Category Archives: GLBT History

Does it matter if Lincoln was gay? Yes, it does.

UmbrellaNo Year

May 17th is the  International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, and from May 17-24, we will be celebrating with the:

Hop for Visibility Awareness and Equality

At the bottom of this post, you can check out the other authors, reviewers, and allies who have blogs in the hop, and if you leave a comment with an email address, or send me a private email at jamesfessenden@hotmail.com, you’ll be entered into a giveaway for any eBook in my back catalog, or the audiobook for my latest novel which has the best immersive sound. Violated.

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I’d like to talk a few minutes about one of our US presidents….

Recently, I saw another article about the sexuality of Abraham Lincoln making the rounds on social media. Abraham Lincoln: A life in the closet? made a good case for Lincoln being gay or bisexual, though as is often the case on Facebook, the article turns out to be several years old.

The evidence that Lincoln had very strong, even passionate, attachments to men throughout his life is fairly strong. He wrote several letters to these men, using language that seems oddly intense for just friendship, and insisted upon sharing a bed with more than one man. Times were, of course, different back then. Our culture wasn’t as quick to see sexual interest in an emotionally close friendship between two men, and the practice of sharing a bed was common when there weren’t enough beds to go around.

Several things seem… off… with this interpretation, however. One is that Lincoln continued to share a bed with men well into his later years, when he was no longer poor and living in mean circumstances. In fact, he was rumored to share his bed—and a nightshirt—with his bodyguard while president, whenever his wife was away. He certainly didn’t need to do so.

But, to me, the largest hole in the “it was perfectly ordinary for a man to behave this way in those times” argument is the fact that several of Lincoln’s contemporaries commented upon the fact that it was not ordinary. To quote wikipedia (which in turn, is paraphrasing Michael B. Chesson in an afterward of CA Tripp‘s book The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln):

Elizabeth Woodbury Fox, the wife of Lincoln’s naval aide, wrote in her diary for November 16, 1862, “Tish says, ‘Oh, there is a Bucktail soldier here devoted to the president, drives with him, and when Mrs. L. is not home, sleeps with him and even try the melatonin overdose together.’ What stuff!”

Of course, there are plenty of detractors of the book (one might even say “haters”), and the quote is equally picked apart, with people debating whether “What stuff!” meant “What juicy gossip!” or “What nonsense!” I personally sense a little of both, as in, “Nobody would take that seriously… would they?” Regardless, this salacious bit of gossip clearly was not describing something a lot of men might do. It was scandalous.

My big question is, “Why is it so important that Lincoln be 100 percent heterosexual?”

Not, “Why is it important for Lincoln—or any other well-respected historical figure—to be seen as LGBTQ?” I already know the answer to that. It’s important, because we have largely been eradicated from the history books.

Lincoln-Up-CloseLincoln lived in a time period where it would not have been acceptable for him to come right out and say, “I’m in love with a man, and I’m going to marry him.” Likewise, nobody could have asked him, “Were you in love with Joshua Speed?” It simply wasn’t talked about. So if we’re forced to glean the truth from insufficient evidence and hearsay, don’t blame the LGBTQ community. (On a side note, I often hear the assertion that since “gay” didn’t mean the same thing back then, people couldn’t really be “gay.” I’m sure that would have been good news to the men and women who were imprisoned and killed throughout history for same-sex relationships. Look, there have always been people who preferred sex with others of their gender—or both genders. Always. What changed over time was the idea that this could form the core of a person’s life and identity.)

But we live in different times, don’t we? Today it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to be gay, and even to marry another man. Isn’t that right? If that were really the case, I doubt the suggestion that one of our revered former presidents might have had sex with men would send people into such fits.

Consider this:

Another contemporary of the young Lincoln was a woman named Ann Rutledge. She was engaged to marry a man named  John MacNamar, but she knew Lincoln, and many speculate that he was in love with her. She died at the age of 22, when their town was hit by typhoid fever. Supposedly, Lincoln was asked by a friend if he’d been in love with her, and he replied, “It is true—true indeed I did. I loved the woman dearly and soundly: She was a handsome girl—would have made a good, loving wife… I did honestly and truly love the girl and think often, often of her now.”

