COLUMNIST Nicholas Benton has something potentially life-saving to tell us about the continued viability of gay liberation during these frightening times. In his 2013 collection of short essays, Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization (Lethe Press), he articulates how the cosmic spark that set off the historic “eruption” of the modern gay rights movement has not yet quite died out. This is true, he argues, despite assaults on this evolutionary energy system from the forces of assimilationism, consumerism, and postmodernism festering not just in straight society, but also in our very own gay backyard.
Readers may remember learning about Benton’s book from ads in this magazine, which included passages from his book. But the book did not get the mainstream respect that, say, Lillian Faderman’s Gay Revolution (2015) received. Perhaps that’s because Benton’s approach, while very much a solid history of gay ideas in the West, is decidedly confrontational and eccentric. His work dares to discuss same-sex erotic attraction “as a vital and inherent component of creation,” one that is “derived from a visible ‘left-handed’ negative-entropic impulse on the macro-cosmic level.” And Benton (who hails from the effeminacy movement) punches like a prizefighter at those who have severely squandered this grand potential: “The revolution was quickly hijacked by radical hedonists, crawling out of the dregs of a reactionary, socially-engineered ‘counterculture,’ who insisted the enemy of revolution was morality itself.”