National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 69: ‘The Effeminist’: Gay Men & Defiant Women

I have undertaken this project drawing on a number of aspects, the overarching being the integrity of my identity as a gay man throughout my adult life, including my accomplishments as a pro-civil rights post-graduate theological seminary honor graduate inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, a journalist (something of an innate inclination ranging from my first newspaper at age 7 to my last 20 years founding, owning and editing a weekly newspaper), historian, and, in terms of the gay movement, four years of pioneering activism from before Stonewall in 1969 to 1973.

During my gay activist phase, “coming out” in the spirit of Dr. King’s admonition to stand tall such that no one can hold you down following my graduation from seminary, I became a pioneer in the founding of the Gay Sunshine newspaper, authoring its first editorial, an official spokesman for the gay movement at an anti-Vietnam War rally, a regular contributor to the Berkeley Barb alternative weekly and gay-themed papers and, with Jim Rankin, the founder of The Effeminist, a combination newspaper and faction in the gay movement.

I was keenly aware of how the “sex, drugs and rock-and-roll” counterculture that was mainstreamed into American culture in the late 1960s swept the gay movement shortly after Stonewall with a blizzard of “sexual freedom” mandates, forcibly brushing away any efforts, including my own, at realizing the potential of the movement for transforming the identity and self-esteem of gays and being a positive force for wider social change.

The Effeminist effort involved arguing for gay men to align politically with the goals of the feminist movement to overthrow the influence of the brutal straight male paradigm dominating society in favor of a new paradigm based on genuine gender, racial and cultural equality.

I wrote about our “Effeminism” current in an essay included in a collection published by City Lights Books in 2010 entitled, “Smash the Church, Smash the State! The Early Years of Gay Liberation” (Tommi Avicolli Mecca, editor). My entry was entitled, “Berkeley and the Fight for an Effeminist, Socially Transformative Gay Identity.”

In the same volume, reflecting the transcontinental influence of the current, Steven F. Dansky wrote a piece entitled, “The Effeminist Movement.”

In my essay, I included excerpts from a piece I wrote in October 1970 in Gay Sunshine on the “sociocultural revolution imbedded in the very notion of gay liberation.” I wrote, “Sex between persons of the same sex is the cultural antithesis to the most fundamental proposition of the whole Western capitalist mentality, which is derived from one fundamental act, the ‘missionary position’ (male atop female) sexual intercourse.”

I continued, “The ‘missionary position,’ penis in vagina for the explicit purpose of the creation of offspring, is the first presupposition of everything Western civilization represents. From it are derived the concepts of purposeful existence, patriarchy, capitalism, nationalism, imperialism, fascism. From it come the thought patterns of active/passive, dominant/submissive, I/you, we/they, top/bottom, greater/lesser, win/lose and on and on and on…An absolute antithesis of this presupposition is an orgasmic sexual act between persons of the same sex.”

In the summer of 1971, Rankin and I “developed the notion of the social paradigm shift that we felt gay liberation represented,” I wrote in my essay. “We saw the movement aligned with radical feminism as an effort to end the war and oppression by transforming male-dominated society. To this end, we argued against those who saw gay liberation as only sexual freedom, or even as strictly a fight for legal rights. Many of my articles in the Berkeley Barb promoted the notion that, fully actualized, gay liberation had the potential to be socially transformative.”

But the “sexual freedom” faction crushed us, and the rest is history, until now.

On my “exile” from the gay movement in 1973 until I launched the corporate structure for my newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, in 1987, I will say only this:
My decision to align my life with a strident, tightly-knit, pro-socialist configuration, if nothing else, saved my life. I struggled with demons by studying classics and advocating in remote places for ways to relieve droughts and feed the world.

I remember the moment when someone came into my office in July 1981 waving a newspaper to announce the news of a “gay cancer.” An electric bolt shot through me and I immediately feared the worst. It turned out far worse than I could have imagined.

In 1985, I landed in the hospital with unspecific symptoms, and feared I had AIDS, a death sentence. It turned out not to be so. That, the development of a test for HIV antibodies (I tested negative) and, the moral wheels having come off my associations by their exploitation of homophobia for political gain, compelled my emphatic break, with prejudice.

I proceeded to do what any good gay boy would do. I put my talents for the public good by starting a newspaper.

To be continued.

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