There were no gay men in America in the eighteenth century or
Brokeback Mountain--the prequel
I'm sure most of you heard about the speech that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, made a few weeks ago when he said there were no homosexuals in Iran. It would seem that he was so excited about being asked this question from a Columbia University student that he over-verbalized the mark because later a spokesperson of Ahmadinejad explained that a more accurate translation would be that "there are not as many homosexuals as there are in America." However, an independent translation service says that the Iranian president was not mistranslated the first time.
So there you have it.
When I started reading a new book titled "Male-male Intimacy in Early America" guess what the first sentence is? "There were no gay men in America in the eighteenth century."
This the author admits was just to get the reader's attention just as I got yours with my title.
This historical survey of private letters, newspaper articles, court proceedings, and military tribunals covers both the famous, such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, to the completely obscure, known only to the genealogist and historical researcher.
Don't let the word "historical" dim your bulb; it's a very good introduction to our American gay heritage.
The period covered is approximately 1660 to 1850, and centers on the time of the American Revolution and the following generation.
One point the author stresses is that the flowery writing style seen in private letters should not distract us from the gender of the writer and the letter's recipient.
Let me quote: "If we open a letter written by a young woman and read, 'Often too, he shared my pillow---or I his, and how sweet to sleep with him, hold his beloved form in my embrace, to have his arms about my neck, to imprint upon his face sweet kisses.' we can reasonably assume that she and the man in question shared a sexual relationship. There is no justifiable grounds for changing that assumption when we learn that the words were actually written by Albert Dodd, a Yale undergraduate in the 1830s, describing his relationship with a fellow student, Anthony Hall."
On a more contemporary level let me quote Gore Vidal (if I could only know what he's forgotten since breakfast): " What is sheer high animal spirits in the roaring boy who buys a pre-feminist girl is vileness in the roaring boy who buys another boy."
Yes, indeed, it wasn't just a style, it was the real McCoy of same-sex attraction.
William Benemann, the author, has even found what seems to me to be a New England version of "Brokeback Mountain".
Benjamin Walker and William North were in the Revolutionary Army under George Washington, served honorably, attained high rank, and were set on a well-to-do course in life after their discharge. Both of them served in the House and Senate of Congress representing New York state. They kept in touch through letters and visits when they were able.
As was the style at that time close male friends would name a child in honor of the other; however North's wife, Polly, would not allow their son to be named in that manner. It's thought by the author that Polly suspected her husband and his friend were soul mates and her own childbearing years were over as there were no more children, a sign that perhaps she and her husband were no longer connubial.
As they both became widowers North and Walker discussed living together in a larger city--guess where, wait for it.... New York City!
This is the first two decades of the 1800s--you gotta love it!