Did you ever imagine the U.S. would be where we are today in terms of widespread acceptance of gays?
And a plague that’s really causing genocide among gay people and people of color. What you get with one hand, you give away with the other. I didn’t expect anything. I’ve learned never to expect anything. Be surprised.
Do you think the gay community’s focus on marriage is misplaced?
Well, we have a lot of issues. There should be room for all of them. We don’t have enough lobbying power in Washington. Many of them are out of the closet, but they’re really not out of the closet. Not to the extent that they’re willing to be activists, which means getting out there and showing yourself and being angry.
You were married in 2013. What has the experience been like?
It’s been very complicated because no sooner than we got married, I got sick. And although we’d been together a long time, these are not our declining years as we’ve hoped to live them. I need a lot of tending to in terms of medical things and caretaking. Dave has really been tested.
How would you rate Barack Obama’s presidency?
Just as bad as all the earlier Presidents. There’s not been a single President since the beginning of AIDS in 1981 who has acted in a humanitarian fashion. The drugs that we have now are beginning to wear out. It’s made billions of dollars for certain drug companies. There’s no profit motive for them to find a cure because they make so much money with the drugs that they can sell.
Your new novel, The American People: Volume 1, reimagines several U.S. Presidents as gay men. Should we read anything into this?
I wanted to write the history of my America, and the history of my people. And everything in it is based on somebody who really was that person who caused that thing to happen.
The book comes in at 775 pages. Did you ever think you wouldn’t finish it?
They had not transplanted HIV-positive people with new livers, and I was a test case. So everyone thought I was going to die. I said, “I have no idea whether it’s good or bad, but I’ll leave you some money to get it published because no one will publish it.”
The new HBO documentary shows how willing to be abrasive you were. Has time tempered that?
It’s the same stuff. I just say it less vocally, less loudly. It hasn’t shut me up at all. I just appear to be calmer. I don’t see very many activists anymore, I’m afraid. ACT UP was this incredibly wonderful entity that got all the drugs out there, and that was the heyday for me of gay activism. We had hundreds of dying young men who were willing to really fight. Now we don’t have people who are as frightened as we were. So the motivation for activism aside from the marriage thing is nil.
Was the original theatrical run of your play The Normal Heart received differently from last year’s film adaptation?
Night and day. The New York Times was very unkind and said I was creating a political statement or whatever, which indeed I was. What’s wrong with that? But it caught on, and the kids–the guys–knew what I was about.
What’s your favorite piece of work you’ve done?
They’re all my children. I love them all. I’m not ready to go yet. I’ve still got so much more work to do.
This appears in the June 29, 2015 issue of TIME.
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