I’ve seen “The Normal Heart,” Larry Kramer’s 1985 play about the start of the AIDS epidemic in New York City, in three different incarnations: once on Broadway in 2011, twice here in DC at Arena Stage, and last night’s HBO movie version.
And, every single time, it’s had the same effect on me: I cried. I cried until my eyes burned and my head ached. I cried until I could not cry any more.
I cried for the pain and suffering that these men went through and how, for many, that suffering was compounded by fear, ignorance and bigotry.
I cried for the deep pain their loved ones felt at their loss, a pain that was also exacerbated by fear and ignorance.
I cried for the loss of what was and the loss of what might have been: all the works of art, advances in science, social and political leaders, families, children…all the things that would have enriched our society that never were.
I cried for the loss of those people who might have enriched my own life. The gay community is a small world. How many of those men might have crossed my path one day and contributed something unique to my life?
I cried over the fact that I became so traumatized by fear of HIV as a closeted teenager that I’ve never been able to fully enjoy sex. Instead, I’m always running the list of rules in my head and worrying about whether I’m being “safe enough.”
I cried because today, more than 30 years into the HIV epidemic, I personally know more than 50 people who are living with HIV: beautiful, wonderful, amazing men and women who deal with this disease every day of their lives.
I cried because I know that there are more people in my life with HIV than just those 50-plus. I’m sure I know others who simply haven’t told me yet or don’t know themselves.
I cried because I know that the only difference between me and any of the men who watched so many of their friends die is the advanced medical treatments available today.
I cried because of the overwhelming unfairness of it all: that a community that was already carrying the load of hatred and bigotry, faced with almost no legal protections, and rejected and demeaned at every turn, had to bear the further burden of unimaginable pain, suffering and death.
I cried because I know that too many people, including in our own community, don’t have any desire to know this history and it runs the real risk of being forgotten.
I cried because I know that this same pain and suffering is still happening all over the world. And it doesn’t have to with today’s treatments.
And I cried because this amazing work of art touched my heart and soul and moved me to tears.
If you haven’t seen it yet, do so as soon as you can. It’s not only a remarkable portrayal of a history that should always be remembered; it’s an amazing work that should be experienced.