Monday, May 4, 2009

Kramer Vs. Kramer

I ain't no queer
According to GayCityNews one of my favorite middle fingers in the gay community, Larry Kramer, spoke at his alma mater, Yale, for failing to secure the course of Gay History at the Ivy League school.  Kramer also didn't hold back on venting his feelings about how the course study of "gender studies" and "queer theory" are not gay history.  He also threw in his two cents about the word "queer" itself and his belief that the usage of the word is deleterious to the gay community as a whole.
At Yale's Gay and Lesbian Association to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, Larry Kramer apologized to the group for failing to secure a program to teach gay history at his Ivy League alma mater. The Larry Kramer Institute, funded with a $1 million contribution from his late brother, Arthur, in 2001, was closed by Yale in 2006. "When this happened, I thought my heart would break," he said. 
Kramer also lamented Yale's dismissal of gay historian Jonathan Ned Katz from the faculty, the suppression of information about the homosexuality of Yale's first benefactor, John William Sterling, and the university press' refusal to publish C.A. Tripp's "Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln" dealing with the 16th president's homosexuality. He also expressed dismay at how the Institute mainly taught "gender studies, queer studies, [and] queer theory," not gay history as he intended. "I would like to proclaim with great pride: I am not queer! And neither are you," he said. "When will we stop using this adolescent and demeaning word to identify ourselves? Like our history that is not taught, using this word will continue to guarantee that we are not taken seriously in the world."
I've never really supported the word "queer" myself.  I always identify as gay and have never had a problem with it.  Now I understand that "gay" is a very specific label while "queer" is rather open to an interpretation of sorts but I've always felt that queer was a word that we "reclaimed," so to speak, to fill ourselves with pride.  But queer is so rainbowy and too kumbaya for me.  

The youth seemed to have run with this word and if that continues than so be it.  More power to 'em and I'll support them.  But I do hear quite clearly what Kramer is saying: "Queer" is silly, it's court jester - what are we to expect from that? I prefer the hard hitting, guttural three letter G-A-Y.  That's where my pride comes from.

I also support Kramer's deciphering the difference between Queer Theory and Gender Studies and Gay History.  The two aren't the same.  Gay History is much like American History or any other history.  It's factual records of time.  Our place on the time scale.  Queer Theory and Gender studies, while they may incorporate aspects of history, is a vague term that seems to tip-toe around the idea of our place and importance on the time scale.  On one hand you have Gay History (simple enough, huh?) on the other Queer Theory (hmmm...wha?)  

Now I'm not trying to diminish or play down the importance of course work along the lines of Queer Theory.  Certainly it has it's place and I'm sure if I were to look over a syllabus I'd probably think it was very interesting.  Still it doesn't seem to encompass the simplicity of factual gay history and the course isn't even called "Gay History."  If I were signing up for courses I would be much more inspired by "Gay History" than "Queer Theory" although I'd probably sign up for both.

It's always been a pipe dream of mine that if/when I ever get out of the TV industry I'd go back to Grad School and study to become a professor in Gay History and Comparative Literature. What I'd hope to do is teach my students actual gay history (which seems to have been the goal of Kramer) and have them read fiction-based literature published within the contexts of that time to match the historic facts with the cultural consciousness of the surrounding event.

Now that I'm wrapping on my umpteenth TV gig and hearing Kramer's disappointment that idea seems that much more appealing.

Go here for Kramer's full speech:


riot said...

As often happens, Kramer's message is lost in how he delivers it.

I think it's very important to consider our vocabulary and how it shapes the non-queer perception of queers.

However, "queer" is only adolescent in the sense that it is often used by younger people and its use with pride is relatively new. It is only demeaning inasmuch as we allow it to be used in that way.

There is no need for Kramer to be so offensive and dismissive in the course of making his point about the importance of vocabulary and his personal feeling that "queer" doesn't apply to him.

Could you blame any young person, hearing this tone from him, for ignoring the rest of what he has to say?

I used to call myself gay. Now I call myself queer. I made the change for reasons which you observe--to me "gay" connotes a certain white, male experience, while "queer" is broader, younger, and more open to possibility.

I'd like my life to be more queer and less gay. Perhaps if Mr. Kramer would step outside of his singular angry gay experience for a moment, he'd get a broader sense of the effectiveness and consequences of his words. Somehow I doubt he'll risk becoming queer.

Anonymous said...

