Larry Kramer On The Normal Heart: “Gays Are Not Always The Best Supporters Of Gay Art”

That’s the thing, we wanted young people to see it. When we first opened, the older gays who we thought might come didn’t. I wasn’t surprised because I’ve learned from previous productions that gays are not always the best supporters of gay art, of gay writers. They just aren’t.

It was Daryl [Roth]’s idea to get the youngsters in. If they could prove they were 30 or under, she’d sell them a ticket for $30. And they started coming. And they started telling their friends, and their friends. So the audiences were very young, which was wonderful. And they didn’t have any preconceived notions about anything. It was all new to them. They were amazed, because they didn’t know all of this.”

—Larry Kramer, on the initial reception of his seminal AIDS play, The Normal Heart, in Metro Weekly.


Image via David Shankbone

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  • Little Kiwi

    It makes perfect sense – The Normal Heart was (and remains) an incendiary piece of agitprop theatre. It’s not only highly emotional, but it’s highly intellectual and present all “sides” the sociological arguments with a stunning level of fairness, clarity and honesty. That’s something that really upsets a lot of people, in particular gay men who don’t yet want to be honest about the sociological factors of fear and internalized homophobia that still cripple them. There’s a line in the show that gets a very very VERY noticeable response from today’s younger audiences – in response to one of the characters, a self-styled macho closet case and his refusal to Come Out, the character of Ned says “It’s 1982, *when* are you finally going to Come Out?” 1982. it’s nearly 2012, and the same arguments are being had.

    From Ned, in The Normal Heart:
    “The only way we’ll have real pride is when we demand recognition of a culture that isn’t just sexual. It’s all there—all through history we’ve been there; but we have to claim it, and identify who was in it, and articulate what’s in our minds and hearts and all our creative contributions to this earth. And until we do that, and until we organise ourselves block by neighborhood by city by state into a united visible community that fights back, we’re doomed.”

    The play isn’t just about the beginning of the HIV/AIDS epidemic – it’s about the cancer that has plagued our community forever – the cancer of self-loathing, of fear, of wanting to be what The Bully wants you to be rather than standing up to The Bully and being who, and what, we all actually are. It’s the same response that intelligent viewers get from seeing 1969’s seminal play “The Boys in the Band” – we’re still fighting internalized homophobia, and THAT is what’s holding us back, and killing us.

    The Boys in the Band ends with the line “if only we could just not hate ourselves quite so much”

    Art doesn’t just hold a mirror up to society – it acts as the hammer that smashes the glass ceilings. Because of this art is, of course, going to be rejected and avoided by those who don’t want to see their own hidden truths reflected, who don’t want to be convinced to stand up and fight, who don’t want to me made aware of their own complicity in where society is, or isn’t, going.

    To those of you who don’t know The Normal Heart, seek it out. For those of you who don’t know The Boys in the Band, PLEASE, do yourself a favor and rent the film – it’s an important work. Pre-Liberation Pre-Stonewall gay men in NYC – take a loook at how far we’ve come, and how much is still very very much the same.

    Sneak peak here:

  • ewe

    Will he ever stop complaining?

  • samthor

    hey, I’m a visual artist. I have bills to pay like anyone else.
    Still i would not suggest you support me ONLY because i’m queer.
    But because you like my work. Because its well-done and you can identify with it.
    This IS the year to support local independent artists and craftsmen instead of big box made by 3rd world slave labor as seen on tv assembly line crap.
    Find an artist you like, and support them.

  • Little Kiwi

    you’re kinda missing the point, Samthor – what Kramer is saying, and he’s utterly correct about it, is that due to the sociological culture of anti-gay prejudice there is indeed a reality that something “being queer” is the reason that a great many “queer people” choose to AVOID it.

    he’s not saying “You should support this because you’re gay” – he’s pointing out the sad fact that because it’s gay it’s avoided by a certain (and indeed very specific) type of gay person.

    basically – you shouldn’t be avoiding challenging art because you’re afraid of what it might reveal to you.

  • JayKay

    Old man yells at cloud. More at eleven.

  • Kurt

    Larry Kramer is not supportive of GLBT people or gay men, and he’s never done anything except be a professional complainer.

    As I saw on another blog as a comment about this play, “Kramer’s weepy AIDS play sucked shit through a straw!”

    The Boys in the Band is a horrible film/play and does not reflect gay men or GLBT people at all, even back when it first came out. It’s not a film or play that should be taken seriously at all.

