From the Desk of Chancellor Dwight C. Watson – Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies

cover image for the book entitled Spoiler Alert : The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words

One in a series of reviews contributed by Chancellor Dwight C. Watson

Spoiler Alert : The Hero Dies: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Other Four-Letter Words – by Michael Ausiello

Before I get to the book, I want to celebrate Gay Pride Month with one of my heroes who recently died. Larry Kramer was a personal hero of mine. He was an outspoken playwright and AIDS activist. He sought to shock the country into dealing with AIDS as a public-health emergency and foresaw that it could kill millions regardless of sexual orientation. He started the group ACT-Up and their mantra was “We’re Queer, We’re Here, Get Used to It.” At the age of 84, he was still agitating and advocating for gay rights. Recently, all of the issues that Larry fought for such as marriage rights, workers’ rights, and health care for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals have been realized. Mr. Kramer’s landmark play, The Normal Heart, captured the intersection of the rights for gay folk through the lens of the AIDS crisis 1. This play captured my heart back in 1985 and when I read the book Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies, I remembered this play, Larry Kramer, and all that has been accomplished since 1985. With the death of Larry Kramer, indeed the hero has died.

One of my best friends sent me Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies as a holiday present in December of 2019 and I waited to read it because I like reading LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer/questioning plus other self-proclaimed depictions of one’s affectional orientation and gender expression) literature during the celebration of June’s Gay Pride Month. As I opened my gift, he had a note in the book telling me to read the last chapter first which was entitled “Flash-Forward.” Nowhere in my research of the book or the author’s preface was such a request noted. I encourage those who decide to read this book to do the same.

With a title like Spoiler Alert: the Hero Dies you know what the outcome is so you might not be prone to read a book about death and dying. I encourage you to reject that notion so that you can enjoy the rich nuances of this poignant and hilarious account of loving life together. This is a memoir of Michael and Kit written by Michael that captures the love, marriage, and death of Kit due to cancer. As stated on the cover of the book, this is a memoir of love, loss, and four-letter words.

In this heartbreaking and darkly hilarious memoir, Michael tells the story of his harrowing and challenging last year with Kit while revisiting the thirteen years that preceded it. Michael speaks his truth and gives the messy details that makes you want to turn away in order to respect and honor the dead. But you have to swallow the pill regardless of how jagged it might be, because if Michael can write and live through it, and Kit died because of it, then out of respect the reader must endure and not look away from the pain. The memoir captures this undeniably powerful bond between Michael and Kit which enabled Michael to share this unforgettable, inspiring, and beautiful testament to the resilience and strength of true love.

Although the book is a chronicle of Kit’s fight with cancer and how he and Michael faced down the disease and setbacks together, this book is more than just a sad account of a life nearing its end. This is also a story of a relationship, a love affair from start to finish with the funny and sweet moments, the challenges and the anxieties, and all of the emotion and beauty of two people who truly gave each other their whole hearts.

Growing up through the AIDS crisis in the 80’s, I had my share of death. I am so thankful that I made it through.  I often reflect about the loved ones I have lost and try to remain positive in the hope that the poetry of living outlasts the pain of remembrance.  To honor Michael and Kit’s relationship, the activist Larry Kramer, and Gay Pride Month, I celebrate these successes by capturing the chronology below.

LGBTQ+ Chronology

As we celebrate Gay Pride, I wanted to share some of the many accomplishments that have taken place ending with the most recent announcement on June 15, 2020. The chronology captured is instrumental to the events in the Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies. Kit and Michael had the protection of marriage when dealing with the death of a love one. This was so very different from The Normal Heart 1985 depiction of a same sex couple struggling with the death of a partner during the AIDS crisis. I attribute many of these current-day accomplishments to Larry Kramer and his activism that helped sparked a revolution.

