Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Normal Heart

I watched last night on HBO the film version of the famous Larry Kramer play of 1984 about the AIDS crisis in New York. That sent me for a time warp spin.

Curiously, although having read all the "right books" of the 80ies on AIDS and gay life, I had missed reading that play of Kramer (I prefer to read theater than attending it, do not ask). But I certainly knew of his writings, having read the infamously famous "Faggots". And of his activist career, including his participation in the founding of ACT UP.

The movie sent me tear eyed to those years in the US for my doctoral degree, when I faced with my own coming out, and when as a scientist I knew from the very first time I saw a TV report on "gay cancer" that this could only be caused by an infectious agent. That we had to wait 2 more years for confirmation is due to the way science works, but we all knew that this was going to be the final outcome, enhanced or not by external factors.

This certainly put a hold for a while on my relationships but it did not stop me to get progressively involved though volunteer work, starting at the Chase Brexton of Baltimore in its glorious early scrappy days. Activism was not possible as I was a foreigner and my ethics prevented me to do so, even though I knew much more about US politics and history than the average Joe. Still, it did not stop me from joining ACT UP marches when I knew they were going to be well behaved. And I will pass on the Gay Prides of the late 80ies, on the Quilts Memorial at the Washington Mall, on the Pro Choice gigantic rallies then, etc...

In addition of being trilingual and tricultural, I can also say that I have a 4th culture, the gay american culture which is where I came out and had my first relationships. And this include a lot of stuff, from a love for Broadway Tunes, to a Liberal heart forged in the bigoted era of the Reagan Bush administrations. It does not matter how much of a fiscal conservative I am, how much I prize a minimum of order, respect and education, private enterprise and free trade, for I cannot vote anyone that does not embrace gay rights, pro choice policies and some reasonable form of affirmative action. I cannot. There is a matter of principles and ethics that come from too many tears 30 years ago.

But as I watched tear eyed The Normal Heart, remembering brutally stuff I had not thought about for 20 years, something else came to my notice.  Certainly the Republican administration of the time did not want anything to do with AIDS, gay rights and the like. Or as Julia Roberts points in the movie, more millions were spent on 7 victims of a tampered Tylenol jars than on the already thousand of patients in New York alone.  But one thing I was able to see. Republicans of the era did not pretend to be gay friendly, and when they gave something, for as little as that was, they did not pretend either that they were dealing effectively and generously with the situation.  I do not mean to make apologies for the Reagan people then, but at least we should acknowledge that they were coherent with their positions.

If I can be that understanding today with something that caused me great grief 30 years ago it is because 15 years of chavismo have gone by. See, in Venezuela we have a regime that claims to be liberal in excess, to be the salvation of human kind and yet its deeds are sorely lacking. As far as homophobia is concerned chavismo has nothing to envy from the nutty right wing of the US, they are of the same mentality that gave us "but some of my best friends are gay/black/woman".  In fact homophobia inside chavismo is worse because for political needs it is fair game to use it, something that main stream Republicans did not go besides a possible occasional allusion to a difference (excepting Jesse Helms, of course).  I actually had gay friends that were Republican (precious few, of course) and I could put up with it. Here, I cannot look in the face gays that support Chavez because I am afraid to lose composure. I cannot understand it. I broke lose with them even though my S.O. still sees them occasionally.

But that is not all. Let's look at health care. Certainly in the early 80ies there were too many problems in hospitals refusing to attend patients with the mysterious disease. Yet, calling it a genocide like Kramer does is a little bit of a stretch. Fear is one thing, intention is another. As such I am not going to qualify the disaster of public hospitals in Venezuela as genocide, though criminal it is. Yesterday I was writing about a documentary of CNN at the Hospital Clinico of Caracas. One thing I did not write was that I experienced personally the disaster there last February when the lousy attention my S.O. received would have cost him his life had we not taken him out of there to a private clinic. It was not AIDS, it was cancer, but the mess was comparable.

It is morally worse in Venezuela due to the hypocrisy of a regime that vaunts world wide its heath successes that are today proven nonexistent or voided. This hypocrisy, this "I do not care a shit about people in public hospitals while I send my family and relatives to private clinics" would make me again the activist, a Ned Weeks variation, if I were younger, if I did not have for my own Felix to care for already, if I had not burnt my eyes for so many years on a computer screen for you, if it were not a dictatorship, if it were a place where I could get a court order from a judge, something that could not happen in Venezuela where the whistle blowers are those put in jail, straight.  The ACT UP of Venezuela today are its students, and they are abandoned by politicians, "main stream" just as ACT UP was judged in the US, by its main stream. Even if in the end ACT UP sort of prevailed.

I am telling you, the price we will pay for 15 years of chavismo is barely starting to be evaluated. Our tears are only starting. The 80ies may turn out to have been nothing.


  1. Feel free to edit this if you wish, but here´s an interesting version of events:

    When my mom left Cuba she arrived in Miami penniless, but as luck would have it she had a Cuban friend who lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She was an excellent registered nurse in Cuba, so by the late 1970´s she was a floor supervisor at Broward General. Sometime in the early 80´s my mother told me they were seeing strange cases in the hospital, men who had terrible infections and Kaposi´s Sarcoma all at the same time. They developed special protocols for these patients, and she told me nurses were terrified, because they weren´t sure about how these patients we getting so sick.

