Monday, May 9, 2005
Who will be the next Larry Kramer?
The man himself -- AIDS activist, writer, provocateur -- doesn't know. Right now, Kramer is fighting all this noise: the cell phones going off, the cash register ringing, the 2-year-old who keeps crying whenever she drops her pink pacifier. Then there's the front door that won't shut, people trickling in and out.
Inside Lambda Rising, a bookstore in Dupont Circle, he reads from "The Tragedy of Today's Gays," his latest work.
This is not an autobiographical play about AIDS in the mode of his 1985 off-Broadway work, "The Normal Heart." It's not another "Faggots," his novel set in a hedonistic Manhattan of the late 1970s, which made him persona non grata within segments of the gay community -- how dare Kramer, a gay man himself, decry a gay man's right to have sex and lots of it? "The Tragedy of Today's Gays" is altogether something else: the work of a tireless yeller who's now dead tired of yelling.
"Tragedy" was a speech -- delivered last November, five days after the election -- that he turned into a book. It's a sprawling polemic, a call to action, angry, frustrated, passionate. It's as if he views AIDS's continued existence, despite his nearly quarter-century of unparalleled activism, as somehow his personal failing. He might as well have titled his new book "The Tragedy of Today's Larry Kramer."
"From the very first moment we were told in 1981 that the suspected cause might be a virus," he says in the speech, "gay men have refused to accept our responsibility . . . and, starting in 1984, when we were told it definitely was a virus, this behavior turned murderous."
He regrets not using the word "murder" earlier. Use condoms, he's been saying all along; don't confuse sexual freedom with sexual promiscuity. In the introduction to the book, he writes, "How long can I go on making speeches that, it is more than apparent, few people listen to?" In the speech, he adds, "There is not one single person in Washington who will . . . give us anything but [expletive] and more [expletive]." He grew up in Washington yet hesitates to call it home. He's got no political clout, no access, no power. "I'm nobody here," he says simply.
Still, at age 69, he keeps on speaking, keeps on writing, keeps on, at this particular moment, sparking fire: "I've said it many times and I'm going to say it again."
He's been known as a shouter, a screamer. But his voice, breathy and low, is just above a whisper. The crowd of about 70, mostly gay men, leans forward.
"Washington gays have always been the most docile -- "
Frank Kameny cuts him off. "That is certainly not the case." Kameny, the father of the District's gay rights movement, is standing in front, sounding fierce, defensive, robust. He's 79.
"Washington, D.C., is the political success story of the gay movement. Quietly but effectively and don't say that we have been docile."