In this gripping memoir of the AIDS years (1981–1996), Sarah Schulman recalls how much of the rebellious queer culture, cheap rents, and a vibrant downtown arts movement vanished almost overnight to be replaced by gay conservative spokespeople and mainstream consumerism. Schulman takes us back to her Lower East Side and brings it to life, filling these pages with vivid memories of her avant-garde queer friends and dramatically recreating the early years of the AIDS crisis as experienced by a political insider. Interweaving personal reminiscence with cogent analysis, Schulman details her experience as a witness to the loss of a generation’s imagination and the consequences of that loss.
In her latest book, queer activist Schulman (Ties that Bind) argues that the AIDS epidemic that ravaged the gay community in the U.S. from 1981 to 1996 spurred the process of gentrification, "a concrete replacement process," not only in New York City, but in the larger spheres of American theater, literature, and art. She seeks to demonstrate how "the unexplored consequences of AIDS and the literal gentrification of cities created a diminished consciousness about how political and artistic change get made." Schulman, who was a member of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), makes a bold argument, linking the rapid decline of the gay male population in New York City due to AIDS especially in neighborhoods such as Chelsea, the East Village, Harlem, and the West Village to the trend of homogenization, corporate takeovers, and rising rents. She warns, "Pretending that AIDS is not happening and never happened, so that we don't have to be accountable, destroys our integrity and therefore our future." Schulman's firsthand experience of the epidemic and the queer community should make for a poignant and stirring story, but the author's argument soon devolves into name dropping and discourses against motherhood and academia, to name a few. These diatribes are brimming with so much vitriol that they ultimately come across as the personal agenda of someone with an ax to grind rather than cogent research.