The Fragility of Tolerance

In the midst of his long-winded ramble to Belize, Louis voices a revelation central to the AIDS Crisis in America. He states, “That’s just liberalism, the worst kind of liberalism, really, bourgeois tolerance, and what I think is what I think is that what AIDS shows us is the limits of tolerance, that it’s not enough to be tolerated, because when the shit hits the fan you find out how much tolerance is worth. Nothing. And underneath all the tolerance is intense, passionate hatred” (Kushner 94). Louis’s speech underscores the fragility of the tolerant façade those in power claim to have in regard to marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ community. When there is the opportunity to exploit or neglect these groups to make them less powerful, this opportunity will most likely be taken. The Reagan Administration’s ambivalence toward the AIDS Crisis exposes this.

True political impact is made when minority groups band together in a refusal to wait for tolerance and instead assert and demand their own rights. This is something that Larry Kramer emphasizes in the article “1,112 and Counting.” Kramer argues that there is only one solution to getting the attention and assistance of those in power, and this is “numbers and pressure and our being perceived as united and a threat” (Kramer 585). While Kramer is correct that dramatic measures such as this need to happen to bring about change, he goes on to scorn gay men who are unable to come out. Kramer states, “I am sick of closeted gays… Every gay man who is unable to come forward now and fight to save his own life is truly helping to kill the rest of us… I have less and less sympathy for men who are afraid their mommies will find out or afraid their bosses will find out” (585). Kramer is absolutely right that there needs to be mass amounts of pressure put on political figures by the LGBTQ community, but he does not acknowledge that there are men who are simply unable to come out due to lack of economic stability or their own safety. Many of these closeted men are also dying from AIDS, but do not have the means to take action against injustice. The conversations about tolerance and taking action that take place in Angels in America and Kramer’s article continue to be relevant in today’s political climate.

3 thoughts on “The Fragility of Tolerance”

  1. Similar to the other comment on this, your post is a beautiful commentary on the issue of tolerance and politics. Your connection between that scene in Angels in America and 1,112 and Counting is something I was excited to see as they were my two favorite pieces we read. Both really truly express the anger that many people had at the time. Anger is such a powerful emotion and in literature, it forces people to pay attention. Without it, we would look at these texts, say that is a nice piece of writing, and then move on. But because they are angry, we stop and look closely. Anger gets action.

  2. This was such a beautifully put commentary on this idea that politicians believe tolerance and action to be one and the same thing. It’s as if they truly believe they’re doing minorities a favor by ignoring them because at least they’re not actively trying to eradicate them, right? I wish they would realize that their passivity has the power to do exactly that, and like you mention, that’s exactly what we see with the AID’s crisis. I, too, had an issue with the way Larry Kramer attacked gay men who were still closeted, and it reminded me of people in situations like Jack and Ennis in Brokeback Mountain, where external violence faced by coming out could mean the end of their lives just as much as an internal disease could.

    1. Louis’ monologue was one on the most interesting sections in the play for me personally, and your chosen quote here reminded me of the influence of social media on queer issues. Especially in the past week with trans visibility day, there was an influx of shared posts and stories to raise awareness for the day and the numerous issues faced by trans community in day to day life. Let me be clear in saying I am no way attempting to discriminate against trans men and women or belittle the unacceptable realities that many in the trans community face, but regarding tolerance, I feel that many of the individuals that self appoint themselves as trans activists truly do not take the actions urged for in the posts that they share, or try to actively dismantle the power structures that bind the trans community in their personal lives. They simply share posts to appear as an ally, because this is what is democratically required. Just as it wasn’t socially acceptable not to tolerate AIDS patients, not tolerating trans people (who should be more than tolerated) is equally as crushing to ones public perception. Although this damage is deserved, those who promote positive media about the trans community should be motivated by more than simply the fear of condemnation.

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