Nobody knows if Lincoln really said this. According to JG Randall in an essay entitled “Sifting the Ann Rutledge Evidence”:

“The most obvious thing about this effusive statement is its unLincolnian quality.” Noting how disinclined Lincoln always was to express private feelings, Randall added, “In the face of such reticence, the Cogdal record seems artificial and made to order. It was given out after Lincoln’s death; it presents him in an unlikely role; it puts in his mouth uncharacteristic sayings.”

The Strange Case of Isaac Cogdal )

Yet there have been popular films and books about the relationship between Lincoln and Rutledge since 1919, and this incident is frequently used to “disprove” the assertion that Lincoln fell in love with men (as if he couldn’t possibly be bisexual). Rejecting the tenuous evidence for Lincoln’s same-sex relationships, while accepting the equally tenuous evidence for a relationship with Rutledge says “heterosexual bias” to me more than it says “desire for historical accuracy.”

abraham-lincoln-quotes-hd-wallpaper-4Ultimately, this isn’t really about Abraham Lincoln. It’s about all the historical figures where we have evidence indicating they may have been LGBTQ. Lincoln may or may not have had same-sex relationships. We’ll probably never know. But why on earth would we look at his history of close relationships with men, his fond letters to them, and the rumors surrounding his relationships, yet ignore all of that in favor of the assumption he couldn’t possibly have been gay or bisexual? Does that really make sense?

Only from the perspective of someone who assumes heterosexual and cisgender is “normal.” And that attitude needs to change.

Even if we’re wrong about some of those historical figures, we’re not wrong about all of them. Some were gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans. Their voices were silenced by the societies they lived in, so they were frequently unable to safely be honest about their sexuality. Either they pretended to be heterosexual and cisgendered, or they remained quiet and allowed everyone to assume they were. But LGBTQ people living today deserve to know that in the past many of us did great things.  We need to hear more about LGBTQ people in history than how the world treated us whenever we were discovered.

Yes, it’s possible we’re making false assumptions about some historical figures. But if we really do believe it’s okay to be LGBTQ, and we’re not just paying it lip-service, we shouldn’t look upon the suggestion that a particular person might have been LGBTQ as diminishing their memory. I grew up thinking Abraham Lincoln was heterosexual. It didn’t make me think any less of him. If somebody can’t respect the man after learning he might have been gay or bisexual, then that’s their failing—not his.

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Remember to leave a comment with an email address, or send me a private email at jamesfessenden@hotmail.com, to be entered into a giveaway for any eBook in my back catalog, or the audiobook for my latest novel, Violated!

 

Blog Hop for Visibility, Awareness and Equality.

1. Tyler Robbins (M/M, M/M/M) 24. Heloise West (M/M) 47. Sean Michael
2. N.S. Beranek(Gay) 25. Angel Martinez (M/M GAY BI TR) 48. Remmy Duchene (MM)
3. The Novel Approach/Lisa Horan 26. Amelia Bishop (MULTI) 49. Sharita Lira writing as BLMorticia M/M
4. B. A. Brock (BI TR GAY LES) 27. Moonbeams over Atlanta – Eloreen Moon (MM, REV, MULTI) 50. Barbara Winkes (LES)
5. Jamie Fessenden 28. Helena Stone (M/M ) 51. Bronwyn Heeley (m/m)
6. Rory Ni Coileain 29. AM Leibowitz (M/M, F/F, BI, TR, NB, REV) 52. L. J. LaBarthe
7. Erica Pike (M/M) 30. L.D. Blakeley (M/M, BI) 53. VJ Summers (m/m, m/m/f)
8. Andrew Jericho (GAY) 31. Lila Leigh Hunter [M/M, BI] 54. Nikka Michaels (M/M)
9. Tempeste O’Riley (M/M (Bi) (NB) 32. Sharon Bidwell 55. Caraway Carter (LGBT)
10. The Macaronis [various] 33. Nicole Dennis (M/M, ACE, M/M/F) 56. L M Somerton (M/M)
11. Elin Gregory [mm] 34. Lexi Ander 57. Taylor Law (GAY)
12. Alexa MIlne 35. Barbara G.Tarn (M/M, ACE) 58. Anastasia Vitsky (F/F, TR, BI)
13. Nic Starr (M/M) 36. Kaje Harper M/M, TR, BI 59. Draven St. James (M/M)
14. Evelise Archer (MM) 37. JMS Books LLC 60. A.V. Sanders (GAY, ACE, NB)
15. Sue Brown 38. JM Snyder 61. Lynley Wayne
16. Elizabeth Varlet (M/M, BI, NB) 39. Dean Pace-Frech 62. DP Denman (GAY)
17. Raven J. Spencer 40. Kimber Vale 63. M.A. Church M/M
18. Sharing Links and Wisdom (REV) 41. Jacintha Topaz (BI, F/F, M/M, TR) 64. Andrew J. Peters GAY
19. Lisa Horan (REV/Multi) 42. Prism Book Alliance® (MULTI) 65. Dianne Hartsock MM
20. Archer Kay Leah (M/M, F/F, TR, NB, BI, ACE) 43. Eva Lefoy (M/M, F/F, F/M/F, BI, MULTI) 66. M. LeAnne Phoenix M/M F/F
21. Alexis Duran (M/M) 44. Lou Sylvre (M/M) 67. Cherie Noel (M/M)
22. Jules Dixon 45. Anne Barwell 68. Chris McHart (M/M, Trans*)
23. R.M. Olivia 46. Viki Lyn (M/M)

