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Abraham Lincoln Was Gay? Think Again

abraham-lincoln-625“We cannot escape history.” It’s one of the more memorable lines of a man who, had he not saved the nation from tearing itself in two, would be best known as our nation’s greatest orator. But when Abraham Lincoln warned his countrymen about history in his second inaugural address, he was looking forward rather than to the past, saying, “We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.” For Lincoln, history was not a thing which loomed over his country like a shadow, but a judgment to be made by future generations. But could Lincoln have ever expected that future generations of Americans would judge him not just on his actions, but his sexuality?

“There’s no question in my mind [Lincoln] was a gay man and a totally gay man. It wasn’t just a period, but something that went on his whole life”, said ACT-UP activist Larry Kramer in a 1999 interview with Salon. At the heart of the speculation is Lincoln’s close relationship with Joshua Speed, a Springfield merchant who helped the young lawyer by allowing him to share his upstairs room – and bed – for four years. Speed remained a lifelong friend, despite his support of slavery, and the two sent warm, affectionate letters for years, even after Lincoln moved into the White House.

So, is Lincoln gay? I’m no historian (though a definite history buff), but it seems to me, the real question is, “Can we know if Lincoln was gay?” The answer to that question has to be a definite “No.” There are simply too many problems for us to ever hope to get a definitive answer. Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy, argues that Lincoln wasn’t gay by pointing to the nature of both frontier life, where sharing beds was common, and Victorian masculinity, which valued intimacy and florid language, especially in letter writing. The only scholarly work that seriously argues that Lincoln was gay is The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C. A. Tripp,and even that features a dissenting forward.

“Can we know if Lincoln was gay?” The answer to that question has to be a definite “No.”

And yet, the “controversy” continues. Last week, playwright Tony Kushner, who’s written the screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming Lincoln, told The Boston Phoenix, “I think that there’s the possibility that Lincoln was bisexual. Shakespeare was. Why not Lincoln? All the best people are!” On CBS’ Early Show, New York University history professor Jeffrey Sammons said, “One of the very interesting stories about Abraham Lincoln is that he might have been gay. Lincoln actually did sleep in the same bed with a gentleman for a four-year period,” leading host Maggie Rodriguez to conclude, “So the question of Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality still remains a mystery.” And of course, the gay blogs jumped on the 200th anniversary of his birth as on opportunity to bring up the “Lincoln is gay” meme, much to the chagrin of conservative wingnuts.

With there never being a definitive answer to Lincoln’s sexuality and most of the evidence pointing to him being “gay” specious at best, why do we still look for it? The obvious answer is that we want to prove that gays and lesbians have always been there, to weave the history of gays and lesbians into the history of America and if the evidence is weak, that’s only because we were never allowed to be open.

joshspeed
Joshua Speed

Forget for a minute the question of whether we can answer the question of whether historical people like Lincoln were gay or not and consider the question of why we ought to? Science has done a pretty good job of proving that homosexuality is ingrained and genetic, but the gay identity is more than same-sex attraction; it’s a modern political identity. To try to ascribe that identity to historical people who had no conception of what being gay means in a modern context seems sort of futile. To simply point out that they may have had some element of same-sex attraction is speculative and not something that really has any relevance. Larry Craig is attracted to men, so is Ted Haggard, but that hardly makes them worthy of being heroes.

To steal another line from Lincoln: “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.” The desire to find ourselves in the faces of history is only human, but in oversimplifying the past, we oversimplify ourselves. Can we look to time gone by to see men and women who expressed their same-sex attraction? Absolutely (we point out some here), but their concept of sexuality was so radically different from the modern one that we can not count them among us. Sexuality, not just for gays and lesbians, but for all humanity, is not a static thing. We make that argument every day here when it comes to marriage – that it is not a static institution and that people need to take a more enlightened and expansive view of the parameters – but we must do the same when it comes to slapping the gay label on famous people of the past.

I know this is a contentious position to take—we have fought for decades to prove to ourselves and to the world that homosexuality is not a choice, and it isn’t. It is, however, a choice to live our lives openly, to demand and fight for the same equal respect and rights as our straight friends—and this is something we should own. We don’t have pride parades because we’re proud we’re attracted to people of the same gender, we take pride in our decision to live our lives openly, and we’re making history by doing so. Why look to the past to find gay heroes when there are so many among us today?