  • WillBFair

    @Little Kiwi: I agree. Self hatred has always been one of our worst enemies. Unfortunately, many in the community don’t want to face that, so they go on acting out in self destructive ways.
    One thing I learned in the eighties is that you can’t cure internalized homophobia with argument. I don’t know if it can be cured, except maybe by time. Maybe people will be more aware as the years go by. Or maybe not. It makes me sad beyond words.

  • missanthrope


    Why would he stop complaining? He’s built a career off of it.

    Kramer’s occasionally done some good things. But it’s seems like he want’s to be the “old man on the corner” of LGBT community, constantly telling the kids to get off his lawn and how they’re not doing it right like he did it in the good ‘ole days.

    Sadly, his type of curmudgeon act only builds contempt for LGBT elders.

  • WillBFair

    @missanthrope: Excuse me, hick. Kramer wrote a very fun book, which admittedly, was a copy of dancer from the dance. But he, like many of us, tried to stop the spread of HIV. When you’ve lifted a finger for our community, then you can trash my sweet Kramer.

  • WillBFair

    Actually, Faggots the book was totally fun. Smooches to Larry Kramer.

  • Alan Brickman

    Larry is truthful rise and shine!

  • ewe

    @WillBFair: I lifted more than a finger and i think he is a bitter complainer. I am sick and tired of his fucking negativity.

  • ewe

    @WillBFair: It’s 2011 Will. remember that.

  • Ken S

    @ewe: “Will he ever stop complaining?”

    Let’s hope not. If there’s no one left demanding that we get everything we’re owed as human beings, then we might as well give back what we’ve gained so far. When you’re trying to get justice, compromise permits injustice.

  • edfu

    One of the reasons many older gay men did not go to see “The Normal Heart” is because it is so truthful and so tragic in its description of the early days of AIDS that it is just too painful to endure. Many who survived the early eighties while helplessly witnessing the horror and the deaths of so many of their friends and lovers must constantly fight the psychological trauma it has inflicted upon them. Many have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. If you weren’t around then, you can’t really appreciate the photo of that sad era that Kramer re-created, yet at the same time you don’t want to revisit it. Audience members who were not old enough at the time or even not yet born react with shock and grief and tears. Larry should realize he was so successful that for many, the pain is still, these many years later, too difficult to revisit.

  • Adam

    I just read The Normal Heart and I couldn’t believe how potent it still is. When I finished it, I nearly wept. Larry Kramer says things no one else did or does and I salute him for not bending to the pressure of Gay Inc (which he himself helped create.)

  • Eric in Chicago

    Let’s see – this week I saw a gay play by a gay author put on by a gay theatre company. Yesterday I saw the opening film directed by a gay director of a gay movie. I have 14 tickets to the other gay movies at the festival. Also when I have gone to see gay plays on B’way I have seen an audience made up of mostly gay people.

    I think he’s crazy on this one. Give me a break Larry.

  • Eric in Chicago

    @Kurt: @Kurt: If you don’t know what Larry Kramer has done for gay people you need to learn your history. Without Larry Kramer there wouldn’t have been ACT UP and the pharmaceutical companies, the media and the government would have just let gay people die without caring at all. He made them take notice and eventually they did.

  • Greg

    It always seemed to me the title itself was Kramer’s ploy to attract as straight an audience as possible even in 1985: “The Normal Heart,” we have the same yearnings as you straights, yada yada yada. It’s a great play and all, but come on, he ALWAYS wanted a straight audience for that one.

    Well it’s easy to imagine Charles Ludlam doing “The Abnormal Heart,” and we can assume that a mostly gay audience would support that one.

  • Steve


    You nailed it exactly.

    I buried my first lover, and more than 200 of my friends. I met most of them while organizing a church ministry, for people with aids and their caregivers, family, and friends. I visited hospitals and hospices far too many times, and attended far too many funerals and memorial services. When the book came out, I read a couple reviews, and could not approach the book.

    Larry did not cause the pain. He only documented it. The disease was the cause. The government and society response was just maddening. “Trauma” is the right word, and the PTS is likely permanent.

  • David Ehrenstein

    @Little Kiwi: You got it.

    Larry is a great man (and a good friend.)

    He doesn’t complain at all. He simply speaks the truth.

    Unfortunately for those crippled by internalized homophobia the truth is too much to bear.

  • ewe

    @Ken S: I am speaking about his insulting people of his own generation. That is what his words imply. His words. I am not speaking about all our quest for equal rights.

