National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science Part 11 This Week: A “Sensual Perspective” Beyond the Bedroom

For purposes of political expediency in arguments to extend equal legal rights to homosexuals, such as this week’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it is clear why Rep. Barney Frank claimed that the only thing different about homosexuals from everyone else is what they do in the bedroom.

For purposes of political expediency in arguments to extend equal legal rights to homosexuals, such as this week’s repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” it is clear why Rep. Barney Frank claimed that the only thing different about homosexuals from everyone else is what they do in the bedroom.

However, such a one-dimensional definition of homosexuals leaves too many questions unanswered that are critical for a positive, and proper, homosexual self-identity. It leaves open, for example, the issue that, while acknowledged as equal under the law, homosexuals can still be understood as deficient or disabled, allowing for on-going negative attitudes, both externally and as internalized by many gays.

But by breaking down the term, “sexual orientation” to its historic corollary, “sensual perspective,” puts a very different light on this discussion. All homosexuals in the history of humanity have harbored, by virtue of their orientation, a “sensual perspective” even if unable, as in the vast majority of cases, to act it out sexually.

The term, “homosexual,” is a very recent invention, first coined by emerging legions of new social engineers in 1859. Minus that label, we homosexuals called ourselves by different names, if by any at all, and some associated our orientation within the grander design of things, such as the late 19th century term, “Uranians” (Neil McKenna, “The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde,” 2005).

Before that era, “sodomites” were identified as those almost always among criminal outcast dregs of society, along with thieves and prostitutes, while the vast breadth of persons born as “Uranians,” shall we say, lived out their lives free of the “sodomite” label because they never acted out or got caught.

With the 19th century democratization pressures on Western cultures, in the context of the growth of easy transportation from rural to urban areas and ports of trade, and the rise of large industrial cities with their anonymity, an open, if narrow, discussion of a much wider set of options for sexual activity first began to emerge.

In Berlin in the Wiemar period of the 1920s, British writer Christopher Isherwood (of “Cabaret” fame) and poet W.H. Auden were free to act out their homosexuality, guided by new, radical theories of American psychologist Homer Lane and his protege, John Layard. Lane’s mantra was: “There is only one sin: disobedience to the inner law of our own nature” (Isherwood, “Christopher and His Kind,” 1976).

Still, as in the case of both of those, their primary identity was the literary and poetic sensibility that they contributed to the wider world in the form of their creative writing. Fleeing Berlin, their anti-fascist sentiments contributed to the forceful post-World War II moral sentiment in the U.S., also informed by the monumental creative contributions of homosexuals Eleanor Roosevelt and Isherwood’s longtime friend, the playwright Tennessee Williams.

The World War II “greatest generation” of Americans had their ethics and ideals shaped by the towering contributions of homosexuals, who were far more committed to their creative work than their sexual identity.

The “gay sentiment” of these and many other figures, with its passion for honesty and social justice, helped to spark the civil rights movement in the U.S., and the growing power of labor unions fighting for livable working conditions and a brighter future for working people and their families.

A massive counteroffensive from the titans of the military-industrial complex, working through covert intelligence fronts, took shape beginning with the assassination of JFK in 1963, followed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, the provocation of inner city riots, and the launch of the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” hedonistic counterculture that escalated with the “Summer of Love” in 1967. That corresponded with the rise of an inward-directed “sensitivity training” movement out of California’s Esalen Institute, the National Training Labs and other centers, and was coordinated with the CIA’s domestic “MK-Ultra” operation that disseminated LSD and other drugs from 40 college campuses and in urban ghettos (as revealed during the Church Committee hearings in the mid-1970s).

The “sensitivity training” movement was huge, causing a “drifting away” from scientific evidence and methods toward a “religiously-oriented social movement” (Kurt W. Back, “Beyond Words,” 1972).

While the earlier civil rights movement led to an inevitable surge for women’s and gay liberation, the counter-forces steered them toward a noxious mix of radical hedonism and inward-focused “sensitivity” modes, such that the default definition of homosexuals became limited to personal sexual behavior, cut off from a wider social context, and nothing more.

Thus, Rep. Frank’s characterization that the difference between gays and straights is limited to the bedroom is unchanged from what it came to be in the immediate post-Stonewall period 40 years ago.

It overlooks what is the most important component of homosexual identity, the “gay sentiment,” a product of the natural order of creation that, given its different “sensual perspective” empowers homosexuals with an uncommon ability to love, care for and speak passionately to the plight persons of their own sex in constructive, non-sexual ways.

(To be continued).