The AIDS crisis and the birth of queer theory

You will write a 500-word essay on the ways in which you see AIDS setting the conditions for the development of Queer Theories. This is a topic we’ve discussed in class several times. The essay can draw on any sources you like, but obviously it should draw on the film. It is to be a speculative essay, your own ideas about how politics, economics, health, and other factors affect intellectual life.

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Silence = Death, 1987 Act-Up Poster

1980s: a very dreadful virus is spreading among the LGBTQIA+ community. Tens of thousands of gay people are dying and there is no reaction from the official institutions. The belief, which emerged following the Stonewall Uprisings, that a better future liberated from the homophobic oppression is possible, is now a memory. The LGBTQIA+ realize that the situation they face is worst than they thought: in the 1980s, despite a lot of activism, the overwhelming majority of people thinks that queer lives do not matter, that a queer seropositive body is no more than a trash which deserves to be put in a bin bag. No one cares and the situation is getting worse and worse. Some politicians are even not ashamed to complain about the funds allocated to AIDS research they judge too important. To put it in a nutshell, a ‘plague’, as Larry Kramer said, is spreading among the queer community and the elected representatives indulge in a shamelessness “laissezfaire” behavior.

Such a violent abuse cannot be endured without an organized political and theoretical reaction. If you see your lover, your friend or the friends of your friends dying, all without any response by the federal government, what would you do? First at all, you will probably try to understand what is happening. You will meet and discuss about your situation with people who are living and feeling the same, and you will organize. But you will also try to understand why nobody cares of you and your friends. You will try to study the power structures and the collective fantasy behind this “laissezfaire.” You will wonder why “us” rather than anyone or no-one. And in order to answer these questions, you will look at your identity: what constitutes my(-)self? what makes me unique in the sight of the other people? what is creating the difference? You will, then, try to understand not only who you are, but also why you are so rejected by people who seem to be people like you, and why  these people are so bothered by what you represent. After having answered these questions, you will try to know what to do in order to change the things. So, you will engage in politics for the sake of your whole community because you want a better future for you and your peers.

But here is the reality of the situation: a lot of people lose their jobs, are forced to come out of the closet and are rejected. You feel insecure, scared and angry. So, as an intellectual, your work will be deeply influenced, as if it were physically marked by this awful reality. Your intellectual reply would probably be proportional to the violence you are currently experiencing. The media are telling everybody that that situation is your fault but you know that it is not true. So, you will try to build a theory which sees beyond the common lies, because you think and feel that there could be something else, i.e. another world. So, as the anger and the wish of social change increase, your theory will be more and more radical—that is, “to grasp things by the root. But for man the root is man himself” (Marx, 1843). So you will ask what is ontologically constituting queerness. And you will find that the queer thing is maybe not in queerness, but in normality.

By proving that the discriminations you face are contingent and by explaining why a positive abolition of society, as it functions, can happened, you will give hope to your community. And among your community, there are some intellectuals who will see some truth in your theory. And they will begin to build their own.

In doing so, an alternative discourse will be produced and will have some effects on the rest of the society. First at all, the reactionary forces will contradict you because you call into question the established order. Reactionaries will, consequently, produce a discourse that will, paradoxically, takes yours to the core of the political debate. Some people outside of your community will be agree with you. They will say that your condition is not normal. So then, your theories will develop and the real illness, that is, how the world discriminates you, will be treated.

See: How to Survive a Plague. Directed by David France. Produced by Dan Cogan. Sundance Selects, 2012.


If I have to rewrite this 500 words paper, I would:

  • be more focused on the film.
  • not use the acronym LGBTQIA+ because the LGBT community did not recognize itself as so diverse at that time.
  • be more precise too by naming the instituted powerful agents, such as the Pope or Reagan, who clearly participated to the worsening of the AIDS crisis. I would also name the gay activists who created the first activists groups against the AIDS crisis.

However, I would not like to change my Marx’s quote because I think that a lot of the gay and lesbian activists who fought against the oppressive powers came from, known or were involved in radical political groups of the 1960s-70s (against the Vietnam War and/or for the Civil Rights…). At that time, I think that people were much more influenced by the leftist thought. I know, though, that leftist groups were not always open-minded concerning homosexuality.

In this paper, I tried to be more focused on the micro level. Why does an agent would be pushed to act, to resist, to think differently? In retrospect, I don’t think that I was totally wrong but I was not really focused on the documentary. If I have to rewrite this 500 words paper, I would therefore change that.

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