Post #15: Is there a Gay Sensibility?

July is Pride month in Berlin and also the month of my wedding anniversary so that I have been reflecting on my identity as a gay man and have been reminiscing about planning for our wedding four years ago. One of the topics on the table then was how we wanted to show that it was a gay wedding; I am reminded as to the thoughtful ways that we did so. We incorporated subtle aspects to illustrate that we were a gay couple marrying one another, which included the music choices, the cake decorations, a wedding bouquet for each of us, the content of our speeches. A few years ago I had written about this planning and the wedding itself: see James Diskant, “A Gay Wedding,” October 21, 2019 in A Gay Wedding – The Gay & Lesbian Review (glreview.org) Accessed July 13, 2022.
During the past year, I have continued to read memoirs by gay men and coming out stories, as well as novels and scholarly monographs about gay culture, art, and history. Such books contribute to my thinking about what could be special about identifying myself as gay in a broader cultural sense, which is addressed by Nicholas Benton in his provocative essay: Education of a Gay Soul (Falls Church, VA: BCI Books Inc., 2021). While he presents a tantalizing thesis, it leads to countless questions. He argues namely that there is a gay sensibility that both distinguishes and unites gay people (explicitly men) in terms of “notions of sensibility, an alternative perspective, and constructive non-conformity” (19) which, in his view, is connected to empathy to those who are different and the ability to understand and appreciate other viewpoints instead only of that of the mainstream culture. In essence he argues that as a result of claiming our “own” view of the world, gay culture is an alternative political one. After all, it is appealing to think that one’s gay identity separates me from the macho culture that is still so pervasive. Or, on the other hand, it is different from the decadent culture that is still common among certain some gay men themselves.
Yet Benton’s hypothesis is directly connected to men like myself, who can enjoy countless privileges of living in a country where being gay is accepted and may be less applicable for men who are in less privileged places where being gay is less accepted. Isn’t the argument rather self-serving or one of wishful thinking? In order for it to make any sense one needs to place it in a particular time period(s), as well as in a cultural and political climate. Perhaps that is his point – although he does not make it explicitly – wouldn’t the world be in a better place if gay men governed the world? Rather than thinking that decadent gay culture unites “us” it is empathy, understanding, and acceptance of the other Also see The Good Men Project – The Conversation No One Else Is Having. I wonder, however, what comes first – one identifies oneself as gay and then identifies these characteristics? Or one has these characteristics and then one has a self-awareness of being gay? How can one test the hypothesis? Is it necessary to conclude something about all gay men as opposed to straight men? And what about straight men who are also sensitive people? And those gay men who are not? While the idea resonates with me, it is too simplistic and revolves around certain assumptions that need to be met for it to be accurate. Ultimately Benton’s thesis leads to more questions than answers.

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