Badpuppy Gay Today

Monday, 15 December 1997


By Jack Nichols & Perry Brass


Paragraph by paragraph and point by point, here follows Jack Nichols' response to Larry Kramer's Op-Ed article in the New York Times, "Gay Culture, Redefined" (Dec. 12)

Then, please read on as author Perry Brass eloquently expresses his gut-level reactions to the same Kramer Op Ed piece.


By Jack Nichols

Larry Kramer complains bitterly (bitter is his style) that gay men are once again having unsafe sex and that therefore HIV infection is on the rise. He fails to mention, however, that straight men and women continue to share dirty needles and have enough unprotected sex so that the rates of HIV infection worldwide are twice what was previously estimated.

Though AIDS is World War III and by 2002 threatens to infect as many as 40 million, AIDS education, which should be a top priority, is hampered by crass inaction among governments and by self-righteous fundamentalist anti-gay religious propaganda, akin to Kramer's ravings. Mr. Kramer trips typically into fundamentalist traps when he publicly—in his New York Times Op-Ed piece—seems to blame gay men alone.

He also complains about the first of such groups that has organized to give the lie to his all-around- long-lived anti-sexualism, also promoted in various ways by a coterie of current celebrity authors who push romantic but unworkable ideas their new books celebrate.

I say unworkable, because while New Yorker Kramer's anti-sexual call to American gay males may no doubt sound good in some provinces, it ain't gonna change things. Other conditions gotta change bigtime before men stop having sex spontaneously and in the great variety of locales that they do. Conditions like the dropping of a neutron bomb, for example.

Mr. Kramer should stop making like an old testament profiteer, and realize that across the U.S., in the real boonies, non-intellectuals fail to grasp his rage about the unbridled menace of public sex. Instead they complain about slim pickings, the current scarcity of hot, happy-go-lucky fun.


When Mr. Kramer portrays the gay community in such ways as he does, he dangerously divides unified gay and lesbian movement energies better spent on goals which can reasonably be accomplished. How about more palatable condoms or a cure for AIDS?

My main gripe with Kramer is that his anti-sex crusade is a hopeless one if it is meant to accomplish the elimination of disease. Why doesn't he call for a change in sex practices, and celebrate, like a Bonobo ape does, some safer-sex festivals, educational, like affectionate mass onanism, perhaps? Promise Keepers sports stadiums, here we come!

His late 70s book, Faggots, was also anti-sexual, a pathetic attempt at pulp literature.

Larry Kramer needs to understand that like it or not, the promiscuous you have with you always.

A small but growing gay group, Sex Panic, represents the first wave of a counter-reaction to puritanical anti-sexual messages spread prior to 1981 by author Kramer, who hopes to disallow gay men to have sex "where and when they want to"—so that gay men can be properly regulated by politicians and police.

In short, Larry Kramer, stands behind the orgasm police, public servants who peep on penises while taxpayers support their nasty habit.. Kramer advocates conditional, limited, restrictions on personal sexual choices. A millionaire, he is that part of the Establishment which turns viciously and stupidly on its own, like J. Edgar Hoover or Roy Cohn.

Perry Brass calls it the result of his internalized homophobia. That's one possible explanation.

As long as homosexuality is a taboo, relegated to holes and corners, punished by judges, employers and religious courts, there will continue to be sex among closeted gays and heterosexually-married men in parks and public restrooms. Because of Larry Kramer's anti-sexual propaganda—drumming up police-state 1950s crapola, these men (as in pre-Stonewall days) will be arrested by plainclothes Kramer-validated cops and will lose their jobs, their families, etc.

Kramer rails against a great variety of locales—public and semi-private, like baths, parties, and backrooms in bars, but fails to note that unprotected sex can be as dangerous in an altogether private bedroom following cocktails bought in the front room of a bar or disco, and can be more dangerous, even, than in a bath house where alcohol is not served, but where safe sex literature and condoms, at least, are made available.

Has Mr. Kramer never seen that magnificent film about Scotland's legendary hero, Rob Roy? As a Scottish-American, I found charming the outdoor hillside sexual episode that transpired between the hero, Rob Roy and his beloved. Rent it, Larry. Watch the gal and her guy boucing on the brae. Heterosexuals—and without a roof over their heads. Just lolling in Nature's semi-private embrace.

And what's this dummie Kramer saying, damning weekend parties like they're all alike? Well, he wasn't invited anyway. Weekend parties—however fate arranges them-- are usually private-residence affairs and no matter how many attendees there are or what they do, its none of Mr. Kramer's damn business unless they disturb the peace surrounding his domicile.

