(An essay from the book "We Must Love One Another Or Die," edited by
Lawrence D. Mass)
The world is full of prophets, most of them false.
People have been proclaiming the end of time since time began
and yet here we spin, neither earthquakes nor floods nor plagues
nor wars able to keep the world from its appointed rounds. But
even though prophesy has a long history of not coming true,
doomsayers certainly remain a dime a dozen. Every few years some
charlatan attracts a flush following by predicting that the end
is near. We smirk when the appointed day passes and he skulks
off in his Mercedes to recalculate. We smirk less if, like Jim
Jones or David Koresh, he takes his followers with him into some
private holocaust. In either case, we soon turn to the next
headline, the only useful lesson learned that humanity never
learns its lesson.
There is, however, one school of prophets who are as
rare as false prophets are common. The ones whose warnings came
true. I say rare because even the select company we call the
Biblical Prophets were not particularly accurate. It's true that
Jeremiah foretold the Babylonian captivity and then lived to see
it, but he was a notable exception. More typical was Jesus, who
predicted in no uncertain terms that the world would end during
the lifetime of his followers.
We moderns havenít done much better. For every
Churchill vindicated by the specific disaster he thundered
about, there are dozens who predicted a bang and got a whimper.
What ever happened the people who predicted the cold war would
inevitably go nuclear? What ever happened to the Club of Rome?
If anything, it seems remarkable that given humanity's unbroken
string of both pessimists and disasters, the twain so rarely
meet. You'd think the laws of chance alone would dictate that
before each of history's major trainwrecks at least one reedy
voice would have cried out in the wilderness, trying vainly to
draw our attention to the doom barreling down the track. But who
predicted the great influenza epidemic of 1919? Or the Taiping
Rebellion? Or the death of disco? Or even that most predictable
of unpredicted disasters to rise up on a summer's day, the First
World War? A genuine Jeremiah, someone who really hits the
disaster nail on the head, is as rare as an accurate five-day
The question I put to you is whether Larry Kramer
belongs to this august but disturbing company. Whether Larry
Kramer is, for want of a softer term, the gay community's AIDS
prophet. And the answer I put to you is yes.
Prophet comes from a Greek word meaning someone who
delivers the word of the gods to mortals. Strictly speaking
prophesy does not have to concern future disasters or even
future events. Prophets are merely conduits through which god
(or the gods) convey his (or her) (or their) divine utterances,
messages, encouragements, warnings and, sometimes, predictions.
In some cultures prophets serve this role reluctantly or in an
unconscious state of inspiration or possession. Such a prophet,
said Philo of Alexandria, is merely a lute the gods play upon.
But others, particularly those in the Judeo-Christian-Moslem
tradition, are wide awake and gnashing their teeth through the
dark night of the soul, propounding a theology so fierce it's
downright scary. Hebrew prophesy in particular focused on the
stark dualism between good and evil. It was interested in what
you're doing in the here and now, as opposed to the next world.
Hebrew prophets did not just foretell or divine, they lectured
and hectored and warned and screamed. It's no accident that our
popular vision of Israel's greatest prophet is Charlton Heston,
thundering over the idolatrous apostates, shocked at the perfidy
of humankind. Wind howls. Lightening strikes. Mr. DeMille gets
his close-up, and the angry eyes are on fire.
Hebrew prophets directed the burning lasers of their
moral vision to the spiritual improvement of their own kind.
Their message was invariably that if their fellow Jews didn't
shape up, they were going to be creamed by external enemies:
Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Romans, whatever. One of the
reasons so many prophets were so unpopular in their lifetimes -
from Jeremiah to Jesus - was that most of their Jewish
contemporaries wanted to focus on the sins of the oppressor, or
focus on the injustice of the invader, or even focus on the
injustice of god in allowing the invader to invade. But the
prophets had a different agenda. They focused on how the
failings of the Jews brought oppressors and invasions upon
themselves. To them, the Romans or the Babylonians or the
Egyptians were almost irrelevant, the harsh but inevitable side
effects of homegrown moral failure. In modern parlance, they
"blamed the victim." With a vengeance.
If we define prophesy as a strictly religious
franchise, obviously Larry Kramer is ruled out. Although he has
consciously drawn upon his Jewishness as a basis of his sense of
morality, and although he sees parallels between the historic
plight of Jews and of gays, he certainly does not claim a direct
line to god. In fact, in many ways he is hostile to religion, or
at least to the aspects of religion that are hostile to him as a
gay man. But to say that Kramer can't be considered a prophet
because prophets have to be religious is a little like saying a
secular person cannot be expound moral values because morality
was traditionally rooted in religion. It seems just as
reasonable to flex our social-constructionist imaginations and
argue that the link between religion and prophethood is merely
an artifact of history, that you can have prophesy without
necessarily having god.