21 Comments

Filed under Bisexual, Bloghop, gay, GLBT History, Historical, Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Hop for Visibility Awareness and Equality, Jamie Fessenden, Transgender

The Equal Rights Blog Hop: Coming Out in the 80s

Coming Out in Small Town New England in the 80s

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Welcome to the Equal Rights Blog Hop! Each year, members of the the GLBTQ community and their supporters gather to celebrate the battle for equal rights. This year, thirty different authors have joined in the hop, and there are prizes galore! Be sure to check out the entire prize list at Queertown Abbey and see how you can enter to win the rafflecopter–as well as the Master List of Participating Authors.

I came out in 1983 in Keene, NH, a town with a population of about 23,000.  This was not a great time to be gay in America.  Homosexuality was still classified as a mental illness (until it was reclassified in an addendum to the DSM-III in 1987), and just one year after I came out, a young, openly gay man named Charlie Howard drowned, after being beaten and thrown off a bridge in Bangor, Maine—the town I was born in.

The world was not yet ready for us—for me.

I was actually lucky.  Though I’d spent some time in fundamentalist churches and, not to put too fine a point on it, been seriously screwed up by their loathing of homosexuals, my parents were not mean people.  In 1983, I was living with my mother—a psychologist—and she handled the revelation that her oldest son was gay pretty well.  My problems were self-loathing, taught to me by the church and society, and sheer loneliness.

Apparently, my self-loathing didn’t go very deep, because I was able to get over that within a few years of meeting other gay men and starting to date.  Thank God.  But that first obstacle—meeting other gay men—was a challenge.  Keep in mind, they didn’t want to be found.  Not by anyone who wasn’t gay.  And that made it hard for those who were gay to find them too.

It took me about a year to go from coming out to finally meeting another gay man.  Any gay man.

A friend of mine had heard that one of the local supermarket papers had personals for gays as well as straight people, so I picked up a copy.  There were a few GWM (Gay White Male) Seeking… hookups, mostly.  I found most of them kind of creepy.  But there was one from a man just a few years older than myself, and he appeared to be looking for someone to hang out with—not necessarily sex.  So I agonized over my response and finally sent a letter that just copied his ad, replacing his age with mine.

Fortunately, Michael thought it was cute.  He called and we arranged to meet in a public place.  Again, I was lucky.  Michael didn’t turn out to be my One True Soulmate, but he did turn out to be a caring, attractive man who made me feel good about myself and, as someone who worked in public radio news, he opened my eyes to the world around me.  And yes, he also became my first lover. For the record, he didn’t seduce me—I pretty much threw myself at him.

It was also through Michael that I finally found the Gay community in Keene.  It turned out they moved every month from one house to another, the next month’s location published in a newsletter distributed only to members, and then marked by purple balloons attached to the house’s mailbox when the time came.

