It’s not easy to quote from Larry Kramer’s 1978 novel, Faggots, without losing the horrible fun of it. The sentences are mostly humongous, clause-cragged lists involving genitalia and scatology and hard-fleshed crowds of seemingly indistinguishable men with names—so many names!—such as Billy Boner and Dinky Adams and Cunard Rancé Evin Dildough. You can only grab at certain clumps of incident and imagery as they whiz by. I hate how often I laugh at the thought of the protagonist, Fred Lemish, trying to sponge off some sexual frustration late one night at a Manhattan bathhouse. In the putrid water, Kramer writes, Fred spots a “cockroach up-ended, probably fucked to death, glad somebody got something, he thought.”
How fitting that Kramer’s death from pneumonia at age 84 has already sparked a controversy over rhetoric, tone, and respectability. A New York Times article originally said that the author and HIV/AIDS activist’s “often abusive approach could overshadow his achievements,” which is a hilariously provocative dig to put in this particular man’s obituary. Abusive adds a violent tint to what others less hysterically call confrontational or brave or no-fucks-given. But overshadowed his achievements? To know Kramer’s achievements is to know they happened venomously.