But if a direct linkup to the deity isn't a
prophet's main qualification, what is? Someone once wrote that
the proof of prophesy was simply the acid test of history - did
the predicted thing come true? But that seems to me only half
the test, and the mechanical, rabbit-out-of-the-hat half at
that. By such a limited definition, the Weather Channel could
have a shot. Accurate prediction, impressive as it may seem,
don't require vision so much as a good slide-rule.
The real acid test of prophesy, it seems to me, is
not just an ability to predict something about the future, but
to root that prediction in some spiritual or moral vision. The
great prophetic voices, religious and secular, not only warned
of disasters nobody else could clearly see, but warned that
people were bringing these disasters upon themselves. Sometimes
the problem was spiritual, sometimes ethical, sometimes
practical, sometimes all three. Winston Churchill played the
role of prophet when he urged the democracies to show moral
fiber in their dealings with fascism, to show ethical fiber in
standing up for their weaker friends like Czechoslovakia, and to
show practicality by building up their armies just in case. The
role of a prophet is not merely to announce impending doom, but
to tell us how to get our act together to avoid it.
By this definition, then, Kramer needs to have
fulfilled a few basic requirements to be considered a bona fide
AIDS prophet. First, he needs to have identified a central moral
problem in gay life, and done so not from a scientist's medical
perspective - If you keep doing such and such you will spread
germs - but from a moral perspective - If you keep doing such
and such, you will diminish your souls. Then he needs to have
specifically warned of a coming disaster and explained from a
practical position how it could be avoided. And finally, he
needs to have been right.
I would argue that Kramer fulfills all three
conditions. I can even get precise and pinpoint his period of
prophesy from 1978 until around 1985.
During the period in question Kramer produced three
immensely influential pieces of work. The first was the novel
"Faggots," published in 1978 four years before AIDS was
announced to the world. The second a series of essays and
letters he wrote for and to the New York Native from 1981 to
1983, in which he alerted us to the potential enormity of the
epidemic and told us how to avoid it and how to fight it. This
writing can be said to begin with the letter "A Personal Appeal"
and includes the essay "1,112 and Counting." The third is "The
Normal Heart," a play first produced by Joseph Papp at the New
York Shakespeare Festival in mid 1985, which recapitulates the
drama of Kramer's prophesy, enfolds it, and puts the prophet's
spin on his own legacy.
After 1985 Kramer continued his advocacy, and some
might argue that his single most influential piece of writing
was the speech he delivered in 1987 that resulted in the
founding of ACT UP. But although his post-1985 work has been
extremely influential, it cannot really qualify as prophesy. Not
because Kramer was any less prophetic, or any less right, but
simply because by then the AIDS epidemic had become so huge and
undeniable that it no longer took a prophet to see it coming. It
had arrived. Afterward Kramer continued to exhort, prod,
investigate, cajole, shame and scream. He does to this day. But
we no longer needed him to foretell. The sky had already fallen.
"Faggots" never mentions disease or illness, and it
does not predict a physical disaster if gay men do not mend
their wayward ways. But it established the moral and ethical
basis of Kramer's later ministry. Easily the most controversial
gay novel ever written, "Faggots" depicts four hectic days
leading up to the fortieth birthday of its narrator Fred Lemish,
who bears more than a passing resemblance to Larry Kramer.
Lemish has decided that he must find true love before the big
four-oh arrives, hopefully in the person of his unattainably
gorgeous on-again off-again boyfriend Dinky Adams. But the world
Lemish, Dinky and their friends inhabit is too hectically
hedonistic, too drug saturated and sexually precocious and
predacious, to nurture the kind of stable relationship Lemish
craves. He rails against this wacky world even as he gorges
himself in its absurd comedy.
The novel's characters are deliberately overdrawn
and sometimes grotesque caricatures in the manner of Evelyn
Waugh, and they hurtle through their discos and tea rooms and
drug and sexual adventures like the Red Queen in Alice in
Wonderland: they have to keep running faster and fucking harder
simply to stay in the same place. In the end Lemish finally
sheds his infatuation with Dinky, his love-hate relationship
with hedonism, and simultaneously has an epiphany about his own
burdensome self hatred. Declaring that gay life on the wild side
is the epitome of the unexamined life, and that "the unexamined
life is unlivable," he literally walks off into the sunrise at
the novel's conclusion, presumably to begin examining.
