angels in america
December 5, 2003 01:41 PM

Angels in America is on television this weekend.

Meryl Streep was on the Today Show this morning talking about playing Hannah, and Katie kept asking her really stupid questions about whether a play about AIDS and gayness could still be relevant today. The eighties, the nineties being such a cataclysmic time in so many ways. And I think about all the things that are happening that aren't really that much different or more - worse - than what was happening then and wonder how Katie, or anyone, could think this wasn't still a cataclysmic time.

But I guess I know what they mean.

In the late eighties and early nineties, I was in high school, then college. Everyone was coming out in some way or other. The whole world was gay.

It felt that way. And not. Everyone suddenly had names for queerness, it was something you suspected everyone else of. The second you named your own, you had to name everyone's. It was hard, but you told your mom. Maybe you even named your mom, or your friend's mom's, queerness, too. Disney characters were gay. Movies were gay, so was all the literature ever. The theatre was teemingly gay with Rudnicks and McNallys and Falsettos and yes, Kushner. Broadway started to care. Nights were being taken back. AIDS was a metaphor for all the things that would not stop gayness, would not stop people from living. It felt like people were angry, scared, and celebrating it.

It was beautiful.

It was also lonely. As much as it was a time when young queers of all sorts felt banded together, when it didn't feel like a big deal that lesbians, bis, transfolk, feminists, gay men were different. It felt that way because there was so much potential for everyone else to hate us. There was no doubt that some people hated us, hated us when they hadn't even known about gay before this explosion of gay culture onto the media.

Angels was of this in a way, but it was also of a larger world. Or, if not of a world, of a feeling: what is this? where is god in all this? WHY ME? WHERE THE HELL ARE WE? That. Well, I don't know if that was a feeling of the time, of being caught up in queerness of the time, or if it was me and the people around me. Maybe it was just the lateness of the night we didn't want to sleep through.

But Kushner spoke, and continued to speak, to the screaming internal voice and that feeling. And offered some answers, sometimes. Here. Because you have to. He was mobilizing in a way that transcended a "gay" culture and became, simply, culture.

Kushner talks and writes in these inspirational streams that ultimately amount to LOOK, OPEN YOUR EYES. That came through a lot in the Angels plays, perhaps less sometimes than others, and what I'd like, more than anything, from this HBO thing is for some people who had maybe closed their eyes for awhile to wake up.

Because it's scary out here. But it's even scarier to sleep through it.

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