This Fourth of July, as you're munching on hot dogs, launching fireworks and wondering if you took it just a little too far with your flag-themed outfit, take a break to appreciate this collection of gay secrets from the Land of the Free's history.
From Abraham Lincoln's bed fellows to marine man-love, there's plenty in America's past to make homophobes faint from something other than too much beer this Independence Day.
If you're interested in learning more about The United States's queer past, check out LGBT lecturer Michael Bronski's "Queer History of the United States of America."
Honest Abe's Bedfellows
The key truth held to be self-evident in the Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal," was foundational to the political philosophy of Abraham Lincoln. However, although Honest Abe reared four children with his wife, Mary Todd, it's possible that he was created a bit... more fabulously than most men. Scholars note that he tended to be <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9f05e5d61439f93aa35752c0a9639c8b63&pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">remote and unavailable</a> toward Todd and other women with whom he had relationships. On the other hand, as psychologist <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clarence_Arthur_Tripp" target="_hplink">C.A. Tripp</a> <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9f05e5d61439f93aa35752c0a9639c8b63&pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">has argued</a>, Lincoln's relations with men have been quite intimate. At 22, when Lincoln shared a tight bed with Billy Greene, he noted that Lincoln's "thighs were as perfect as a human being could be." Later, Lincoln also shared a bed with Joshua Speed, who became a close friend -- Lincoln would sign letters to Speed with "Yours Forever." Bed-sharing was common enough in raw settlements, but it <a href="http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9f05e5d61439f93aa35752c0a9639c8b63&pagewanted=all" target="_hplink">was also rumored</a> that, as a president, Lincoln would let Capt. David Derickson, who led the brigade that guarded Lincoln at the Soldiers' Home in the District of Columbia, share his bed when Mrs. Lincoln was away. Well, that's one way to celebrate independence!
Merriment in Merrimount
In 1624, Thomas Morton and other colonists, including thirty male indentured servants, founded a decidedly non-Puritan colony in present-day Quincy, Massachussets. As LGBT studies professor, <a href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/~wstudies/faculty/bronski.html" target="_hplink">Michael Bronski</a>, explains in "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/History-United-States-Revisioning-American/product-reviews/0807044393/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_two?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addTwoStar" target="_hplink">A Queer History of the United States</a>," they named the colony Merrymount, punning on Mare-Mount and Mary-Mount, which were direct references to bestial sodomy and Roman Catholicism. In 1627, Morton erected an eighty-foot-tall maypole with buck's horns attached to the top (indicative of the sexualized god Pan or, from a Puritan view, Satan) and held celebrations. Morton wrote that the men would dance around the pole holding hands, "whilst one of the company sung and filled out good liquor like Gammedes and Jupiter." Mentioning Gammedes and Jupiter, Bronski notes, was "a clear reference to the archetypal lovers in Greek mythology." Does this mean the colony of Merrimount held giant gay orgies? No. Bronsky explains that the men invited women from the nearby Algonquian tribe to take part in the dancing and Morton encouraged interrelations between the native women and the male colonists. Furthermore, historian <a href="http://www.arts.cornell.edu/history/faculty-department-norton.php" target="_hplink">Mary-Beth Norton</a> wrote in a personal e-mail, "I would take with something of a grain of salt some of the stories of sodomitical revels there, as the Puritans eventually put out a good deal of anti-Morton propaganda to destroy his reputation." Nevertheless, the images described by Morton, of men dancing around a giant phallus acting like Roman lovers, certainly leaves some room for the sodomite's imagination... The photo of the Statue of Jupiter in Bath via pandrcutts at <a href="http://www.flickr.com/people/panr/" target="_hplink">Flickr.com</a>
Washington And Lafayette Bromance
Long before <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UVNT4wvIGY" target="_hplink">Gotye</a> was complaining about being cut-off, a French major-general in the American Revolutionary War, <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilbert_du_Motier,_marquis_de_Lafayette" target="_hplink">Marquis de Lafayette</a>, was lamenting that his intimate friend George Washington had been ignoring him. Some highlights, from a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Lafayette-Washington-1777-1799-American-Philosophical/dp/0871691159" target="_hplink">1799 letter</a> from Lafayette to Washington: "My dear general -- From those happy ties of friendship by which you were pleased to unite yourself with me, from the promises you so tenderly made me when we parted at Fishkill, gave me such expectations of hearing often from you, that complaints ought to be permitted to my affectionate heart. Not a line from you, my dear general, has arrived into my hands... I remember that in those little separations where I was but some days from you, the most friendly letters, the most minute account of your circumstances, were kindly written to me... Let me beseech you, my dear general, by that mutual, tender, and experienced friendship in which, I have put an immense portion of my happiness, to be very exact in inquiring for occasions and never to miss those which may convey to me letters that I shall be so much pleased to receive." Although <a href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/~wstudies/faculty/bronski.html" target="_hplink">Professor Michael Bronski</a>, in "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/History-United-States-Revisioning-American/dp/0807044393" target="_hplink">A Queer History of the United States</a>," says that the letter "can be read [as] a communication from a hurt, angry lover," he notes that there is no conclusive evidence that Washington and Lafayette were romantically involved. Rather, it sounds like a really close bromance. According to Bronski, "passionate same-sex friendships were often public and acknowledged by the culture in which they thrived."
