chapter  3
Toward the “Gay 90s”: Redefining Queer Visibility through the Lens of AIDS
Pages 40

In the above quote, Douglas Crimp makes two important observations regarding queer visibility. First, he argues that queer visibility surfaced most strongly in the American cultural imagination during the AIDS crisis and not, as is commonly thought, after Stonewall or during the so-called “gay 90s.” Second, he suggests that the usual story about AIDS and the LGBTQ community needs to be interrogated. Specifically, he questions the portrayal of the AIDS crisis as a tragedy that ultimately had a beneficial outcome, namely that it managed to get (heterosexual) Americans to take note of the LGBTQ community. I agree with Crimp that the type of queer visibility that emerged during the AIDS crisis was not beneficial for everyone. In many ways, the impact of HIV/AIDS on queer identities, sexualities, and discourses forms the focal point of the 40 years I investigate in this book. Reactions to AIDS within the gay community led to a radical reimagination of the type of “liberation” that the Stonewall Riots initiated, on the one hand, and laid the foundation for the alleged “explosion of gay visibility” during the 1990s, on the other. The reimagination of queer visibility during the AIDS crisis was a racialized process that frequently privileged white perspectives and had an impact on activist strategies, health care policies, and media representations. As in other moments when queer visibility undergoes a transformation, whiteness functions as unexamined backdrop to negotiations of queer identities, practices, and representations during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. During the AIDS crisis, the closet-as-screen not only regulates which types of queer visibility occurred in the media, but also who became visible as a Person with AIDS (PWA), who remained largely invisible, and who could eventually be recuperated and included in mainstream queer visibility at the beginning of the 1990s.