8 votes

Larry Kramer, playwright and outspoken AIDS activist, dies at eighty-four

8 comments

  1. [7]
    thundergolfer
    Link
    This paragraph is pretty offensive to read. Must be infuriating for people close to this issue to read about Kramer's achievements being "overshadowed" by his refusal to do 'civility politics'.

    This paragraph is pretty offensive to read. Must be infuriating for people close to this issue to read about Kramer's achievements being "overshadowed" by his refusal to do 'civility politics'.

    2 votes
    1. [6]
      cfabbro
      Link Parent
      Looks like NYT quietly edited the lede ~30min ago, and replaced it with "He sought to shock the country into dealing with AIDS as a public-health emergency and foresaw that it could kill millions...

      Looks like NYT quietly edited the lede ~30min ago, and replaced it with "He sought to shock the country into dealing with AIDS as a public-health emergency and foresaw that it could kill millions regardless of sexual orientation." They also edited out the "and his abusive ways sometimes overshadowed his achievements as an activist and author" in the article itself with "and this could sometimes overshadow his achievements as an author and social activist."

      3 votes
      1. [5]
        thundergolfer
        Link Parent
        Good that they edited it. The fact that is was published in the first place is a great example of how NYT is so often MLK's 'white moderate' that prefers the negative peace which is the absence of...

        Good that they edited it. The fact that is was published in the first place is a great example of how NYT is so often MLK's 'white moderate' that prefers the negative peace which is the absence of conflict to the positive peace which is the presence of justice.

        Thousands of people were dying of AIDs unnecessarily because of homophobia and some people can't help themselves but adopt the attitude of 'please be nice to me while I ignore the suffering which is yours and in my power to prevent'.

        2 votes
        1. [4]
          kfwyre
          Link Parent
          I'm going to push back on this a bit. Kramer was often abusive. Acknowledging this while also giving scale to his much wider influence (as the piece does) does less to actually "overshadow" his...

          I'm going to push back on this a bit.

          Kramer was often abusive. Acknowledging this while also giving scale to his much wider influence (as the piece does) does less to actually "overshadow" his activism than the person you linked in your first post who's making a one-dimensional outrage tweet in the wake of his death, IMO. Provocateurs like Kramer knowingly play with fire. It is a powerful tool, and we owe much to Kramer for the way he wielded it, but it's true that he also burned some people with it, including those we would consider "undeserving".

          His dark, biting satire of the gay community is called Faggots. He did not mean it as a positive reclamation of the slur. He wrote it in bitterness about his friends and acquaintances. It was controversial at the time not just widely, for its subject matter, but also from people who knew Kramer personally because he used their stories and experiences wholesale, only changing their names in his book. It was, in many ways, an early example of "revenge porn".

          He was later ousted from the Gay Men's Health Crisis, an organization he helped to found, because of constant and ongoing friction and clashes with other members. Could the organization have been more effective had they been able to better coalesce and cooperate around particular goals, rather than mitigating interpersonal conflict with an uncompromising member? Here's an excerpt from David France's How to Survive a Plague that captures at an individual level how Kramer's firey nature, which we celebrate as trailblazing today, had collateral damage:

          Talk of “the problem with Larry” animated telephone calls around the city, further taxing a group of people already crippled by the daily horror of the disease itself. The tensions were especially hard on Lawrence Mass. He had known Kramer for fifteen years, and was his only “old friend” on the board. He too was dismayed by the role Kramer was playing. It was destabilizing and alienating, he felt. Fain was already talking about the need to make changes on the board. But when pressed for his opinions, Mass, constitutionally averse to conflict, sought to acknowledge Kramer’s weaknesses and strengths. The strategy did little to keep him out of the line of fire.

          Mass was already overwhelmed by the crisis. His full-time job at a methadone clinic gave him little time for his writing and reporting on the epidemic, yet he felt the urgent responsibility to provide news to the community—desperate people stopped him on the street seeking it. Sleeplessness and lack of appetite further undermined his writing and inflamed his feelings of guilt. Being drawn into the friction around Kramer pushed him over the edge. His spirits dived. Exhausted and morose, his thoughts began turning to suicide. One evening he admitted to his new lover, Arnie Kantrowitz, that he had taken the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building to investigate what physical contortions would be necessary to clear the lip. Kantrowitz took him straight to the psychiatric ward at St. Vincent’s. Mass wouldn’t return to GMHC or to his medical writing for another year.

          Here's another excerpt. This was after Kramer was ousted/forced to resign from the GMHC and was angrier than ever as a result:

          The prospects of another publishing salvo like Faggots led Nathan Fain [another GMHC founder] to write Kramer an acid letter, circulated openly to various leaders in the AIDS fight. “You use the tactics that southern rednecks and the Moral Majority have used for years—and for this you should beg the forgiveness of every gay man who you have caused pain.” He reluctantly credited Kramer with raising the visibility of the epidemic like no one else by working to become, “like Goethe, the personification of an era much linked with sadness and death.” But the cost was intolerable. “I have never seen such damage as you have wrought, such willful, horrible wreckage.”

          There's a lot we can say about Kramer. He's a complex, multi-dimensional figure who lived through and had a significant influence on one of the defining periods of queer history. As a gay man who grew up in the shadow of the AIDS crisis, I am personally grateful for his activism. On the other hand, I think it's important that we not lionize someone too strongly nor normalize abusive behaviors. Too often I see people treat abuse as excusable if its fueled by righteous anger.

          The reality is that sometimes Kramer's brash, outspoken nature was exactly what was needed to gain visibility and express anger for our entire community, but sometimes those same traits chafed at those who were already beleaguered and suffering, harming the already harmed. Sometimes those traits silenced the voices or limited the actions of others -- an excessively dominant voice rarely leaves room for the words of others. Yes, he forced the issue of AIDS for many people who were anti-gay and AIDS denialists, but he also hurt many people in the queer community, people with AIDS, and people fighting for the same goals of awareness, support, care, and liberation.

          6 votes
          1. [3]
            thundergolfer
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            This is good push-back, and I appreciate all the detail of your comment. I think my shot at the NYT is still valid though, and what you've added in your comment doesn't block that shot because the...

            This is good push-back, and I appreciate all the detail of your comment.

            I think my shot at the NYT is still valid though, and what you've added in your comment doesn't block that shot because the kind of behaviour they exhibit as an example of his abusiveness is this:

            Mr. Kramer enjoyed provocation for its own sake — he once introduced Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York to his pet wheaten terrier as the man who was “killing Daddy’s friends” — and this could sometimes overshadow his achievements as an author and social activist.

            What Kramer has said there appears to me different in kind from his other behaviours you detail. Telling a person in a position of power the consequences of their inaction without the usual sugar-coating is not bad behaviour in my book, and not the same behaviour as what you describe above.

            4 votes
            1. [2]
              kfwyre
              Link Parent
              I agree. That was a bad example of what they were trying to convey, and they could have worded that section better.

              I agree. That was a bad example of what they were trying to convey, and they could have worded that section better.

              2 votes
              1. thundergolfer
                Link Parent
                They should have chosen an entirely different example. The fact that they chose that example could be evidence of the "white moderate" thinking that pervades the NYT.

                They should have chosen an entirely different example. The fact that they chose that example could be evidence of the "white moderate" thinking that pervades the NYT.

                2 votes