A Revolutionary Woman In Disguise
While celebrating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, don't forget to think of those who fought in the Revolutionary War to gain freedom from Colonial rule. One notable person is <a href="http://www.canton.org/samson/" target="_hplink">Plymouth native</a> Deborah Sampson Gannett who disguised herself as a man and went by the name of Robert Shurtliff so she could join the Continental Army in the Revolutionary War. Afterwards, as <a href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/~wstudies/faculty/bronski.html" target="_hplink">Professor Michael Bronski</a> recounts in "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/History-United-States-Revisioning-American/dp/0807044393" target="_hplink">A Queer History of the United States</a>," she published a semi-fictional narrative of her time as a cross-dressed soldier that touched on the author's possible homosexuality through descriptions of titillating, affectionate interactions with women. She went on to give public performances that showed her dual public image as a brave soldier and traditional woman that helped reshape gender identity in a post-Revolutionary America.
Jake Gyllenhall and Heath Ledger weren't the first gay cowboys to saddle-up. On the American frontier poet <a href="http://www.badgerclark.org/" target="_hplink">Badger Clark</a>'s "The Lost Pardner" documents erotic relationships between rugged frontier cowboys: "We loved each other in the way men do And never spoke about it, Al and me, But we both knowed, and knowin' it so true Was more than any woman's kiss could be... ...The range is empty and the trails are blind, And I don't seem but half myself today. I wait to hear him ridin' up behind And feel his knee rub mine the good old way." -from '<a href="http://www.badgerclark.org/bookshelf.htm" target="_hplink">Sun and Saddle Leather</a>,' by Badger Clark
America Owes Its Existence And Military To A Gay Man
Historian <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-ferroni/american-military-history_b_1606530.html" target="_hplink">Nicholas Ferroni reflects</a>, "I think it is quite comical and downright ironic that Americans, politicians and military personnel are so adamantly against allowing gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military, considering the powerful, well-trained and feared military that America has developed would not have existed if it was not for the brilliance of a homosexual soldier from Prussia. In fact, not only would we not have a worldwide military dominance as we do, but we might not even have an America if not for the gay soldier who aided Washington during the country's most crucial time." Ferroni is referring to Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, better known as "the Baron" (he actually wasn't even a real Baron) by George Washington and America, who had "affections to members of his own sex" and was even identified as a "sodomite." Despite his well-known same-sex attractions, Steuben was recommended to Washington by Ben Franklin, and, upon arriving in America, single-handedly turned a militia, consisting mostly of farmers, into a well-trained, disciplined and professional army that was able to stand musket-to-musket combat with the British. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-ferroni/american-military-history_b_1606530.html" target="_hplink">Ferroni asserts</a>, "There is not a historian alive who would disagree that without the commitment and service of a brilliant gay soldier from Prussia, the war, America and our military may have turned out very differently."
The First Gay President?