By:           Japhy Grant
On:           Feb 17, 2009
Tagged: , ,
  • 49 Comments
    • blake
      blake

      Nice essay.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 9:09 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Jonathan Ned Katz wrote an interesting book called “Love Between Men before homosexuality.” In it he dissects quite a large number of letters between Joshua Speed & Lincoln. While I understand life was much more harsh then, which explains some of the intimacy and/or Victorian flowery language in letters, there is still something definitely Gay there. While I don’t recall precisely what I read, there was a lot of Lincoln worrying about Speed being “satisfied” in (his upcoming) marriage which implied performance with his wife and there were a couple very Gay jokes Lincoln told that can’t be explained away.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 9:09 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      As always Japh, well thought out article. I’m certainly no Lincoln scholar or scholar of historical gays myself, but these are my three favorite lines of yours from this article.

      “the gay identity is more than same-sex attraction; it’s a modern political identity.” – true

      “we have fought for decades to prove to ourselves and to the world that homosexuality is not a choice, and it isn’t. It is, however, a choice to live our lives openly, to demand and fight for the same equal respect and rights as our straight friends—and this is something we should own.”

      Why look to the past to find gay heroes when there are so many among us today? – Best line of the article

      Feb 17, 2009 at 9:49 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mark H
      Mark H

      Great essay. Another reason we can’t really answer this is that the idea of identifying as ‘gay’ isn’t really the same thing as “having loved another man”.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 10:16 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • bb
      bb

      I agree whole-heartedly with this essay, and I would go even farther to say that, even in our own day when we have a very solid conception both of homosexuality and gayness, our classification of all same-sex bonding and homosocial feeling as homosexual devalues both the platonic and the erotic. This can put even two enlightened gay people in an uncomfortable position and ultimately strain what is ultimately a healthy and necessary, intense but platonic same-sex friendship. I don’t need to share a bed with my male friends for four years, but I would like it if I just felt comfortable giving them a hug.

      There are some instances, though, in which Japhy’s argument can be taken too far. For instance, my mother, like many of her generation, grew up in a repressed fifties household and then hit the campuses c. 1968 and thus thinks that she and her friends invented sexuality or at least liberated sexuality. She barely has any straight friends and completely believes that homosexuality is an ingrained trait, but she also believes that society previous to the hippies was inherent cruel and repressed, so any time I try to point to any of our heroes from earlier than Stonewall (I’m not talking people who might have shared a bed in 19th cent. Illinois; I’m talking about people whose sweaty man-sex letters to their lovers have survived) she refuses to believe that they could have had any conception of their same-sex attraction.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 10:43 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Michael Bedwell
      Michael Bedwell

      While I’m often turned off by the eagerness with which people declare such and such person, living or dead, “gay,” it is onlyh for the lack of adequate evidence. But you you wander from there into sticking your toe/head in the pseudo intellectual nonsense of “essentialism” vs. “constructionism.”

      “Essentialists” have even written books, jacking themselves off about how, in their self-reverent opinion, “being gay/homosexual” is a “modern concept” and, therefore, no one WAS gay/homosexual before…pick your year. 1869—the year “homosexual” was coined?

      Which is self-evident hogwash to anyone with common sense. Just because, e.g., Michelangelo lusted after Tommaso dei Cavalieri before there was a common name for it doesn’t mean he wasn’t feeling the same feelings, e.g., Harvey Milk was for Scott Smith. “Sodomy” was certainly recognized, as were “sodomites.”
      And Margaret Clap may have run a “molly house” in 1726, 243 years before Stonewall, but it was still the equivalent of what we call today a gay bar.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 11:20 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Endymnion
      Endymnion

      The Great Queens of History

      http://rictornorton.co.uk/

      Feb 17, 2009 at 11:36 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Smokey Martini
      Smokey Martini

      @bb:

      Well said! And, it’s true: male friendships in the 19th century that were described in terms of what we would (now) conceive as being distinctly ‘gay’ or ‘erotic’ was not necessarily so back then. As David Halperin writes in How to do the History of Homosexuality:

      …in the early modern period there is another tradition that emphasizes equality, mutuality and reciprocity in love between men. Such an egalitarian relation can obtain only between men who occupy the same social rank, usually an elite one, and who can claim the same status in terms of age, masculinity, and social empowerment. (118)

