking happiness by being others as well.

While writing this it’s important to recognize how much our current generation is indebted to the previous waves of out and proud homosexuals who fought and lost so much that we might have this basic right. I am endlessly greatful that I live in a world where the fact that I’m gay is not the most interesting thing about me.

We owe Larry Kramer and his generation a huge debt of gratitude, some of us probably owe them our lives, but that doesn’t mean they can also claim our souls.

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  • Andrew S. said:

    I actually value Kramer’s contrarianism on a certain level. Too often, the claim ‘being gay doesn’t define me’ is followed with something like ‘I don’t even really like gay men that much’ or some variation thereof. Obviously, claims like these are perfectly fine as individual expressions, but they’ve become almost de rigueur for gay celebrities and in those cases often have the insidious effect of presenting gayness as an unfortunate affliction. For every totally together out person who says ‘Yeah, I’m gay, so what?’ there’s another person saying (subtextually) ‘Sadly, I’m gay – but I’m also this [socially acceptable identity]!’

    Look, Larry Kramer’s coming from a place, and a life, in which being gay and out, as much as anything else, meant being part of a political bloc. His worldview as an organizer, advocate, gadfly, etc. has been defined for so long by that with us or against us, ‘you can’t be neutral on a moving train’ sentiment that I think it’s difficult for him to see gay lives as potentially apolitical. When he says ‘I am a gay person before I’m anything else’ he’s saying that the most formative moments of his life pivoted on either avowing or disavowing his identity as a gay man. He chose to own that identity, with all the difficulty that entailed, and the crucible he went through in the process, like everything that scars, continues to define him.

    The tangential insight I get from this is that we should all consider, in each of our own individual cases, whether when we say ‘Being gay doesn’t define me’ we’re stating a simple truth about ourselves or going into a defensive crouch. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.

  • Jeff said:

    Every gay man over the age of 40 experienced the AIDS epidemic on a deep individual level. For Larry Kramer it was in your face activism (and still is)for me it was “it can’t happen here”. I grew up in a small town in Wyoming about 90 miles from Denver Colorado, when I graduated from High School in 1983, I high tailed it to Denver the next week. The first time I ever heard about “The Gay Cancer” was at a bath house in Denver. I fucked around alot back in the day, I could not tell you the number of guys I played with by the time I was 25, literally hundreds. We never paid any attention to the AIDS news because it was happening in NY and LA not in Denver. The blindness of youth, all we cared about was making money and getting laid and we did. I found out I was HIV positive in 1995 I was 29 years old. Now at 45 I little if any interest in sex, I enjoy a close but small group of friends and I now live in south Florida. I never let being gay or having HIV define me, it was only a part of me and that was my attitude back when I was 18. Change is the only constant and I embrace it, some like Larry Kramer can’t, the wounds are to deep, the anger to overwhelming, I feel for Larry, that he has not been able to move on and continue to develop and grow, he seems to be stuck back 20 years ago and I don’t see that changing. I don’t let any other gay man define me or tell me what I should or should not be, or shame me and I don’t impose my crap on others. As long as you know what you are accomplishing it does not matter what Larry Kramer thinks or says. All gay men become a bit bitter as we grow older (for various reasons) but I think its great to see two young guys holding hands walking down the street, or showing affection in public, I could NEVER have done that when I was in my 20s. The risk of injury or death was just to high, so I say, live your life kids, enjoy your youth cause it goes by very fast. Respect Larry Kramer, just don’t let his opinion of gay youth upset you, its not worth it.