KRAMER VS FLAMER
I interviewed the brilliant AIDS activist/playwright/ACT UP founder Larry Kramer for Index magazine several months ago for their fall issue. They canned the piece, so I've posted it on my blog. Larry, the "Bill Cosby of the gay commnity", is as feisty and fascinating as ever as he promotes his incisive new book that should be required reading for every faggot on earth! Larry and Bunny hit all the vital issues from crystal meth, the dirt on Ron Reagan, Jr, the sorry state of the AIDS epidemic--even hand lotion, Hitler and hemorrhoids!
KRAMER VS FLAMER
Thank god for big sunglasses! Sure, they're glamorous as hell and so white-hot at the moment, but they can also hide your tears. And there I was, on a flight to Greensboro, NC sobbing away with my nose buried in Larry Kramer's new book., The Tragedy of Today's gays. And lordy, is it ever a an effective tragedy! Too bad it isn't fiction. It's basically a wake-up call stir gays into outrage and action after gay rights were creamed by the re-election of Bush. "Forget gay marriage, forget..." taunts/rails Larry. And are we prepared to fight back? Nope, we're increasingly lost in a shallow world of sex, drugs and denial and there there isn't much fight left in us. ACT UP, the legendary activist group which Larry founded, has dwindled to a a handful of people at the NYC meetings. Maybe attendance would increase if they offered free crystal! Just kidding! Use of the dastardly crystal meth (or "tina" as it's affectionately known) and barebacking have HIV infections on the rise again, and younger gays, who haven't known many or any of their friends to die and who perceive that the new AIDS drugs are a cure, are often throwing caution to the wind when it comes to condom use.
The book, out on Penguin this summer, contains Larry's blistering speech at NYC's Cooper Union in it's entirety, along with a riveting introduction with a few sensational revelations. Did you know that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were fags? Or that Larry attributes the spread of AIDS to 3 other closet cases: Ed Koch, Krause and Ron Reagan, JR? Or that Hitler used the same formulation of meth that now has gays twirling to their tired circuit beats? (The esteemed author (Faggots, The Normal Heart) even throws in a little black humor here "To the more twisted among you, this may be a turn on.) Many of Larry's pronouncements are so obvious, yet no one else is making them. With 70 million infections worldwide and Russia on the verge of disappearing because of it, we have lost the war on AIDS. And we are doing to ourselves. And the government, which hates us so, loves it. We're doing ourselves in so they don't have too! Not so obvious but equally fascinating, Larry outlines the Lewis Powell manifesto, the how-to manual for the vast right wing conspiracy, whose success will not only strip gays of their rights, but turn back the clock on civil rights for women, minorities, the poor--which should make this speech relevant to many besides gays.
Addressing a capacity crowd from behind the podium at which Abe Lincoln once spoke, Larry seemed physically frail, yet emotionally so powerful. His weak, whispery voice heightened the urgency of his message. Why is this ill man having to fight the battles of perfectly healthy, but gutless fags? I'm guilty too, though I wouldn't exactly say I was slim enough to ever be called gutless. One of the most tear-jerking moments in the book outlines Larry's loss of appetite after a 2001 liver transplant. ..."Dr. John, who had just saved my life, said I had to eat or else I would die, and I just couldn't eat (do you know how strange this is to someone who was always on a diet?) It was New Year's Eve. We were in beautiful downtown Pittsburgh. David had brought a hamper filled with my favorite dishes. And I could not eat anything. Furiously, he crawled into bed with me, boots and all, and started to cry. "we haven't come this far for you to die because you won't eat, he screamed, tears streaming down his face."
So when I rendez-voused with Larry at his smart Fifth Avenue pad, I was shocked to find him....munching away on bread-sticks! After a brief barebacking demonstration (kidding!), I quizzed him about/on his new project/book.
LB: Larry...you're eating! In your book you write that you had such difficulty eating. That was such a moving moment.
L: Well, I don't have much appetite, but that's gotten a little better. You're going to hate this, but I can eat anything and not gain weight.
LB: Why would I hate that, Larry? (cackles) What are you trying to say?
L: Don't take it personally, Bunny.
