The Great Believers
“If we could just be on earth at the same place and same time as everyone we loved, if we could be born together and die together, it would be so simple. And it’s not.”
I know nothing about being gay in America today. And I knew even less in 1985 when this book opens with the advent of the AIDs epidemic. In 1985 my husband was a student at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. We knew a man named Andy. Andy led a ministry to gay people which I understood, at the time, to be a “pray the gay away” type of ministry. He had “healed” himself and was dedicated to helping others “heal” from what many in our community described as a lifestyle choice outside of God’s will. In 1985 this didn’t settle well with me, as with so many other ideas in the evangelical community.
Many ideas which came from misinformed people making misdirected judgments, most likely out of fear.
So, I want to thank Rebecca Makkai for inviting me into the circle of the gay experience in such a profound way. For inviting me to suspend judgment as I watched a global epidemic play out in the very intimate lives of men and women learning to love themselves and one another in one of the deepest places of human suffering.
Makkai gives us the angst of being gay in the 80’s; the uncovering of a labyrinthine trail of relationships as AIDS testing and diagnostics invites young men to read the dice that have already been tossed. She shows us the journey to self-awareness, the courage of conviction, and the strange dance that gay men had to learn in order to keep their jobs, to stay in families or to leave families, to find and let go of relationships, to blatantly participate in gay community or to cautiously hover around the fringes, straddling the world of gay and straight.
Makkai might not show the entire brutality of a gay experience in America, but she also doesn’t sugar coat the experience. She shows us flagrant sexual paramours and couples committed to monogamy. She shows the culture of the bath house as well as that of the domestic relationship. She also shows the horror each person realizes when they recognize they are a tile in the falling trail of dominoes that seems to have been set up throughout America. It is not a book for the morally squeamish.
But she also gives us the gift of retrospect, a view of relationships from 2015, when the few characters who lived through the epidemic have grown into and through adulthood. Which is sometimes a gift and sometimes a curse. But retrospect, especially at the end of one’s life, I suppose, tends to bring the drama of the present moment into a new perspective. The goods and bads, the horrors and shames, the tender moments and the moments of intense rage come together in a mercy and forgiveness born of the sheer vulnerability and letting go that is death. They create a tapestry of experience, which shimmers with the beauty of the total collection of moments.
In the end, what I learned from Rebecca’s beautiful story is that the circumstances of our lives play out in the most unexpected ways and it is never about judgment and punishment. It is about loving those who you end up being on the planet with at any given time.