      As he explains further:

      …with our heavily psychologistic model of the human personality, our notions of unconscious drives, our tendency to associate desire with sexuality, and our heightened sensitivity to anything that might contravene the strict protocols of heterosexual masculinity – it is difficult for us [as moderns] to avoid reading into such passionate expressions of male love a suggestion of ‘homoeroticism’ at the very least, if not ‘latent homosexuality,’ those being the formulations that often act as a cover for our own perplexity about how to interpret same-sex emotions that do not quite square with canonical conceptions of sexual subjectivity. (121)

      Of course, the key issue in interpreting Lincoln’s relationship with Speed is one that creates a stark divide between the historical truth about the bond, on the one hand – in all its contextual and conceptual specificities – as opposed to the ‘presentist’ conception of it that attempts to attribute contemporary qualities to the relationship (i.e. gayness), be it for political reasons or otherwise.

      Which approach one takes, of course, is contingent on one’s motivations for looking at the relationship. For gay-themed blogs and activists alike, there is often an attempt to legitimize contemporary same-sex relationships (in these unfavourable times) by looking at a history – really, any history – of potential same-sex unions, preferably involving high-profile figures like Lincoln. For historians, of course, the aim is to see the relationship for what it was… whatever it may have been.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 11:39 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • alan brickman
      alan brickman

      The real reason men were so intimate back then emotionally was not because they were gay but mostly they didn’t think of women as equals…and therefore didn’t emotionally involve themselves with them….

      Feb 17, 2009 at 11:51 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Alan Brickman – you make a good point about men not thinking women were equals. But it was also a time when people had 10 kids, 3 of whom lived to adulthood. There were no vaccines, no antibiotics. (before antibiotics, there was almost nothing a doctor could do for a patient except in cases of broken bones or stopping the bleeding!)

      So life was very harsh, and people formed closer emotional attachments in general. People where I live now used to sit on their porches, I’m told by my elders, before they locked themselves into their houses with air conditioning in the summer, TV, & DVD’s and the internet….

      Just a little food for thought.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 11:57 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      I think one of the points that Japh is trying to make, is that being gay, is more than just one’s sexual identity and that holds true whether looking at the past or the present.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:03 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Mike
      Mike

      Since it will never be fully substantiated, the argument is simply circular. I do believe that all people, and particularly minorities, yearn to connect themselves to history, to feel as though the foundation of history supports them today. As the religious right and social conservatives wish to deny us our historical heroes and leave us with little but a few serial killers to represent our past, there is comfort to be found in identifying with those like “you” who have made contributions for the betterment of society. Thus, the conversation is worthy.

      The word “homosexuality” was not coined until the late 19th century, so attempting to unearth the notion of Lincoln’s sexuality would be a murky proposition at best. There were a few facts left out of this very nicely crafted essay. At 20, Lincold wrote a poem about a man marrying a man. And far more compelling than his sharing of a bed with Speed in his youth was the fact that much later, during Mary Lincoln Todd’s absences from the White House, a then President Lincoln shared his bed regularliy with a military officer of whom he was very fond. This, of course, led to a few whispers that were documented in letters and diarys of the time.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:10 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Michael Bedwell
      Michael Bedwell

      Mea maxima culpa! It is “Constructionists” who believe their own nonsense about being gay not existing before it was conceived of.

      The shorthand: if one had an ongoing sexual longing for someone of the same gender that person was AT LEAST bisexual and no different motivationally than tomorrow’s let alone today’s.

      Ultimately, it is NOT a question of linguistics or group constructs [or identification} but epistemology. That is, how can we KNOW exactly what Lincoln or anyone else dead or living-but-unmet was/is feeling erotically or eroto-affectionately without their saying/writing it?

      Those who say he definitely wasn’t are as guilty of arrogance as those who say he was.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:13 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • nikko
      nikko

      oh, constructionism….yawn…that stupid train of longwinded (fart)thought that believes because there was no word for same-sex desires way back then, it follows that there was no homosexuality or it wasn’t the same thing, yada,yada,yada,etc. Hogwash. Yes, there variations of same sex desires, homosociality, etc. It’s all part of the human(esp. male) experience. MMmmmm,delish.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Well said Michael B #13!