LB: Well, why would I?
L: I who was on a diet my entire life now can eat, you know, a pie, a cake and a quart of ice cream. Something happened to my metabolism, I guess.
LB: Wow. Well, I guess we should start by having you sum up what you think the tragedy of today's gays is.
L: The tragedy is that there are so many of us and we're such wonderful people, and I go constantly through this book and I say over and over again. I love being gay. I love gay people. I think we're better than other people. I think we're smarter, we're more loving, we're more caring, we're better friends. And the tragedy is that we haven't learned how to make that into something for us, for ourselves, for our movement. And it seems to be getting less and less, worse and worse.
LB: But I mean, I think it's symptomatic of activism falling out of favor with this generation. In the 80's the NY Native was widely read and that was a very political, AIDS-oriented publication. And now the gay rags are full of eye candy and club music and entertainment. One even proudly subtitles itself, "The Politically Incorrect Party Paper". What has caused the activism to die?
L: You tell me. We're becoming more and more invisible. And I happen to think that this current generation--and it's not just because I'm old--it's invisible. I can't see them.
LB: Well, they certainly don't have that spark of activism that you saw in the ACT UP days. Someone mentioned at your speech in the Q & A section that the attendance at ACT UP meetings had dwindled to like 6.
L: Well, ACT UP is a different story.
LB: I've always fought the urge to moan "Oh, back in my day!"--
LB: --"Cause I'm not exactly young. I've always fought that urge 'cause you do always look back on the rosier memories, but it just seems that kids don't care about about the activism and they certainly are engaging anew in unsafe sex when the HIV transmission was down for a while. Now it's back up.
L: I have to say I don't know. And I guess the more I stay an activist, the more I stay out there on the front line. In the heyday of AIDS I didn't understand why everybody wasn't fighting to save their own life. And today. I can't understand again why everybody isn't exercising all precautions to stay alive. I just don't understand that. I don't understand why you would wanna purposefully throw away a life. Even if it's accidental, it's not accidental. In the heyday of ACT UP, when we were at our most powerful, there were probably no more than 10,000 of us in this country, in all the cities. There were like 30/340 chapters, but there weren't many of us in each chapter. And considering how many gay people there are in America--there WERE in America, and only 10,000 of us instead of 1,000,000 of us, out there fighting to get those drugs. So even though we had activism out there it didn't represent a very large percentage of our population. And now I don't think there's any activism at all.
LB: And maybe as a testament to gays' obsession with sex, ACT UP seemed to get one if it's biggest media boosts when it became "sexy" to attend the meetings! And there was even like an East Village ACT UP "look"--
L: We invented it.
LB: --with the shaved heads and the overalls- and the combat boots--
L: It came out of nowhere. I don't know where it came from and it happened fast. You know, they showed up fast , the youngsters. And all of a sudden one day I just looked up and said "Holy shit!" These are not the kind of guys I expected to be running the activism. And they're hot!
LB: (Both laugh.) Was it hard to concentrate?
L: And that just made more people come. And that was fine. And I don't know if we created that look but we sure perpetuated it and I guess it's still going on. When we did things like the St. Patrick's day thing and we really showed we were butch and how macho/butch we could be if we wanted to, so they stopped making so many fag jokes on tv. I liked that. It's alright when we make the fag jokes , I think, but it's not alright when they make them. There we were in the black leather and the boots and "Shut up you fuckers!" Mind you, there were plenty of demos when we were all in drag, too, as nurses and doctors. We were just puttin' on shows. I'm sorry that people lost all that 'cause it was fun. The thing about activism that people don't realize is that it's wonderfully moving when a bunch of people thinking the same thing are fighting for the same thing together. That happened to me twice in my life. The early days of GMHC and the early days of ACT UP were just so moving, Bunny, you have no idea. There we were. All of us. All ages. Women were involved too and we were all united in this fight against this wrong. And it t gave us sustenance. I'm sure it changed people's social lives. And people suddenly had ACT UP as a social--there were different meetings every night of the week. You could stay busy all week if you wanted to with something to do. And I think people do need something to do which is positive. And people could bring their skills, whatever they were, you know. Whether you were an accountant and you wanted to take care of the treasury or whether you wanted to deal with clinical trials and help enroll people or whatever. Whether you wanted to put on a show and raise a little money for us, all of that.
