Category Archives: Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia

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

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

Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia 2013

2013 2Today, May 17th, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, an event designed to get people to rally together in this ongoing fight.

To that end, I’m participating in the 2013 Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, in which almost 200 authors, publishers, reviewers, and cover designers of LGBTQ literature promote awareness of discrimination against the LGBTQ community on their blogs.

Each blog is also contributing a prize.  My prize, for one lucky person who leaves a comment on this blog, is a free copy—either digital or a signed paperback, your choice!—of my novel, By That Sin Fell the Angels, about a small New England community reeling from the suicide of a young gay teenager… who happened to be the son of a prominent fundamentalist pastor in town.

This novel is loosely based upon my own experiences as a teenager in a fundamentalist community.  I came into this community late, though already devoutly Christian.  When my parents had been married, we lived in the small town of Gorham, NH, where much of my life revolved around the church—I believe our church, if I read Google maps correctly, was the United Church of Christ—including Sunday services, Sunday school, after school Bible study, church socials, church potlucks (with more Jell-O salad than you could shake a stick at), and church-run Easter egg hunts in the park.  For a short time, one of my best friends was the pastor’s daughter.

According to Wikipedia, that church is a fairly socially liberal Protestant church these days (not to be confused with other similarly named churches), which might explain why I managed to grow up very liberal.  But this was the seventies, and the community was still pretty conservative about some things.  When my mother divorced my father, she wasn’t treated particularly well and ended up withdrawing from the church, as a result.  But I held onto my faith, reading the Bible on my own.  Not all the time, mind you, but now and then—especially during the holidays.

Then puberty struck.  It took two weeks—literally—for me to go from “It feels good when I rub this!” to “My God!  How do I get rid of this mess!”  And although I was confused for a while by crushes on both boys and girls, I have no recollection of ever feeling the slightest bit of arousal when looking at girls.  But I have a very distinct memory of watching a male friend undress in our living room after swimming.  We were eleven and I thought he was utterly fascinating.

Still, I didn’t know I was gay.  I thought the attraction to girls would come eventually.  And I knew that the Bible said homosexuality was an abomination.  Since I was still a good Christian, I was convinced that I couldn’t actually be homosexual.  It had to be something I was just being afflicted with for a while—like bronchitis.  It couldn’t be helping of course that, when I was aroused, I would write out my fantasies on paper, or sketch naked boys.  I kept destroying these, convinced I could swear off my homosexual tendencies, go cold turkey, but then I’d just end up creating more.

When I was sixteen, I moved out to New Mexico to live with my father for a year.  Unlike my mother, he’d stayed with the church and was now attending the considerably less liberal Assembly of God church in Truth or Consequences.   I had no problem settling into this church, primarily I think because certain topics never came up.  Nobody ever talked about homosexuality—the gay rights movement hadn’t really come to small-town America yet.  Nobody talked about Evolution.  (I had no idea I was supposed to be against it.)

Then we moved to Texas.  The Assembly of God church there was great!  The kids in the high school were mostly horrible to me and the teachers weren’t much better (with the exception of a wonderful English teacher who did a lot to encourage my writing), so the teenagers in the church seemed particularly nice.  The pastor was a woman (surprising in and of itself, back then) and she was incredibly funny and charismatic.  She even let me come in to practice on the piano during weekdays.

Then there was the anti-gay sermon.  This hit me completely out of the blue.  One minute, I practically idolized this woman and the next, she was breathing fire about homosexuals.  I was still in denial about my own homosexuality, despite having fallen in love with my best friend in New Mexico (he figured it out before I did), and I’d convinced myself that I was just being tested with these feelings. I was being given a challenge to overcome by God (because He was apparently a sadist).  But there was nothing in this sermon about some of us might have to contend with these feelings, or why God would allow some of us to be afflicted with this thing.  There was no sense that any good Christian could possibly experience homosexual feelings.  It was them, the outsiders.  They were against God and therefore prone to evils like homosexuality.

I was shocked to my core.  For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I belonged to my church.  For seventeen years, I’d felt close to God and Jesus, but suddenly I was the enemy.  I was a sick pervert.  And there was no hope for me.  God hated me.

All of this happened so long ago, it’s difficult to even recall now how much of an affect this woman’s hatred of homosexuals had on me.  We moved away from Texas soon after that and I returned to New Hampshire to live with my mother again.  I think that probably saved me.  As it was, I spiraled into a depression for next year, searching desperately for answers in the Bible, but there were none there.  It was probably a good thing that I didn’t have access to anything from the ex-gay movement (which may not have even started yet), or I might have jumped on board.  I’d already been trying some of the tactics they’d later employ—psychoanalyzing my childhood in an attempt to find out what made me this way, trying to remain pure and “pray away the gay,” trying to condition myself to find naked pictures of women arousing.  Celibacy, which many ex-gay organizations now claim is the best answer, was something I knew I could never do.  I was eighteen by then and feeling isolated and alone.  The thought of never finding someone I could be with romantically frightened me more than God turning His back on me!

It got to the point where I was coming home from school every day and literally rushing to my room before the tears could hit.  My mother noticed and tried to help, but I didn’t feel I could talk to her.  In the end, it was coming out—first to a family friend and then to her—and finding love and acceptance there, that saved me.  Within a couple years, I was no longer Christian.  My faith had turned it’s back on me and, in order to survive, I’d had to turn my back on it.

By That Sin Fell the Angels Looking back now, I realize I had it easy.  I wrote By That Sin Fell the Angels as a way of reconciling old conflicts still lingering in my psyche from these years, but since then I’ve spoken to others who were much more immersed in Evangelical fundamentalism than I’d been and whose families turned on them.  I was lucky that my mother didn’t turn on me.  Would my father have cast me out?  I like to think not.  He is still as religious as ever, but he tells me all the time about the nice gay couple who live down the road and have just adopted a child.  He seems very happy for them.

If I’d known certain people back then—my mother’s second husband, a Baptist minister who strongly supports the LGBTQ community, a friend who came out as an Episcopal priest and found support within his congregation, many other good Christian people I know—I might have been able to retain my faith.  But I have explored many religious paths since then and I no longer believe that there is only one valid one.  I have no desire to go back.

To view other blog posts on this  hop, click the link below (here’s hoping it works!) or click here to go back to the blog hop page!

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Filed under Bloghop, gay, Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Religion