If Mr. Kramer is to faithfully follow his own logic, he'd best get into Carrie Nation drag, and ax into shreds every semi-public sexual venue—including, even, the front rooms of bars—which, based on his loonified rap--it appears--he may be on the very verge of doing.

Mr. Kramer's "fact" about the year 1981's anti-sex-venue debates seems off center. I was a San Francisco gay news editor through December so I can't speak for New York. The short-lived debates to which Kramer refers didn't get going in the Castro till 1982. No doubt Mr. Kramer was running about throwing cold water on writhing bodies, but in late 1981, HIV, then known as "the gay cancer" was thought by The City's activists to be caused by poppers.

AIDS isn't easily transmitted as is TB which is airborne and requires quarantine. If Mr. Kramer refuses to regard civil rights in sexual matters and in medical matters as paramount and advocates turning sexual expressions into a public health issue, he then opens wide the doors to HIV-positive people being quarantined—close the dirty bars, he'd say, and next thing they round up those infected—using draconian measures that have been justified under the banners of "public health issues" in the past.

Kramer is not a prophet in the wilderness predicting these anti-gay-male paddy-wagon measures, he is precipitating them. When the men in white coats arrive to cart away and then quarantine people with AIDS , Kramer will be one among those responsible for igniting fires of anti-sex hysteria.

Mr. Kramer says public sex isn't a civil right. No sh--, Sherlock. It has never been treated as a civil right, but instead as a manifest reason for arrest. In fact, police encourage such behavior. I tell no lie.

The people who object most are police plainclothesmen who, loitering in the stink of urinals, wag their "prize-guy" privates at citizens in often vain attempts to attract them.

Mr. Kramer does not seem to regret such "surveillance" and might be happiest, perhaps, if neither heterosexuals nor homosexuals ever copulate in public or even in private, for that matter. It appears, based on Mr. Kramer's book Faggots, that he himself has ventured into all of the old forbidden gay locales he now so harshly condemns.

Isn't that always the way with these sex-demon-driven types?

To assume that heterosexuals are as "pure" as he is, that they never have sex outdoors or in unexpected locales, shows a woeful lack of imagination on Mr. Kramer's part.

On a TV program Jim Hooper, a former ACLU national board member, told me about his reactions to heterosexual couplings on open beaches, "Every time I meet somebody named Sandy, I wonder about the origins of that name, " he said.

Mr. Kramer needs to study Bonobo, the Forgotten Ape, a fascinating1997 coffee table book (See GayToday reviews) about some very sex-celebrative cousins of his. The Bonobo apes express themselves lustfully (heterosexually & homosexually) every 91 minutes.

Kramer complains he gets no support from AIDS organizations and national gay organizations who long ago rejected his views because they knew these views give aid and comfort to our fundamentalist foes and will result in hysterics that will bring about a total loss of sexual civil liberties.

"The truth is," Larry Kramer writes "Most gay men live calm, orderly lives, often as couples." Yikes, this guy assumes he knows and can speak authoritatively about how most gay men live while forcing us to follow his nuclear-family-unit-example.

He ignores that as long as severe social condemnation greets same-sex love or lust, that secretive, closeted men, lacking their American birthright—namely, gay pride or self-esteem—will continue to seek out nameless partners only in anonymous trysts and that there is nothing Larry Kramer can do about this fact of life except cease his anti-gay propaganda in major newspapers so that such gay pride can have a better chance to grow unhindered by his nonsense.

And he ignores that there have always gay men (and straight men) who enjoy anonymous trysts. Larry, dear, look up Gore Vidal's fascinating essay, The Birds and the Bees. You need to know about "the shooters."

Larry Kramer goes after smokers too. I must object to this incessant meddling of his. As with smoking, he complains, if people choose to ignore medical warnings about AIDS, it is not, he says,, their own business. No Larry, you got it backwards again. Its not—repeat—NOT-- your business. Please do leave us alone now. Just butt out.

Mr. Kramer complains about lesbians ignoring his cause, which is about preaching damnation to promiscuous men. But he knows full well that the lesbian-feminist movement would hardly welcome gay men telling them how to live their private lives.

Lesbian activists, it appears, are kind enough not to split the movement, making it deteriorate into the kind of warring factionalism Mr. Kramer always thrives upon. His plea that lesbians flock to his cause is pitiful, in that it appears that he is telling lesbians what to do.