LB: Is one of the reasons that people lost interest in activism the perception that the new drugs work? You kid of blast the drugs as daily chemotherapy--
L: Well, they are! But it's easy to take, people think. They are hard to take and they require a lot of attention. It's not just like taking an aspirin. I don't think that's the reason. I think people aren't scared anymore. We were all scared. And I think fear makes for successful activism--you're afraid. We've got plenty to be afraid of. We're afraid all these enemies are going to take us over lock, stock, and barrel, which in fact they have done already. But that doesn't seem to be a fear that registers on anybody's radar when you know, you can live in NY and do whatever you want to do. It certainly should go on your radar if you are living wherever you are from.
LB: Riker's Island?
L: (laughs) And the people who are living there, I guess, are used to being in the closet so I don't know what's going to happen to us. The book is, I think, I hope, an honest appraisal of a very depressing situation so you can either take that as a downer or you can take that as a challenge.
LB: I think one thing that should make your book interesting to everyone except maybe conservative, straight, white men, is this information which I knew nothing about which concerns the Lewis Powell Manifesto. Is that the same vast right-wing conspiracy that Hillary Clinton was referring to when she was denouncing the Ken Starr investigation?
L: Oh yeah. They're all united. It's all part and parcel of the same hideous people, thought, money, movement, whatever and they've been doin' it since 1971. They've got a lot of money and it almost doesn't make any difference who's president, I'm convinced of that. These people have the think tanks and the newspapers, the media and the commentators.
LB: They've definitely got the media.
L: And we have nothing so we become invisible. And they want it that way. I say in the book that they want AIDS to continue because that's the way we destroy ourselves and that's the way they can present us constantly as sick.
LB: I'm wondering how they articulate that and how do they reconcile it with their religious beliefs. Are we just so amoral that they want to rid the earth of us?
L: Indeed. They don't hide it as much as they used to. They're saying it on their own tv stations. God knows, you can get on these mailing lists and get mailed hateful stuff all that you want. I noticed that a lot of the stuff is going into mainstream now. Bush and Cheney are saying all these terrible things about us as a matter of course. And they are united in a way that WE haven't been and I don't think we ever will be. I say they have a meeting once a week and it's called church and everybody goes and so constantly they can preach whatever they're thinking from their pulpit in their social groups and to their children. That's pretty hard to deal with. I know that some of our rich people are starting to begin meeting. They're all meeting in Aspen.
LB: (Hurt) Oh, I wasn't invited.
L: They saw your bank account, dear. (laughs) The Gill Foundation is sponsoring. It's all becoming an education for me because I'm discovering that there are all these really rich gay men and women that I have never heard of. And some of them have foundations like The Gill Foundation. Tim Gill is a billionaire, just about. He invented a software program called Quark Express on which every publication in the world is made. He since sold sold it but he started this foundation which my friend Roger McFarlane who used to run Broadway Cares and GMHC is running. And they're whipping all of this up, trying to get all of the rich people to sit down in one room and talk and say "Alright, this is it, we're in big trouble." Roger wrote the second piece in my book. A great essay. There's a lot of money in the lesbian community. A lot of family money that they've inherited or they've made it on Wall Street and it's time to plough it back into your people. It's a start.
LB: One thing you've said is that the gay organizations are basically--
LB: --either bankrupt or powerless or both--
LB: What should we be demanding of them? Obviously they are strapped for cash.
L: No, some of 'em aren't. HRC has got a lot of money. They just put up a 26 or 19 million dollar building in downtown Washington. I don't know how you shape up the shapeless.
LB: I don't either...but enough jokes about my weight!
L: It's like when the girdle doesn't work. I don't know. I have to say I don't know a lot these days.