  • ewe

    @David Ehrenstein: I am not crippled by internalized homophobia and i think that Kramer sometimes is a bit much with his accusatory judgement. He very often speaks as if his words are handed down from above. It can be annoying sometimes. Having said that, of course Larry Kramer in totality is a champion for gay rights. No one can deny that. He just needs to soften up a bit. He is talking to the choir here.

  • Mike in Asheville

    @Kurt: You must be young. While I am no fan of Kramer, I find his writing crass and without wit, and for many years is tilting at gay/lesbian/HIV/AIDS windmills instead of the appropriate homophobic AFA, FRC, RNC, haters et al.

    But, in fact, Larry Kramer and his cofounding and work with ActUP changed, dramatically, the course of the AIDS epidemic. With all their good intentions and efforts, HRC and other gay rights organizations, stalled and failed to get government traction on the AIDS epidemic. It was only after ActUP and the variety of activism created by them (I protested twice with them in SF), that changes in policy and funding started. Without ActUP, HRC would not have had the ability to work with new legislation for HIV/AIDS research, support, and education.

    I get terse and angry that Kramer points his acidic charges at the gay groups instead of the hate groups. But I do recognize, without Kramer and ActUP, I would be dead. The course of the disease for me (160 lbs down to 118 lbs) when the cocktail arrived just in time.

  • Little Kiwi

    You boys owe your sorry asses to mart crowley and The Boys in the Band. Kramer’s “The Normal Heart” will go down in history as one of the most profoundly moving, angry, passionate and important works in american theatre. It’s not merely about the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis – it’s about the disease that’s always been our biggest problem – self-loathing.

    The irony, of course, is that those who angrily lash out at The Boys in the Band and The Normal Heart, and other challenging queer works, are the ones most in need of its messages.

    Of course Kramer is angry – there’s a world of useless, worlthless, cowardly apathetic homosexuals who dont’ give a flying fuck about others. We should all be as angry, and as articulate, as Larry Kramer. Homophobia would have been wiped out decades ago.

    People that label Kramer a “complainer” are those who don’t have the orbs to raise their voices to his level and take the fight for equality to the public sphere with the fearlessness that he has, for decades.

  • Little Kiwi

    genuinely, the most astonishing thing about The Boys in the Band is that a play from 19-bloody-69 still perfectly captures the Characters of Cowardice and Shame that still populate our communities at far too high a number.

    for real. check it out. look real hard. That’s 1969, folks. And here we are almost at 2012 and there are still legions of guys out there (and on here….) who are just like the character of Alan – resentful reluctant homosexuals who think that by insulting an “effeminate gay man” it’ll somehow make his own insecure life better. it wont. it didnt’ help the Alans of the world in 1969, and it won’t help your asses in 2011.

  • GL

    @Little Kiwi:

    Right on Sista !!!

  • jason

    Gay people tend to be dismissive of openly gay artists. Look at George Michael. Once he came out of the closet, gays stopped buying his records.

    The sad and shocking reality is that gay men want to be closeted and oppressed. Gay men actually enjoy playing the victim card. It gives them political leverage.

    One could rightly file hypocrisy charges against gay men.

  • ewe

    @Little Kiwi: I don’t have to praise the Normal Heart or Boys in the Band. It is the story of my life. Jeez, you are so full of yourself sometime. Hold up, let me get you an Oscar. lol

  • ewe

    @jason: oh Jason. do you realize in three sentences you spoke for every single gay person? lol

  • Greg

    @Little Kiwi: Boys in the Band, really? Oh I get it, we should support gay art that declares “gay life sucks.”

    I saw the clip you posted (ok I’ll see the movie again, haven’t seen it since the ’80s) and I think you’re missing a key point, from what I recall of the other characters.

    Old-fashioned bitchy characters like Emory (who Alan is afraid of) aren’t merely “effeminate,” they’re bitchy, vicious and cruel. (Conveniently, your clip doesn’t show this part!) Worse, they declare that is the only “honest” way to be gay, and anyone who isn’t good at it is a closet case… etc. etc…. i.e. they’re the gay bullies trying to gay life into an eternal gay middle school.

    It was (is) a defense mechanism, but to confuse it with some kind of authentic gayness is a historical mistake.

    Try reading “The Decline and Fall of Gay Culture” by Daniel Harris.

  • JoeyB

    So true Larry, so true. I go to the theater, the ballet, musicals, art galleries, shows, and what do I mostly see? Old ladies, heterosexual couples, a few art students. What happened to our community’s artistic sensibilities and what we were known for for so long?