The heartening cooperation between gay men and lesbians during the AIDS crisis, as well as the compassion shown by lesbians for their gay brothers, finds 1997 to be one of the most significant years yet in the movement's thrust for equal rights for both sexes.

Mr. Kramer wonders why lesbians aren't furious with their gay brothers. Lesbians have better things to do than make a life-long career of being furious and angry all the time, thereby following dutifully in Mr. Kramer's footsteps.

Without strong, vocal opposition, Larry Kramer is on his way to convincing much of America that all gay men are back to pre-AIDS self-destructive behavior and will end up costing the taxpayer a lot of extra money. Indeed what Larry Kramer is writing could easily allow our enemies as well as many of our straight allies to deny all people with AIDS as well as gay people what rights we've won or are still fighting for.

Those who speak out as does Larry Kramer, because of what they themselves have said or written publicly, are, in fact, not only assimilationists but traitors to the cause of sexual civil rights.

It is particularly sophmoric that Larry Kramer assumes that those who disagree with the kind of dictatorial statements he makes, automatically oppose marriage and picket-fences. Gay people living lives as social equals and responsible citizens can do so without accepting Mr. Kramer's benighted viewpoints.

Fortunately, more and more gay people are beginning to ask as does Jeff Epperly, in an October editorial in Boston's Bay Windows : "Is anybody besides me really sick of activist/author/ playwright/relentless self-promoter Larry Kramer? Kramer accomplished--nay, he assisted with--one thing a long time ago, and he has milked it mightily ever since in his quest to be portrayed as the last angry faggot. Kramer and a few others met long ago and planted the seeds for New York founding of the amorphous confederation of groups known as ACT UP. Kramer didn't do this on his own, and there are a host of other persons vastly more creditable with the remarkable advances and P.R. victories that can be laid at ACT UP's door."

Sex-centrism, as Mr. Kramer calls his dreaded target, is an amorphous term, especially as he uses it. I got another term for you to bandy, Larry. How about anatomical over-focus? That's when men like boobs or pecs or vaginas or penises and don't notice much else. It is a male-role conditioning thing, this over-focus is, not a gay thing. Its never been thought by great numbers of openly sex-celebrative gay men that raw sex is the sole definition of homosexuality as Kramer dares to suggest.

That Kramer blames gay culture for AIDS is unforgivable and shows complete disregard for the amazingly compassionate response to AIDS which has been characteristic of gay communities nationwide throughout this medical crisis. As author Perry Brass puts it in his passionate essay that follows, Mr. Kramer "hasn't figured out what most of us already know—we are more than our genitals. But we like our genitals anyway."

Larry Kramer is once again cranking out one of his famous furious tantrums, trying to mislead gay men into tactical defeats for social equality for same-sex love. How many gay men will abide by the repressive new rules Larry Kramer himself has now established?

I agree with Kramer about one thing only. We must work at culture-change. Except that I'd choose sexually celebrative Walt Whitman for a leader, not fuddy-duddy Kramer. I'd want a society that enjoys greater affectional opportunities, not one that censoriously and foolishly ignores that many other social revolutions are needed before there will be appreciative cultural changes leading to a decrease in outdoor romps, if, in fact, such a decrease can be measured or encouraged. Yes, it can be discouraged, but only because plainsclothesmen have become Larry Kramer's gofers.

Kramer, unfortunately, is not part of the vanguard I envision. No. Part of liberation, as I see it, is allowing others their own chosen spaces instead of always trying to sit on their heads while scolding, scolding, scolding.

The Buddha's wisdom, it seems, Larry Kramer hasn't heard:

It is not what others do or do not do that is my concern, It is what I do, and what I do not do,

That is my concern.

Jack Nichols: co-founder of The Mattachine Society of Washington (1961) and co-editor of GAY, America's first gay weekly newspaper. (1969) He initiated the first march on Washington at the White House in 1965 and his record can be accessed in the following four current histories: The Gay Metropolis-- 1940-1996 ( Charles Kaiser, Houghton-Mifflin), Lonely Hunters: An Oral History of Lesbian and Gay Southern Life, 1948-1968 ( James T.Sears, Westview Harper Collins), Straight News: Gays, Lesbians and the News Media ( Edward Alwood, Columbia University Press) and Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay & Lesbian Press in America ( Rodger Streitmatter, Faber & Faber) and The Gay Militants (Donn Teal, St. Martin's Press). Nichols is the author of The Gay Agenda: Talking Back to the Fundamentalists (Prometheus Books, 1996)



By Perry Brass


Larry Kramer, the Name That Dare Not Speak Its Love, is back.

