“Best sex? Oh, it’s just so hard to rate these things. There’s degree of difficulty, style points, choice of music. Did they land on their feet during the dismount? Different people have different strengths, it’s just impossible to tell, but anything over a nine is excellent.”
—Blanche Devereaux, The Golden Girls
A few weeks ago, a man I was dating gave me chlamydia. Let’s call him Jerry. Sex between Jerry and I was a nine, so normally, I wouldn’t be mad: I’m a sexually active twenty-something who lives in a major metropolitan area; this shit happens. Further, chlamydia is curable and I have access to both testing and antibiotics through the university where I am a PhD student. But what frustrates me: Jerry knew something was up. For a week, Jerry had severe pain after ejaculation or urination, a fact he should have shared. If we are going to be sexually active, we have a responsibility to be open and honest with our partners. But I don’t blame Jerry, really, a product of the culture in which we live. I blame Larry Kramer.
I got chlamydia the same week as the Emmys. Ryan Murphy, director for the HBO adaptation of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, used his acceptance speech to say, “We’re going to use the rest of our time to ask young people watching to become Larry Kramers.” Yes, America, here was one of the most boring gay figures today calling for young people to be like the man who told us that we shouldn’t be having sex, and thus, we shouldn’t be ourselves. That we should be more like straight people. Which seems imminent. I write this the same week the Supreme Court opens the way for same-sex marriage in five more, mostly conservative, states: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In how many states has meaningful immigration reform been enacted? Zero. In how many states can anyone, regardless of means, have access to decent health care? Zero. In how many states can I marry the man who gave me chlamydia, becoming his lawfully-wedded, tax-paying husband in a ceremony that boosts the bottom line of the federal government, the state government, and some bougie catering company in one fallow swoop? At the time of this writing, thirty. Wait, now thirty-two.
To be fair, I blame Larry Kramer and people like him, sex negative activists who wanted, who continue to want, to know, “If having sex can kill you, doesn’t anybody with half a brain stop fucking?” This line of reasoning — that promiscuity can, and will, kill us — gives Kramer strange bedfellows, most prominently the religious right. But the scholarship, both from medical and humanities researchers, does not support this ill logic. Promiscuity led to advances in safer sex publicity, pharmaceutical and treatment innovations, and the passage of health from the private to the public sphere (as much as we have thus far been able to embrace the ideal of public health in the United States). But let me be frank, promiscuity is also fucking fun (fun fucking?). Certain queer theorists have long known this. Tim Dean ends his beautiful book Unlimited Intimacy by asking simply: “Why should strangers not be lovers and yet remain strangers?” Which is not to say we must only fuck strangers, but it is to say there is not a good answer to this question. Certain queer poets have long known this, too. W.H. Auden wrote a poem about picking up a stranger on the street and memorialized the blow job he gave the younger man in a poem:
I inspected his erection. I surveyed his parts with a stare
From scrotum level. Sighting along the underside
Of his cock, I looked through the forest of pubic hair
To the range of the chest beyond rising lofty and wide.
And this was in 1948, such cruising could get one thrown in jail. I know our views, sometimes rightfully, sometimes not, on sex and promiscuity have changed since the plague of AIDS, but must we really become like the monogamous straights, losing our very identities? Let’s be clear: it is not the hetero world killing queer sex and queer culture, it is the homo world of normativity.
Which is frustrating because what might differentiate queers from heteros? Oh, that’s right, queer sex. Jerry admitted he was already afraid he had an active STD when we fucked. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked him. “Because it’s not romantic to say, you know, my piss has been burning. I didn’t want you to think about me sleeping with other people.” A-ha! The fantasy in Jerry’s mind is a heterotopia: monogamy that leads to marriage. But, many gay men, myself included, are privileged enough to live now with the rhetoric of marriage-monogamy and the fun of promiscuity. Our current moment begs the question: what is the cost of having your white wedding cake, and eating it, too? When Larry Kramer, Ryan Murphy, and any representative of the neo-conservative Human Rights Campaign waxes poetically about the beauty of gay marriage, it makes me want to throw up. And that’s not the antibiotics talking.
On Facebook and Twitter, where I follow lots of gay men, and especially gay writers, artists, and academics, anger flowed on Emmy night, but an anger quite opposite my own. Here were men disgusted The Normal Heart got “shut out” from the awards. Meanwhile, I wanted to comment everywhere, to tell them not only was Kramer’s writing mediocre at best, but also it was attitudes like his, sex negativity accepted and so rarely questioned, which continue to kill us. That a machine of “gay rights” people were interested in making this film today as pro-marriage propaganda, a live-action pamphlet that tells us simply: AIDS was so horrible; if you’ll stop sleeping around, get married, and act like straight people, you won’t get it though.
Perhaps one friend’s recent Facebook status sums it up best: “Let’s just hope the gays fight as hard to make their marriages work as we did to make them legal.” The “fight,” a term grossly misused here to describe the economic-political grab for normalcy led by groups like GLAAD and HRC, seems about over. Fellow queers: invite me to your gay weddings, please, where I will drink your champagne and cruise the band at your reception. Bass players are my favorite, and I will ask him, “do you have any medical issues I should know about?” And he will answer, I hope honestly. And we will not get married. But I will eat his cake, and have it, too.
—D. Gilson: gay poet, obvi