The Fresh Bile and Sex Life of Larry Kramer
An hour into my conversation with iconic HIV activist and author Larry Kramer, he paused and said “Darling, you’re getting an interview out of me that no one else has ever had. Your editor should be well pleased with you.”
We had been talking about the seventy-four year old Larry Kramer’s sex life!
I consider Larry Kramer’s perpetual insistence that we not sweep AIDS under the rug to be heroic. Others take an opposite view of a man whose voice has been the constant deafening siren of an ambulance since his days as a founder of both GMHC and ACT UP in the 1980s. In 2007, he said that Ronald Reagan is responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler.
Having read his book Faggots when it was new in 1978, I had decided he was not a great writer. I changed that sour opinion many years later when I read his Florida based “Mrs. Teffilin,” a short story that is one of the best ever written. When I told him this, Larry Kramer corrected my pronunciation. “Teh-FILL-in, not TEH-fuh-lin” he schooled this goy.
Larry Kramer continues to work on his 4,000 page history of the strife of homosexuality to be published in two volumes with the title “The American People,” a phrase often used by Ronald Reagan whom he despises. He has been tackling this mammoth project off and on since 1978 and its destiny has become a contest between death and his publisher. Kramer who tested positive for HIV in 1988 gives evidence that the publisher may win. He survived a liver transplant in 2001, and uses his fresh bile to attack the same enemies.
“I don’t like Mr. Obama. He is just another in a long line of presidents who have dumped all over us. He is not honoring his campaign commitments. I really think he hates gay people and we are not dealing with this in an effective way. It’s nice that he wants to protect our right to hospital visitation but it’s no big deal.
“We are too passive and too invisible and too unwilling to demand our equality. This continues to be very painful for me. When I speak about this, people either say ‘He’s right’ or ‘There she goes again’. I’m used to it.”
I steered him back to speaking about longevity.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about older gay men because I’m almost 75. I’ve suddenly started being horny again! My partner and I have known each other since the late 1960s. This is our second time together. Seventeen years this time. He gave me permission to explore, but what does a 75 year old do when he wants to crawl in bed with a hot young body? I think this is the biggest unwritten thing and there must be an awful lot of older men like me who are hungry for another sexual chapter before they die. I don’t think we talk about it enough.”
When I asked him how he handled his new vigor, he surprised me.
“Almost as research for my book, I joined two hook-up sites and posted my profile on both of them. I get a lot of views but I get no takers. Only a couple of old ACT UP members wrote to say they recognized me.”
I checked out his profiles. His photos are impish, happy and attractive. I suggested that the lack of response might be due to intimidation by the prospect of being in bed with the formidable Larry Kramer. He laughed when I offered that my own hands would be shaking under his covers.
“I take a lot of pills for my HIV and my liver transplant. Erections are a sometimes thing, but I can still have an orgasm. I’m grateful for my favorite gay porn sites. In the old days I’d just go down the street to the baths.”
These days, Larry Kramer worries about the appearance of his body, distended and scarred by disease and surgery. He explained his signature overalls as a way to hide his lack of a waist. When I assured him that many men find scars sexually attractive because they are evidence of experience, he said “Well I’ve got plenty of stories on my belly.”
He is well aware that some will find the idea of a sexually active Larry Kramer at odds with his insistence that gay men learn to police their own sex lives.
“People think I’m the one who demanded that gay men stop fucking altogether but you have to realize that in 1981 or 82, one had to be something of an alarmist. People would say you’re going to scare us to death and I’d say that’s what I want.”
He says that his research and interviews with the owners of hook-up sites lead him to believe that younger gay men are having more sex, but this does not alleviate the enormous loneliness that applies to both young and old gay men. He is also quick to say that new gay sex is hardly carefree.
“Somewhere in your unconscious brain the specter of AIDS lurks, no matter how stoned you are and even with a condom. When ACT UP was in its ending years, I remember one of its most important members Jim Eigo saying to me that we haven’t finished our work until we bring sex back again.”
Never the shirker, Larry Kramer fears not finishing both sex and his book.
“I worry that I won’t have enough time and good health to finish this book. I always wanted to write a really long book but you have no idea what it is like to even edit 4,000 pages. I worry that I will lose some sort of mental facility before I’m done.”
Let those who respond to his online profile be forewarned. For the sake of the book and because we need his strong voice, do not tire him out.