The ‘Gay Science’ Papers
The Central Role of
Same-Sex Erotic Attraction
in the Progress of Civilization
A Gay Liberation Pioneer’s 100 Weekly Columns
Published in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2010-Sept. 2012
© Nicholas F. Benton
About the Author
Nicholas F. (Nick) Benton is the openly-gay founder, owner and editor of the award-winning weekly newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, that since 1991 has served a Northern Virginia, inside-the-beltway suburb of Washington, D.C. The newspaper has twice been named the “Business of the Year” by the Falls Church City Council and Benton has been named “Business Person of the Year” and has been awarded twice the local Chamber of Commerce’s “Pillar of the Community” award. He served as the Chamber’s president two years.
Benton, born in Ross, California, graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif. and with honors from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., in 1969. He “came out” that year, shortly before to the Stonewall Riots in distant New York, and became the co-founder of the Berkeley chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. He wrote the editorial for the first edition of the Gay Sunshine newspaper and became a primary correspondent for the counterculture weekly, The Berkeley Barb. He co-founded The Effeminist newspaper, and was the first gay spokesman officially included among speakers at a major San Francisco anti-war rally.
Following employment in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston, Texas, in 1985, Benton moved to his current home in Falls Church, founded his own news service, Benton Communications, Inc., in 1987 and launched the Falls Church News-Press in 1991, now in its 22nd year of consecutive weekly publication. In addition to news stories and editorials, Benton authors a weekly national affairs column. In 2009, an essay by Benton entitled, “Berkeley and the Fight for an Effeminist, Socially Transformative Gay Identity” was published in a volume entitled, “Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Days of Gay Liberation” by City Lights Books to mark the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In October 2010, Benton began what became 100 weekly columns entitled, “Nick Benton’s Gay Science” that were published on the News-Press’ website and reprinted in the Washington, D.C. gay news magazine, Metro Weekly.
Benton currently serves on the Falls Church City Democratic Committee, and is on the state board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. He remains on the board of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, of the Falls Church Education Foundation and the Creative Cauldron arts education organization. In 2005, he established the Falls Church Diversity Affirmation Education Fund in his name, which has brought anti-bullying and pro-diversity programming to the Falls Church School System annually since that time. In April 2012, Benton was honored as an “OUTstanding Virginian” by Equality Virginia, receiving his award at a banquet in Richmond where among his guests was former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine. Invited to the White House for a reception to celebrate Gay Pride Week in June 2012, wrote a commentary on the occasion that was published on the CNN website, entitled, “White House is Finally a Welcoming Place for Gay People.”
Table of Contents
Cover Page i
Copyright & ISBN Page ii
Dedication Page iii
About the Author iv
Table of Contents v
Author’s Preface vi
No. 1 – Saint Foucault, Are You Kidding? (Part 1), Oct. 14, 2010 1
