Dear Larry Kramer

[Spudsy and I spent a long time chatting about our thoughts on an op-ed we read yesterday, penned by someone we both admired, and finally decided we'd put them all down in one big post. So here it is. I'm up first, and then Spudsy's response comes after. — Shakes]

SHAKES: I first became an ally to the LGBT community without realizing it, the day that Hot Darryl (as opposed to Ugly Darrell) called my best girlfriend and I "dykes" in seventh grade, and we pretended to make out. In retrospect, it was a pretty good move for a couple of 12-year-olds, wrenching the sting from a homophobic epithet simply by not treating it as an insult. I wish I could say it was a conscious strategy, but, really, we were just sort of smart-asses that way. It was only when I saw the look on our tormentor's face—disgusted, intrigued, and mostly dejected; boy, we'd stolen his thunder—that I began to consider what it meant to him that straight girls refused to accept "dyke" as an insult. And it wasn't until I was 15, and made a friend called Faith, who was madly in love with Jane Wiedlin, that I began to consider what it meant to dykes.

For awhile, being an ally was strictly an intimate affair. Like countless other queer-brained straight girls before me, I was ally to a gay best friend, now haunting these parts as Mr. Furious, and my protests and advocacy consisted primarily of "Shut the fuck up, asshole!" when someone called him a fag. Or any of the other gay boys, trannies, and future drag queens who all seemed to end up on the school newspaper staff, where I was editor-in-chief and Morrissey provided the soundtrack in our refuge, The Pub (otherwise known to less enlightened souls as the publications room).

It was when I joined the gay-straight alliance at university, giving my advocacy a formal outlet, that I first encountered queer radicals who professed to hate straight people and threatened constantly to start their own group where "breeders" would not be welcome. Looking back on it more than a decade hence, I am almost charmed by the stridency, evoking as it does a nostalgia for dorms packed with 18-year-olds trying on ideologies of all sorts; I never knew so many Marxists as I did my freshman year of college. But at the time, it was very upsetting. The radicals' leader, a beautiful and reckless trust fund kid who would end his life with an unintentional drug overdose in three years, would launch into tirades about straight people that made my eyes sting with tears, until I slowly realized that he wasn't talking about me. Not because he made exceptions, but because I made myself one.

In the intervening years, I've heard rants, from far less radical corners, about straight people—those problematic, privileged, pains in the ass. Sometimes people remember I'm there and say, "I don't mean you," and sometimes they forget, and sometimes they just don't care about catching me in the crossfire. And I haven't felt compelled to say, "Hey, I'm not like that," except on the occasions someone needed to hear it—if they were not angry, but despairing; if those words brought them some hopeful comfort. I have ever tried to say those words only gently and encouragingly, never defensively.

Until now.

Yesterday, Larry Kramer, founder of ACT UP and a man I have long admired, penned an op-ed for the LA Times titled Why do straights hate gays? It begins:


Why do you hate gay people so much?
He then goes on to list all the evidence, with much of which I not only agree, but have written about on many occasions. Some of it, however, is plainly wrong: "Gays do not realize that the more we become visible, the more we come out of the closet, the more we are hated."—From continually increasing support among straights for full equality under the law, to demonstrated correlations between straight support for the LGBT community and personal relationships with out LGBT people, surveys and studies repeatedly show that assertion to be untrue. Surely, Kramer is not unaware of those facts; what purpose does it serve to claim victimhood unnecessarily?

Which brings me to my feeling about the piece in its entirety: What purpose does its framing serve? More importantly, who benefits from positioning this fight as one between LGBT people and straight people?

Because, realistically, this isn't a Gay v. Straight fight anymore. It's a People Who Believe in Equality v. People Who Don't Believe in Equality fight—and Kramer's being disingenuous (and worse—unhelpful) when he pretends that all gay people are on one side of that "v" and all straight people are on the other. It's just ain't so—and it ain't People Who Believe in Equality who benefit from pretending that it is.

When we pretend that there are not prominent gay/closeted conservatives who not only provide cover for the GOP and their big-tent claims, but also support anti-gay legislation, that there are not even yet gay Republicans whose votes prioritize tax cuts or warmongering over their own equality, it benefits them. When we pretend that there is not a vibrant gay rights movement (but instead the "feeble gay movement" Kramer sees) that includes many straight allies—among them the governors of several states, the mayors of some of the nation's largest cities, numerous household name entertainers, parents and siblings and children of LGBT people, and countless anonymous schmucks like me who are just trying to do what we think is right—that benefits them. Not us. Not the People Who Believe in Equality. Not the people who deserve equality at long last.

