National Commentary

A Continuing Need For ‘The Effeminist’

nfbenton-mugU.S. Rep. Don Beyer’s new initiative, a Congressional “Men for Women” caucus to promote the vital role of women in the economy and politics, has by coincidence come at the same time that I encountered a “blast from the past” in my mailbox the other day. I hadn’t seen in well over 40 years this evidence of my own involvement in recruiting men for the feminist revolution back then.

It was a copy of the May 1971 first edition of The Effeminist, a newspaper a colleague and I created at the height of the countercultural revolution in Berkeley, Calif. We defined the newspaper as “Notes for Gay Males in the Feminist Revolution,” and we stated as our purpose, “Sharing and building language toward something more all-inclusive than revolution.”

Although I have written a lot about my experiences in that era, especially in my 100 weekly columns from 2012 to 2014 compiled in the book, Extraordinary Hearts, Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization (Lethe Press, 2013), I had done it all without ever actually being able to get my hands on a copy of this newspaper that my friend and I created back then.

A graduate theological seminary grad from the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, I became a prolific writer publishing in a variety of San Francisco area alternative publications on themes of social and personal liberation, in general, and gay liberation in particular, as well as more general anti-war and civil rights themes.

I came away from that bearded, seat-of-the-pants era in my life with nothing saved or stored at all. But whereas, in recent years, I’d been able to retrieve old copies of the Berkeley Barb, the Berkeley Tribe, Gay Sunshine and the San Francisco Kalendar with stuff I wrote in them from Ebay, mostly, I could never come across my own newspaper, The Effeminist, either the first or the second one (we did only two).

The copy I now have in front of me came by way of a young scholar, Heather White, now teaching in the Pacific Northwest having published her own new book, Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (University of North Carolina Press, 2015), that includes a narrative of my role in the movement back then, at least a part of it.

Ms. White contacted me by email and phone recently because in a university class she is teaching, the mostly gay and lesbian students have come to her with no institutional knowledge of what the issues were in the rise of the modern gay movement beyond the current push for gay marriage, which, she said, seems somewhat unsatisfying to them.

When Ms. White asked me what surprised me most seeing a copy of my own creation from 44 years past, I said immediately, “I think I am most amazed by how my basic world view has not changed a single iota from what it was then.”

My collaborator and I had back then broken off from the main current of the gay liberation movement which, in our view, was descending at breakneck speed toward the kind of hedonistic excess that defined the decade of the 1970s.

We were derided and overwhelmed by a gay men’s movement that was so caught up in the pursuit of wanton, insatiable sexual extravagance.

We were knocked to the curb, but around the same time, many lesbians were very off-put by the same trend and broke with the “gay” movement, insisting on being distinguished from “gay” by the term, “lesbian,” from then on.

Our call to gays was to embrace their true identity, which was found not in their sexuality, per se, but in their creative sensibilities that had strategically allied with women through the centuries against the brutish and militaristic male chauvinist society, playing an enormous role in the progress of civilization.

Properly understood, gays are what the author E.M. Forster brilliantly described in “What I Believe,” a 1939 anti-war pamphlet as “not an aristocracy of power, based upon rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate and the plucky.”