No. 2 – Saint Foucault, Are You Kidding? (Part 2), Oct. 21, 2010 4
No. 3 – Saint Foucault, Are You Kidding? (Part 3), Oct. 28, 2010 7
No. 4 – Who Are We, Really? (Part 1), Nov. 4, 2010 10
No. 5 – Who Are We, Really? (Part 2), Nov. 11, 2010 13
No. 6 – Who Are We, Really? (Part 3), Nov. 18, 2010 14
No. 7 – Tennessee Williams Vs. William Burroughs (Part 1), Nov. 25, 2010 17
No. 8 – Tennessee Williams Vs. William Burroughs (Part 2), Dec. 2, 2010 20
No. 9 – Signposts for a Revival of Gay Sensibility, Dec. 9, 2010 23
No. 10 – Gay Sensibility & Socrates on ‘The Science of Love,’ Dec. 16, 2010 26
No. 11 – A Sensual Perspective Beyond the Bedroom, Dec. 23, 2010 29
No. 12 – Gay Sensibility as a Gift of Nature, Dec. 30, 2010 32
No. 13 – Gay Sensibility & Constructive Non-Conformity, Jan. 6, 2011 35
No. 14 – Constructive Non-Conformity & Social Transformation, Jan. 13, 2011 38
No. 15 – Whitman’s ‘Great Poets’ Basis for Gay Identity, Jan. 20, 2011 41
No. 16 – Poet Vs. Tyrant: the Gay Liberation Paradigm (Part 1), Jan. 27, 2011 44
No. 17 – Poet Vs. Tyrant: the Gay Liberation Paradigm (Part 2), Feb. 3, 2011 47
No. 18 – Poet Vs. Tyrant: the Gay Liberation Paradigm (Part 3), Feb. 10, 2011 50
No. 19 – What Led to Sparking That ‘Stonewall Moment,” Feb. 17, 2011 53
No. 20 – The Original ‘Love Anthem’ for Our Role in Society, Feb. 24, 2011 56
No. 21 – The Greatest Gay Film Ever: ‘A Streetcar Named Desire,’ Mar. 3, 2011 59
No. 22 – Breaking the Silence About Those ‘Friends of Dorothy,’ Mar. 10, 2011 62
No. 23 – Breaking the Silence About Those ‘Uranians,’ Mar. 17, 2011 65
No. 24 – The ‘Uranian’ View of Gay Identity, and Mine, Mar. 24, 2011 68
No. 25 – Shining New Light on Corners of Gay History (Part 1), Mar. 31, 2011 71
No. 26 – Ganymede & the Three Greek Terms for Love, Apr. 7, 2011 74
No. 27 – Gay Love: Procreation of the Spirit of Love, Apr. 14, 2011 77
No. 28 – History’s Record of Variables in Homosexual Identity, Apr. 21, 2011 80
No. 29 – A Recapitulation of My Argument, Apr. 28, 2011 83
No. 30 – Eros’ Corruptions Vs. Shakespeare in Love, May 5, 2011 86
No. 31 – What Accounts for Us, Other Than Sex?, May 10, 2011 89
No. 32 – Toward a Genuine Gay Morality (Part 1), May 17, 2011 92
No. 33 – Toward a Genuine Gay Morality (Part 2), May 24, 2011 95
No. 34 – How I Know What I Know, My Gay Pioneer Days, May 31, 2011 98
No. 35 – How the Right Unleashed 60s Radical Hedonism, June 7, 2011 101
No. 36 – The Extraordinary Heart of Larry Kramer, June 14, 2011 104
No. 37 – Why ‘Coming Out’ Matters So Much, June 21, 2011 107
No. 38 – As Any Good Gay Boy Would Do, June 28, 2011 110
No. 39 – Beatniks & Hippies Vs. Progressive Gay Pioneers, July 5, 2011 113
No. 40 – ‘Hippie Free Love’ Hijacks the Gay Movement, July 12, 2011 116
No. 41 – Gay Liberation Formed of 2 Opposite Currents, July 19, 2011 119
No. 42 – ‘The Boys in the Band’ Call to My Liberation, July 26, 2011 122
No. 43 – Such a Noble & Heroic Breed Are Homosexuals, Aug. 2, 2011 125
No. 44 – The Social Engineering of Anarcho-Hedonism, Aug. 9, 2011 128
No. 45 – Radical Sexual Hedonism Vs. ‘Rightly-Ordered Love,’ Aug. 16, 2011 131
No. 46 – The 1970s Vortex of Sexual Addiction (Part 1), Aug. 23, 2011 134
No. 47 – The 1970s Vortex of Sexual Addiction (Part 2), Aug. 30, 2011 137
No. 48 – The 1970s Vortex of Sexual Addiction (Part 3), Sept. 6, 2011 140
No. 49 – Sensibility, Alternate Sensuality, Constructive Non-Conformity,
Sept. 13, 2011 143
No. 50 – Our Colossal Failure in ‘The Age of Contagion,’ Sept. 20, 2011 146
No. 51 – In the Valley of the Shadow of Death & Sorrow, Sept. 27, 2011 149
No. 52 – In the Valley of the Shadow of Death & Madness, Oct. 4, 2011 152
