The Queer Issue
"None of us knew dipshit then about politics in 1972," says Larry Kramer of the year North Carolina elected Jesse Helms to the United States Senate. "Who knew? Who knew what a Jesse Helms was?"
An opponent of integration, Helms would go on to oppose every civil rights measure that came up for a vote during his 30 years in the Senate. But Helms was on the losing side of those votes. Helms's was a much more effective homophobe. At the height of the AIDS crisis, Helms opposed AIDS research, laws protecting gays from discrimination, and "pro-sodomy" AIDS education.
But in 1972, Helms's election barely registered with the man who would become the leader of the AIDS activist movement a decade later.
"He was just another bogeyman," says Kramer today. "No one was political then. Even the very few political people in 1972 weren't thinking about the federal government. It was about the freedom to have sex. People were fighting the cops so you could go to the baths or you wouldn't get arrested in the park.
"We were all about self, self, self; it wasn't about community," Kramer continues. "We weren't fighting for our rights because we didn't know that we had rights. Jesse Helms was irrelevant to us. Washington was irrelevant. Nixon was irrelevant. We knew people hated us but, hey, that came with the territory; we didn't know what it was like not to be hated. That's why we shut ourselves off from the outside world. We went to Fire Island in the summer, and the bars and discos and the baths in the winter. I can't remember any non-sexually-directed kind of socializing. And in a way, I think we thought we were very free.
"I wrote about all of this in my novel Faggots, which is about a guy looking for love, for a lover, for a relationship in the midst of all of this. Fred Lemish comes to the realization after fucking himself silly for 400 pages that having so much sex makes finding love impossible. That was 1972 and practically every year until 1981. That is why so many of us died.
"I am sure I'm going to get crucified by the dozens of people who were in organized groups like the gay synagogue and gay academic union, but i believe the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, was as I have described it. I repeat: that is why so many of us died."