According to the publisher, “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, a professor of English at CUNY Staten Island, offers some very provocative thoughts on the relationship between gentrification and AIDS during an interview with 12th Street:
Sarah: So gentrification really starts in the mid 1970s, and then totally coincidentally, AIDS begins in New York. 80,000 people have died of AIDS in New York City since the beginning of the crisis. So you have very high death rates in certain focused neighborhoods: Harlem, Lower West Side, East Village, West Village, and Chelsea. And you had laws at the time where if a leaseholder died of AIDS, they could not give their lease to their partner.
12th Street: Because of AIDS?
Sarah: No, because we had no partner rights. So every time a leaseholder died, there was an eviction. So you had an unnaturally high number of apartments people had come into at a low rent, now going to market rate all at the same time in key neighborhoods. Today those neighborhoods are the most gentrified in New York.
The interview also includes ideas about how and why gay people have becoming boring lately, and the new worldwide division between homonationalists, who hope to assimilate gay identity to dominant national groups, and queers, who disdain corporate underwriting and embrace difference. Schulman’s book looks to be about much more than gentrification. It promises to renew radical thought through an injection of queer theory.