Watching The Normal Heart
By Sam Perwin
Sunday night, my boyfriend and I invited a few close friends over to watch the premier of The Normal Heart on HBO, Ryan Murphy's film adaptation of Larry Kramer's seminal play about the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic in 1980s New York. When our guests asked what to bring, we jokingly responded "Wine and tissues." After seeing it on Broadway a few years ago, we knew it would be an emotional night. And it was. Not a dry eye in the house actually. I looked around my apartment and thought about how lucky we - successful, healthy gay men in our 30's - were to come of age after the devastation of the 80's, and also about how profoundly affected we were by it.
I was born in 1981, the year the film and play begin. By the time I started paying attention to my own sexuality and its consequences, over a decade had gone by, thousands had died, and the general wisdom of the 90's was "use a condom or you'll get AIDS and die." Thankfully, by that time, we knew so much more about the virus and how it was transmitted, but we still grew up in the shadow of that decade of destruction. The specter of those who died and the warnings from those who survived raised us in an aura of paranoia and anxiety surrounding sex. Knowledge, the advancements of medicine, and time have eased that anxiety somewhat, and attitudes toward HIV-positive men and women have changed radically with those advancements (though there is still much more work to do on that front).