Gay Men at Their Worst

During my years of caring for gay men dying of AIDS, I saw the gay community from the inside. For the most part, gay men are like all men, neither better nor worse. But the AIDS epidemic with its threat of certain death brought out qualities which otherwise would have been left dormant. I saw great heroism and generosity—I’ll speak of that in later posts. But I also saw cowardice and its consequence, ignobility.

Part of the source was, I believe, the built-in frustration of being gay. As some gay men told me in their most open moments as they approached death, they hated being gay but couldn’t escape it.

In No-Accounts, I describe a scene I witnessed more than once when a man stricken with AIDS meets with his former admirers who now pull away from him. Peter, the gay protagonist, had been at his pinnacle in the gay community. He was tall and handsome with a handful of followers who idolized him. He persuades Martin, his straight buddy, to take him to a gay bar to meet with three of his fans. Martin senses the underlying tension in the three men and their discomfort at being with Peter now facing death from AIDS. The following is the conclusion of the scene:

The conversation continued headlong. Kirk, Joey, and Ron got into competitive bar-hopping anecdotes, a can-you-top-this contest. Something phony was going on. The three were too dithery, too jubilant. Martin’s gut tightened.

More drinks arrived. Peter was flushed. He was frowning and slurring his words. He no longer joined in the laughter. Ron, Joey, and Kirk partied on.

They don’t know what a good time is, my dear,” Joey was saying. “They wouldn’t know a rush if they met one running bare-ass naked down the street.” Kirk guffawed. Peter glared.

“And that,” Ron said unnaturally deep in his voice, “is why they call us gay, big boy.”

“Gay?” Peter said, his voice raw, his face red.

“Gayer than thou, honey,” Kirk said. He poked Peter in the stomach and made a face at Ron. Hoots of laughter.

Peter gulped his wine. “Gay? Holy Jesus . . .”

Still smiling, Kirk turned back to Peter with a questioning look.

Peter slammed his glass on the table. Wine sloshed. “We’re not the gays,” he said though his teeth. “We’re the shit of the earth, biological errors, mutants, at the genetic end of the line, with no hopes, no dreams, no salvation. Big fucking mistakes. God, we can’t even reproduce.”

The laughter died.

End of quote. Martin takes Peter home. Peter is crushed by what has happened. It’s his last visit to a gay bar.

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