This linked article from CNN provides an LGBTQ+ Rights chronology from 1924 to 2020. The following information is specifically from the Marriage Acts to June, 2020:

  • October 6, 2014 – The United States Supreme Court denies review in five different marriage cases, allowing lower court rulings to stand, and therefore allowing same-sex couples to marry in Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana and Wisconsin. The decision opens the door for the right to marry in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming.
  • June 9, 2015 – Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announces that the Military Equal Opportunity policy has been adjusted to include gay and lesbian military members.
  • April 28, 2015 – The US Supreme Court hears oral arguments on the question of the freedom to marry in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan. On June 26 the Supreme Court rules that states cannot ban same-sex marriage. The 5-4 ruling had Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority. Each of the four conservative justices writes their own dissent.
  • July 27, 2015 – Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates announces, “the national executive board ratified a resolution removing the national restriction on openly gay leaders and employees.”
  • May 17, 2016 – The Senate confirms Eric Fanning to be secretary of the Army, making him the first openly gay secretary of a US military branch. Fanning previously served as Defense Secretary Carter’s chief of staff, and also served as undersecretary of the Air Force and deputy undersecretary of the Navy.
  • June 24, 2016 – Obama announces the designation of the first national monument to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ) rights. The Stonewall National Monument will encompass Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn and the surrounding streets and sidewalks that were the sites of the 1969 Stonewall uprising.
  • June 30, 2016 – Secretary of Defense Carter announces that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on transgender people serving openly in the US military.
  • August 5-21, 2016 – A record number of “out” athletes compete in the summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Human Rights Campaign estimates that there are at least 41 openly lesbian, gay and bisexual Olympians — up from 23 that participated in London 2012.
  • November 9, 2016 – Kate Brown is sworn in as governor of Oregon, a day after she was officially elected to the office. Brown becomes the highest-ranking LGBTQ person elected to office in the United States. Brown took over the governorship in February 2016 (without an election), after Democrat John Kitzhaber resigned amidst a criminal investigation.
  • April 4, 2017 – The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rules that the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination against LGBTQ employees, after Kimberly Hively sues Ivy Tech Community College for violating Title VII of the act by denying her employment.
  • June 27, 2017 – District of Columbia residents can now choose a gender-neutral option of their driver’s license. DC residents become the first people in the United States to be able to choose X as their gender marker instead of male or female on driver’s licenses and identification cards. Similar policies exist in Canada, India, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand and Nepal.
  • November 7, 2017 – Virginia voters elect the state’s first openly transgender candidate to the Virginia House of Delegates. Danica Roem unseats incumbent delegate Bob Marshall, who had been elected thirteen times over 26 years. Roem becomes the first openly transgender candidate elected to a state legislature in American history.
  • February 26, 2018 – The Pentagon confirms that the first transgender person has signed a contract to join the US military.
  • March 4, 2018 – Daniela Vega, the star of Oscar-winning foreign film “A Fantastic Woman,” becomes the first openly transgender presenter in Academy Awards history when she introduces a performance by Sufjan Stevens, whose song “Mystery of Love” from the “Call Me By Your Name” soundtrack, is nominated for best original song.
  • November 6, 2018 – Democratic US Representative Jared Polis wins the Colorado governor’s race, becoming the nation’s first openly gay man to be elected governor.
  • June 30, 2019 – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs a law banning the use of the so-called gay and trangendered panic legal defense strategy. The tactic asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction. New York follows California, Rhode Island, Illinois, Nevada and Connecticut as the sixth state to pass such a law.
  • September 22, 2019 – Billy Porter becomes the first openly gay black man to win the Emmy for best lead actor in a drama series.
  • February 10, 2020 – The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds a ruling that the state of Idaho must provide gender confirmation surgery for Adree Edmo, an inmate in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction. The ruling marks the first time a federal appeals court has ruled that a state must provide gender assignment surgery to an incarcerated person. According to the court opinion, “the gender confirmation surgery (“GCS”) was medically necessary for Edmo, and ordered the State to provide the surgery.” Idaho Governor Brad Little said in a written statement, “We will vigorously litigate the Ninth Circuit’s unprecedented ruling at the Supreme Court because the taxpayers of Idaho should not have to pay for a procedure that is not medically necessary.”
  • June 15, 2020 – The Supreme Court rules that federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination. The landmark ruling extends protections to millions of workers nationwide and is a defeat for the Trump administration, which argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination based on sex did not extend to claims of gender identity and sexual orientation.

1. Note from the Library: Borrow a copy of The Normal Heart by playwright Larry Kramer, or view the film of the play via Films on Demand.

About Ellen Latorraca

Reference & Instruction Librarian Liaison for the College of Education & Professional Studies
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