Those who read this blog and know my politics may well be surprised to learn that for the last ten years, I have long been a fan of a man who is perhaps the angriest of gay activists and whom many consider to be among the most left-wing–Larry Kramer. I admire him not because I agree with his politics, indeed, I find his rants against Republicans to be unfair and over the top. But, when he talks about gay culture, his diagnosis of our woes is spot on, even if the solutions he offers may not be entirely to be my liking.
That is why I was delighted when I learned that he would be speaking at Breaking Stories, Breaking Waves, the LGBT Media Summit and National Convention. I just returned from his talk and took many pages of notes. I doubt I’ll get to everything he said in the post, indeed, even in subsequent posts should I blog on this again, but I’d like at least to address some of the salient points he made.
I believe this angry gay activist to be a great American largely because he is constantly reminding us that being gay is about more than just sex. He did so today, just as he did yesterday.
Ten years ago in The Advocate, he trashed Edmund White’s then-latest novel, The Farewell Symphony because it celebrated (in his graphic detail) White’s (endless and meaningless) sexual exploits. Like me, Kramer wanted to see more gay fiction which told stories of real relationships and love. In that spirit, he noted today that too often we find having sex with another man as the be-all and end-all definition of being gay. Instead, he said, “Love is what it’s all about it.”
Exactly. Sex talk permeates our culture. And we’re only beginning to talk about love between men as being more than a furtive sexual encounter having a meaning deeper than the cute and clever expression of a Hallmark card.
Like this blog, he was quite critical both of the Advocate and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in large part, for some of the reasons we’ve been so critical of that publication and that group. He feels they have been too kind to the Democrats. He claimed to be “constantly taking swipes at HRC.”
Hillary “should kiss our ass to be there” (in the Advocate) and its reporters should “ask questions which amount to something.” He said the word “beggar” defines HRC “when it come to talking to the candidates.” While they fawn all over the candidates, Kramer said, “Hillary says ‘I love you’ and I don’t believe her.”
Unlike me, however, Larry Kramer is not an optimist, despite the cultural progress of the past few years. Much of what he has “learned about gay people is not comforting.” A pessimist, he remarked that there are “not enough curmudgeons.” Commenting on the Advocate‘s fortieth anniversary, he said he didn’t think things would be much different forty years hence (than they are today).
He did say a lot with which I did not agree. He is angry that the president got 20% of the gay vote (using the statistic the moderator gave him) in 2004. That said, even though I identified myself as a Republican who voted for Bush, he was very cordial to me when I asked him to sign my copy of his book The Tragedy of Today’s Gays after the talk.* His boyfriend David was also most gracious.
I’m sure I will find he offers many thoughts similar to my own in those pages — as well as ideas and notions at odds with those I have articulated on this blog. (The book is the published version of a speech he delivered at Cooper Union on November 7, 2004. I had read parts of it on Towleroad.)
While I agree with much of what Larry Kramer has to say, I often find his anger off-putting. He defended it, saying today, “Anger is one of the greatest emotions there is. Anger is as useful as love. Learn to use it.” I will agree that there is often much wisdom in anger. After all, the Greeks had a deity, Nemesis, who represented the quality of righteous indignation. And there is much that is righteous in Larry Kramer’s indignation.
Even where I disagree with Larry Kramer, I find some common ground. For like us, he relishes in taking on the gay establishment. He may not always be right, but he does always speak from the heart.
And we gay men would be wise to listen. Even if we don’t always take his advice.
– B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)
*He was even cordial when I responded in the negative when he asked if I regretted the vote.