LB: (fececiously) What's a girdle? Another interesting contrast is that while the Powell Manifesto is based on success through organization and consistency and I guess you're saying that gays are the opposite--we're an unorganized mess! That we party and our organizations might throw a glamorous dinner with Sharon Stone, but what we actually need to be doing is shaking a hand at an Ohio barbecue saying "Hi!I'm your hairdresser, I'm your next-door neighbor, I'm your banker." That does sound like a huge undertaking. When I think we need that's what needs to be done by us, we need to put the Lewis Powell--instead of the Lewis Carroll--Manifesto into effect--
L: That is funny. Right! We're living the Lewis Carroll one!
LB: I wouldn't know where to start. First of all I don't have millions to contribute.
L: What do we call ourselves--the rank and file of the population. We've done our share, up to a point, through these AIDS years. But the rich people haven't. It's their turn to take the lead, set it up and let us be their foot soldiers again, but they gotta finance this. I'm tired of operating on a shoestring. They have radio stations, they have newspapers, they can afford to take ads in the NY Times. We can't afford to do any of that stuff. And we have to be able to. We gotta to fight fire with fire and it's very expensive. The opposition pours in in millions, billions.
LB: And they hate us--a lot!
L: And they hate us. So I don't think it's a question of shaking hands at a barbecue anymore, you know. You're saying "Go show us what we look like". They know what we look like. We thought if we showed them two women with kids or two guys with kids looking like a loving family that it would make them sympathize with that. That just makes them more angry.
LB: So what would the gay millions be poured into?
L: The gay BILLIONS. Well, every time they come after you, you go into law courts. You fight and say that's illegal, that's discrimination. Right now that's getting harder because they're loading the courts with people who do the dirty work and agree--
LB: With the republican president and congress.
L: You've gotta fight them too. You've gotta fight, fight, fight, ALL the time! And that's what's exhausting. When you're an activist, you have to do it every day. And that's the big mistake of ACT UP. The minute we got the drugs, everybody went home and said "OK, we got the drugs and that was our goal" instead of saying "No, no! We gotta stick this out. There are more fights to fight." Maxine Wolf, the famous lesbian activist, said that to me. "You gotta do it every day." You gotta get up in the morning and you gotta do it 'til you go to bed at night. And our enemies do! They do it mostly through churches and through prayer meetings and all those things that keep them together somehow. And through their universities. And it's gonna get worse! These people are in for long term. As Bill Moyers points out in his speech I quote, they've managed to increase the number of conservative people who agree with them, the percentage from 10%-40%, whatever I say in the book--a lot . So you say Index is a magazine for straight people?
LB: Well, it's for thinking people which encompasses (laughing) some gay people.
L: Well, this should apply to all people because everybody's got rights that they're not getting and I'm hoping...we don't have much support from straight people. That's what I mean when I say 60 million people voted against us. You have to realize that that's hate. That's not dislike, that is hate! And we never face up to the fact that these people hate us and they don't support us. They don't want us to know that 'cause it's too strong a word. "Oh, it's not hate! They just don't want us to get married." Well, honey, I think that's hate--if they're going to protect their precious marriage to the point of death like that.
LB: That's not as frustrating to me as the fact that we gays don't care about ourselves.
L: It's almost as if people say "Oh what did you expect?" or "I'm used to that--it's happened all my life. Why should it be different now?" instead of saying "I won't take it any more".
LB: Some of things in your speech are such obvious conclusions, but no one else is stating them. Like when you say we went from 41 AIDS cases to 70 million, the war on AIDS has been lost.
L: It has been. But that should be obvious to everyone. I mean, how can we not know that? How can we not remember that it was 41 and it's 70 million now and you have to say "Honey, somebody's not tending to the store". And you have to say "Well, they must not want to tend to the store."
LB: The frustrating thing is that AIDS is not like the bubonic plague where you walk outside your door and get it. We know how to prevent it's transmission.
L: You're so right.
LB: And the bare-backing controversy. I'm like, what's the controversy? You don't use a condom and you can die! Another thing that you say that is so obvious is that if you fuck somebody without a condom and you have HIV, you may be murdering them. Or if you're a bottom who throws their legs up without a condom, you may be committing suicide, It just takes longer than if you commit suicide by jumping in front of a bus. That is something that gays are in denial about. And we're ready to chalk getting HIV up to "Oh girl, I was so high!".