      For the record though, Byrne Fone’s book “homophobia” has a section about the “tales of the Arabian Nights.” I’m not quoting directly, but there is some mention about male/male sex and a woman in the story (says to the man) “I suspect you are one of those” (attracted to men.)

      Not to mention all the ancient Greek philosphers’ discussions about same sex interactions/attractions.

      What MIGHT be said though, until relatively recently simple survival was a horrendous ordeal for the majority of people – the concept of homosexuality as a distinct psychological type is a “new” idea. Which makes sense because psychology is fairly new.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:33 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Sorry, what I meant to say is look how far back in time “Tales of the Arabian Nights” was written…

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:34 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      @Jaroslaw – I agree with what your saying, but I believe psychology has actually been studied in one context, format or another since the ancient civilizations of egypt, china, greece and muslims.

      Did you read my other comment to you in another post btw?

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:37 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      which post? Please elaborate on psychology in ancient times – what I know about is Egyptians bored holes in people’s head to let out the “bad spirits” etc. which is not what you’re talking about!

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Dick Mills
      Dick Mills

      But on the other hand, that Joshua Speed was definitely gay! GAY, GAY, GAY, GAY, GAY, GAY! Just look at that portrait!

      Feb 17, 2009 at 12:58 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • minivangal
      minivangal

      Does it really matter if Lincoln was or wasn’t gay? In the spirit of what Lincoln stood for and what he did for our country we are all free to believe what we want – if you think he’s gay, that’s great. If you don’t think he’s gay, that’s okay, too. But, if I find out that he was a Scientologist, then I’ll be really pissed.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Minivangal – the reason it is important to me is that everytime something comes up about this, the religious right or conservatives or whomever immediately discredit EVERYTHING that points to someone being Gay. It is as if we don’t exist, no one of any importance is Gay.

      I don’t want Lincoln to be Gay if he wasn’t, but as someone else said here, it is just as arrogant and ignorant to automatically say he wasn’t.

      And all the reading I’ve done said there’s at least a few things about Lincoln that point to his being at least Bi that can’t be explained away.

      And nothing against Bi’s, but in prior centuries, men were expected to have children to prove their manliness, bring forth an heir to inherit all their wealth etc. So just because a man had kids in NO WAY automatically proves he was straight.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 1:11 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      @Jaroslaw – I meant more in a psychology in a philosophical context, I mean rudimentary, but the basis was there I suppose. No, not the drill the head bit.

      @minivangal – I’m always pissed when I find out someone is a scientologist. LOL

      Feb 17, 2009 at 1:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      @Jaroslaw – agree in regards having kids meaning someone was str8 or bi, historically or today.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 1:14 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Well, Sebbe let me say this. It is very easy to read something from long ago and infer our present understanding on it. Also the bias and cultural upbringing of the translator play into it as well.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 2:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      Further still, there are numerous documented instances of translators consciously mistranslating to hide or deny people’s sexuality.

      And sometimes, the subjects do it themselves, as the instances of Walt Whitman originally writing “she” when he was actually talking about a “he”…or the reverse as the post mortem-discovered handwritten original of his poem “Once I Pass’d Through A Populous City” revealed that he changed “I remember only a man I casually met there, who detain’d me for love of me, Day by day and night by night we were together” to “I remember only a woman…,” etc. Even then, homophobic “scholars” would say, “Yes, but that doesn’t mean they boomshakalakaed.” Blah blah blah.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 2:36 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Kid A
      Kid A

      @Leland Frances: As a huge Whitman reader, do you know where I can find some of the resources you’ve mentioned? My friend Anna has written much about the sexuality of Virgina Woolf, and we both have an interest in learning more about the lives of our favorite authors.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • CPT_Doom
      CPT_Doom

      It is interesting to me that so many people want to “prove” Lincoln was gay, even with the scant evidence (and I agree it is an unprovable possibility), while the most likely candidate for a gay President – James Buchanan, the only non-married President who had a very close relationship for years with William Rufus King (to the point that there was open speculation about their relationship in the press of the time) – is rarely as openly claimed. Of course, Lincoln is considered a great, if not the best-ever, President, while Buchanan is the President who nearly saw the collapse of the Union just before Lincoln’s election.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 2:52 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • JJJJ
      JJJJ

