You’ve seen this link everywhere, I am sure: Larry Kramer’s speech to the GLBTQ reunion at Yale, called Yale’s Conspiracy Of Silence, which is about how Larry’s cherished dream of a “Gay Studies” program at Yale has been corrupted by women’s studies, gender studies and (gasp!) queer studies. You can read a good critical follow-up by Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed here.
It makes me glad I didn’t go to the reunion. I have a number of old friends from Oligarch, which is what we call Yale here at Tenured Radical, who did attend. I respect them for it and would have liked to have seen them, but I had a history conference to attend and skipped out of town. It’s just as well, since while some people I am sure found being closeted at college oppressive (I did too in many ways, hence my move to New York upon graduation) I am sure I would not be the first person to say that the Oligarch closet was a very, very sexy place. I spent my college years walking around in a haze of desire that was only partly fulfilled, leading to a perpetual and pleasant buzzing noise in my head, and hours spent under the dorm windows of a Certain Someone or two, debating whether the casual or the direct approach would do the trick. But, once again, I digress. To quote from an email I wrote in response to a query from a journalist about Kramer’s lunacy:
One response I would have is that what Kramer is invoking is a genuine disagreement about the proper object of study, one that is generational inside the academy and out. A good analogy would be to compare the work of Lillian Faderman and Judith Halberstam. Faderman sees lesbians everywhere, and views the category more or less transhistorically. In addition to bad (or non) history), this is more or less primarily a political strategy in which history = visibility = civil equality. On the other hand, Halberstam, in a famous historical and literary work, looks at “female masculinity,” arguing that “lesbian” is a gendered category, as well as a socio-medico-legal category, that means something different in different contexts.
Kramer’s view of “gay history” is also quite Euro-Americo-centric, and really reads male as well, if you think about it, which makes it a minority position that is considered reactionary, not progressive, everywhere. To privilege a select category called “gay history” argues that the struggles of lesbian and transgendered people are fundamentally different (and less important), whereas actual history would argue that all three categories are separate but intertwined struggles. Kramer, in other words, reaffirms sexist, racist and transphobic hierarchies when he insists on “gay studies.” And if he doesn’t “get” queer studies, it means he isn’t reading — and, by the way, a man who wrote a novel called Faggots cannot possibly believe that “queer” is only, and always, a hateful word.
To emphasize that Kramer’s beef is generational is not to say that everyone his age has failed to keep up with knowledge and politics as they have developed over the last twenty years, but it would be hard to find a younger scholar who would not be laughed out of the house for making these claims. The academic cutting edge is not “gay” — nor, might I add, is the activist cutting edge “gay,” and Kramer has always been very controversial in the activist community, brilliant as he is, because of his grandiosity and insistence that his views are the only ones that are correct.
But it’s no accident that the only person Kramer invokes that is younger than he is is George Chauncey, and I don’t think that either George or the Oligarch History Department would agree that Larry got George hired (George is far too polite to come out and say this, but I’m not.) I also think the fact that Larry basically hides every other gay person — and lesbian! — that Yale has hired in recent years (Joanne Meyerowitz, Michael Warner, Ronald Gregg, Jafari Allen, David Joselit) on their own and, quite likely, as a result of the Larry Kramer Initiative.
Finally, I would say that institutions do not permit donors to determine academic appointments, and they should not — don’t forget, they gave back the Bass $$ because of the same shenanigans, it was a far bigger sum, and it was earmarked for White People Studies — er, Western Civilization. While insisting on autonomy from donors means that institutions can remain hidebound I suppose, it really means that you don’t have centers for this and that popping up when there is no student demand or academic legitimacy just because it is the donor’s fondest dream.