L: Or just from being so horny all of a sudden. You can get carried away without any drug, when somebody gorgeous comes along.
LB: But I think caution is especially thrown to the wind when you're under the influence, and it is a hard pill to swallow that as you say, you're probably never going to be able to have sex without a condom again without this worry.
L: Yep! And I should have said it a long time ago. I should have actually used the word "murder". I say in this book that we have been murdering each other since it was discovered to be a virus, which is 1985. From that day on, if we didn't start using condoms we were murdering each other. And that's why everyone of us has killed a few people. When I looked at that list of names of people over the years, it really shook me up. I saved the names of people I've gone to bed with and realized how many of them were dead that I had fucked. And maybe it was my virus and maybe it wasn't, but it sure could have been. This thing between our legs is a lethal weapon--
LB: Yeah, my hemorrhoids are killing me!
L:-- but we don't look upon it that way. It doesn't mean you can't use it with pleasure, if protected.
LB: But whether it's because of the drugs being perceived as a cure, they do refuse to accept the fact that they'll never be able to have anal sex without a condom again and as you point out, the jury's still out on any definitive oral transmission.
L: The jury's not out to me. But you're right. And you know that bare-backing shit started surfacing about 3 or 4 years ago, when it started there was that stupid group called Sex Panic which was saying "How dare you tell us what we can and can not do?" And they really went after me, they crucified me. How dare you say all that? And all you're doing is telling them common fucking sense! Use a condom--stop it! You cannot do this to each other. You cannot murder each other.
LB: Kind of prophetically, you asked in your speech in October, "What's going to happen when these drugs stop working?". And a few months later there's this Super-Bug. And someone called me all worried, saying the new strain goes from HIV to full-blown AIDS in months and it's resistant to the drugs! And I was like "Yeah, but honey, the transmission method is the same." And these people are still playing Russian roulette. That the Super-Bug would worry him more when he should already be engaging in safe sex. People are just not willing to accept--
L: At the beginning of the book I say that one of my motivating forces is my finding out that a good friend of mine had sero-converted and another good friend had become hooked on crystal meth. And I thought, Holy shit! Both of these guys are intelligent, up-market, they've got brains, they've got money. They had a place in the community and good strong egos--they had no reason to be so depressed. And I said Holy shit! If THESE guys are going to fall of the wagon, we're in real trouble." We're not talking about silly ditzes. And of course they're both ashamed and they're both "Oh, I don't know what happened" and the guy who started the crystal meth said " Well, I'd been feeling down for such a while and I just wanted to try it a few times. And I had no idea it was so addictive. Before I knew it it was too late." And the guy who sero-converted, you know, admits" I was just stupid." But if the smart ones are going to be stupid...
LB: Well, that crystal is so diabolical because it short-circuits the serotonin-manufacturing process in the brain---
LB:--and the serotonins are what make you feel happy, so when you get hooked on it and try to get off of it, you're serotonins are whacked. So you may never be able to feel good again, or at least for a long while. But what's guaranteed to make you feel good? Another bump of crystal. That's why it's so tough to get off of it.
L: Is it expensive?
LB: Why you wanna buy some? (reaching into pocket) I'll give you a good deal.
L: (Laughs) It's a serotonin, is it?
LB: No it's not. But when you are addicted, it affects the way your brains natural serotonins are manufactured.
L: Because I am terrified of heights. And I have been ever since I was 10 or 12. I've spent zillions of dollars on analysts couches trying to find out why I panic when I go up high. I just totally panic. I start to sweat and all that. And I've always thought "I should be able to lick this somehow!" I'm going out here yelling at all these people to do this and that and yet if you live on the 12th floor, I can't come up to your house. And then about a year ago the NIH has done a study and they've discovered that people who have extreme phobias like I have, it's got to do with the serotonin levels in your brain. So that there is an actual physical cause for all this and I feel so relieved. I can say fuck you, I'm not going to come up there 'cause I've got whatever in my brain. So I'm no longer that kind of sissy.
LB: Try some crystal. Then you can really go up high.
L: (laughs) That's what I'm afraid of, I'll go up there and jump!
