“I do not think it is too much to state that Washington was major gay,” he says. “That the big love of his life was Hamilton, who returned that love, and that Lafayette and Washington were involved with each other romantically over many years. Others I go into include Lewis, who was desperately in love with Clark, and who committed suicide when the expedition was over and he would be with Clark no more.” He says he has “much, much better stuff” about J. Edgar Hoover than anyone has reported, as well as on FDR’s foreign-policy adviser Sumner Welles, former CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton, and even Kramer’s old nemesis Ed Koch, who has lived in the same building as Kramer since he left Gracie Mansion, and who always denied joining the fold.
That the idea of “big queen” George amuses us—I giggled at Kramer’s phrase, and was upbraided—is itself a historical problem. However thin the proof he adduces, why should it seem silly or sacrilegious to investigate the matter? In any case, Kramer isn’t interested in proof, or facts, or the historian’s dainty calculus of context and social construction. He’s interested, ravenously, in the possibility, surely the likelihood, that at least some famous American men before 1968 had sex with other men. With their “nonstop effusive correspondence that rivals anything in Barbara Cartland,” he asks, do we imagine that none of them knew how to use their penises? In effect, Kramer is removing the quotation marks scholars have put around the flowery language of previous eras; he is turning “romantic” back into romantic and “love” back into love. When Hamilton, in a 1779 letter to his comrade John Laurens, writes that he wishes “it might be in my power, by actions rather than words, to convince you that I love you,” a sexual reading can seem unconvincing. But it’s harder to dismiss a line like this, from the same letter: “I have gratified my feelings, by lengthening out the only kind of intercourse now in my power with my friend.”
Academics may argue that the Oxford English Dictionary dates the first published use of “intercourse” in its sexual sense to 1798, but Kramer isn’t cowed by pedantry. Nor is he fazed by those who ridicule the historians on whose work many of his inferences are based. They have been marginalized, he feels, by a gay Catch-22 that casts doubt on the judgment of anyone who in seeking new understandings finds them.
Kramer can’t understand why “every gay person doesn’t agree with everything I say.”
Though he is “dying to say more” on the subject, and barely manages to stop himself before the name Andrew Jackson pops out, he doesn’t want to leave the impression that The American People is a cavalcade of presidential outings. Rather, it is an attempt to reveal history in a different light, in part by identifying gay heroes hitherto denied us. Neither the AIDS movement nor gay liberation in general created the central figure he dreamed of, around whom a cult of inevitability might form. In Faggots, a character Kramer says he based on Barry Diller is punished for failing to fill that role despite his wealth and connections and access to the tiller of popular culture. Many others have been found wanting since. Kramer himself clearly hoped to be what Malcolm X was to Martin Luther King: the scarier radical who made the more presentable figure look moderate. But since no gay Martin Luther King came along, Kramer went looking for him in the past.
It was not hard to find him, his long legs and stovepipe hat sticking out from beneath the rumpled bedclothes. But bringing gay Lincoln to life has been a trickier proposition and directly led to what Kramer calls, along with his fallout with GMHC and the “self-destruction” of ACT UP, one of his major life disappointments. It began when Kramer’s good friend Tony Kushner told him over lunch that he was working on a screenplay about Lincoln for Steven Spielberg. Kramer pounced at the opportunity: “I hope you’re going to make him gay,” he said. Kushner wasn’t sure, so Kramer followed through—for three years—with a barrage of e-mails and references and offers to set up meetings with people who might be convincing. Communications eventually broke down, with Kushner telling Kramer (as Kramer recalls): “Why must everybody agree with you?”
“How could he not have agreed?” Kramer indignantly asks. “And how could he not have used his position of power in being the writer on this script to at least promulgate the possible notion that he was gay?”
Kushner, whose blurb on the paperback edition of Faggots describes it as one of the “few books in modern gay fiction, or in modern fiction for that matter, that must be read,” remembers it differently. “Anyone who’s been in a situation like this with Larry,” he says, “and many people have, will find implausible his account of what happened, in which he’s made himself sound reasonable and interested in serious discussion. From the first moment I told him I was writing the script, he made it clear that our friendship wouldn’t survive should I fail to obey orders. It got uglier after that, or rather, Larry’s rhetoric and behavior did. Finally, this spring, I stopped responding to his e-mails.”