"Faggots," the poet Ian Young has written, "is
Kramer's warning to gay men that 'We're fucking ourselves to
death!'" Its theme is the impossibility of love in a world in
which people treat each other as objects. Its charge is that gay
men have to grow up and stop doing that. Its challenge is that
we can, but that in order to do so we have to take
responsibility for our own fates. It tried to establish, in the
most infertile pavement of the nineteen seventies gay fast lane,
the most unlikely thing: a prophet's seedling, a call to
responsibility. And the fast land whizzed by, hissing.
It's funny how those criticisms tried to have it
both ways. On the one hand, "Faggots" was trashed as inaccurate,
overdrawn, exaggerated; it was said that gay men did not act
like Kramer's grotesques, or that maybe a few did, but just a
tiny minority. But at the same time that some critics excoriated
the book as a shameless lie, others called it unforgivable
precisely because it rang so true: It was said to have betrayed
the secret lives of gay men, allowing the general public a peek
into our promiscuous playrooms (it became a national bestseller,
after all, and certainly not on the strength of gay sales
alone). It was the ultimate airing of dirty laundry in public,
making us look like the sex obsessed twits our worst enemies
accused us of being. I remember my nervous sense of dislocation
at the time, when a politically active gay friend who had long
argued that gay promiscuity was something we ought to be proud
of, our form of revolution, told me he was furious with
"Faggots" because now the people in his hometown were going to
have a bad impression of gay life.
But while many in the gay world took "Faggots" as a
diatribe against homosexuality, in retrospect it seems to be an
argument against equating homosexuality and sexual liberation
with selfishness, self-indulgence and self-destruction. Although
it did not predict physical annihilation, it implicitly argued
that the price we would pay if we didn't get it together would
be heavy; a spiritual extinction, the meat-rack of the soul.
"Faggots" warned of the moral virus of non-intimacy and the
spiritual disease of unlove. The primary thing we were not
loving, it told us, was ourselves.
This, of course, did little to mollify the argument
that "Faggots" was simply repeating what the 'phobes have always
said - that gay men are sexual neurotics who need to get a grip.
In that view, "Faggots" was seen as a monumental act of
self-loathing. But in rereading "Faggots" today on the other
side of AIDS, I see a gaping chasm between homophobic self
loathing and the book's message. Homophobes tell gay men that,
as gay men, they cannot love. "Faggots" tells gay men that, as
gay men, they must love. Homophobes tell gay men that, as gay
men, they can never grow up. "Faggots" tells gay men that, as
gay men, they must grow up. Homophobes tell gay men they will
always be defective victims. "Faggots" tells gay men they must
stop being victims and seize control of their own destiny.
Its angry gay critics, however, did have one thing
right. While "Faggots" was not anti-sex so much as pro-love, it
certainly was anti-promiscuity. Particularly the sex radicalism
that characterized much of the gay fast-lane of the seventies,
the three-thousand-men-up-my-butt lifestyle of the baths and the
meat racks. It is precisely because "Faggots" connected this
lifestyle to spiritual desolation that it qualifies as the
genuine and necessary first act in the prophesy of physical
desolation that was to come. Prophesy, after all, is ruled by a
sort of spiritual ecology - what happens in the physical world
is seamlessly connected to the life of the soul. The gay men
Kramer wrote about were, he said, committing an offense against
love. In so doing he established a prophet-like moral claim upon
them, whether they liked it or not (they mostly did not). "We're
fucking ourselves to death" is not far from "We must love one
another or die." And "we're fucking ourselves to death" as
metaphor is not far from "no, we're really fucking
ourselves to death."
Obviously no one could have recognized "Faggots" as
an AIDS prophesy when it was published in 1978, since the
announcement of AIDS was several years into the future. But it
is oddly ironic (and prophesy should be tinged with oddness and
irony) that some epidemiologists now date the AIDS epidemic to
the very year "Faggots" was published. In that year researchers
began a major medical study of the hepatitis B epidemic that was
sweeping the gay male population, one of the many precursor
epidemic to AIDS. As part of that study they began collecting
and preserving the blood of thousands of gay male volunteers at
six month intervals. When HIV was discovered years later,
researchers were able to go back and use these samples to
determine where things began. So for all practical purposes,
1978, the year of "Faggots," is Year Zero of AIDS, the year HIV
can first be detected in a tiny proportion of gay men in San
Francisco and New York. It would rise to infect over fifty
percent of gay men in those same cohorts by the night "The
Normal Heart" opened seven years later.