No. 53 – In the Valley of the Shadow of Death & Contrition, Oct. 11, 2011 155
No. 54 – Frank Kameny & the Birth of Our Movement, Oct. 18, 2011 158
No. 55 – Life, Liberation & the Pursuit of Happiness, Oct. 25, 2011 161
No. 56 – ‘Life, Liberation & Happiness,’ Part 1: ‘Angels in America,’
Nov. 1, 2011 164
No. 57 – ‘Life, Liberation & Happiness,’ Part 2: Prophetic Anger, Nov. 8, 2011 167
No. 58 – ‘Life, Liberation & Happiness,’ Part 3: Innocence Armed, Nov. 15, 2011 170
No. 59 – ‘Life, Liberation & Happiness,’ Part 4: Prometheus Unbound,
Nov. 22, 2011 173
No. 60 – We Are Prometheans, Not Dionysians, Nov. 29, 2011 176
No. 61 – The Case for the Gay Promethean Archetype, Dec. 6, 2011 179
No. 62 – ‘Re-Branding’ Ourselves as Promethean, Not Dionysian, Dec. 13, 2011 182
No. 63 – Promethean Love & the ‘Gay Jesus’ Question (Part 1), Dec. 20, 2011 185
No. 64 – Promethean Love & the ‘Gay Jesus’ Question (Part 2), Dec. 27, 2011 188
No. 65 – Promethean Love & the ‘Gay Jesus’ Question (Part 3), Jan. 3, 2012 191
No. 66 – Compassionate Gay Genius Vs. Art as Merely Habit, Jan. 10, 2012 194
No. 67 – The ‘Billy Elliot’ Case for Gay Identity, Jan. 17, 2012 197
No. 68 – The Emerald Pin in ‘Velvet Goldmine,’ Jan. 24, 2012 200
No. 69 – ‘The Effeminist:’ Gay Men & Defiant Women, Jan. 31, 2012 203
No. 70 – Gay Sensibility & the American Revolution (Part 1), Feb. 7, 2012 206
No. 71 – Gay Sensibility & the American Revolution (Part 2), Feb. 14, 2012 209
No. 72 – Hamilton, Lincoln & the Varieties of Gay Love, Feb. 21, 2012 212
No. 73 – Why They Started Calling Us ‘Homosexuals,’ Feb. 28, 2012 215
No. 74 – In Nature, We Are Different for a Reason, Mar. 6, 2012 218
No. 75 – Not Reproductive Variant, But ‘Species Love,’ Mar. 13, 2012 221
No. 76 – Philia, Agape, Eros & Tadzio’s Savage Century, Mar. 20, 2012 224
No. 77 – Two Same-Sex Bonds That Saved America, Mar. 27, 2012 227
No. 78 – Conceived in the Shadow of Tennessee Williams (Part 1), Apr. 3, 2012 230
No. 79 – Conceived in the Shadow of Tennessee Williams (Part 2), Apr. 10, 2012 233
No. 80 – Tennessee Williams’ Shadow (Part 3): ‘Splendor in the Grass,’
Apr. 17, 2012 236
No. 81 – Tennessee Williams & Christopher Isherwood (Part 1), Apr. 24, 2012 239
No. 82 – Tennessee Williams & Christopher Isherwood (Part 2), May 1, 2012 242
No. 83 – Tennessee Williams & Christopher Isherwood (Part 3), May 8, 2012 245
No. 84 – Christopher Isherwood & His Kind, May 15, 2012 248
No. 85 – Simultaneity of the Gay & Anti-War Movements, May 22, 2012 251
No. 86 – The Post-Modernist Counter Revolution (Part 1), May 29, 2012 254
No. 87 – The Post-Modernist Counter Revolution (Part 2), June 5, 2012 257
No. 88 – We Are Best Defined by Our Creative Work (Part 1), June 12, 2012 260
No. 89 – We Are Best Defined by Our Creative Work (Part 2), June 19, 2012 263
No. 90 – Karl Rove’s Pitch for the Gay Movement, June 26, 2012 266
No. 91 – This Series’ Core Thesis: The Promethean Identity, July 2, 2012 269
No. 92 – Tennessee Williams Issues ‘Small Craft Warnings,’ July, 9, 2012 272
No. 93 – Saint Foucault, Are You Kidding (Part 4), July 16, 2012 275
No. 94 – Larry Kramer’s Play Still Not Taken to Heart, July 23, 2012 278
No. 95 – AIDS & the Lurking Next Epidemic, July 30, 2012 281
No. 96 – The Proper Care & Feeding of Precious Gay Souls, Aug. 7, 2012 284
No. 97 – Gay Marriage May Save the Institution of Marriage, Aug. 14, 2012 287
No. 98 – Beautiful Gay Souls I Know: Don Bachardy & Johnny Weir,
Aug. 21, 2012 290
No. 99 – Not Assimilationist, But Transformative, Aug. 28, 2012 293
No. 100 – My Finale: ‘What Now, Lazarus?,’ Sept. 4, 2012 296
