By J. Roslyn
In 2013, Nicholas Benton published a book of 100 essays he had written and printed in the Falls Church News-Press, the publication that he founded some 30 years ago, as well as the Metro Weekly.
The title of that book is “Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization.” It is an extraordinary scholarly work that, among other things, provided a unique insight into the lives of Oscar Wilde, Tennessee Williams, Christpher Isherwood and others.
So much has changed in the world since 2013.
There has been a sea change as a result of the LGBTQ+ community (shortened by Benton to collectively to mean “gay”) demanding and receiving in part equality and a prominent seat at governing tables.
Recently, Benton has taken the content of many of the essays published in “Extraordinary Hearts” and arranged them in “a fluid singular narrative,” in his newest book, “Education of a Gay Soul.”
After laying the framework for understanding the three aspects that help to define gay identity — “gay sensibility, gay alternative perspective, and gay constructive non-conformity” — Benton unrolls the history of this gay identity and its influence on our culture.
For the reader, this book can best be described as slowly traveling on a river, perhaps with Mark Twain, glimpsing Benton’s remarkable vignettes of a largely unknown gay history which Benton meshes with the gift of gay sensibility. Specifically, he defines gay sensibility as the capability of:
“Loving and caring for persons of our own sex in ways that those without it can’t match, but we also have a unique capacity to love and care for persons of the opposite sex, because we do not measure such persons from the standpoint of dominion, procreation and society’s structures for perpetuating these. Gay sensibility empowers us with a unique capacity to love all persons regardless of gender, in a compassionate, empathetic way.”
As we glide down the river, Benton first introduces us to Walt Whitman.
It was Whitman who provided gays “with our core gay identity 150 years ago with his notion of the ‘great poet,’” according to Benton.
As we move on, we meet other great thinkers Benton identifies as gay, who devoted their lives to saving all of humanity, including Socrates, Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and many others.
Benton has written another extraordinary book, that reveals extraordinary histories that must not be buried or forgotten. Indeed, if the reader was truly traveling with Mark Twain, he would be one of the vignettes.
As Larry Kramer once said, “How could you not realize that Mark Twain was gay?”