After "Faggots" Kramer was virtually banished from
the gay world. Close friends stopped speaking to him. He was
made to feel unwelcome on the New York gay scene and on Fire
Island, and he went into a sort of retreat from gay life, a
symbolic sojourn in the wilderness. "I didn't know it then," he
has written, "but I was learning - not originally by choice -
that necessary lesson for anyone who insists on speaking his
mind: how to become a loner." Jeremiah could not have said it
Kramer's walk in the wilderness lasted less than
three years. On June 5, 1981, the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality
Weekly Report published a brief item about a strange cluster of
rare pneumonia cases among gay men. A month later it reported an
equally strange cluster of rare cancers in the same population,
a report picked up by the New York Times and other papers. On
July 29, three weeks after the Times piece, Kramer visited the
physician who had tracked the cancer cases in New York. Dr.
Alvin Friedman-Kien urged Kramer raise money for research, and
when Kramer, a bit of a hypochondriac, asked how he could
personally avoid getting the disease, Friedman-Kien said he knew
what he would do if he were a gay man. "I'd stop having sex." On
August 11 Kramer hosted the meeting of 80 gay men in his
apartment that led to the establishment of Gay Men's Health
Crisis. And on August 24 he published a piece called "A Personal
Appeal" in the New York Native, and his next phase of prophesy
"It's difficult to write this without sounding
alarmist or too emotional or just plain scared," he began.
Unschooled in epidemiology, Kramer displayed a strong grasp of
the implacability of doubling time. "If I had written this a
month ago, I would have used the figure '40.' If I had written
this last week, I would have needed '80.' Today I must tell you
that 120 gay men in the United States - most of them here in New
York - are suffering from" KS or PCP. "I hope you will write a
check and get your friends to write one, too," he concluded.
"This is our disease and we must take care of each other and
With those words Larry Kramer sounded the tocsin of
the epidemic. It was only six weeks from the first report in MMW
to his "personal appeal." The bravery of that appeal can be
measured by its response, which was immediate and savage.
"Basically, Kramer is telling us that something we
gay men are doing (drugs? kinky sex?) is causing Kaposi's
sarcoma," wrote playwright Robert Chelsey in his now-famous
rejoinder in the Native. "...We've been told by [experts] that
it's wrong and too soon to make any assumptions about the cause
of Kaposi's sarcoma, but there's another issue here. It is
always instructive to look closely at emotionalism, for it so
often has a hidden message which is the real secret of
its appeal. I think the concealed meaning of Kramer's
emotionalism is the triumph of guilt: that gay men deserve to
die for their promiscuity....Read anything by Kramer closely. I
think you'll find that the subtext is always: the wages of gay
sin is death."
This letter has often been held up as a great irony.
The fact that its author eventually died of AIDS makes it seem
even more poignant, an example not only of denial but of how
wrong somebody can be. But from the perspective of Kramer as
prophet, Chelsey was right. Kramer was indeed telling gay men
that something they were doing was causing this strange malady.
Kramer did indeed have a larger message: not that gay men
"deserve" to die, but that they would die if they did not
change, and change fast. He did not argue that the wages of gay
promiscuity ought to be death, but that they would
be, like it or not. It may be precisely because Kramer was a
critic of promiscuity that he was able to see this so clearly so
early. Even, as Chelsey scornfully notes, before the experts.
Some might claim today that to draw a connection
between the ethical vision of "Faggots" and the epidemiological
vision of "A Personal Appeal" is to give Kramer too much credit.
They might argue that it was purely coincidental that the man
who wrote "Faggots" also happened to find himself, a
hypochondriac, in the middle of a cluster of close friends who
were early AIDS victims, and that in the circumstances he did
what almost anyone would do. Freaked out. They might object that
it's ridiculous to suggest Kramer's early AIDS warnings somehow
flowed from his pre-AIDS warnings, that all were a part of some
seamless prophetic web. But tellingly, that's not what Kramer's
critics said at the time. They saw a connection all
right. Indeed, it was precisely because they saw a connection
that they were so outraged. Kramer, they said, was using AIDS to
advance his moral vision (just as, it bears pointing out, the
prophets used the Babylonians or the Romans to advance theirs).