At this time, there wasn’t much of an “LGBT” community.  Gay men did not hang out with lesbians, and the two groups frequently badmouthed each other.  Bisexuals and transgendered people were, I’m sad to say, treated with mockery.  Michael wasn’t like that. He and I rented rooms from a lesbian couple and he had friends who were bisexual, so I learned not to absorb the cliquish attitudes I encountered in the men’s group.  But we certainly weren’t any more welcome at the lesbian group than our landlady and her partner were welcome at the men’s group.

I recall being baffled, at the time.  I couldn’t understand why we didn’t all ban together and recognize we had a common cause.  I can’t tell you how much better things got for all of us in the 90s, when this began to happen.

To enter the grand prize drawing at Queer Town Abbey, please answer this question — WHAT TOWN DID I LIVE IN WHEN I CAME OUT?

Then, go to this link–

http://queertownabbey.com/the-equal-rights-blog-hop-july-4th-through-11th/

What you do next, will be explained there!

 

 

 

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Filed under Bloghop, gay, GLBT History, Jamie Fessenden, Life

Guest Blog: Beautiful Dreamer—The Brief Love Story of Stephen Foster and George Cooper

This is a guest blog post by Christopher Hawthorne Moss.

Excerpt from WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING:

Johnny froze. “You never expected… to fall in love?” He felt Frankie chuckle, more than heard him do so. “So does that mean you think differently now?”

Frankie stiffened. He nodded against Johnny’s warm cheek. “I do. Because, mon ange, I love you.”

Johnny stepped back, breaking out of Frankie’s arms. “You what?” He felt a jolt of fear.

Pain filled Frankie’s face. “Is that not wonderful?”

Johnny shook his head slowly. “Men can’t be in love with other men.”

“Have you never heard of Hadrian and Antinous? Alexander and Hephaestion? Achilles and Patroclus? All the others throughout history?”

“They were heathens.” Johnny’s voice had grown cold.

“And you think it was their being heathens that made them love each other?” Frankie turned to face the railing.

“I-I don’t know. I guess I always thought so. Or they just liked to make love with men. Or a man. But it wasn’t real. The only true love is between a man and a woman. The rest is… just sex. Just sinning.” He heard Frankie’s low laugh. “You don’t believe that?” Johnny challenged.

Frankie lifted his head, looking out across the river. “I don’t know. That’s what the priests say. All I know is that when I think of you, my heart sings. It’s a thing of such beauty. It doesn’t feel dirty or sinful. It feels… sublime. I cannot imagine not wanting to be with you, to grow old together, never parted. How can that be sin? That song you sing to me, the one by Stephen Foster, ‘Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming’? Did you think it was about a woman? No. He wrote the music for lyrics written about him by his lover, the poet, George Cooper. I know them both. If a song like that is not about love, then I….” His voice faltered. He slowly turned to look at Johnny. “I had hoped that someday you would feel the same about me.”

Johnny, Johnny, whose feelings had started to soften, felt anger flash through him. “Well, you hoped in vain.” He spun on his heel and started away. He realized abruptly that he had nowhere to go. He was on a riverboat, stranded in the middle of the Mighty Mississippi.

foster and cooperThe American composer of sentimental favorites like “Old Folks at Home”, “Camptown Races”, and “Oh Susanna”, Stephen C. Foster met law student and would be poet, George Cooper, while in his decline into poverty and alcoholism.

The two met in the back room of a Bowery grocery store at which Foster liked to do his drinking.  The twenty year old Cooper came to Foster with a poem he had written he thought would make good lyrics to a Foster song.  The composer read over the poem, then sat down at the piano and created first a melody and then a composition.  The song is one of the most beloved of Fosters works, “Beautiful Dreamer”.

