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The Importance of Being Larry

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When Oscar Wilde, the great homosexual, instructed us that "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life," he may well have been addressing this New York Times photo of Larry Kramer, playwright of The Normal Heart, marrying his partner David Webster last week. The ceremony took place in the intensive care unit of Langone Medical Center in New York City, where Kramer is recovering from surgery from a bowel obstruction.

Wilde is always correct, of course, but why is he so particularly apt on this occasion? Well, because Kramer's famous play ends with the two lovers -- one ("Felix Turner") dying of AIDS, the other Kramer's quasi-autobiographical stand-in "Ned Weeks" -- being married in a hospital room, the sick man flat on his back on a gurney, with his husband-to-be leaning over him. Kramer's actual wedding scene is uncannily similar to his fictional wedding scene, and I don't suspect that anybody planned it that way. I thought the spooky visual was redoubled when I read that Mr. Webster, acknowledging that he and Mr. Kramer spoke without prepared vows, asked, "Why would Larry need a script?"

There's a fun tone of spectral shadow presence here too, for there's one thing proleptically absent, and it's the one thing that ought to be there. In the climax of The Normal Heart, Ned delivers a heartfelt speech about how his homosexuality aligns him with some of the greatest thinkers, artists, writers and musicians of history. His speech is:

I belong to a culture that includes Proust, Henry James, Tchaikovsky, Cole Porter, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Marlowe, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Tennessee Williams, Byron, E. M. Forster, Lorca, Auden, Francis Bacon, James Baldwin, Harry Stack Sullivan, John Maynard Keynes, Dag Hammarskjold.

Notice anybody missing? Life and art may imitate each other, but the importance of including Oscar Wilde in his list was obviously not something Larry was particularly earnest about.

Another thing missing from the scene in The Normal Heart is recovery. Thankfully, Larry Kramer is on the mend and, unlike Felix Turner, is not dying of AIDS (though Kramer learned that he was HIV-positive in 1988 while undergoing tests for Hepatitis B, which required that he undergo a liver transplant in 2001). The great Kramer's singular legacy continues: In the early 1980s he co-founded both the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GHMC) and ACT UP, and this year he received the Isabelle Stevenson Award at this year's Tony Awards and apparently is still at work on his next book. Every gay man who refuses to swallow the gay orthodoxy owes Kramer a debt. I am one of those men.

Kramer's first play was 1972's Sissy's Scrapbook, performed above a YMCA off-off-Broadway. This latest snapshot of his epic life provides me with something a little irreverent, even a touch supernatural, to put in the Larry Kramer section of my own sissy's scrapbook, and I wish him and his new husband (they've been partners since the mid 1990s) many more happy years together.