Benton (Extraordinary Hearts, 2013) collects his writings from the post-Stonewall, pre–Harvey Milk era of the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
As a young gay man in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s, Benton became a passionate activist and writer in the gay rights movement. He published prolifically in such alternative outlets as the Berkeley Barb, the Berkeley Tribe, Gay Sunshine, and his own paper, the Effeminist. In this collection, he reveals how, by 1969, the gay movement had already split into two factions: “one which saw our liberation in the context of wider social currents and causes, and the other which insisted that activism be limited to striving to advance ‘our’ issues, solely.” Benton identified with the former, and the Effeminist sought to bring together the goals of the gay rights and feminist movements. His topics include the Stonewall riots, Vietnam, racism, sexism, and politics, and there are firsthand accounts of protests, demonstrations, incidents of harassment, and cultural trends and happenings. These pieces provide a record of a specific era in the counterculture and offer valuable perspective for activists in today’s LGBTQ+ and feminist struggles. Benton’s prose is analytical and hard-hitting even when writing about film: “It’s about a male supremacist society where sex is a power trip,” he writes in a 1971 review of the prison-set film Fortune and Men’s Eyes. “It’s about cultural homosexuality, turned into simulated heterosexual acts performed by men on each other due to the physical absence of women. It’s real.” The book is primarily composed of writings from the same period, but more recent pieces that look back on that time are included as well. Benton asserts that he’s been written out of some versions of the era’s history, and there’s a self-promotional quality to the book that isn’t always subtle; one essay, for instance, is titled “4 Things I Am Credited With Helping To Accomplish in That Era.” As a set of primary source documents, however, these essays will give readers a wonderful, provocative look into the Stonewall generation’s political coming-of-age.
A stirringly combative and prescient collection from earlier days of gay journalism.