FP: After downtown celeb Harry Koutoukas’s apartment caught fire, in 1972, you authored In Search of the Cobra Jewels, a show about his attempt to help clean up the mess. You played Koutoukas. Your memoir recounts that Village Voice culture writer Arthur Bell “was arrested for holding another man’s hand as they crossed the street” from the theater. Progress has been made, but with record-breaking trans deaths and a Conservative backlash, are we moving backward on queer issues?
HF: I don’t believe it’s possible to move backward. We must allow each generation to find its way. What we see happening now with MAGA is the death throes of a generation that can’t stop progress. Conservatives want to move back to a time when they felt more comfortable. But that time is coming to an end.
FP: But there’s such a strident push to recreate the past.
HF: There’s a saying in the antique business—“You can’t go broke by selling people their childhood.” Hucksters are selling back to MAGA a picture of America that no longer exists. Think of it as the difference between weather and climate. The weather changes (MAGA arises) but not the overall (political) climate of ongoing, unstoppable change. That makes them all nervous.
FP: Hyperbole abounds while critical thinking skills evaporate.
HF: My “eBay theory” helps to explain. A postage stamp for sale is displayed in a 3-by-4-inch screen image. A Rolls Royce is presented in the same image size. Over time, Internet and social media technologies have us believing all things are equal.
FP: As in, my opinion is as legitimate as your evidence-proven fact?
HF: Yes. The idiot next door is a COVID expert because he says he is. If everything is equal, then what are critical thinking skills for? As the COVID pandemic progressed, we learned new ways to treat, what/what not to do regarding transmission. It’s a constantly moving target. What was true last month may not be true today, so we adjust our perceptions. We evaluate with critical thinking skills. Many have lost the ability to do that.
Harvey Fierstein Cleaned Off His Desk During COVID
The actor, playwright, and screenwriter talks about his memoir, sobriety, women in politics, and what’s next
by FRANK PIZZOLI