Shay Gonzales


Kramer closes this volume in a final section on the post-war period framing homosexuality and nationalism in a twisted and wandering narrative about the closeted intelligence community and the purge of government employees.

We’re also given some grotesque vignettes of pharmaceutical research facilities and torture camps, which Kramer parallels to an exposé on the invention of poppers. These scenes are rendered in Kramer’s often difficult, scatological prose, but hint at a larger conspiracy between drug manufacturers and the state for the purposes of biological warfare.

In one of these pharmaceutical-torture facilities the Underlying Condition (this book’s name for HIV/AIDS) is only potentially one or all of the viruses being tested on mummified test patients by a pre-transition transgender man. This trans character is given to us as unsurprisingly flat and Kramer purposes the character’s “sex change” as a dated shock tactic, not unlike the way he allows gratuitous amounts of vomit to punctuate a sex scene in the chapter.

The volume closes with the introduction of activists, and sets the forthcoming volume two with complex groups of actors of varying queerness and influence. Kramer creates a masterful and multifaceted exposition using narrative and hyperbole to draw a political map. As one example, the pederastic relationship between an experiment subject and the director of an intelligence agency link several seemingly disparate tracks about pharmaceutical industry, war profiteering, closetedness and McCarthyism.

It may be that Kramer’s many messy (and often trying) narratives are the only way to begin to comprehend the invisible and untenable networks of money and power that are responsible for this plague.

Shay Gonzales is a recent graduate of the History program at the University of Colorado, Denver.