  • Ryang

    Love you Larry! Just saw the new TORONTO production of The Normal Heart here in Toronto.
    Brilliant writing and the actors were superb. What a gift it must be to speak these words.

    Poetic, angry, passionate….devastating. You can really appreciate Kramer’s skill as a writer. Wanted to see it again but was sold out the last week.

  • Little Kiwi

    Greg, the point YOU are missing is that The Boys in the Band is about pre-Stonewall gay men. PRE-LIBERATION.

    for those that don’t understand prefixes, this means BEFORE THE GAY LIBERATION MOVEMENT.

    of course they’re bitchy. of course they’re consumed by self-loathing. they’re NOT YET LIBERATED. it’s a perfect look at the Pre-Stonewall life. is historical context lost on you?

    “Worse, they declare that is the only “honest” way to be gay, and anyone who isn’t good at it is a closet case… et”
    At no point does anyone in the show say that, nor has anyone said that on here. Thats something you closet-cases say when you get called out on your tired and pathetic need to “pass for straight”. nobody has said anything, at all, about “Authentic gayness” – you’re one more whiner who blames femme guys for the fact that your dad was ashamed of you. congrats, “Alan.”

    Daniel Harris’ book is for self-hating gay men who never got over the fact that their fathers resented having a gay son, and who waste their entire lives sucking up to the loser.

  • Little Kiwi

    “they’re bitchy, vicious and cruel. (Conveniently, your clip doesn’t show this part!)”


    right. it’s the femme guys fault for being bitchy and cruel, not the closet-cases fault for projecting his self-loathing onto others. right. keep telling yourself that. it’s clear your own insecurity and self-loathing about being gay is stil crippling you – you have my pity. the boys in the band is a perfect evocation of the pre-Liberation gay men in NYC. the amazing thing? we’re more than 40 years later, and you “Alans” still exist. it’s pathetic. grow some balls.

  • Greg

    @Little Kiwi: As I said, I’d like to see the movie again and don’t want to misinterpret it after not seeing it for 25+ years. But BITB is *generally* regarded as self-hating homophobic. That’s the usual take. Most gay people upon seeing it, recoil – it’s a tough thing to watch. Revisionist history is often interesting but this is the first I’ve ever heard such glowing reviews of it.

    You (and the narrator of the clip) acknowledge on the one hand that it’s dated and pre-liberation. Then contradictorily, you claim it’s still oh so relevant because the characters still exist… well, which is it, make up your mind.

    Is it coincidental that the director of the film, William Friedkin, also directed what’s generally regarded as THE most homophobic mainstream movie ever made? “Cruising” came out in 1980, right after I came out, and I didn’t even consider seeing it at the time because my gay friends wouldn’t let me – several of them were picketing the damn thing – and I’ve never seen it.

    It’s possible to be “femme” without being bitchy and cruel. Of course I’ve met several guys like that over the decades.

    The ones who ARE bitchy/cruel, well they are easy to avoid in the post-Stonewall era, we can all just avoid bars, or certain bars – or certain AA meetings, ha ha – or at least, their end of the bar, and we’re done. That type of femme is invariably alcoholic (we needn’t waste much time pondering the “why” on that one). They have their masochistic groupies who for some reason can’t get enough of their sadism. Okay, c’est la vie.

    Actually, Little Kiwi, I doubt you are really that mean. I’m new posting to Queerty but have read for awhile & have seen your posts in other threads, and you’re too coherent and you write too well! (I often agree with you, and hope that does not upset you.) You obviously have plenty of functioning brain cells left, so if you’re older than 35 you can’t possibly be alcoholic enough (yet?) to be “that type.”

    To respond further to your fun bargain-basement psychology: My father was cool with me being gay, but after the age of about 14 or so, I don’t recall being very concerned WTF he (or my mother) thought about much of anything.

    I’ve been fag-bashed twice, once very badly so not sure how well I “pass.” I suppose if a bitchy-type femme spends 100% of his time in gay neighborhoods and gay resort towns, insulting & snarling at other gay guys, there is little danger of ever getting fag-bashed. Yet of course, the bitchy-type femmes claim to be the “brave” ones… ri-i-i-ght. As you say yourself, 1969 was a long time ago.

    I doubt you’ve actually read Harris’ book though, or you may be misremembering it since it was 10+ years ago. Harris himself (who I’ve met) is VERY femme, but very nice, and he wrote it from a wistful point of view; it’s a historical study in which he definitely regrets, somewhat, the passing of the old era. (I don’t miss it.)

