National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science Part 14 This Week: Constructive Non-Conformity & Social Transformation

Those paying attention have seen that in these chapters a number of original notions have been derived from a wider examination of gay identity factors, especially as they have been extracted from captivity to the radical hedonism introduced into the gay movement the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Those paying attention have seen that in these chapters a number of original notions have been derived from a wider examination of gay identity factors, especially as they have been extracted from captivity to the radical hedonism introduced into the gay movement the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The novelties here include identifying how radical hedonism, and its sinister roots, intervened into the gay movement, and by separating it out from the core homosexual experience.

By identifying and isolating that core, it became possible to glimpse at the notions of “gay sensibility” and alternative “sensual perspective” that have manifested themselves through human history as some of the most constructive currents in art, philosophy, science and progressive governance.

“Gay sensibility” precedes homosexuality, a term that didn’t exist before 1859, because the vastest majority of persons in history who’ve experienced themselves drawn by erotic arousal to the same sex have never been able to act out those feelings.

Instead they focused on cultivating their creative capacity to express their alternative “sensibility,” informed by the fact that they harbored an innate “sensual perspective” different from the norm. Such qualities inclined such persons toward a “constructive non-conformity” that has been decisive for moving societies toward more enlightened, democratic and compassionate forms.

It is in this context that an adequate accounting for the role of same-sex erotic arousal can be examined in a fresh and spectacular way.

The mysteries of same-sex erotic arousal take many forms and fluctuating degrees of intensity, involving a wide range objects, or triggers, for such arousal, well known in the gay community as extending from chubby bears to skinny twinks, from burly lumberjacks to preppies, from motorcycle gangstas to diva drag queens, all the shades in between and with their lesbian equivalents, as well.

The reality of such variety, by extension, accounts for bisexuality and the famous Kinsey scale, which was derived from the extensive compilation of interview data by Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 1930s and 1940s that led to his groundbreaking published works, Sexual Behavior of the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior of the Human Female (1953).

Kinsey’s exhaustive research brought him to conclude that human sexual attraction is not confined to absolute “straight” or “gay,” but exists on a continuum from 0 to 6, and that an individual’s erotic attractions can move over time in one direction toward opposite sex attraction or toward the other, same-sex attraction.

Among other things, Kinsey’s findings included the discovery that 46 percent of males had “reacted” to the same sex and 37 percent engaged in at least one homosexual encounter, percentages obviously far higher than most estimates of the percentage of the population that is self-identified as homosexual.

Such discoveries are a manifestation of what is actually an elastic quality of erotic arousal, as in a rise in the rate of homosexual arousal in environments of long-term same-sex confinement, including prisons and infamous British all-boy boarding schools (“On the basis of many confidential interviews, the author of a recent British study, The Public School Phenomenon, believes that an average of a quarter of the boys attending Britain’s public-school system during the first decades of this century engaged in regular sexual contact. More than 90 percent owned up to ‘fact or fantasy’ love affairs with other boys,” John Costello, Mask of Treachery, 1988, p. 64).

While all such examinations of erotic arousal are limited to sexual encounters, per se, what happens when they are applied to their broader dimensions of “gay sensibility” and alternative “sensual perspective?”

There are profound implications for positing a similar elasticity in these dimensions. It means the constructive non-conformity derived from “gay sensibility” and alternative “sensual perspective” harbors a great potential for profound social change. That is, the potential to tap into a similar sensibility that can be drawn out of a much wider population, even among those who do not associate such sensibility with erotic arousal at any given point.

Therefore, a passionate “gay sensibility” to apply constructive non-conformity to the struggle for civil rights and economic justice can spark an explosive response from a much larger segment of the overall population than just those who identify themselves as homosexuals.

The elasticity of such a sensibility allows it to spread throughout the public in a potentially “viral” fashion.

Therein lies the substance of our “gay sensibility’s” fundamentally transformative nature. This realization accounts for the title of my essay in the 2009 collection of retrospectives on the post-Stonewall gay movement, Smash the Church, Smash the State! The Early Years of Gay Liberation (City Lights Books). My essay is entitled, “Berkeley and the Fight for an Effeminist, Socially Transformative Gay Identity” (p. 203).

In 1972, my friend, Jim Rankin, and I founded The Effeminist, a short-lived newspaper in Berkeley, Calif., dedicated to engineering such a transformation through a strategic alliance with feminism against society’s dominant core paradigm of white male supremacy.

In short, we lost, and radical hedonism won, which brings us to now.

To be continued.

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