Patrick Moore on Beyond Shame

In 2007, LPN interviewed author and AIDS activist Patrick Moore via email. Moore is the author of the 2004 published Beyond Shame, reclaiming the abandoned history of radical gay sexuality.  We wanted to know how his views had changed since the publication of the book and his cross-country move to Los Angeles.

The dust jacked of Beyond Shame has this to say about the book: “With bathhouse ‘cruising’ in urban areas, and private clubs built especially for anonymous erotic encounters, the radical sexuality of gay American men in the 1970s is often seen as a shameful period of excess that led to the AIDS crisis.

In Beyond Shame, activist Patrick Moore claims that when the gay community divorced itself from this allegedly tainted legacy, the result was an intergenerational disconnect between younger and older gay men. The original participants in the 1970’s sexual culture were unable to impart a sense of pride and identity to younger generations. Indeed, one reason for the current rise in HIV, Moore argues, is precisely this destructive disconnect.”

LPN: In 2006 the LA Gay and Lesbian Center came out with a then controversial advertising campaign: “HIV is a Gay Disease. Own it, end it.” This seems to directly line up with your message at the end of the book. Have you followed the effect of this campaign? How effective do you think it has been?

PM: The LA Gay and Lesbian Center’s HIV campaign, “Own It, End It” was an inspired strategy that had almost no effect outside of the tiny circle of AIDS service providers that pay attention to such things.  It caused, as might have been predicted, a huge backlash from other organizations who are loathe to have HIV associated with gay men.  For my money, HIV has become a part of gay history and needs to be acknowledged for bringing us many horrors but also many lessons.  One of the lessons it is teaching us currently is that there are still two gay communities, less defined by race now than class.  Rich and middle-class gay men now have extraordinary access and acceptance, poor gay men remain, regardless of their race, pretty much where they were when AIDS started.  This group of gay men are not likely to see billboards in West Hollywood or ad campaigns in glossy magazines.  So I would say that the people who most needed to see these messages had little chance of encountering them.

LPN: In your book you claim that the sexual artistry of the 70s has come to an abrupt halt with the emergence of HIV/AIDS. However, gay men still have sex and “public” spaces for sex have re-emerged since the early 80s. Do you see the scene today fundamentally different from then?

PM: I do see the extremes of sexual expression as continuing to shrink and change.  Although I am myself out of that scene I understand there to be fewer and fewer bars, clubs, and public spots where sex for sex happens.  In LA, the bathhouse culture remains strong but it seems to have constricted in New York, SF and elsewhere.  My fear is not so much that there are fewer of these places but about the role they play in the lives of young gay men.  If it is shameful to participate in these activities, if they are forever associated with self-destruction, then the sexual artistry of the past has been lost.  If the elders of our community more actively embraced our sexual history, I think it would be a healthier environment for those young gay men interested in exploring the frontiers of sexuality.

LPN: What’s your take of the dominant role of the Internet in bringing men together?

PM: The Internet has changed everything.  It has, I think, created a false sense of connection between men.  For a young gay man living in Iowa, it may be wonderful to be in contact with other gay men around the world via the Internet.  However, I wonder how many of these cyber relationships ultimately become real connections, emotionally, sexually or spiritually.  It is probably a great relief not to have to stand around in a bar or a bathhouse for hours to have to meet someone but I think those hours also had other benefits, like meeting friends and being in a gay space.  If my interactions are limited by search criteria, I am not so likely to spend time chatting with a 70-year-old gay man who has something to teach me.

LPN: Your book is centrally focused on the New York art scene. You have since moved to Los Angeles. What are the key differences in the gay community here from your perspective?

PM: To my amazement, I think LA is a much more vital gay scene than NY now.  As creative NY has fallen victim to an astonishing rise in real estate values over the past decade, it has become quite difficult to do anything but work there.  Late nights in bars and clubs are less appealing when you are terrified of how to cover the rent.  LA is far from cheap but there are areas where people who are on the fringe of society can still live here and lead extreme lives.  LA also retains its fascination with social experimentation so I think life here remains surprisingly varied for gay men.

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