Had Kramer been known as a sex radical, or simply as neutral
about the state of the gay libido, his appeals would probably
have produced a more muted response. It was precisely because
they came from the man who wrote "Faggots" that they were so
For the next couple of years Kramer engaged in what
you might call the ministry phase of his prophetdom. Instead of
chiseling his commandments in stone tablets, he published them
in the New York Native. producing a spirited series of letters,
articles and essays calling on gay men to get their act together
to fight AIDS on two fronts, politically and sexually. Much of
this writing reflected Kramer's increasing battles with the
leaders of GMHC, a group he co-founded and from which he was
eventually exiled. This dispute became sort of the Ur Battle of
AIDS activism, the primal scene, pitting the forces of caution
and timidity against the prophet's uncompromising vision. It's a
battle that's been enacted a million times in gay history.
Between the closeted Mattachine apologists of the fifties versus
their radical founder Harry Hay, whom they eventually ousted.
Between the equally meek Mattachines of the sixties versus Young
Turks like Frank Kameny. The gay world seems to seesaw
incessantly between these two opposing forces, the meek and the
loud, each one hurling the thunderbolt accusation of
"self-loathing" at the other, each one sure the other is
In this case, the dance was heightened and
illuminated by its backdrop, which was death on an epic scale.
Because the stakes were as high as they get, the main points of
bitter dispute, Kramer's insistence that GMHC become more of an
political group (much as ACT UP later became) and that they
issue much tougher advice about safe sex, take on an added
significance. In both cases he was outvoted and out maneuvered
and ultimately pushed aside. And in both cases he was right. The
AIDS movement could have really profited from a highly visible
cadre of uncompromising activists right then. There is
absolutely no reason to think that ACT UP's eventually brilliant
deployment of media savvy, it's inspired use of advertising
techniques to drive home specific messages, its defiant
willingness to brave arrest and shut things down, would have
been any less successful in 1983 than it became in 1989. As for
safe sex, the early eighties were the very years when most gay
men became infected with HIV, a fact we know from, among other
things, those hepatitis B studies. Yet as Kramer later wrote,
GMHC seemed initially determined not to issue sex
recommendations "or anything that in any way could be construed
as moralizing...What if it was discovered that nothing
infectious was going around...We'd look like fools." Kramer,
clearly, was afraid of a lot of things, but looking like a fool
was not one of them.
Perhaps the most famous piece from this ministry
period was "1,112 and Counting," published in March of 1983 in
the Native and reprinted in gay papers everywhere. Many gay men
later said that that essay marked their own personal turning
point, the moment in their lives after which the reality of what
was happening could no longer be denied. The reason was that
"1,112 and Counting" was a two-fisted assault on denial. Kramer
attacked the idea that only promiscuous men get AIDS. He
attacked the idea that AIDS was soon going to spread
epidemically among straights. He attacked lax epidemiology, and
the lack of information about treatment, and the terrible
conditions for people with AIDS in hospitals, and the lack of
drug research, and the problems with health insurance, and the
inadequacy of the government's response. By three-quarters of
the way through the essay, Kramer had so stormed the gates of
denial that his readers had presumably stopped dancing around
the golden phallus and were paying rapt attention to his vision
of the medical damnation that awaits them. And then like a true
prophet, he went for his main target - his own tribe.
I am sick, he writes, of closeted gay doctors who
won't help. Of the gay press that won't pay attention. Of gay
men who won't donate money to the effort. Of closeted gays,
"I am sick of everyone in this community who tells
me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before
*you* get scared off your ass and into action?
"I am sick of people who say 'it's no worse than
statistics for smokers and lung cancer,' or 'considering how
many homosexuals there are in the United States, AIDS is really
statistically affecting only a very few.' That would wash if
case numbers hadn't jumped from 41 to 1,112 in eighteen months.
"I am sick of guys who moan that giving up careless
sex until this blows over is worse than death. How can they
value life so little and cocks and asses so much?
"I am sick of guys who think that all being gay
means is sex in the first place. I am sick of guys who can only
think with their cocks."
He went on to praise gay men as "the strongest,
toughest people I know," and to issue a call for civil
disobedience training, a call that would not be heeded for
almost five years. "We must fight to live," he concluded, adding
a very prophet-like description of his despair. "My sleep is
tormented by nightmares and vision of lost friends, and my days
are flooded by the tears of funerals...How many of us must die
before *all* of us living fight back?"
The answer was many, many, many.
