Today I am thinking about all of my dead friends who perished as a result of America’s neglect in the midst of the A.I.D.S crisis. When I was 35 years old in 1985, living in San Francisco, I had buried more friends than both my parents and all my relatives and all their friends had ever seen die in their entire lifetimes!
Yesterday I was watching the film “Giant” with James Dean and Rock Hudson and I thought about the privileged closet in which Rock Hudson and many other closet cases flourished. Yes it is true that his death helped to awaken the American middle class to the epidemic, after thousands of young men had already died. But he could have spoken with his dear friends, Nancy and Ronald Raygun, he could have come out and spoken up about this country’s utter disinterest in gay lives and gay suffering. Today, it is all absolved. Everyone understands. Forgive and forget. I long ago resolved my feelings about the mediocrity of American middle class values and the unintentional wrongdoing of liberal assimilationists. But I cannot forget my dead friends. I still love them and want them and I value them.
So, I am a survivor. I don’t really understand why I am still alive. Next year I am 70 years old. I am a veteran of the war of America against Queer Life. My films speak for themselves and I am not an apologist. I am from a lost generation. The promise of the Gay Movement is not yet fulfilled. Same-gender marriage is not the realization of the dreams of my generation. It is merely the balm that helps to relieve the guilt that America knows that it bears for its GENOCIDE. Dead Gay men don’t matter to this nation, Queer Culture doesn’t matter. The dream of Queer Culture is yet to be realized – it is a long, hard struggle ahead of us. It is hindered by my Lost Generation – the thinkers, the writers, artists, filmmakers – all the dead – with their contributions to Gay life and Culture unfulfilled. The generation of young Queers struggles without the help of their ancestors – a lost generation.
In the early 90s I was a part of the Artists’ Caucus of Visual A.I.D.S. During one of our meetings, the twelve of us created the Red Ribbon. We got it onto the Emmy Award show because we had a contact in Equity – the actor’s Union. We convinced Jeremy Irons, who was hosting the show to wear it. He was the first person to do so publicly. The station was flooded with phone calls, and Jeremy was obliged to explain its meaning: Awareness of the A.I.D.S. epidemic. From that moment the Red Ribbon entered American culture’s iconography.
Some Queers have criticized the Red Ribbon as an ineffective strategic icon that mollified the guilt and the responsibility of American neglect. I understand. I disagree. The problem is not with the ribbon. It is because of the tragedy of Queer Culture: that my generation was wiped out and there are very few of our voices left to speak and provide the needed impetus to understand what was lost, what the dreams had been, and why an understanding of our history is so desperately needed! We now live in a global digital world, virtual in its experience, imaginary in its achievements, and one in which the Individual has usurped the Collective. “Queer” is an idea that exists alongside all of the Cultural ideas that are for sale in the global marketplace. But how many understand the meaning of Critical resistance? How can we undo the mistakes of assimilationism?
Today I remember my dead friends, and also their friends and families, some of whom did not value them nor understand them. It is a tragedy that America chooses to forget.