It's deeply disappointing for me to see Kramer so profoundly and unconstructively mischaracterize the current state of this struggle, because it benefits those who oppose equality by redirecting attention away from their motives—scapegoats, wedge issues, diversions, exploitations of ignorance and bigotry—and erroneously boiling all that down to a playground fight between two ends of the sexual orientation spectrum. Worse yet, it obfuscates all the very accessible places into which emergent straight allies can plug into this movement. Every equality movement in the nation's history has been dependent on privileged members of the majority buying into the underlying principles, and the Gay v. Straight framing doesn't remotely begin to suggest what natural allies straight feminists are, nor straight men keen to challenge traditional masculinity. In the end, Kramer's just needlessly conceding a point to the retrofuck jackholes by conflating "people hostile or apathetic toward equality" with "straight people."



I don't hate gay people.

But I hated your column. And, because it doesn't actually do any of us any good to so disobligingly portray this struggle, I feel compelled to tell you, defensively, "Hey, I'm not like that"—not in defense of myself, but in defense of all People Who Believe in Equality.

And I never thought I'd have to defend them against you.

Then again, maybe you just needed to know I care.

I do.

Shakespeare's Sister

* * *

PAUL THE SPUD: Here's the thing: Blanket statements like Mr. Kramer's risk alienating existing and potential allies.

Mr. Kramer, it would appear, has finally reached the point in his frustration with attempting to understand the "hate" directed at us by many heterosexuals that he can't (or won't) differentiate between allies and enemies.

There are straight people out there who may believe in equality for all people that have never spoken out about it either in public, or to loved ones. They have never attended a pride parade, nor have they participated in an ACT-UP rally. They may never have read The Celluloid Closet or even thumbed through a copy of "The Advocate." However, these people are not lazy, apathetic "straights." They are potential allies, and this needs to be recognized. Not only do they need to be approached as becoming more vocal/voting allies of the LGBTQ community, but they don’t need to be scared away. Saying
"You may say you don't hate us, but the people you vote for do, so what's the difference? Our own country's democratic process declares us to be unequal. Which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us."
comes dangerously close to the famous "You're either with us, or you're with the terrorists" rhetoric that has turned so many potential allies away from America. Why would anyone reach their hand out to assist someone that displays such bitter contempt for their aid? Kramer is declaring them the enemy no matter what they do.

Playing the constant, beaten-down victim does nothing to aid our community. We're not going to get any sympathy votes. If anything, the constant cries of "You hate us! You hate us! You hate us!" will earn you a response along the lines of "I didn’t before, but now I’m beginning to." Flinging hyperbole like "Why do you hate us so much that you will not permit us to legally love?" and "Make no mistake: Forbidding gay people to love or marry is based on hate, pure and simple," will earn nothing but scoffing and scorn from those that do actively work against us, and bewilderment from our allies. No one forbids gay people to love. You can't forbid someone to love. Throwing an abstract concept in with an actual legal right and pretending they are synonymous defeats them both.

To see a powerful activist like Larry Kramer throw a page-long tantrum like this one is disheartening to me. This is the man that created ACT-UP, and inspired playwright David Drake to create one of the most famous gay plays of all time; a victorious, powerful monologue about his journey to self-awareness and pride in himself. He's a man that inspired so many gay men, myself included, to fight back.

Now, with this column, he slaps our staunch and potential allies and tells them they're not good enough, that their past and present efforts display not alliance, but hate. Those of us that are gay and continue to fight against marginalization by the actively anti-gay movement are "feeble," with blinders on. Only he can see what's going on in the world; only he knows how much we are hated by everyone without exception. Only his fighting back is effective and meaningful.

But why band together when it's much more satisfying to hate back?

I'm through playing the victim. And frankly, I'm surprised and disillusioned to see one of the most powerful names in our fight for equality to fall back on such a weak and embarrassing weapon. It's time we left "Why are you all so mean?" in the schoolyard.

This column could have been a powerful fist raised in defiance. Instead, it's just a pout.

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