It is unusual, perhaps, to anticipate the publication of a book whose impact has, at least to a degree, already been felt. In this case, this volume is a collection of 100 weekly newspaper columns I wrote that were published between October 2010 and September 2012 in two Washington, D.C. media sources – my own Falls Church News-Press general interest paper, via its website, and the Metro Weekly news magazine that serves the D.C. area gay community. Thus they bypassed the sanctions of any academic, editorial or acknowledged institutional movement leadership to speak directly and unfiltered to the grassroots, so to speak, of the gay world. The “butterfly effect” of those columns has already been set loose, although they may await future generations to be fully appreciated.
These columns introduced some unique content and ideas, challenged numerous prevailing assumptions and engaged in “truth telling” that make them controversial for some in the ranks of the current established gay community hierarchy. But the design was to help my readers to discover that the very notion of same-sex erotic attraction is vastly more important and valuable than gay culture since Stonewall has acknowledged.
The case was made in many ways in the columns themselves, and it is basically this: same-sex erotic attraction is a vital and inherent component of creation, itself, derived from a visible “lefthanded” negative-entropic impulse on the macro-cosmic level, and manifested in human societies in the progress toward equality, justice and democracy. It derives not as a variant of, or deviation from, the impulse toward species reproduction, but from the equally valid and scientifically-documented impulse toward species survival through the exercise of heightened empathy and altruism. Same-sex erotic attraction works, socially, to stand against an otherwise unbridled militaristic male dominion that subjugates women, children and the elderly in a relentless quest for territorial and resource control, helping to preserve and advance those societies that would otherwise devolve and self-destruct.
Thus, same-sex erotic attraction has been around since before the beginning as a temporizing, compassionate and equalizing force in civilization, even if it is not evident in the way it is recognized in the post-Stonewall era. Evidence shows that comparatively rarely has it ever been manifested as explicit sexual acts. Instead, it is mostly found in history through the elevation of art, poetry, music, science and the exercise of fair and just governance. Empathy is not, of course, the sole property of our tribe, but central to our same-sex erotic attraction as a heightened sense of it, to the point of forming bonds, loyalties and loves more profound than bonding for purposes of strengthening male dominion and marriage.
A sharp same-sex erotic attraction also naturally produces an alternate sensual perspective to the norm and naturally evokes an inclination toward a constructive non-conformity that seeks general social betterment through constructive change.
These realities clash with the prevailing notion expounded by the Friedrich Nietzsche (whose “Gay Science” work proclaiming the “death of God” was used by me as the counterpoint for my own “Gay Science”) and others, including Freud, asserting that, simply put, all human behavior is reducible to either living by the rules (“Apollonian”) or breaking them (“Dionysian”). Mine taps historical traditions positing a “third way” of constructive, species-loving non-conformity (“Promethean”). This is a novel concept I introduced in my columns.
