The Closet Conservative on Sex

GARRY WILLS

August 13, 1993|By GARRY WILLS

Chicago. -- Larry Kramer is best known as the founder of Act-Up, the group that dramatizes AIDS desperation by means of street-theater antics. The organization's initials stand for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

Kramer is considered an extremist, the kind of gay militant who creates more antagonism than understanding, because of the aggressive style of Act-Up. There is no doubting his abrasiveness. He is good at making enemies. But he is far from an extremist in most of his views.

Kramer was not only the first gay activist in New York to recognize the scale of the AIDS crisis, but also the first to make an issue of gay response to that crisis. He attacked official apathy but also told gays that some of them were, by promiscuity, irresponsibly spreading the disease.

The anger he incurred by taking this position was so great that he was expelled from the very organization he had founded, the Gay Men's Health Crisis.

In this month's Playboy, Kramer tells an interviewer things that, coming from anyone else, would draw cheers from believers in family values: ''I tend to be very hard on the sexual revolution . . . Something inside me rebels against the notion of using the body as a thing.''

Kramer's advice to fellow gays has often been what he tells the Playboy interviewer: ''Keep it in your pants, boys.''

This gets not only Kramer in trouble with some of his old friends. Randy Shilts has been in trouble for praising Kramer in his book, "And the Band Played On." This struggle among gays is a sign that the homosexual community is no more a monolithic body of people and thought than is any other sizable group in our country.

The odd thing is that important parts of that community talk in language that should please defenders of conservative virtues and self-discipline.

6* Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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