Turn RAGE into ACTION!: Development of ACT UP by Soraya Chanyasubkit

Dr. Gould entitled her article “Life during Wartime: Emotions and the Development of ACT UP.” My initial thoughts immediately went to the Iraq War, the American soldiers’ despicable actions in Afghanistan, and the World Wars – actual overseas combat complete with weaponry and military uniform. But Dr. Gould is referring to a different kind of war, a battle on the homefront (which is apparent in her copious use of the phrase “militant activism”) a war between the people and their government, and the demand for their rights and the cold shoulder they’re receiving. 

And the people’s weapon of choice in this scenario was harnessing their emotion – anger, grief, desperation, irritation, abandonment, frustration – into action. And this conversion and direction of energy contributed to the movement’s sustainability for over a decade. It goes along with the “thought to action” mentality, because what’s the purpose or benefit of anger if nothing useful stems from it? And, going on to a completely relevant tangent, this mentality is what vigilantes/superheros have i.e. Batman. The article quotes AIDS activists who do not remember spending time in mourning for their dead friends, but rather taking that raw emotion and acting upon it productively. Similar to the orphaned Bruce Wayne, he harnessed the anger and vengeance he felt into protecting Gotham. (Since I started this comicbook reference, I might as well finish it.)

Another approach AIDS activists took was redistributing the attention from “death by virus to murder by government neglect.” Again, HIV/AIDS is in the perspective of being more than just a virus but a social plague. Batman viewed the astronomical levels of crime in Gotham caused by the corruption on all levels of government and law enforcement. But in the real life case of HIV/AIDS, the deaths of all these people were not caused by active killing on the government’s part but rather their resistance to providing help. Either way, the organizational body that is supposed to govern, represent, and aid us is the very people who are hurting us. 

The author argues that this militant activism is the necessary next step after being accepting and taking pride in being gay. Thus the Gay Pride parades are virtually useless if something isn’t being accomplished through this form of publicity. It’s not enough to don a mask and scare the petty crime into stopping, but rather attacking the heart of the problem, the ring leaders of crime, the source of evil. And sometimes it takes one individual to inspire others to follow in his footsteps. Not necessarily becoming literal superheros, but taking courage and action (like the Gotham police force and other gays, lesbians, and queers) to enact change and take responsibility. (end of Batman references)

There is one part that I don’t necessarily agree with, or perhaps I’m not understanding what the author is trying to convey. So she says that the [re]birth of the queer culture (which includes sex-radicalism, sexual non-conformity, celebration of sexuality, basically another sex revolution for the gay community) further propogated the longevity of the AIDS movement. I understand that they are more accepting of who they are but I feel this is misplaced, and even detrimental to the AIDS activism especially from an outside perspective, and ESPECIALLY during a conservative presidential term. Sure if you pioneer AIDS as a human rights issue, you can convince some people to join your cause, but if you advertise it as a sexual movement as well, then that’s too large of a pill to swallow. There is a line between advocating against homophobia and promoting sexual non-conformity. Of course there were positive outcomes like more unity within ACT UP and more interaction between the gay and lesbian communities, which can appear segregated at times. But I feel this sexual freedom movement wouldn’t help the bigger AIDS movement especially since it perpetuates negative stereotypes of the gay community that contributes to the spread of HIV – hypersexual, relations with more than one parter at a given time, etc.

In other completely irrelevant news, I also read the Buddhism/homosexuality article for fun and I’m looking forward to discussion on that!


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