As for evidences of explicitly sexual expressions of same-sex erotic attraction that modern historians have uncovered since Stonewall, given that close to eight percent of all the populations is born with an inherent impulse toward same-sex erotic attraction, the number of such persons through all history renders the few documented cases of actual sexual acts less than miniscule. Even today, the number of “open” gays participating in urban gay culture, it can be presumed, is but a tiny fraction of what permeates our entire culture.
My columns documented, uniquely, the relationship between the emerging gay movement of the 1960s and two other social currents, the civil rights movement (among other things, citing the members of the then-tiny Mattachine Society who attended Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963) and anti-Vietnam War movement (noting the unrecognized fact that the same weekend as the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, Life magazine published its provocative, controversial yearbook-style photographs of young American men killed in one week in Vietnam). Such obvious and instructive interconnections in an era of progressive social ferment are ignored in our recent histories because of postmodernism’s insistent compartmentalization, the fallacious notion that we must write our own history as if nothing else mattered.
The truth is that post-Stonewall gay culture emerged as a double-edged sword, something I saw from the inside as a high-profile pioneer in that culture in the San Francisco Bay Area from 1969 to 1973. Details of my involvement were presented in this series. Primarily through my tireless writing for counterculture newspapers such as the Berkeley Barb, Gay Sunshine, Berkeley Tribe, San Francisco Kalendar and my own The Effeminst, I quickly became one of, if not the most, high profile advocate for the gay liberation cause in the San Francisco Bay Area in the period between Stonewall and prior to the rise of Harvey Milk, whom I knew and interacted with. Much of the record of my role was purged after I withdrew from the movement in 1973. For example, the second edition of the Ramparts Press’ Gay Liberation Book: having more entries (three) than anyone else in the first edition, all my work was deleted from the second.
On the one hand, the Stonewall Riots came to represent the social inflection point that opened the barn door for everyone in our tribe for the first time in history to “come out,” to claim the fulness of an internal integrity, no longer marginalized, forced to lie or hide our natural erotic attractions. On the other hand, this historically important turning point occurred in a climate governed by the radical hedonism of the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” counterculture that was being mainstreamed in Western culture at the same time.
That meant that “coming out,” rather than unleashing far more powerful kinds of cultural and institutional betterments as we’d forwarded all along in history, was instead hijacked by the radical anarcho-hedonistic impetus of that period to be subordinated to a dominant obsession with self-centered, pleasure-seeking sexual acts. No love, no romance, no relational commitments, but sheer carnality for its own sake.
Anyone in that era who suggested any restraint on a veritable mandate limitless sexual acts was denounced as “sex negative” and “counter-revolutionary.” Urban gay culture rapidly morphed into a place where one felt pressured to abandon any creative career pursuits to devote virtually every waking hour plunging headlong into unbridled sexual pursuits, with growing dependency on whatever forms of intoxicants helped along the way. I lived in this world.
The sexual license that went unchecked favored the aggressive predator over all others, and it was those predators, far too often also rapists and human traffickers, who angrily enforced the “no-rules, no restraints” laws of the urban gay culture. Countless sensitive and naïve young gay men, like myself, and women were no match for this, victimized in countless ways, including by falling under its suasion almost like mind-controlled victims of a cult. Venereal diseases were rampant and unchecked. Predators and their prey, together, tumbled into compulsive behaviors driven by bonafide addictions, and those addictive habits compelled them to adopt the readily-available philosophies justifying their excesses, the postmodernism of Michel Foucault and others who insisted on “no limits” and that sexual acts were grounded not in love, but hate, a defiance against authority, even the “repressive” authorities of science and public health.
This led to the spread of the HIV virus and outbreak of AIDS in 1981, as I described in this series, and even with its horrible spread, the stubborn refusal of the predatory gay community leaders to place any public health restraints on the lifestyles they’d cultivated in public bathhouses and sex clubs. That insured that millions of as-yet-uninfected gays would subsequently become infected and die before drugs enabling victims to live with the HIV virus became effective in the mid-1990s.