      Sebbe : On your point # 11 : That’s how it SHOULD be, since historically the homosexual has ranged from Nero to Hans Christian Anderson, and in the 20th Century from Ernst Roehm to Allen Ginsberg, but too many guys in the gay ghettos of NYC, San Francisco, West Hollywood (maybe a few others) become GAY. It is their ethnicity. The be-all-and-end-all of their existence. Which is all fine, for them. It’s just that that’s why a number of us have never been able to relate to the gay community.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      Kid A: the story of the specific poem gender change by Whitman is discussed at the link below and elsewhere:

      http://www.glbtq.com/literature/whitman_w.html

      As for books, there is a great deal of fascinating information about Whitman, including the efforts of Carpenter and Symonds to get him to admit he was talking about male-male SEX and ROMANTIC love in “Love Stories: Sex between Men before Homosexuality,” by Jonathan Ned Katz.

      I recommend it, however, only with this strong caveat: alas, Katz is a “constructionist” albeit one constantly disproving their own conceit that pre the 1870s, there was only “a certain repertoire of acts, not a personality trait.”

      One’s eyes repeatedly cross as he simultaneously demonstrates, then denies, that, whatever it was called or not called, countless men did romantically love and want sex with other men [and women, women] identically to the way we do today.

      I’ve yet to read their theories as to WHY in one decade anal sex with another man would be merely an “act” and the next decade become “a personality trait.” And what if we’re talking about the SAME two men who spanned both periods?

      So what if most, but NOT all, also loved, or thought they did, women; sired children [I have lots of gay and lesbian friends who've done the same long before it became a fad], or, as in Whitman’s case, claimed they did.

      In 1826, 22 yr. old Thomas Jefferson Withers wrote to his 19 yr. old friend James Hammond, “whether you yet have the extravagant delight of poking and punching a writhing Bedfellow with your long fleshen pole—the exquisite touches of which I have often had the honor of feeling? Let me say unto thee, that unless thou changest former habits in this particular, thou wilt be represented by every future chum as a nuisance . . . Sir, you roughen the downy slumbers of your Bedfellow—by such hostile lunges as you are in the habit of making at him—when he is least prepared for a defence against the crushing force of a Battering Ram.”

      Donning his shiniest tin foil combination time machine and mind reading hat, Katz assures us that Withers [and Hammond in a similary phrased response] is “clearly” only joking.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 4:45 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      …..I’ve yet to read their theories as to WHY in one decade anal sex with another man would be merely an “act” and the next decade become “a personality trait.” And what if we’re talking about the SAME two men who spanned both periods?

      Leland – I’m not at your intellectual level, I’m sure, but is this just a case of cultural thought in progress? I just read an article in a recent Gay/Lesbian Literature Review that Indian Men (in India) do not consider themselves homosexual, bisexual or whatever because they are having sex with Musti (?) who are not considered by themselves or others to be “real men.”

      Also, as to Katz being a “constructionist” I’ve always found him to be more than fair before labelling or even hinting anyone to be Gay. Or perhaps I don’t know what you mean by that word. Otherwise, thanks for providing the correct title of his book and a very well done post.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 4:56 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • KPC
      KPC

      Being gay is not a choice for most of us. Like many others, I was aware of my sexuality to some degree as young as four or five. However, it is important to respect the fact that a small percentage of people, in my experience more women than men, feel very strongly that their sexuality is more fluid and that they did make a choice. Certainly some who believe this are repressing their feelings, but I’ve met some people who I believe do choose. Sexuality is, as stated in the article, not static and different for every individual.

      Sigh — we’ve got a long way to go before socities comprehend that we are all simply humans seeking love, companionship, sex, etc. and that whether our proclivities are inate or chosen don’t really matter. I understand completely why we argue our sexuality is not a choice, I use the same argument for myself and I know it to be the truth for most people, but I can only truly speak for myself and if push comes to shove, I’m not concerned about how anyone else ended up where they did — interested in each person’s journey, but without judgment. As I always say, I’m really too busy trying to live my own life and really don’t have time or emotional need to stick my nose others’ business.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 5:02 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Leland Frances
      Leland Frances

      Thanks Jaroslaw for the kind words. I never feel less “intellectual” than when I read things by Katz and those who share his Constuctionist approach. My spinning head invariably screams something like, “You just laid out all these apples and are now trying to convince me they’re oranges.”

