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Larry Kramer went to Yale University last week to be honored by its Gay and Lesbian Association during its very first alumni reunion. The brooding author-playwright-AIDS activist used the occasion to deliver a broadside against Yale , queer theory -- as well as the word "queer" -- and all the American historians who have buried evidence that Kramer believes makes Abe Lincoln, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark) great gay Americans.
Like me, Kramer rejects the notion that no one ever thought of himself as gay in previous centuries the same way we did in the 20th. "I began to explore all this stuff, and I began to see that people did have sex in the old days," Kramer told Advocate.com. "It's ridiculous -- there's all this business now about passionate friendship, that all the colonial guys wrote in all this very flowery message, and that was sort of standard procedure and it didn't mean anything gay. I'm about to review book a book by Richard Godbeer, a professor at the University of Miami, called TheOverflowing of Friendship: Love Between Men and the Creation of the American Republic. It's 400 pages of letters that people wrote to each other, and I just don't buy for one second that they're straight."
"I needed no queer theories, no gender studies, to figure all this out," Kramer said in his speech at Yale.
Part of Kramer's objection to queer theory is that he thinks it crowds out more important gay history, preventing it from getting the attention it deserves at the university level. In his speech he noted there were 22 courses offered in "the Pink Book of LGBT studies" and only one of them, George Chauncey's course titled U.S. Lesbian and Gay History, " is a gay history course." The rest of them range from Cross-Cultural Narratives of Desire to Beauty, Fashion, and Self-Styling.
Kramer is particularly unhappy that the strong evidence of Lincoln's bisexuality in C.A. Tripp's groundbreaking work, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, continues to be ignored by most straight historians -- and many gay ones.
Kramer points to Tripp's account of Lincoln's breakdown after separating from Joshua Speed as particularly indicative of the president's real feelings: "Just look at a calendar and see when he has the breakdown -- and don't give me all this other shit about 'Mary's out shopping for too much money' or whatever. They [Lincoln and Speed] had a parting and [their letters prove] it was very painful for both of them. And it isn't even taught as a possibility anywhere. That's what pisses me off about Yale."
Kramer cites Gore Vidal's novel Burr (which features a gay whorehouse in colonial New York) as one reason for his belief that both George Washington and Alexander Hamilton were also gay. (One of Kramer's assertions appears to have no historical basis whatsoever: He said that Martin Luther King's senior aide Bayard Rustin "was homosexual and was assassinated because of it." Rustin was indeed gay, but he actually died of natural causes in a New York hospital after a botched operation.)
As for the rest of his evidence, Kramer said, "I don't want to give away too much, but these men are so obviously so self-centered in male friendships -- that by me is gay enough." He said the rest of what he's learned will be revealed in his massive historical work, The American People, a combination of fiction and nonfiction, which he has been working on for 20 years and is now 4,000 pages long. Kramer guesses it's still five years away from publication.
As for gay people calling themselves "queer," I asked Kramer if he thought it's just like African-Americans who refer to each other as "ni*****."
"Exactly," Kramer said. "And it certainly is not going to endear us to the straight world, even though it's intended to be a kind of in-your-face kind of opposition for political reasons. Which is just such ass-back reasoning."
When he declared at Yale, "I am not queer! And neither are you," he was delighted to be greeted with a round of applause. "Ron Gregg, who teaches the film course at Yale called Queer Cinema, said he's thinking of getting rid of the word 'queer,'" Kramer said.
The rest of Kramer's speech at Yale was an attack on the university for accepting $1 million to set up the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies in 2001 and closing it down five years later after removing its director, Jonathan David Katz. "All references to LKI were expunged from websites and answering machines and directories and syllabuses. One day LKI was just no longer here. When this happened I thought my heart would break."
Kramer blamed himself in part for Yale's actions. "This famous big-deal loudmouth activist apologizes to you and to Jonathan," Kramer told his audience at Yale. "My lover, David, says I did not sit on the nest enough. I did not become enough of the Larry Kramer they were afraid of." He also noted that The Advocate College Guide for LGBT Students lists Yale as near "the bottom of the heap in terms of institutional support and administrative services for its gay students and gay studies."
As for the continuing failure of mainstream historians to pay attention to the evidence that many famous Americans may have been gay, Kramer said, "That's the trouble with academia: They don't use their common sense. And it's time for us to fight back. And I don't see it happening anywhere."
Larry Kramer's Case