LB: Why do you claim that this the most difficult speech you've ever written?
L: Because I was going to use the word "murder". I was going to say we are murdering each other. I've never said that out loud before. I've thought it, and I'd thought of it, and I'm angry at myself that I didn't start saying it in 1985. And I knew somehow the next speech I'd make, whenever it would be, that I'd have to do that.
LB: Well, it's another of those obvious conclusions. On a different note, in the forward which you've added to the speech, you blame 3 guys for the rise of AIDS--
L: For the whole plague!
LB: One is Ronald Reagan, Jr. How sickened were you by the pomp of his dad's funeral?
L: I wrote a letter that they published in the Advocate. I was saying that this man has murdered more people than Hitler.
LB: Watching the reverent news coverage I felt such a big disconnect--Reagan was the president who tried to make ketch-up a vegetable and couldn't utter the word AIDS!
L: Let's talk about the kid. How can you stand by--whether he's gay or not, I happen to think he's gay and I happen to have a lot of miscellaneous information that backs that up. He went to Yale for a year and I'm well-plugged in at Yale.
LB: And little Ronnie was also "well-plugged" at Yale?
L: Evidently he carried on there. He was a ballet dancer in a ballet company. If he wasn't gay, he certainly was surrounded by gay people. He's gotta have had a lot of gay friends. How he could have stood by and watched all these friends die and know it was because his old man and his mother weren't out there saying let's do something about this? He must be very fucked-up in the head. Just like Mary Cheney. She must be very fucked up in the head to stick around with THAT family--
LB: Which got a big laugh during the speech. And you think the big reasons that the Reagans wouldn't touch the AIDS issue was that they didn't want the nation to focus on their son's homosexuality?
L: I'm convinced. Ron Jr. got married awfully sudden, got married to a woman much older than he was--not that that means anything--he got married to a woman who his mother did not like then.
LB: Did that sour-faced bitch like anyone, ever?
L: She's happy with him now I think, but he suddenly became another person. He must been slapped into place. So basically, the point I make is that this AIDS plague was really caused by 3 gay people: Ed Koch, Ron Reagan, Jr.--although I was not allowed to use that term "gay" in the book. I had to write around all that because of the lawyers. And the third man was Dr. Richard Krause, who was the head of the part of the NIH, which dealt with communicable diseases. He was GAY and he did nothing, NOTHING for those first 5 years. And I got that from all other people who worked there. And certainly we know Ed Koch did nothing for all the people who worked here. So 3 closeted gay people killed us. That's how much we haven't got our act together. You can't call people gay in print most of the time. I can do it now because of Krause is out and Ed Koch, we have enough information from other people that he is. And besides you can't liable a famous person because they can sue. And I haven't been able to find anybody to tell me that Ron Jr. was gay, I just get a lot of gossip. A lot of gay kids that were at Yale say "I know so-and-so who slept with him". But I haven't got the goods on him like I got it on Ed Koch. We actually know who the lover was.
LB: How bitter were you when the lover was going to come forward and then didn't? That must have been crushing to see that ray of hope--
L: There were so many things like that you just say "OK, what do we do next?" That's what activism really is. You play with the cards that you were dealt that day. You make it up as you go along. Half the time you wanna call somebody that you were talking to at such-and-such an agency or drug company and you call back and that person's no longer there. And you've got to start all over again. It was always like that. The whole thing's been very slippery. I wish we could realize that they want all this to happen and we're doing just what they want us to do. They want us to kill ourselves. Maybe that will help people to say "Fuck you, we're NOT going to!"
LB: I wonder how and where is this articulated among the powers that be? Does someone pat George Bush on the back behind closed doors and say "Good job! We still didn't release those approved AIDS drugs and funding yet."?
L: I'm very interested in Hitler and Nazi Germany and the psychology of all of that. And there's a fantastic book--the name of which I can't remember--by a professor at the University of Leeds about how Hitler never said all the things that his people did. He didn't tell everybody "Go out and kill all the jews". He never said that. He said "I don't like the jews" but he never said "go out there and kill them". It's just that all his people knew how he felt and they did what they thought he wanted. And that's what's going on here. All of the people who work for Bush--they know us, what has to be done.