Within weeks of that essay Kramer's dispute with
GMHC had led to his resignation. Within months the epidemic had
mutated into front-page news everywhere, and soon the services
of prophets were no longer required. Now, surrounded by the
disaster he had warned about, Kramer had one more prophetic
ritual to accomplish. His chronicle. His book of prophesy. His
spin. It took the form of "The Normal Heart," a play that
continues to resonate in the public consciousness long after
most of the letters and essays from the early days of AIDS have
become the province of libraries and specialists.
"The Normal Heart" is a dramatic retelling of
Kramer's prophetic ministry, his Ur Battle with the meek and
mild, his struggle to get everyone to listen, his failure, his
exile. It is a passion play, a ritual reenactment of the central
tragic turning point of gay life. Because of "The Normal Heart,"
an obscure struggle between unknown antagonists in a community
nobody cared about has become a titanic struggle between heroes
and villains larger than life, and life and death itself. But it
bears pointing out that it is also an extremely tender and
extremely frank love story between two adult homosexual men. It
connects their love and their growth and their strength to their
homosexuality in a way no play had ever done before. Those who
consider Kramer anti-sex or self-loathing have to contend with
the fact that his play is a clear-eyed, head up, shoulders back,
out and proud queer love story with no apologies.
And that, basically, is it. From "Faggots" to "The
Normal Heart," a seven year sweep of homosexual agit-prophesy in
the name of love. If that's not enough to qualify in the Modern
Prophet's hall of Fame - with the founding of ACT UP thrown in
for good measure a few years later - I don't know what is.
In looking back on Kramer's record, I suppose
skeptics are entitled one final nit-picking question. Namely,
how right was he? It's an easy hurdle to pass, of course, since
most prophets get a good deal wrong. And in fact, the main thing
Kramer was right about, the primary area in which his prophetic
voice continues to ring true, was his belief that sexual
behavior was crucial to containing AIDS. Kramer's other
prophetic charges, that government officials and drug companies
and the media were literally murderers who kept a cure out of
our hands by their criminal negligence, has not weathered the
test of time so well. Many were horribly negligent, and the
advocacy of ACT UP and later generations of treatment activists
certainly jarred the drug-making machinery in important ways.
But the advances in basic science required to cure AIDS have
been ponderously slow in coming, and in retrospect it remains
questionable whether, had things been done differently, many of
the dead would still be among us.
But interestingly enough, it is his legacy of anger
against the government and the drug companies and the New York
Times, not against the meekness and myopia of his fellow gay
men, that Kramer seems best remembered for in the gay community.
And this, to me, provides a further proof of his true
prophethood - because true prophets are almost always remembered
for the wrong reasons. The biblical Jews often castigated their
prophets during their lifetimes, then elevated them to
greatness, stuck them in the bible, called their prophesies the
word of god and repeated them so that collective humanity would
not, like an amnesiac child, keep making the same mistakes
forever. But people did make the same mistakes over and over
again. And so do we. The issues that consumed us then consume us
In that sense, Larry Kramer passes the final acid
test of prophesy. He failed. He was not able to lead gay men out
of the wilderness of unlove, or the furnace of AIDS. It was his
Cassandra-like lot to foresee the coming disaster perhaps more
clearly than anyone else, and to foresee how to avoid it more
clearly than anyone else, and to communicate both to us, and
then to be disbelieved. Interestingly, he had never been accused
of gloating. When he addresses gay men, his message is always
contemporary - what you must do today, what you must do next
week, what you must do next year. Never "I told you so."
And yet he did tell us so.
Perhaps he feels no satisfaction in such an
expensive vindication, since its price was the lives of half his
world. Perhaps he does a bit, but feels guilty about it, or
recognizes that to say so would be impolitic. Perhaps a bit of
both: a natural pride in having been right, tempered by
unspeakable sadness at what he was right about. But however he
feels, it's not really about him anymore. It never has been.
It's about us.
Larry Kramer's central point - that gay men need to
love more and fuck less, that we need more of the hearth and
less of the hunt - is still, like most prophesy, undigested and
unaccepted by the very people who need it most. We tend to find
him and his message tedious, audacious, overstated, bullying,
moralistic, sometimes even hysterical, always uncomfortable.
Just like Jeremiah. And so, while the gay world has yet to
produce a genuine leader, in Larry Kramer we seem to have
produced a genuine prophet. Troubled. Resented. Mostly correct.
And tragically, still mostly unheeded.