I wasn’t trying to present myself as the hero. I was trying to present myself as a pain in the ass.
His work and the way he has lived his life have informed, impressed and influenced my own life like few others. From his novel Faggots (1978) to his most recent rants, Kramer has played a significant role in who I am today.
As a writer, he has received an Academy Award nomination, two Tony Awards, an Obie Award, and an Emmy Award nomination.
In April 2011, Kramer took on editor/writer Thomas Rogers of Salon, in a generation on generation debate about gay identity. I understood Kramer’s position. Like Kramer, I am certainly not post-gay. Before I am an American, before I am a white male, before I am a progressive, I am a gay man. The struggles, sensibilities and spirit that give me breath are linked directly to my being a gay guy. If I was not gay, I would be a white-straight-Protestant male; I would be “The Man”. I have always considered being gay to be a gift from God. I would never want to live my life as anything other than as an outsider.
This month marked the 37th anniversary of the first diagnosed cases of HIV/AIDS. Kramer was there, and he wrote a play about it, The Normal Heart.
The original 1985 production was produced by Joseph Papp at The Public Theatre, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, starring Brad Davis as the Kramer stand-in Ned Weeks. The play shocked and touched audiences and ran for a year.
The Normal Heart finally played on Broadway in 2011, winning a much-deserved Tony Award for Best Revival Of A Play, along with Tony Awards for John Benjamin Hickey and the terrific Ellen Barkin. Kramer was on stage to accept the award along with the producers, saying:
For gay people everywhere, whom I love so dearly, The Normal Heart is our history. I could not have written it had not so many needlessly died. Learn from it and carry on the fight. Let them know that we are a very special people, an exceptional people, and that, our day will come.
Against all odds, after trying for three decades, The Normal Heart was made into a stirring, well-acted, emotion packed film produced and directed by Ryan Murphy from a screenplay by Kramer, starring Julia Roberts, Mark Ruffalo, Taylor Kitsch, Alfred Molina, Jplus gay actors: Matt Bomer, Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, B.D. Wong, Stephen Spinella, Denis O’Hare, and Jonathan Groff. It was nominated for nine Emmy Awards.
Kramer was an accidental leader. He was thrown into action during the first days of the AIDS epidemic when his friends began to get infected. Kramer:
I was just a New York faggot like everyone else who was gay then. I didn’t march in Pride. We used to be at Fire Island and made fun of all that.
Faggots has been continually in print since its original publication in 1978. It became one of the bestselling novels about gay life ever written. The book is a fierce satire of the gay ghetto and a touching story of a man’s desperate search for love. I guess little has changed since 1978. Celebrated and reviled, this gay classic is not for the faint of heart. It is a tough look at the excesses of my generation of gay men.
As the plague threatened the lives of his friends and fueled by fear and anger at a government that was ignoring the epidemic, in 1981, Kramer co-founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first and the world’s largest service provider to people with HIV/AIDS. Frustrated by his own organization’s non-confrontational nature, he launched the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power(ACT UP) in 1987, leading a grassroots effort for the approval process for drugs to treat HIV. At its height from the late 1980s to the mid- 1990s, ACT UP boasted 140 chapters across our country.
Kramer is a powerful, profound writer, and a real crank. Kramer:
You do not get more with honey than with vinegar. You get it by being harsh and demanding and in-your-face constantly. We’re all anxious to have everyone love us. It’s difficult to maintain that if you have strong opinions.
You can get a good look at the fiery, still combustible, but rather frail Kramer in the excellent Larry Kramer In Love And Anger (2015), Jean Carlomusto‘s affectionate documentary, available on HBO On Demand.
Our lives will be filled with jeopardy, much of it quite ruthless. We have never lacked for enemies, and they are not going away.
Kramer now lives in an apartment in New York City and in a country house in Connecticut. He shares his life with architect David Webster, the man for whom Kramer had waited for 17 years. The pair met in the late 1960s and dated in the 1970s but spent the 1980s apart. Webster came back into Kramer’s life in the 1990s, HIV negative and ready to live out his life with Kramer. They married in 2013.
Kramer remains a personal hero to me. His anger inspires me.
We must battle not only against our enemies but also against the straitjackets many of us still wear, which interfere with our ability to fight these enemies in full, free, and in-your-face unity.