Monday, December 16, 2013

"The Normal Heart"

I awoke at four a.m., thinking about last night’s performance of the current Chicago production of Larry Kramer’s searing The Normal Heart, the story…no, a story…of the emergence of an unnamed killer we finally came to call AIDS.

Like tearing the scab off a wound, I left the theater with the combined feelings of rage and sorrow I’d not experienced in a long time. Sorrow for those countless gay men who died so tragically, and rage over the refusal…both of a government which is supposed to protect all its people, not just heterosexuals, and the gay community itself, which refused to give up the carefree promiscuity they felt they had earned during the “sexual revolution”…to take immediate action to halt the advance of the disease.

Sorrow for Tim. For Ray. For Ed. For Bill. For Matt. For Mike. Not just names: real people. My friends. Sorrow for the 35,000,000 people who have died since the first published report, in July, 1981, of 41 cases of a rare cancer being discovered in gay men in New York City.

Rage and utter contempt for President Ronald Reagan who, as the death toll climbed from hundreds to thousands, refused to even speak the word “AIDS” until three years after it was given a name! Utterly, totally unconscionable and unforgivable. Anger against the gay community itself which, despite the increasing fear, partied on and went to the baths which remained open despite clear evidence that the disease was transmitted by sexual content, and the baths existed for sex. Gay newspapers refused to warn their readers against going to the baths because they would lose advertising revenue from their primary advertisers…the baths.

How did I not contract it? I was as sexually active as I possibly could allow myself to be, though I never really considered myself promiscuous since I never went to the baths and my contacts were somewhat limited by my reluctance to approach people in the bars unless I felt fairly sure the interest was mutual. But Tim, Ed, and Mike, all of whom were quite promiscuous, were “friends with benefits” and I had numerous bedroom encounters with them. I was spared watching Ray, who was, in the fog of selective memory, the love of my life, die only because his alcoholism had driven us apart one more time and he had returned to Los Angeles. I didn’t even know he was ill until I got a call from one of his friends, and when I called the hospital to which the friend said he’d been taken, it was too late: he had just died.

And I am angry at so many gays today, who did not live through what I’ve called “The Dread.” The theater, in which The Normal Heart is playing, seats probably 300, and was sold out. But the audience was almost totally straight, and over 50! There were three gay couples, under 30. Six gays out of 300 at a play about their own history! How can this be? Are they blind?

In the play’s program there is a quote from Larry Kramer which sums up this anger:

“A very strange thing has happened in the post-AIDS generation. I don't know what to call them: it’s not really post-AIDS, but let’s call them the healthier younger ones. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to know the old people; they don’t want to know the history; they don’t want to acknowledge  that the people who died were even part of their history. I talk about this a lot. How can you dare to ignore everything that happened? These people died so that you could live. Those drugs are out there because people died for them. [It’s] shocking what’s going on now in the gay population. I have lost a great deal of pride in being gay.”

It is, yet again, truly to weep.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

This is one of your most powerful posts in a while, D. And you're right. The younger generation of gay folks these days isn't interested. They, too, are the generation of entitlement. Why should they have to learn what almost destroyed us when they can live like they think they want to today?

Excellent, excellent post.

Kathy Kozakewich said...

I'm at a loss for words; I've tried to start a reply a half dozen times and couldn't get say a portion of what I'm feeling after reading this. But words such as 'moving', 'powerful', 'heartfelt' are all jumbled up. Then there is, by turns, tears and anger.
I'm in awe, Dorien... and I hope this gets the exposure it deserves. People need to hear this and remember.

Aunt Martha's Bookstore said...

I was born in 1982. I am one of those "entitled" gays Kage mentioned. However, from the time I was born I heard that if you're gay, you will die of AIDS. When I suspected I was gay I watched all the movies about AIDS, I read all the books about AIDS and I poured over any magazine article about AIDS. I'm now in my 30s and I was safe all through my 20s; I know no one with AIDS, no one with HIV. To me, and possibly to my gay brothers my age and younger, that AIDS is like hearing about polio, it seems rare and almost extinct. I know its not and I don't care for history to repeat itself but to say the younger generation doesn't care is not understanding the younger generation. We didn't live through it. We didn't lose friends. We didn't lose family. To me watching a play about AIDS is like the controversy over FDR's wheelchair; I can't relate to either.
I believe safe sex should be taught in schools with a mention of AIDS, I think gay men should still be terrified of having unsafe sex, I think AIDS research should be better funded, I think AIDS should be talked about in the press to continue to educate the masses and dispel negative or baseless rumors.
But getting mad at a generation for not caring about their history or going to a play is aiming your anger at a target simply because you want them to know your history and the history gay men that paved the way for the younger generation. Heterosexuals fight that battle everyday trying to get their kids to care about their history in a mostly futile battle and I fear the history of AIDS is just that, history.

Dorien Grey said...

Points very well made, Matthew, and I cannot fault them.