National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science, Part 9 This Week: Signposts for a Revival of The ‘Gay Sensibility’

It is refreshing to see prominent, young, articulate voices new to the gay scene making public statements about homosexuality that are not filtered through conventional expectations or the hedonist-gripped post-Stonewall gay culture.

It is refreshing to see prominent, young, articulate voices new to the gay scene making public statements about homosexuality that are not filtered through conventional expectations or the hedonist-gripped post-Stonewall gay culture.

When singer Ricky Martin celebrated his recent “coming out” by saying, “God does not make mistakes,” in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, or when U.S. Olympic Figure Skater Johnny Weir told a homosexual rights group in California that, “It’s an ugly world out there, but we are the people who bring beauty to it,” they are saying simple but, in fact, revolutionary things that point to a more positive future for us all.

They both suggest that there is a purposefulness to homosexuality that goes beyond sex, and that has been completely missing from any significant discourse in the gay liberation movement since its earliest days, when it first was caught in the grip of the radical hedonist surge that was unleashed by sinister forces to demolish the social consciousness of an entire generation.

Now, both Martin and Weir come to the movement as fully enfranchised adults, having levels of professional achievement under their belts that add credibility and authority to what they say, especially as they come to speak out in fresh, new ways about their own identities. They are like children in that sense, not jaundiced by 40 years of a hedonistic gay culture, and eager to embrace expressions that are rich with purpose and meaning.

They offer hope that new generations of homosexuals, free to be open, expressive and creative in our society, will grow up appreciating themselves not for opportunities to pursue sex and drug use at will, but for their uniquely gay sensibilities and what those will bring to serious professional pursuits.

In the case of Weir, he has for years seen himself as a role model for the young, expressing openly that purpose in his willingness to be “out front” with his sassy but articulate comments and flashy, unconventional costumes, while always in the context of his grueling pursuit of excellence in his sport. It was the crowning achievement of his career to qualify for his second Olympic Games last February, even with three U.S. championships under his belt.

He did not come to where he has by virtue of posturing. His reality TV show was not about idle wealth or voyeurism into the lives of pathetic, mediocre people. It was based in his struggle to excel on the ice, and his accomplishments there have earned him a devoted worldwide following.

The Ricky Martin story is similar. The hard work of building a successful career was, as for Weir, at the core of his identity, just as it was for the likes of Tennessee Williams and others from an earlier era.

Homosexuals, as Weir said in California, bring beauty to an ugly world, and that strikes at the core of our identity and role in the natural order of things.

In my own life, and in the context of having conversations with and reading the words of literally thousands of other homosexuals over the last decades, I am convinced that there is a “gay sensibility” that finds expression in many different ways but can usually be found in the earliest years of development, usually long before there is any awareness of a sexual orientation.

I grew up with an acute sense that I was somehow different. I must commend my parents (meaning my mother) for allowing my difference to play itself out. It took the form of different interests. I pursued interests completely unlike those of any of my family members, or my classmates and teachers at school.

Maybe my fascination with the history and portraits of the presidents of the U.S. had to do with their being powerful and important men. Maybe my interest in producing newspapers, beginning at age seven, was to help my besieged mother’s efforts to maintain loving bonds in our household, constantly threatened by my father’s brutality. It was at the core of my identity to empathize and support her in these struggles.

Maybe my love for classical music was tied to my infatuation, TV having been introduced to our home, with the old Flash Gordon movie serials, whose theme music was Liszt’s Les Preludes. It had something to do with Flash himself, played by the handsome, wavy blond Buster Crabbe.

When I read Tennessee Williams’ memoirs, I see clear footprints of similar sensibilities, and have found them in the autobiographical stories of legions of other homosexuals I have known or read. My difference as experienced in my youth formed the basis of my adult passion for beauty and social justice, beginning with my seminary training. While “coming out” in Stonewall era was the best thing that ever happened to me, my creative contribution to society was temporarily derailed by the radical hedonistic takeover of the gay movement. Still, unlike so many other young, beautiful, creative homosexual souls, I somehow survived, luckily enough to publish my own newspaper in the nation’s capital for the last 20 years.

To be continued.