This morning, the New York Times led their obituary of Larry Kramer by noting that his “abusive approach” overshadowed his achievements, then changed their wording to “confrontational.” (This comes a week after the same paper deadnamed Aimee Stephens in her obit.)
Neither “abusive” nor “confrontational” really capture Kramer’s approach. “Heroic” might come close. Kramer’s entire life was dedicated to saving bodies and minds that those in power had decided weren’t worth saving. His achievements aren’t overshadowed by his intensity, they’re thanks to it.
Kramer was present for the start of the HIV epidemic, and for the genocide orchestrated by those who were only too happy to allow it. He was there to lead the earliest protests, to write the earliest essays, to issue the earliest press releases, and to express the earliest fury. His plays included The Normal Heart, his organizations included ACT UP, and his angry protests, speeches, and letters are too numerous to ever be counted.
I often think about how Reagan’s White House laughed—openly laughed—about the idea of queer death during the worst years of the epidemic. “I don’t have it,” laughed Reagan’s press secretary when asked about HIV, “I don’t know anything about it.”
That dismissive attitude (one might call it an "abusive approach") captures a horrible political cruelty from which it sometimes feels there’s no escape: There are those for whom the suffering of others is a funny trifle, as long as it’s the others who are suffering. It feels so easy to give up on caring, to resign ourselves to the cruelty, to expect it, to decide there’s no point to resisting.
Larry never gave up. It wasn’t just the cruelty that made him mad—it was the idea that we have no choice but to take it.
His approach was confrontational, sure. But the work he did can never be overshadowed by that approach, because the approach itself is among his greatest accomplishments.