LB: But it seems like such an intricate plan--
L: It's not a plan. You just look the other way. The bill gets defeated in Congress or the judge rules it's illegal. Bush has $6 billion which has been acquired and none of it's gone out. He can say "Look, I got $6 billion from Congress for AIDS". In the meantime, his person who's running the bank is not writing the check. So...
LB: And he's not approving the AIDS drugs, either.
L: Did you know that you cannot submit an application for any kind of research funding to the NIH that has the word "homosexual" in it? You won't won't get your money. So if you want to test drugs on gay people, they can't say that. More and more these little things sneak into the rules and regulations. And there are so many of them and there aren't enough people fighting back. You'll see an article about it--all these things have been exposed. The Times runs an article every day of yet some new, awful thing that they're up to. But there's not enough energy to confront each and every thing every day. The democrats are just totally invisible.
LB: Well, the same people who put Bush in power control most people's news, You have to watch BBC World to get balanced coverage.
L: It's true. Do you?
LB: I try, but I admit I do keep CNN on a lot. Lately republicans are harping about the liberal news media and I'm like who? Air America?
L: No, that's what they say. It's like Ed Koch has denied everything that I said in my book, saying he's done all these incredible things and spent more money on this than any other state and it's just one lie after another in his denial. And many will believe him, or people will say he's full of shit and that's the end of it.
LB: Or people believe the commercials between every break on CNN that say "George Bush is trying to say social security" when the opposite is true--
L: That is such a red herring! That is such an issue that is never going to get anywhere that he keeps on the front pages so that he doesn't have to deal with the other issues that are more troublesome. He's such a sneak, such a liar, such a cheat!
LB: And I love that you point out in your speech that with the $150 billion spent in an unnecessary, unjust war on Iraq we could have stopped AIDS AND world hunger. The new findings that the evidence on which the war was based was dead wrong was totally eclipsed by the Terri Schiavo coverage and the pope.
L: There's another one. We sat here and watched it all happen. You just KNEW that war was a load of shit. I f you said it everybody said "You're un-American. You don't love your country".
LB: But what I don't understand is that I (I in italics) have no access to intelligence findings or government dossiers, but the democratic members of Congress did. How could they have voted for the war? To appease their vengeful constituents after 9/11 so they could stay in office?
L: I don't think there are any more democrats. The democratic party is so totally invisible. I don't think there are more than 3 of them there--Barbara Boxer, and Ted Kennedy and you tell me who else? I don't even know their names anymore. It didn't use to be like that. There used to be a lot of democrats you could rattle off. Everybody knows this! We're not saying anything that should be news to anybody.
LB: I don't think people have many outlets for real news. That's one promising development: a lot of young people are getting their news from the internet so they bypass Fox and the like.
L: What do use for your skin? For dry skin? (itching a dry patch)
LB: For my skin? Just Vaseline.
L: Just regular Vaseline?
LB: According to the No-Nonsense Medically-Based Beauty Book, they say Vaseline.
L: Just regular, hard Vaseline? Not Vaseline Intensive Care?
LB: Well that's a lotion, so it's an infusion of water and petrolatum, so it's weaker. The purpose of any moisturizer is to seal in moisture, so just wet your skin and slather on Vaseline or cocoa butter or olive oil.
L: I have this one spot that never goes away.
LB: Maybe some cortisone.
L: That might do it. I've got some of that. I'll give it a try. What were we talking about? Oh! Let me tell you about activism again. You don't need other people, you can do it yourself. One person can stand up somewhere with a sign. You may feel like an asshole, but after you've finished, you feel real good. I've done that, a lot of times, when I couldn't get anyone else to come with me. Someone is appearing in public and you stand up near 'em with a sign and everybody stares at you and you do feel like an asshole. But so what, you're getting the message across and maybe somebody will take the picture and put it somewhere. And you'll make somebody think. You don't have to have an ACT UP, you don't have to have a gang of people. So I want everybody here to get a sign!
LB: Speaking of being considered an asshole, I understand that you were asked to leave the Fire Island Pines.