      [The "a certain repertoire of acts, not a personality trait" definition is actually from the Constructionists' god Michel Foucault.]

      My greatest problem with them is their “certainty” in the absence of indisputable empirical evidence. If they consistently included qualifying phrases such as, “I believe,” “It seems,” etc., as any honest anthropologist writing about long dead men and women would, I could respect the integrity if not, a priori, the substance of their different interpretations. But, over and over, at least in that which I’ve been able to stomach reading, they declare theirs to be omniscient and singular.

      While Katz does use the reasonable qualifier “probably” in writing about Withers and Hammond ["...probably no penetrative prodding had occurred.” page 77], he closes the section with this, emphasis mine:

      “Though an effeminate male was the IMAGINED object of Hammond’s desire, and sodomy the IMAGINED act, Withers CLEARLY distinguished this comical, fanciful sodomy from the serious, real thing.” page 78

      So joking with someone about aspects of their sex life ipso facto means they don’t exist???

      This is not “cultural thought in progress” but pseudo academic arrogance. Cultural understanding perhaps, but again, they repeatedly expound ex cathedra.

      What we call OURSELVES is, of course, evolutionary and frequently changing, sometimes involving us individually and often simultaneously cross-purposeful.

      I don’t care what an individual gay person calls him/herself privately, but I think “queer” as a public word when speaking about us collectively is counterproductive and, some evidence shows, irregardless of this blog’s title, and the ubiquity of the term in the limited gay media, most same gender attracted people in the US do NOT use the word to describe themselves and others.

      What I’ve always found more fascinating, and it relates to how people in whatever age saw themselves, is the frequent mental gymnastics between acts and verbalization. Beyond your excellent example of practices vs. thought processes in India [because they are dependent upon not accepting the second party as the same gender] is a favorite story heard from a friend:

      A close friend of his in college had had sex several times with another guy. All was fine until one day he attempted something they had not done before—he kissed the other guy…who immediately jumped back and said, “Are you QUEER????!!!!!”

      Feb 17, 2009 at 5:39 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • mudduck
      mudduck

      Boys used to do a lot of things together because it felt good, before they had to worry about whether that made them “gay.” Nude swimming at the YMCA, group showers in high school gyms, all casualties of male anxiety arising from recognition of gay identity. My high school in the 40s had one toilet stall for faculty (and shy boys like me) — and a half dozen toilets in the open. Nowadays kids go home from sports practice to shower, lest they be compromised by being naked together with other males.

      As noted, there was no “gay” in Lincoln’s day, so there was no social role, no identity, to be claimed on the basis of same-sex attraction. Playing around was fine for young bachelors, but you were supposed to grow up, get married, and have children. And if relations were rocky with your wife? Well, marriage was a contract and social convention, not necessarily a love match. James Thurber wasn’t the only one to go on and on about the war between men and women. Putting down your wife was a comic convention until recently.

      Actually, the best evidence I’ve seen that Lincoln was queer is his wife, Mary Todd. She’s always written up as being neurotic, borderline crazy, but she strikes me as a typical wife of a gay man. She expected to be fulfilled in marriage and valued as a woman, and her husband is dutiful but not that interested in her. He clings to her out of social need but she can’t touch him emotionally. He’s dependent on her, but neither is satisfied. I was encouraged to marry “in order to grow up” (a big theme in the 60s — bachelors were necessarily immature, it was thought). I was told that homosexuality was a habit that could be broken; if I’d just experience the “real thing,” I’d learn to desire THAT. My ex-wife and I thought we could make it on friendship if the sex didn’t work out, but we never bonded and she got sick of supporting me emotionally and getting little but respect and neediness in return. If we’d been stuck with each other, she might have become another Mary Todd, frustrated and angry.

      It’s a straight illusion that gay men turn to one another as a substitute for women. That’s behind the thinking behind Leviticus and Paul’s letter to the Romans. Nope. When we give in to social pressure, or conventions, it’s the women who are the substitutes. It’s good that we’re beginning to be able to pair off in anyway that works for the people involved.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 6:50 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charles J. Mueller
      Charles J. Mueller

      @Jaroslaw:

      What an interesting point you make.

