Same-sex friendships and the rise of modern sexualities

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The History of Sexuality and the Nineteenth-Century "Homosexual" A man walks into a department store and is greeted by a handsome salesman. The customer, Al, tells the salesman he’s looking for a bed and mattress but can’t afford much because his rent is so high. The salesman, Josh, says he’s looking for a roommate and proposes that Al move in with him. No need for a bed, he adds, smiling; you can share mine. The two men do share a bed for the next several years and develop the deepest intimacy. When his family pressures Josh to marry, both men are anguished by the separation. Al writes to his beloved Josh nearly every day, telling Josh that if he can hide his aversion until after the wedding, perhaps one day he’ll be happy in his marriage. Al begs Josh and his new bride to settle near him, but they don’t and the relationship between the two men cools. Al eventually marries, unhappily, and fathers children, but he continues to share his bed with other men when his wife is out of town. A pretty gay story, except that the scene takes place in the 1830s in Springfield, Illinois. "Al" would become the sixteenth president of the United States and emancipate the slaves while "Josh" would become a Southern plantation owner. The passionate, anguished, affectionate, beseeching letters from Abraham Lincoln to Joshua Speed read like love letters, and love letters they were. But was love between men in the 1830s the same thing it is - or is assumed to be - in the twenty-first century? Does love necessarily involve sex? Do intense passion, sensuality, and affection reveal sexuality? Was the passion between friends a usual stage of development for nineteenth-century American men and women who lived in a largely gender-segregated world that discouraged premarital interaction between the sexes? Was Abraham Lincoln physically attracted to men and if so was his subsequent marriage a sham, the product of internalized shame? On what evidence can we answer these questions? What difference does it make if we can’t answer them, if love, sex, romance, friendship - the relatively few names we have for the wide range of complex, ambivalent, intense, commonplace, erotic, chaste, short-lived, or long-term relationships we call intimacy - remain as opaque as a culture with an unknown language?.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9781139547376
ISBN (Print)9781107035218
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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