  • Greg

    To get back to the subject of this article, “The Normal Heart” is well worth seeing. LK can be full of himself, but this work stands on its own. To anyone too young to have known gay life (& death) in the ’80s, please see it at some point.

    I don’t know how we got sidetracked into not only pre-HIV, but pre-Stonewall “Boys in the Band,” but sure, see what you think.

  • Little Kiwi

    Greg, to say that “BitB is regarded as self-hatingly homophobic” is to utterly miss the point of the show – it’s about PRE-LIBERATION GAY MALES. The show closes with the line “if only we could just not hate ourselves quite so much”

    you can’t criticize it for being self-hating when it’s ABOUT being self-hating. it’s about the self-hatred that Pre-Liberation, PRE-STONEWALL gays were consumed by. for some reason many of you guys don’t understand historical context.

    and it is still releveant, because post-Stonewall liberation aside, there are still legions of resentful homosexuals who are battling the same self-hate. that’s not me being “contradictory” – that’s me pointing out a depressing reality: that after more than 41 years, after the Stonewall riots, after decades of gay liberation …..we still have angry insecure resentful homosexuals who suck up to the Straight Bullies rather than stand up to them. If you can’t see this, Greg, then you’re an idiot.
    A world has moved on, and we still get men just like Alan who resent being gay, and lash out at what they perceive to be “effeminate” males as part of their insecurity. we still get the guys who recoil in horror at anything deemed “Stereotypical” because they’re terrified of what The Straights will think about them.

    thanks for proving me right.

  • Greg

    @Little Kiwi: You and I might like each other fine in person and not see any stereotypes.

    But proving you right? – you’ve ignored practically all my points! As for stereotypes, unless you are in the Maritime Provinces it seems a bit early to be drinking yet, but hey, whatever makes you happy dearie.

    I don’t even quite get why you’re so obsessed with the “Alans.” Oh I believe you, they sure do sound annoying. But this is kind of like hearing about annoying unicorns or leprechauns. Do you really run into them THAT much? Can you tell all of us reading this, exactly where do you run into the Alans so much? So we can stay away from there? :-)

    As for straights, I assure you: not only do I not care what they think, I hardly know any of them at this point in my life.

    Anyway, I’ll rent BitB so maybe we can continue this discussion profitably in a future thread. Btw I’ve enjoyed your posts over in the HIV thread (entirely correct & sensible IMO).


  • Little Kiwi

    i don’t drink. The Alans still exist. One of my favourite things about showing The Boys in the Band (and most recently, The Normal Heart) to younger gay people is how shocked they are by how much things have NOT changed.

    the line from The Normal Heart – “It’s 1982, when are you going to Come Out already?” hits young ears like a gunshot. It’s nearly 2012 and the same types of people are giving the same excuses.

    Where are the Alans? Stick around this site, there are tonnes. The legions of resentful homosexuals who put down “those other gays” to cover their own asses. Most Alans, thankfully, exist only online – they don’t have the orbs to live openly enough in the real world to be able to interact with other gays. So they sit at home, angrily spewing anti-gay rhetoric online out of frustration that the “stereotypical gays” that they hate actually have…you know…. fun and enjoyable lives.

    here’s an example of one.

    he SUCKS. total Alan. cowardly, insecure, sucking up to the mentalities of the bullying bigots to save his own ass.

    the reality is that this is what’s holding us back – it has since the 60s, and it continues to today. it’s perfectly articulated in The Normal Heart – the gay men who care more about getting personal approval from “the straights” than they do about helping to actually attain LGBT Equality for ALL.

  • Greg

    Yeah I’ve seen that clip before. OK that makes sense, that the Alans are online. My partner & I don’t really recall them much from real life venues, back when.

    Also I finally thought to look at your blog, I like it a lot. Good attitude & heart. I loved the Ramones & saw them often. Wish you could time travel to the ’70s for a night to see what it was like. Best wishes & hope to communicate down the line.

  • Queer Supremacist

    @Little Kiwi: You are spot on about The Boys in the Band. It is a great film and play and it is still relevant. You should know. Michael is you.

    @David Ehrenstein: Internalized homophobia? Just because someone think he’s a jerk and dislikes his work? I think Larry Kramer is a jerk and most people who accuse others of “self-loathing” and “internalized homophobia” are projecting their own onto anyone who disagrees with them. And I own a copy of “Faggots.” When’ll they make THAT into a movie? Mama’s gotta let go.

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