      I am one of those older people who, as a young child, remember my family sitting out in front of the house in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY (a mostly German and Jewish neighbor back then) in the evening after dinner and chatting with the neighbors on our block in the days before air-conditioning (they did have it in their bedroom), TV and the internet. It was called socializing and they knew everyone on the block and every detail of their lives.

      In 1993, I retired and moved back to Florida where I spent a portion of my youth growing up. Sixteen years later, I am suffering not only from cultural deprivation and ignorance, I am also suffering from social deprivation as well. I am, quite literally, dying of alienation, red-neck ignorance, homophobia, loneliness and boredom. I hate the passivity of TV, so I do not watch it, preferring instead to spend my spare time on the Internet. But even that has it’s limitations…and lack of personal contact and warmth. The written word is very one-dimensional and feels more like “Virtual Reality”, as opposed to real human contact.

      Two years ago, I inherited the old family house in Queens from my uncle who passed away there and I spent the summer of 2007 and the fall of 2008 making repairs, fixing it up and decorating the interior which is a long-time interest and love of mine.

      A man who appreciates the out-of-doors, I would often eat my dinner out on the front veranda after I was through working on the house for the day and was pleasantly surprised to see that almost all of the neighbors (now mostly Colombian) are still sitting out in front of their houses and socializing and I love it. It was rare that I got to finish my dinner alone, as people would stop along the way to say hello and chat a bit before walking on.

      In that period of time, I have made more friends on the block and in the immediate neighborhood than I have made in the some sixteen years I have been living in Florida. I have also received more coffee and cake invites and home-cooked dinner invitations in that short period than I have gotten in the past two years here in Florida, despite my being a person who often entertains guests in my my home.

      An here is the real shocker, kiddies. All of my new found friends, who all know that I am gay btw, are gay themselves. They are all straight and I get more understanding, acceptance and support from them, than from the jealous, catty and bitchy old queens I know here in Florida.

      As with most older people like myself, I do not like the cold, snow and ice and were it not for the abundant sunshine and warmth that Florida has to offer, I would seriously consider moving back there for good.

      One thing is for sure. I will be heading back to Queens as soon as the weather permits and spending my summer with my new found friends and acquaintances, as I did in 2007 and part of 2008.

      I’ve only been back in Florida since early November, and already I miss them. Incidentally, I hear from them more often, than I hear from the people I know here in Florida.

      What is that telling me, I wonder? And they say that New Yorkers are “so cold”

      NOT true at all. It’s a vicious lie.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 8:40 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Charles J. Mueller
      Charles J. Mueller

      Correction: The last part of “All of my new found friends, who all know that I am gay btw, are gay themselves.”, should read, “are not gay themselves.”

      Feb 17, 2009 at 8:47 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      @Charles – that is one of the primary advantages of cities. While we often have the image of being cold and rude, in reality we are much more used to and possibly/probably enjoy the social interaction that cities offer both to those we know and those we don’t.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 8:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Sebbe
      Sebbe

      @charles re: correction I thought so, i read the sentence twice.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 8:49 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Matt
      Matt

      Historians denied for decades that Plato was gay, and translators even expunged his writings of references to his male partner. Given the persistent homophobia among historians, I wouldn’t take much stock in the fact that only one book argues that Lincoln was gay. I recall some phrases from Joshua Speed’s diary that are difficult, at best, to explain away: how Lincoln “loved” to kiss him and wrap his long arms around him, for example. Same-sex kissing may have been commonplace at the time, but it seems to me that loving to do it suggests some enjoyment of members of one’s own sex.

      One historian argued that Lincoln couldn’t have been gay because he liked to drink and tell jokes. In other words, he was all man. This is not only stereotypical and irrelevant, it’s contradicted by Speed’s comments about Lincoln’s femininity, in which Speed wrote, “Our Abe is a schoolgirl.” Historians may eventually be forced to concede about Lincoln what most have finally conceded about Plato.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 9:09 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • petted
      petted

      Very well put Japhy, its nice too see a piece of this nature. As usual I look forward to seeing what topics will be covered tomorrow.

      Feb 17, 2009 at 9:12 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John from  England(used to be just John but there are other John's)
      John from England(used to be just John but there are other John's)

      @Michael Bedwell:

      Thank you.

      I was about to REALLY disagree with you about exitentialists! But you figured your mistake!