In the wonderfully public forum of The New York Times Friday (Dec. 12, 1997) Op Ed section, just before the weekend, where, as usual, Kramer will get as much exposure as his little insecure heart needs, the Name got to rant on about the powerful Sex Panic lobby that is squashing all opposition to "promiscuity." :

"The truth is, most gay men live calm, orderly lives, often as couples, and they are embarrassed by what Sex Panic espouses. They are ashamed this issue has surfaced again. Many feel that to speak up against Sex Panic only validates its existence, and that if they keep their mouths shut the group will go away."

Larry Kramer has no conflict with keeping his mouth shut. It has never shut up. The real problem, as always, going back to when he wrote Faggots, more than twenty years ago, is his own intensely internalized homophobia.

He cannot, for instance, on his perch as a well-heeled spokesman for his own self, see that the vast, vast majority of gay men are still invisible. That for many gay men, sex is still their only way of reaching out to each other. And that frankly, in its authenticity, frankness, and emotional openness, its a damn good way.

AIDS, and the fears around it, has destroyed much of this environment of openness that several generations of gay men have worked for. Sex-negative homosexuals (I dislike that clinical term, but it's the only one that fits here), such as Kramer and their allies, have loathed this, just as they have loathed the majority of gay men and have never been able to see their humanness, poignancy, kindness towards strangers (a quality which has been almost obliterated at this point), and warmth.

What they have seen is Kramer's version of "promiscuity kills"; that open sexuality means an "advocacy of unsafe sex"; and the homophobic stereotypes of predatory queers crawling through "sex in parks, in public restrooms, in bathhouses, in the back rooms of bars and discos, at weekend parties, on beaches-anywhere men can gather." (These quotes are directly from Kramer's Times piece.)

What Kramer, et al, can't figure out is that despite his argument that most of us are "calm, orderly," living in couples and eating Kraft Macaroni-and-Cheese every night, most of us have equally little truck with the brain-dead backroom behavior we know will always go on, in one form or another, despite Kramer's problems with it. Most of us are not particularly interested in that, but we know that since there is always going to be a buck to be made off this, it will exist.

And the cops will go after it, and a lot of very innocent men, many of them heterosexually married and completely closeted, will be hurt, if not destroyed.

What we do not want is to be told that expressions of gay sexuality should be questioned--and decided--by Pat Robertson, Rudolph Guiliani, and Larry Kramer. We do not want to be arrested because--as is now happening--we have gone out "cruising," that is, looking for each other in a sexual way.

We don't think Jerry Seinfeld would like it, when he goes on his weekly babe-hunt, which usually ends with Jerry in bed with some woman that he will dump at the end of the half hour. We don't think that all the cute, horny, little Beverly Hills kids on any one of fourteen hours a night of commercial television would like it, either.

But Kramer feels that queers protesting this as a part of "Sex Panic" is really revolting. That the environment which now empowers New York cops to harass gay men, should be encouraged by our community. We should all return to our "calm, orderly lives," the sort of life that Kramer has never had, but which he is now an expert on.

Many of us may also get a glimmer every now and then that in some profound way we are different than heteros. That maybe the consciousness, politics, ethos, and socialization of homosexuality--which we can call, if we wish, "gay culture"--may be different from the mainstream glop we see everyday on TV, that is sold to us at every K-mart and shopping mall, and that tries to parade itself in front of us as "normalcy." In short, that there is some overriding "gay consciousness" which we do use to connect with each other.

This idea terrifies kids, and since our public consumer culture is now at fourteen-year-old-junior-high level, it is difficult for younger 90s gay men to accept it. Accepting being different in any way makes them thoroughly "unAmerican." It takes them directly out of the Perry Ellis commercials, even though Mr. Ellis died of AIDS, and out of Tommy Helfingerland, even though Mr. Helfinger seems definitely one of the "fraternity."

However, what pulled the gay movement together and what allowed us to create a gay environment around us, was accepting that we did not have to swallow what was publicly being thrown at us: that being different in this way was evil, sick, revolting, and impossible for "normal society" to accept. We realized we were different enough not to have to swallow another dose of this bilge.

As much as I may be in favor of "normalcy," civility, etc. as a backdrop for what I may want to do--find men, have sex with them, particularize them as necessary in my life, even when they don't make David Geffin's maintenance payments--I realize that many of my feelings are not the ones of the rest of America. Some of them may be shared by a whole lot of other queers, but I cannot see either myself or my work being picked up by the Republican Party or the Book-of-the-Month-Club.