Does Kramer actually do anything else besides just be a professional complainer?

Not everyone that is queer is gay or homosexual and he should keep that in mind as people who are bisexual and transsexual/transgendered are queer and they are not gay or homosexual.

Also I agree that "gay" is a label meaning white, middle class/upper middle class, educated, and wealthy homosexual.

Kramer is just a whiny old queen who nobody cares about anymore.

Anonymous said...

I suspect Mr. Kramer's problem with the word or term "queer" is that for him, it still a hate word.

"Queer" being reappropriated to what it is now still takes some getting used to, especially for those who can still remember it's original meaning.

ewe said...

I commented on Bilerico. Kramer seems to have a one track mind. Silencing those who disagree with him is unbecoming and divisive. I can sympathize if his feelings are hurt about the money and his brother. I wish he would stop trying to run the gay/queer world. His ego does not seem to accept other people exist with different valid views that oppose his. I do not call myself queer because i am not of the younger gereration. I also do not call myself heterosexual because i am not of the older generation. I call myself gay regarding my sexual orientation and do not dictate what others classify themselves as. Kramer should get his damn money back if some contract has been violated. He makes it so hard to like him. Stop riding the past days gone by. He's grating on a lot of peoples nerves and losing support with regards to credibility.

Cyrus said...

I've always liked and understood the inclusiveness of the word "queer," in that it serves as an umbrella term for the spectrum sexual minorities - but I just can't bring myself to use it.

I do think that it's a hurtful word that's not worth "reclaiming" just as I think the "n-word" is not worth reclaiming for African-Americans.

I also think that, contrary to what some others have commented, the word "queer" describes someone well-off enough to get an education at a university that offers "queer theory" classes. I'm a guy with a post-grad degree and a very, very blue-collar background - and I can assure anyone that the word "queer" is much less often used in self-identification among the working class than it is among the more educated classes.

I'm equally uneasy with LGBTQetc as a descriptive term for our community(ies).

I think it's time to invent a new term that works to describe and unify our community - without the baggage and awkwardness of "queer."

ewe said...

Kids today go through school hearing "aw thats so gay" meaning "bad" or "stupid" or "dorky,corny etc." It is no wonder young people are grasping for the word "queer" and Larry Kramer is obviously either to self absorbed or completely out of the loop with younger people to respect that real life uncomfortable situation gives reason for new identifying linguistics.

Knucklecrack said...

I have a hard time believing you know anything about "what kids today are going through."

I work with youth all the time, teenagers, texters, iphoners, minorities, super sweet 16s, southern Christians, - I ask them these questions (queer, homophobia, the "gay kid" in school.) The reality has flip-flopped. You're now part of the uncools if you're racist or homophobic and being open-minded, accepting and tolerant is respected, appreciated and along with the internet the idea of "popularity" amongst high school kids is diminishing because the world is bigger, less finite and more accessible.

"So what if I don't fit in with the kids and cliques in my school? I have an internet group and community to which I fit in and belong and have the opportunity of making plans to hang out."

"That's so gay..." has been around forever and while some of us might have wounds and scars from that the new generations have bigger fish to fry and the ironic sense of "that's so gay" is so blatantly clear and obvious I don't see these kids taking it to heart. See two posts below, the Blog Comment Remix that overuses the word "fag" to an absurd degree - the jokes aren't homophobic, they're jokes about absurd, unwarranted, meaningless, directionless homophobia. We're making fun of the gay bashers now by using their own ammo against them. The bashers become the bashees and they're shrinking. And you know what? As and Out and Proud gay man, who wouldn't change a thing about my life, thinks it's pretty fucking hysterical.

But what gets to me most and the thing that I most heavily predicted is that the majority of you would jump all over Kramer like he was some enemy and some of you went right over the point he was trying to make: GAY HISTORY IS NOT TAUGHT. (Awww, he's SO bitter isn't he? Maybe he's trying to make a point?)

Further, when you try to teach simplistic Gay American History it's grouped together in theory and gender study classes.

This tit for tat bickering - the "I'm queer!" "I'm gay!" "You're offending me because you're not listening to me me me me me me me!"

This is the exact reason, time and time again, why activist organizations implode: Because while you're trying to fight, let's say AIDS, you got someone screaming that we're not addressing "gender sensitivity."

edward2nd said...

