Sex Panic! - Criticism


Larry Kramer, an overt target of the group's campaigns, published an editorial piece in the New York Times criticizing the group's tactics and goals. Sex Panic!, Kramer said, was "on the way to convincing much of America that all gay men are back to pre-AIDS self-destructive behavior that will wind up costing the taxpayer a lot of extra money."

Other commentators accused Sex Panic! of irresponsibility in the face of the HIV epidemic. David Dalton, in the San Francisco Examiner, said the group was telling young men that "a sex act... is worth more than your life." In Salon, David Horowitz charged Sex Panic! with "intellectual fascism and sexual fanaticism" over their defence of sex clubs, which he characterized as the "death camps of the current contagion." The group's insistence that a gay public sexual culture continue in the face of the epidemic was, in Horowitz's view, "homicidal", and its membership composed of "sexual extremists" cloistered in complicit universities. Sex Panic! member Douglas Crimp rebutted the charges that this was a mere intellectual exercise. Mainstream venues where such debate took place, he argued, were dominated by the group's opponents and had failed to engage with queer theory, so necessarily saw the group's members as fringe extremists. He argued too that the very life-and-death nature of the AIDS crisis made the group's purpose political, rather than academic, rejecting the claim that the group's insistence on the complexity of the issues it addressed was "dangerous relativism".

Others were sympathetic to parts of Sex Panic!'s manifesto but opposed to certain particulars. David Salyer in Survival News, a journal of the AIDS Survival Project, applauded the group's demands for an end to discrimination and greater promotion of safer sex messages, but objected to the emphasis the group placed on public sex. Activist John-Manuel Andriote also criticized Sex Panic!'s assertion that public, visible, anonymous sex was necessarily a cornerstone of gay experience. Michael Warner had told the New York Times that "'It is an absurd fantasy to expect gay men to live without a sexual culture when we have almost nothing else that brings us together". Andriote responded that the AIDS crisis itself had been an alternative community-forming experience for gays and lesbians, who cooperated to support one another and campaign for awareness. Through the crisis, Andriote said, gay men had acquired a broader common experience than "a priapic brotherhood of sexual rebellion", offering an alternative grounds for a group politics of identity.

Sex Panic! members accused their opponents of mischaracterizing their positions. Founder member Kendall Thomas objected to a New York Times piece claiming the group saw "promiscuous sex" as the "essence of gay liberation"; the newspaper printed an amendment, stating Thomas's view to be that "any attempt to fight AIDS by demonizinging the culture of sexual freedom is doomed".

Tim Dean called the group's criticism of Rotello and Signorile "utterly confused and defensive", but noted its significance in re-energizing AIDS debates and reviving the political argument over gay assimilation. Craig Rimmerman similarly praised the group's "invaluable contribution" to sustaining gay and lesbian grassroots activism and fighting "normalizing tendencies" in public discourse about sexual health.

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