I first came upon The Normal Heartin my early 20s. The play shook me to my core. I was young, just coming to honest terms with being gay, and I threw myself into the play. It was loud, brash, and violent. It was passionate, outspoken, and dangerous. It was everything I was looking for, and everything I wanted to be.
Let me give you a little background. The story follows Ned Weeks, a gay New Yorker turned activist, who throws himself into the center of the AIDS crisis. He rails against the government for doing nothing to stop a plague. And he screams at his own community for choosing silence and ambivalence over taking real action.
Over the course of the play he wins some, he loses some, and he becomes a pariah in his own community. But through it all, even as his friends die and his lover dies, he does not give up hope. He keeps fighting, he keeps living for the day when this disease will be ended for good.
It’s a play about angry homosexuals, who were fed up with the lies they were being told. The government wanted them to just go away and die, and these men refused to do so. They started ACT-UP, which later became the GAY MEN’S HEALTH CRISIS.
They would not leave this world and die. They would not let the disease wreck their world. It’s the story of a group of men, who banded together to fight a sickness that was dismantling their lives. These men rose up, fought back, pushed to the very edge, and pushed again.
I think about this play, and the accompanying film. I think about how far we have come since the 1980s, when all seemed lost. Today, GLBT folks are more prevalent than ever. We are outspoken, making strides in the world, bringing marriage equality to the states, and loving freely. We aren’t relegated to the big cities anymore. We are in the communities, raising children, going to PTA meetings, carrying the orange slices at soccer games. We are on Capitol Hill, fighting for change and not stopping until full equality is reached.
It’s a beautiful thing.
But another thought pops into my head. Do we still have the same anger that those men did? Do we still carry with us the passion for change that breathed life into the men, fueling them to fight back? And, I wonder, is that anger still needed?
Do we not need the same kind of anger anymore solely because those men did it for us? Now, we have more rights, we see equality changing everyday. They paved the way, so we don’t have to face the same struggles.
But I would argue that we still have to face those struggles. They haven’t gone away. The world isn’t perfect. We still have to fight. Workplace discrimination is still rampant, marriage equality is still not the law of the land, and AIDS continues to weave its way through our community. Yes, things have been improved, but that doesn’t mean all the problems have been solved.
Larry Kramer was just one of many pioneers who banded together to move the gay movement forward. Today, there are countless men and women doing the same. Some in Washington, some are in their homes living their lives out and proud, and some are in the public eye, fighting for equality. We have come a long way. But the anger that lived in those men before us, I don’t think it has to die. I think it’s still needed.
Nothing ever changed with folks sitting by idle, or by playing nice. Nothing good ever happens when we refuse to speak up.
Live out loud. In your way. You’re mad about intolerance, then fight it. There are issues at your high school, then work to change it. You want to show who you are, then love your partner and live without shame. There are so many things we can do everyday.
It took some gay men coming together to help in the fight against AIDS. It’s going to take more people rising up, speaking out, and fighting hard to see that full equality is reached, and that this disease is gone for good.