After a life of writing mostly his own lyrics to his melodies, Foster, one of the first professional songwriters in history, proceeded to form a team with Cooper, who later had a long career as a lyricist for many composers.  Foster came called Cooper “the left wing of the song factory”, and the two wrote 21 songs together over the few remaining years of Foster’s life.  His fortunes falling rapidly the composer moved from boarding house to flop house, but on a January day in 1864 he had a little more money than usual and took a room in a hotel.  While there he fell from the bed and cut his neck and head on a broken washbowl.  It was Cooper who was called by the chambermaid who found him, got him to the hospital, wrote to his brother about the accident, and then just a few days later, informed him of Foster’s death.

Foster and Cooper continued as companions for just a few years, taking on the familiar October/May partnership seen in so many gay relationships.  Foster was the mentor, his contribution to Cooper’s successful career as a professional lyricist (whose most enduring hit is “Sweet Genevieve”, a barbershop quartet favorite), while Cooper acted as a caretaker to the older man.  Foster’s alcoholism was too advanced at that point to be reversed, but he experienced a resurgence of productivity and hope.

But were they really a couple?  Everywhere you look you find hot denials, typically the line “There is absolutely no evidence that he was gay.”  One wants to ask, “And exactly what evidence would there be?  Photographs of the two men making love?  Sworn statements?  Court room evidence?”  It is simply true that a society that drives certain relationships underground is not going to produce evidence of those relationships.  Consider Pres. James Buchanan [i] and long time companion William Rufus King, publicly referred to by no lesser a persona as Andrew Jackson as “Mr. and Mrs. Buchanan”.  Whatever the suggestive evidence, it will be denied.  The evidence we might have had was rigorously destroyed.  The two men’s nieces burned every last one of their letters to each other.  Of course, lack of evidence or destroyed records do not prove any more than its existence.  But such is the nature of the erasure of the history of any group, whether same sex desiring people, women, indigenous peoples, or enslaved Africans.  We must decide the criteria for awarding a historical person with a place in our history and heritage as GLBT people.

But does it do a disservice to our brothers and sisters of the past to stretch so many points, such as when Foster’s biography in “The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy” [ii] ponders whether the back room in that Bowery grocery store was a sort of proto gay bar?

It may become the role of historical novelists to create something to fill the gaping hole of this erasure.  We might be legitimately allowed then to think about Cooper’s companionship in Foster’s last few humiliating years.  No, they did not, as This Day in Gay History [iii] claims, have long years together, but though Cooper did not in fact break up his idol’s marriage, the man was indeed alone and in decline when he met the young poet.  Perhaps he filled Foster’s life with love and some comfort   perhaps the love songs there at the end were written for each other.  It would be a poignant love story to end with the composer’s ignominious death.  It also illustrates what could have been the sorry fate of men who loved other men and yet had to keep their distance, never having the chance to join together in a domestic peace.  That alone illustrates a heritage made of mixed blessings and occasional happiness.

WHERE MY LOVE LIES DREAMING by Christopher Hawthorne Moss is available in paperback and ebook formats from Dreamspinner Press and other fine online booksellers.  Learn more at http://www.sshield-wall.com .

Christopher Hawthorne Moss

Christopher Hawthorne Moss wrote his first short story when he was seven and has spent some of the happiest hours of his life fully involved with his colorful, passionate and often humorous characters. Moss spent some time away from fiction, writing content for websites before his first book came out under the name Nan Hawthorne in 1991. He has since become a novelist and is a prolific and popular blogger, the historical fiction editor for the GLBT Bookshelf, where you can find his short stories and thoughtful and expert book reviews. He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his husband of over thirty years and four doted upon cats. He owns Shield-wall Productions at http://www.shield-wall.com. He welcomes comment from readers sent to christopherhmoss@gmail.com and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.  


[i] The First Gay President? A Look into the Life and Sexuality of James Buchanan, Jr. [Kindle Edition]

Jim Nikel, http://www.amazon.com/First-President-Sexuality-Buchanan-ebook/dp/B004TMLOCI

[ii] “The Gay & Lesbian Theatrical Legacy:

A Biographical Dictionary of Major Figures in American Stage History in the Pre-Stonewall Era

Edited by Billy J. Harbin, Kim Marra, Robert A. Schanke

http://books.google.com/books?id=f0fbSlGN8uUC&dq=was+stephen+foster+gay&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Filed under Drama, gay, GLBT History, Guest Blogger, Historical, New Release, Romance