L: That was after the publication of Faggots, because the climax of Faggots takes in the Fire Island Pines in the meat-rack.
LB: And they didn't want their tales told.
L: They didn't want their tales told so I was asked to leave.
LB: By individuals? Or...
L: No it was one of the men who owned the grocery store who was sort of a big community representative. Now dead. If we make a movie of The Normal Heart, which YOU didn't see---
LB: Oops! (giggles nervously)
L: --I hope we might be able to shoot a lot of it at Fire Island. We've got a lot of community cooperation now.
LB: One thing from the speech that I'd like for you to elaborate on is the notion that HIV enables them to sell ourselves as sick. And that kills off our usefulness both in our own minds--
L: It allows THEM to sell us as sick. They can say we're sick. So how can we be believed or admitted into their family, into their world, all these sick people. And then THAT has an effect on on our visions of ourselves because they're harping on us all the time. "You're sick, you're sick, you're sick!" And most people agree with it because that's what we were brought up to believe, a lot of us, as children.
LB: That we're not just physically sick but mentally sick, so it blends in with the self-worth issues--
L: Completely, completely.
LB: --and makes us engage in some of these behaviors to kill the pain.
L: Oh, I have no question that's how that whole mechanism works. The more they call us sick, the more it chips away at our self-image. And let's face it, most people have trouble enough with their self-image. Life is hard for everybody. It's hard to keep your strength up all the time. It took me a long time not to give a fuck what other people thought. But this is all wearing me down, all the stuff that they're doing to us now. Because, we're not fighting back. That also decreases the sense of our self-worth if we can't even fight back. So we're participating in our own destruction somehow. It's very sad.
LB: Do you see anything that makes you hopeful?
L: No. I can't see it. Who makes the decisions for us? We have no elected officials, we have no organizations that represent us as a group and when anybody at the head of an organization speaks out as if he's speaking for everybody, people get mad. "I don't agree with you. How dare you say those things on behalf of all gay people." We have no way of governing ourselves or ruling ourselves. We have no way to meet like in a congress to have different views debated and decisions reached through compromise--we have none of that. So we're really just a lot of people wondering around lost in the wilderness.
LB: And very divided, and not connected to our history. The younger generation hasn't watched as many of their friends die.
L: And one organization doesn't work with another organization doesn't work with a third organization and they all get mad at each other because "You're in my territory! You've usurped my issue." instead of saying "Let's all sit down and try and work on this together". So they all cancel each other out.
LB: At the speech, you got a big laugh when you dropped your red, white and blue flag sweater on the ground and you also used a very effective theatrical device of repeating, several times in your speech, the bit about "I love being gay, I love gay people, I think we're better than other people...." Are you perhaps thinking of another theatrical venture? You say that you're doing a film of The Normal Heart--
L: I didn't say that officially. There will be a movie of The Normal Heart. I can't say more than that right now.
LB: How about your book The American People, which you've been working on since 1978. It's already 3,000 pages. What's that about?
L: I've described it before. It's a history of America and it starts with the monkeys in the jungle. It's a history of gay people in America 'cause we've been here since the beginning even though we didn't have a name. And it's a history of minorities--
LB: Will there be more details about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington being gay?
L: There's a lot in there.
LB: Go ahead with the minorities, I didn't mean to interrupt you.
L: Well, I've discovered a lot of awful things that they've done to us over the years, over the centuries.
LB: And about the minorities...
L: There's a lot of about how the minorities were treated especially gays and jews and blacks. And about how this virus has managed to grow. The virus itself is a character in the book. It's been around a long time. It's supposed to have crossed over from monkeys into people in the 16th Century. And it's a history of AIDS. I'm the only writer who's left alive who's been on the front line since the beginning. And I know all the bodies that were buried, literally and figuratively.
LB: Another great question you ask in the speech is "Why isn't anyone else speaking out about this?".
L: That's one of those "I don't know" questions.
LB: Well, I hope that your book will stimulate such speeches.
L: I hope so too.
LB: (Laughing) So there's SOME hope?
L: Well, you never don't have hope, but I'm not very hopeful right now.