Despite what you all might think about Larry, just remember (whether or not he’s out of touch) that it was Larry, close friends, and allies that started Gay Men’s Health Crises when no one knew or gave a damn about men dying of the “gay cancer” in the early ‘80’s, and he also help started Act Up. And thanks to G.M.H.C. those men had some where to go when they were sick or turned down from their doctors. Act Up fought extensively trying to get the voices of people living & dying with AIDS a voice to our government that had turned their backs on us! This then led to the new drugs that came out in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s that now help millions of people around the world.
It’s people like Larry that helped make our lives much easier than what it was during those times of uncertainty. So what if the old nutter doesn’t like the word queer! I don’t like it either. As an aging X-gener I thank God for the men & women like Larry that have to balls to go out on a limb for us- whether we agree with his mouth and actions or not.

ewe said...

I disagree with you Eric. "That's so gay" was not ever spoken when i was a child and i may be older than you but no more than twentyfive years. To insinuate that phrase does not effect a homosexual/gay/queer child of 10 - 16 years only means you are fortunate to be quite comfortable in the gay ghetto of the East Village. I cringe when i hear the friends of my youngest nieces use the word gay in that way. I object. More important is the negative subliminal message that is being associated with the word "gay" and how acceptable it has become. I am glad to hear you think that all gay children are secure enough with themselves to brush it off and find a virtual community online for support. Gay youth suicide refutes what you say. My entire point is that i, much less people your age and younger, do NOT have to respect someone like Larry Kramer dictating what terminology is acceptable to use to identify oneself and it is not being a bitchy queen to address his rigid assertions. I can walk and chew gum at the same time. Kramer goes on about not liking the word "queer". Well some people do not like the word "gay". By the way i took a gay studies course in college years ago. I could care less if it is called gay or queer or homosexual. I also don't care if it is titled "studies" or "history". We covered the history. I resent having Kramer tell us all that the word "queer" is off limits because we are not queer. That is called denial. And to imply that people who use different terminology than him are adolescent is ineffective at best. ActUp even had trouble because younger gay men and lesbian women just a short while ago were not identifying with Larry Kramer bully pulpit. He comes off like a dictator and is bringing out the worst in us instead of the best. If he wants to address something his brother had intended that is being ignored, fine. Larry Kramer does not get to define an entire people. There are many founders of gay organizations who through humility can teach Larry Kramer to tame his ego.

None said...

Eric Leven!

I don't want to be "taken seriously" by mainstream culture.

What kind of horrible Hell is Kramer conjuring up for us this time?

The simple fact is that gay people are a permanent minority in human society.

It is not our role to try to squeeze ourselves into a shape that is most acceptable in order for society at large to "take us seriously."

Our role is to help society achieve dynamism through our unique ability as minority people -- and especially gay people -- to change the culture.

Yes, we are "queer" in all senses of the word. And the value we provide to society is through our "queering of the culture," the fact that we force the mainstream to change in response to changing needs when the mainstream would not do it itself.

This is because majorities are by their nature conservative and do not change by themselves. They need us.

By being "taken seriously," we give up that role, in exchange for ... what? This is not clear, yet I am being instructed by Kramer and others to dispose of the things that make my life special in order to make way for it.

I liked Faggots.

I suggest Kramer return to that mode of thought -- otherwise, he can reap my scorn.

Also, is there some way you can enable anonymous commenting again? The sign-in thing here is not good.


Knucklecrack said...

Can we get back to talking about the matter of GAY HISTORY please? That's the point at hand.

Could I please sign up for a course in gay history without all the red tape?

Get over this gay/queer thing.

And I don't know about the anonymous commenting Aaron - you were supposed to help me format my blog, REMEMBER?


Anonymous said...

Larry's always been a hero and role model for me. Every now and then, we get complacent and need a serious wake-up slap. Larry has always been passionate and articulate and, in the fullness of time, he's always been fucking CORRECT.

I don't buy the line that his message gets diluted by the temperature of his delivery. It's simply that we don't want to hear the message. But we need to, we really fucking NEED to.

Our gay history has never been properly disseminated, and with a whole generation -- MY generation (and Larry's) -- of gay men lost to AIDS and, now, to the natural consequences of being human and old and alive in the 21st century, our opportunities for getting it right (and complete) are diminishing.

When do we start getting it right (and complete)? When people like me are dead? After Larry croaks? THAT is where his urgency and passionate fury comes from. We should all be fucking grateful for it, too.

edward2nd said...

Amen bstewart23.

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