The History Behind The Normal Heart: A Tumblr Teach-In

The History Behind The Normal Heart: A Tumblr Teach-In
April–May 2014

By the time I’d finished working on my outofficial story about Matt Bomer and HBO’s adaptation of The Normal Heart, I’d been convinced—by him and Ryan Murphy especially—that rather than seeing “the Glee generation” as hopelessly uninformed and uninterested in HIV, from current prevention efforts to the epidemic’s earliest history, that they might be especially interested because of this movie to want to learn more, more, more.

That said—as much as I thought it was an amazing adaptation of a very important play, it was all based on a very small part of the story of AIDS, and even a very small part of the story of the early epidemic among gay men in New York City.

One thing I especially love about Tumblr is how good people (aka “kids these days”) are at teaching each other things everybody might not know about history, or just life. There is more enthusiasm to LEARN EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW in online communities like Tumblr than I’ve ever experienced anywhere.

So, in anticipation that at least some of our friends and followers might hear about and have some questions or be interested in a deeper dive into AIDS history, my old friend michelet and I pulled together a Tumblr-based teach-in, kind of a mix of old-school DIY activism and new media strategy.

We wrote some posts, reblogged some of the many other backgrounder pieces done by other media, accepted submissions, and tried to answer as best we could some questions about the AIDS epidemic and its long, important cultural and political impact.

It was an unexpectedly intense and cathartic experiment.

Here are a few of the pieces I had more of a direct hand in:

On Larry Kramer and the impossibility of writing one piece about what that man has meant to my life

On the importance of Kramer’s original essay, “1,112 and Counting”

On the vitally necessary Denver Principles, which changed modern health care as we know it

On Jim Parsons’ uncannily evocative portrayal of a character based on Rodger McFarlane

On the explicit sex in HBO’s adaptation, and the conflict among safer sex advocates at the time

On the whiteness of The Normal Heart, even though the epidemic wasn’t