    In those days all of them died, some had a fungus infection which drowned them, other from other debilitating diseases. My mom also observed many of these patients were homosexuals, and warmed my first cousin (who was a homosexual released from jail in Cuba during the Mariel boat lift) to be careful, because she felt it had something to do with sex.

    As we all know, eventually they figured out what it was, and so on. I´m going by what I know from my mother, but she was very upset because people weren´t being properly warned. She also felt it was critical if needed to isolate some individuals and keep them in isolation, but they would be released from the hospital, mostly because they didn´t want to use the bed space.

    Over the years, based on the information I got in those early days, and what I read afterwards, my impression was that the USA government dropped the ball. And I don´t want to get into the issue of blaming one party or the other. I think everybody made mistakes on all sides.

    I can´t recall if I wrote a comment here about a post I wrote called "Fidel Castro´s Homophobia". It was in response to a post by Yoani in her blog. It´s about the homophobia I saw when I lived in Cuba in FIdel Castro´s dictatorship. To be honest, I think Fidel´s homophobia is reflected in what we see in the chavistas.

    1. Reynaldo Arenas? He was in that Mariel lift.

  2. this is all well and good, informative and heartfelt, Daniel. But please watch the drama index, as in "if I had not burnt my eyes for so many years on a computer screen for you,". For us? Not a wee need, no, big need for you? Por favooor...

    As for Kaposi's sarcoma, that was the diagnosis in the early 70's of a medical doctor in Caracas, colleague of my Dad's, and friend of our family. There was no connection between the MD's lifestyle and KS, but it was suspected.

    1. Hummm.... and writing 10 years for FREE do not allow me to be a little bit of a drama queen on occasion?

      Was your Dad's friend the true "patient zero"? Inquiring minds want to know...

    2. Drama queen behaviours must be called upon. For they add an un-serious note to otherwise authentic revelations. A writer must be humble, in order to take his or her readers into confidence. And when occasional drama ellipses occur, so, too, must the finger-pointing on related hyper martyrdom ("I do this all for you, my people").

      I don't know if the Caracas doctor who was afflicted with KS (and died of same) was patient zero or not -- in Vzla. After all, KS as a dx has a much longer history, going waaay back than the 1970s.

    3. Except that this is a blog and not a newspaper. In a newspaper you do not not want nor need the private life and emotions of the journalist. On a blog it is allowed as long as it does not compromise the core message, as long the blog is not about the blogger alone. Otherwise, why would one read a blog over a newspaper?

      Then again there are well read blogs that are only about the vices of the blogger... but that is another story.

  3. I think sometimes we have to give people the benefit of the doubt and aligning social issues with politics make that hard to do sometimes.

    If I were to automatically assume that people were anti women just because they are against legal abortions I would be resentful of an awful lot of people.

    I don't think that the anti gay crowd can be cleanly divided like that,even when people pretend it so.I have met many Republicans who are not so and many Liberals who are ( under the radar) Politics it is so easy to speak in cliche, and assume a packaged deal.

    As a women I am used to fighting my own battles,should I find it worth it.No need for idiot political parties, only a need for social awareness and each person having the freedom to speak his own mind...something that modern politics have successfully eliminated in large part.


    1. I am sorry but your point does not come across. Or perhaps you are allowing some slack to chavismo that put Lopez on jail while they align social issues......

    2. I am expressing my view.I do not expect you to agree because I see that you do not.But a variety of opinions if good for combating dictatorship and automatic thinking in my opinion.

      No cutting slack to Chavismo involved.Nobody hates them more than I do.Firepigette


    3. For you, just on my Twitter

  4. Dramatic piece, yes. But an important read, yes.

    1. Well, there are some topics that can be written upon only with drama. There is no need to go to the deep end like Kramer does on occasion but be it on AIDS or chavismo repression, not adding some drama is tantamount of condoning. Of course, hysteria being always counter productive. A fine line in Venezuela these days.

  5. I think this blog has always struck the right note between the personal and the political. Thank you for so many years of essential writing, Daniel.

    1. Coming for you it is greatly appreciated.

  6. Daniel,

    First of all, I support you adding drama to this piece as it is your blog and very rarely we get to read on your personal life and thoughts. As much as i appreciate and admire the great analysis, it's very satisfying as well to catch glimpses of the person behind the ".com".

    As for the post, i have little knowledge about history of the gay population in the world, so i have little to add.

    From what you write it seems America basically neglected the issue til it started becoming obvious to the masses.
    Here in Venezuela, gays are just another segment of the population that can rally towards the all-poweful red flag for a nice photo-op, and it's those "movements" that are to blame as well, maybe it's leadership,but it's hard to tell since gay rights are not talked about EVER on venezuelan politics.

    Haven't heard a single group complaining about the total inexistence of medicine for AIDS and HIV patients either. Can't help but to think that there's some "proud" leaders out there not giving a damn and making a buck for wearing a red shirt with rainbow bracelets.

    Even if they plan on doing something, actions will be limited to "Ministro del Poder Popular para las Personas con Gustos Sexuales Diversos".And that's it, we have a minister and problem solved,applause, pictures and goodbye.


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