2024-06-14 11:19 AM

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 96: The Proper Care & Feeding Of Precious Gay Souls, Pt. 1

The task of this series has been to juxtapose our essence as gay souls to what passes for our current post-Stonewall gay culture. 

In so doing, I have sought to define our essence through a wide array of scientific, historical, biographical and literary means, and to show that the current gay cultural influences from the radical hedonism of the 1970s is at odds with it.

The cumulative influences of the modern hedonistic gay culture may be difficult to shake, especially given that much of it is a subset of modern, self-centered consumerist American culture generally. But grasping its sharp deviation from a better appreciation of our gay souls is a start.

In the final chapters of this effort, due to culminate at No. 100, my focus will be on the title of this one: our “proper care and feeding.” In other words, how things ought to be for us, causing a creative tension between what is and what ought to be.

I first coined the term, “gay soul,” in a monograph, entitled “God and My Gay Soul,” circulated in 1970 through the San Francisco Bay Area following my graduation for a master’s degree with honors from theological seminary, my coming out, and my pioneering activism in the post-Stonewall Gay Liberation Front (all of which happened about the same time, if not exactly in that order).

I have not seen a copy in 40 years, and while I have long forgotten what exactly I wrote about, I am certain it had to do with an affirmation of gay identity as an intentional and core component of creation.

While in seminary, the very progressive Pacific School of Religion affiliated with the equally progressive United Church of Christ denomination, perhaps the single most influential work we studied was Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” (1946).

Compiled during Dr. Frankl’s imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp and published with many updated editions after the war, it is a short work that embodies the essence of Frankl’s theory and work as a therapist, even among the most despairing facing extermination in the concentration camps. As Rabbi Harold S. Kushner wrote in the introduction to the 1992 edition, one of Frankl’s key ideas was that “life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.”

Frankl saw man, as a “meaning-seeking creature,” having three possible sources for meaning: “in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person) and in courage during difficult times.” He believed that “forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess, except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.”

My life took a lot of twists and turns following seminary from coming out, being rejected by my family as a result, confronting and eventually recoiling from the radical hedonism that had taken over the gay culture, finding no apparent options but to align tangentially with a marginalized pro-socialist political entity that held me at arm’s length because of my sexual orientation, living fearfully under the cloud of AIDS from the time it broke in the open in 1981 to when an antibody test was finally available in 1985, and then slowly reclaiming my life to, as I like to say, “do what any good gay boy would do,” to use the gifts I’d first discovered in childhood to found in 1991 and since serve a community with a darned-good newspaper.

Looking back, I can say with confidence that my world view and approach to life did not deviate during that entire span until now from their core foundations in the teachings of Viktor Frankl.

Hence, I rejected the radical countercultural, nihilistic hedonism that took over gay culture in the 1970s, as I did rigid, cult-like authoritarian currents I found on the social margins, or in the growing selfish materialism of the overall American culture following the “Reagan revolution.”

I’ve held to Frankl’s three sources of meaning: in work, in love and in courage. If you want to know what’s primarily animated this series, you’ve just found out.

Last year, Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of Great Britain, authored a book, “The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning” (2011), which draws very heavily on Frankl’s work but takes it further in an array of directions.

While much could be said about this incredibly rich book, for purposes here, I note that Sacks adds to Frankl’s notion that man is a “meaning-seeking” being with the supplementary notion that “man is a culture-producing animal.”

In both ways, mankind is distinct from all other forms of life, which means that we do not simply conform to any prevailing culture – such as what we have now – but that we are capable of, indeed we are challenged to, create a better culture.

To be continued.





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