I discovered Plays in One Act edited by Daniel Halpern in a book store and stumbled upon Edward Albee's 1983 play Finding the Sun. It is written for adults, but introduces a compelling sixteen year-old character named Fergus. The play drew my attention because it documents mainstream American beliefs and attitudes in the early eighties towards sexuality. And it does it in an entertaining and engaging way, inspiring readers to ask important questions. It was written at a time when Americans began to talk more openly about homosexuality. They were pushed into it, so it seems.
They were pushed into it by the documentation in the New England Journal of Medicine of the first cases of AIDS in 1981. Nothing has been the same in the practice of medicine since. The medical specialty dealing with infectious diseases was taken over to a great extent by the care and treatment of thousands of young homosexual men dying of a previously rare pneumonia and other unusual infections and even cancers. I was a medical student at the time. In the medical clinics the most intimate and never mentioned details of sex lives were revealed and discussed in exam rooms and beyond.
This play reflects what some of the general attitudes were towards homosexuality in the early eighties. The setting is a beach. There are two young married couples among the eight characters at this beach party. The two married men were previously lovers, and we discover through Albee's skillful dialog, that they are still in love. We also discover that one of the wives believes that her gay husband can switch his preference. Many used to believe that. Few believe it now.
One theme in Albee's play hovered around how teens sort out their own sexual identity, question, and search for information. Fergus, a virgin from New Hampshire, dialogs with an older and wiser male seventy year-old character, Henden. The boy asks about the two gay men and the nature of their relationship. Fergus even asks the older mentor about masturbation and if "My hand and I will say good-bye,"when he becomes an adult. I enjoyed Fergus' curiosity, innocence and humor.
Today, a great deal of misinformation has been put to rest and sixteen year-olds are more educated about sex, though there is still misinformation. But it does seem that AIDS in all its tragedy has, through necessity, forced a conversation on Americans, dragged them into it often kicking and screaming, inspiring openness we see in creative works such as Finding the Sun.
Today, I heard on NPR radio that both Democrats and Republicans both openly accept contributions from gay rights groups. This is new, signifying further change in public opinion.