Historian Nicholas Ferroni <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nicholas-ferroni/gay-president_b_1572350.html" target="_hplink">believes</a>, along with many historians and scholars, that America has already had her first gay president. Ferroni is referring to James "The Bachelor President" Buchanan, who was the 15th president of the United States, from 1857 to 1861, and preceded "Honest Abe." While still in Congress, Ferroni recounts, Buchanan and King began a lifelong "bromance." Buchanan and King lived together for 15 years prior to Buchanan's presidency. Their intense friendship earned them the nicknames "Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy" and even "Buchanan and his wife" in various political circles, which included Andrew Jackson. In 1844, when King left Buchanan to attend to his duties as Minister to France (the naming of King to this position did not help his heterosexual image), Buchanan wrote to friend, "I am now 'solitary and alone,' having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them." Whether Buchanan and King were an actual couple or just had America's first political "bromance" is still a matter of debate, Ferroni explains. However, their letters to each other during their time apart must have been damaging to their political legacies, because the two men's nieces destroyed them all. We may never know whether James Buchanan was the first gay president in American history, but it's safe to say that he enjoyed his guy time much more than he did flirting with and courting the ladies.
San Francisco: 'Sodom By The Sea'
In the mid-19th century, the Gold Rush drew thousands of men to the West coast in search of wealth. San Francisco has long been regarded as an urban space with few social restrictions. As Michael Bronski asserts in "A Queer History of the United States," the roots of this reputation can be found in the all-male culture of the gold rush. According to Bronski, in 1849 San Francisco (then called Yerba Buena) had only three hundred women -- two-thirds of them prostitutes -- in a population of 25,000. In 1850, organized same-sex dancing was perfectly acceptable, as was entertainment featuring cross-dressing. Saloons, dance halls, rowdy theaters, and brothels were plentiful and, except for a small number of female workers, were patronized only by men. Bronski recounts that the public social life in San Francisco was so vibrantly nonconformist that British adventurer Frank Marryat dubbed it "Sodom by the Sea."
Transcendentalism's Gay Roots
<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transcendentalism" target="_hplink">Transcendentalism</a>, the 19th century New England movement that extolled the inherent goodness of both man and nature, while viewing society and its institutions as corrupt, is one of America's greatest contributions to philosophy. What many may not know is the influence that homosexuality had on the movement. <a href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/~wstudies/faculty/bronski.html" target="_hplink">Michael Bronski</a>, in "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/History-United-States-Revisioning-American/product-reviews/0807044393/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_two?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addTwoStar" target="_hplink">A Queer History of the United States</a>," notes that in 1820, nineteen-year old Ralph Waldo Emerson (pictured), one of the greatest contributors to Transcendentalism, was making entries in his journal about a same-sex attraction to a fellow student at Harvard. Henry David Thoreau, as well, had a wealth of homoerotic sentiments present in his poems and journals. Margaret Fuller, a leading figure in the transcendentalist movement as well as early American feminism, connected same-sex erotic intimacy and a new American ideal. In the case of Emerson, Bronski notes, the "vision of American equality... is especially rooted in his ability to admit and emotionally explore his attraction to -- his sympathy with -- other men." Considering the thoughts on same-sex attractions put forth by other Transcendentalist thinkers, it might be that one of America's greatest philosophical contributions might be its gayest as well.
In his mid-19th century diaries, Philip C. Van Buskirk, an American Marine, details sexual interactions among sailors. Recounted by <a href="http://www.dartmouth.edu/~wstudies/faculty/bronski.html" target="_hplink">Professor Michael Bronski</a> in "<a href="http://www.amazon.com/History-United-States-Revisioning-American/product-reviews/0807044393/ref=cm_cr_dp_qt_hist_two?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&filterBy=addTwoStar" target="_hplink">Imagining a Queer America</a>," they include mutual masturbation (termed "going chaw for chaw") and anal intercourse, as well as sexual and romantic relationships between older sailors, often officers, and cabin boys as young as thirteen. One entry explains that while sailors would punish men who had sex with men on land, they had no desire to do so at sea: "What can a feller do? -- three years at sea -- and hardly any chance to have a woman. I tell you... a feller must do so. Biles and pimples and corruption will come out all over his body if he don't."