Kramer has always tried to present himself as the alienated voice crying in the wilderness, but the truth is he gathers the wilderness around him--and its the kind of "wilderness," run over with four-wheel-drive vehicles, that fits in very well with the closed, yuppy society around us.

These yuppies, and their guppy cousins, will be around for a long time. At least as long as the market holds up. Kramer will network with them as much as he wants, and they will always think of him as a saint, because he hates the rest of fagdom as much as they do. "There is a growing understanding," Kramer says, "that we created a culture that in effect murdered us, and that if we are to remain alive it's time to redefine homosexuality as something far greater than what we do with our genitals."

Larry, honey, sorry to have to tell you: we created a culture that did create us as a distinct group. That allowed us to raise our heads, when most of America wanted to chop them off. That allowed us to fight AIDS when the great majority of Americans wanted to keep silent on the subject, and was very happy to watch us go off, one by one, to die.

What allowed us to do this was not the commercialized sex situations (the bars, baths, clubs, etc.) that you seem to feel are the "A-Z" of "gay culture," but a sense of closeness among us. Despite your many summers on Fire Island (where I gather you went to enough A-list parties to know everything about the "gay world"), I think you haven't figured out what most of us already know: we are more than our genitals. But we like our genitals, anyway.

We think they are a nice part of our bodies--electric and otherwise. And we may actually be smart enough to know what to do with them.

Although it's nice to know that nothing about you has really changed (except that very publicly now, you are married: congratulations!), many of us have. And what we have learned is that what we have lost to AIDS--besides a slew of our friends--has been a great deal of our heart.

Although the road to Kramer's wish for "social equality" (a road which now includes the Lincoln Bedroom) is definitely paved with money, that doesn't seem to do it for a lot of us; the ones who want something in our gay lives besides Kraft box dinners.

I have been to enough fund-raisers, and have moved with enough movers-and-shakers, queer and straight, to know that once the shekels stop coming in, we will be dumped down the drain. Enough for our social equality. What I want is the kind of closeness gay men are capable of, and much of that comes from expressions of sex, covert, overt, and in between.

In his Times piece, Kramer says (or shouts): "Promiscuous gay men must hear the message, 'Enough already! Haven't you learned anything from the past seventeen years?'"

I think we have. We have learned that we can be just like anyone else. That we can join the dumbing of America in a New York minute. That we can screw each other just as badly as the straights can. That we have "nothing in common with each other except sex" (a constant Generation X whine); and then we can throw this important gift of sexuality away. We have learned that our own lives can be as emotionally starved as Kramer's, with or without sex. And that sex, especially spontaneous, gay "promiscuous" sex, sex with adult responsibilities but without "networking," value judgments, and the usual strings of the 90s attached, is still downright wonderful.

Maybe some of us feel that we authentically don't fit in the Dewers posters I saw a few years ago in Greenwich Village. Two tall, yuppified, sweating, squash-playing, maybe-yes-maybe-no queers talking in their health club. "He's good looking, has a great job, and likes Dewers. What else could I ask for?" A whole lot, sweetie, and maybe you might not find him at the health club.

Maybe you might actually find him in some backroom bar, where instead of exchanging business cards, you can pull out something a little more direct. But you won't be doing this as long as Larry from the Times, big Rudy Giuli from NYC, Cardinal O'Connor, and all these other sad, miserable, powerless little people crying in the wilderness against revolting "gay promiscuity" have their way.

The really sick thing about all this is that Kramer and his friends are now doing their crying behind AIDS. But, as we know, they did this before AIDS. They did this thirty years ago when my friends and I were organizing the gay movement. They said, "How can a bunch of queers who are only interested in back rooms organize?"

They did not realize that you actually have to like the people you are organizing--and yourself--to keep any organization going. That you have to be able to see that queers will be in backrooms, and having sex on the beach, etc.; and that these same men can still go to the picket lines. That within gay sexuality there is a great deal of strength and cohesion, and this is something that even Kramer and Barbara Walters can't figure out.

They can't seem to figure out that we have a kind of consciousness that does not always-openly-play in Peoria. But now that "we" are on half a dozen sitcoms, and have our national spokesperson in Ellen, it seems it's no time to rock the boat and embarrass those good people back home who are just about ready to "buy" us, let us sit down with them at the table to munch down on KFC Extra-Crispy, and believe that we can be just like they are.

Well, I agree. We can be. But I ain't.

Perry Brass's newest book is The Lover of My Soul, a book that would probably make Larry Kramer upset. He can be reached at

His new website,, is up and running.

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