I had “come out” in 1969, jumping headlong into the emerging post-Stonewall gay liberation movement after graduating from a progressive graduate theological seminary around the same time. It was in the context of the 1960s civil rights and anti-war struggles, But by 1973, I resigned my role as an early gay liberation leader with a commentary in a San Francisco gay newspaper entitled, “Homosexuality Vs. Socialism.” In it I described the predatory nature that had taken over the urban gay culture, and I counterposed to it a compassionate, humanitarian notion of ideal socialism. I wrote that I preferred the latter, while in no way suggesting that I was attempting to change my sexual orientation. In fact, it was part of my struggle to redeem my same-sex erotic attraction, my “gay soul,” from the predatory context I found myself overwhelmed by.
Having been declared persona non grata by my family upon coming out in 1969, and remaining a harsh critic of the unjust, war-mongering wider culture that hated and discriminated against gays, my choices were few upon departing my gay leadership role in the mid-1970s (I got by writing for counterculture and gay newspapers), and I aligned on the margins of a fringe, ostensibly pro-socialist current that held me at arm’s length because of my homosexuality and which devolved into a slavish cult. Ironically, that experience helped me to eventually grasp how urban gay scenes had fallen under a similar sort of influences, although ostensibly “leaderless,” evidenced by hyper-conformist clone-like fads in clothing, appearance, tastes and social and sexual behaviors.
Simultaneously desiring a higher calling for my life and communion with my fellow tribesmen, on the other, I lived with great internal stresses in that era. The 1981 outbreak of the AIDS epidemic and the unspeakable, subsequent horror I saw unfolding kept me in a state of virtual exile, emotionally and physically, until, after I feared that I had come down with AIDS in 1985, a sure death sentence, the first test for exposure to the HIV virus became available. Clearing that test, only then did I begin afresh to claim my life. Completely disassociating from the cult, I incorporated my own news service in 1987 and I began, along lines I’d hoped to in 1969, doing, as I like to put it, “what any good gay boy (or girl) would do.” I founded a weekly community newspaper in 1990 to make a positive difference in people’s lives the way we are all supposed to.
My mighty Falls Church News-Press has, to the present day, provided genuine and meaningful coverage of its local community, and an effective advertising medium for local businesses, addressing editorials and national affairs columns to matters of social justice, compassion and equality, introducing a weekly gay issues column, founding a “Diversity Affirmation Education Fund” in my name in the local school system, sponsoring the 1990s AIDS Rides and much more.
Meanwhile, by 2003 sorting through experiences I’d come through since 1969, I began taking on my “post-traumatic stress” by beginning an autobiographical blog called “Notes from the Future by Gay Jesus” (“Gay Jesus” being a nickname I was saddled with in my early gay liberation days).
In 2009, I contributed an essay to an anthology published by the City Lights Books on the 40th anniversary of Stonewall. The book was entitled, “Smash the Church, Smash the State: the Early Days of Gay Liberation,” and my essay was called, “Berkeley and the Fight for an Effeminist, Socially Transformative Identity.”
But it was in the summer of 2010 that I had a critical “Aha!” moment, reading a May 1977 exchange published in the Village Voice between Tennessee Williams and William Burroughs. It is described in detail in my columns. Looking back on my travails from the early post-Stonewall era with fresh eyes, I felt an urgency and to offer others the benefit of my experiences and insights. Thus, in October 2010, my weekly “Nick Benton’s Gay Science” series began.
Too much of what passes for urban gay culture today has not really changed since the post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS era. Shallow hedonism reigns supreme on the pages of gay newspapers, magazines and other media outlets. Foucault continues to be worshiped by too many who have never been introduced to a competent criticism of his work. Young gay people still do not find in urban gay culture a social connection reinforcing and compelling the achievement of their full potentials, or in terms of what it really means to be gay, to be empowered to grow through resistance to those who would exploit them and make their best marks on the world. Still, the push for gay marriage signals a hopeful revival of our core desires for the love, truth, commitment and compassion that our movement ignored in its earlier years.
These 100 columns represent an attempt by me to “give back,” to being a “truth teller” out of a supreme gratitude for life, for the love and opportunities it affords through struggle, and for being gay.
Falls Church, Virginia
October 2, 2012