      Feb 18, 2009 at 2:40 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John from  England(used to be just John but there are other John's)
      John from England(used to be just John but there are other John's)

      @Matt:

      “One historian argued that Lincoln couldn’t have been gay because he liked to drink and tell jokes.”

      And you took this historian SERIOUSLY??

      All I seem to do is write essays for my post grad at the moment and if I wrote ANYTHING like that, well, damn, I’d fail!!??

      (I’m from the UK…maybe it’s different here..?)

      Feb 18, 2009 at 2:54 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Landon Bryce
      Landon Bryce

      While Japhy is absolutely right to say that the question of whether or not Lincoln is gay is unanswerable, that doesn’t make it irrelevant. It is upsetting to see him but into the idiotic notion that Victorian love letters between men were not love letters because they were Victorian and between men. We have been written out of history as much as possible, so it it makes no sense to ignore those places where we poke through despite all efforts. Larry Kramer, always noisy and infuriating, rarely helpful or sane, needs to be ignored when he says crazy things like, “Lincoln was 100% gay” or “gay people are better than straight people.” You should not let your need to distance yourself from extremists blind you to the undeniable evidence that he had at least one very serious romance with another man.

      Feb 18, 2009 at 5:55 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Stenar
      Stenar

      In the Victorian era, men often shared beds, but not for 4 years. It was more like, I’m traveling, need somewhere to stay for a night or two, I’ll stay in your bed. When a longer term situation was fixed up, they generally would acquire another bed to sleep in.

      Feb 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      Thanks Stenar for that clarification – not to mention Abe was a LAWYER. Granted standards have changed, people have much higher expectations for salaries etc. But even a poor lawyer should be able to afford his own bed after four years.

      Feb 19, 2009 at 9:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Jaroslaw
      Jaroslaw

      should have said “been able to afford his own bed in much less than four years.

      Feb 19, 2009 at 9:48 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Miguel
      Miguel

      Lincoln was GAY. Joshua Speed wrote about Lincoln’s firm thighs. Back then gay men would fuck men between the thighs instead of anally.

      Unfortunately because homosexuality was/ is condemned people hid their sexuality. As a result many gay people left behind little to no evidence that they were gay.

      Famous GAY leaders include Abraham Lincoln, Akhenaten, Alcibiades Cleiniou Scambonides, Alexander the Great, Anne of Great Britain, Aristogeiton, Aristomenes, Augustus, Basil II, David, Elisabeth I, Frederick II of Prussia, Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick William Victor Albert, George III of the United Kingdom, Hadrian, Harmodius, James I of England, Julius Caesar, Mahmud of Ghazni, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Moctezuma II, Mongkut, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Napoleon I Bonaparte, Oda Nobunaga, Peter I of Russia, Richard I, Saladin, Sarah Churchill, Suleiman the Magnificent, Tiberius, Trajan, William III of England, and Wu of Han.

      Important GAY military figures include Achilles, Babur, Bernard Montgomery, Charles George Gordon, Claude Louis Hector de Villars, Epaminondas, François-Eugène, Prince of Savoy-Carignan, Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, Garcilaso de la Vega, Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, Hannibal, Joan of Arc, Louis II de Bourbon, Louis Joseph de Bourbon, duc de Vendôme, Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix, Marquis de Lafayette, Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, Philip II of Macedon, Pliny the Elder, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, Saint George, Thomas Edward Lawrence, and Xenophon.
      MORE INFO HERE
      http://www.andrejkoymasky.com/liv/fam/fam00.html

      Feb 19, 2009 at 1:08 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Steve
      Steve

      Lincoln was my great. great….great uncle and I’m gay. Case closed.

      Feb 20, 2009 at 12:29 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • Shin Tae Joon
      Shin Tae Joon

      Very well..
      You figured it out well enough.I’m not concerned whether Lincoln was a Gay or not.But if he was so, he still will be my hero because one’s sexual orientation cannot change one’s nature and his very identity, I think so. The last sentence of your essay touched my heart and is worth being recognized the best sentence.

      May 13, 2009 at 9:59 am · @ReplyReply to this comment ·
    • John H
      John H

      Sorry, but I don’t think Lincoln was gay. Gay liberal agenda trying to rewrite history

      Dec 17, 2009 at 5:38 pm · @ReplyReply to this comment ·

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