Sunday, February 23, 2014

Daily Beast: "What the Sex Lives of the Founding Fathers Reveal About Us"

Here. Sorry, I couldn't resist. A taste:
Neither has the lack of evidence stopped people from arguing that Alexander Hamilton was gay. [[H]istorian Thomas] Foster highlights the recent interest ... taken in homoerotic letters Hamilton wrote to John Laurens, a fellow soldier in the patriot army. One of them reads: “I wish, my dear Laurens, it were in my power, by actions, rather than words, to convince you that I love you.” 
Foster argues that it is certainly possible that Hamilton had a sexual relationship with Laurens. But ... [r]arely do ... [people asserting such] explore the nature of 18th century male friendship, which could be intensely romantic, even erotic, without including sex. “We’re not taking the complexities of 18th century love into account,” Foster said. “We’re forcing them into our model, and that’s basically what we’ve done throughout history.” 
Yet Foster does not let serious historians, either academic or popular, off the hook either. When it comes to the recent question of Hamilton’s sexual identity, he sympathizes with their reticence to say that Hamilton had sexual intercourse with Laurens. There is simply no evidence to prove it. And yet, he finds it hypocritical that many historians use the same kind of sexually charged letters Hamilton wrote to women as evidence that he was a very straight Lothario. “It just looks like such a double standard. What’s the level of evidence that you need to be certain that this was true love?” Foster said, in regard to his letters to Laurens.

9 comments:

Mark DeForrest said...

The problem of misunderstanding the nature of male friendship in different times and cultures is an endemic one, given the academic obsession with sexuality nowadays. One sees this not only with Hamilton, but also with Lincoln, who regularly shared a bed with Joshua Speed -- which obviously must mean that he and Speed were having sex! Or it could just be that in the early to mid-19th century it was quite common for people of same gender to share a bed if they were traveling or out of necessity.

Weirdly, the assertion that Hamilton was gay (as that term is used now) is wacky even if he did have sex with Laurens (which I believe is so unlikely as to not be worth seriously discussion, but whatevs as the young people say). Hamilton was very obviously sexually attracted to women -- his political career was destroyed, in part, by the Reynolds affair, which most definitely involved a woman. He was also married (from all appearances happily to a wife who was incredibly devoted to him both during his life and afterward). Even assuming some kind of affair with Laurens, that would make Hamilton bisexual, not gay -- although it would also make the headline a lot less exciting and in today's academic climate, headlines (sadly) matter.

This problem unfortunately isn't restricted to American history -- one sees it displayed in force in studies of early and medieval Christian history, where ecclesiastical rituals designed to cement same-sex friendships are constantly recast, in the effort to show that same-sex marriage has some kind of historical pedigree, as sacramental recognition of homosexual relationships. Again, one has to deliberately ignore the nature of same-sex friendships in other times and places in order to do this, but in the service of today's favored ideas, such distortion of history is all too often embraced because it furthers a preferred ideology. They may be wrong, but they are wrong "for the right reasons" so all is forgiven.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mark DeForrest said...
The problem of misunderstanding the nature of male friendship in different times and cultures is an endemic one, given the academic obsession with sexuality nowadays.


So what if you thought your same-sex friend were good-looking, charismatic, good, courageous, kind and admirable?

Both Aristotle and Aquinas built the classical core of true friendship on admiration.

Look at GWash--tall, handsome, honorable, killer horseman, even had his uniforms tailored.

Rockstar, plus he had the guts to get his ass shot at. Nobody would actually fight and die for Katy Perry unless it resulted in an immediate and very hot thankyouverymuch.

[As if. The ingrate.]

A jarring yet delicately honest couple of paragraphs from a recent--and already controversial essay

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/03/against-heterosexuality

Because our post-Freudian world associates all physical attraction and interpersonal affection with genital erotic desire, intimate same-sex friendship and a chaste appreciation for the beauty of one’s own sex have become all but impossible to achieve. (Freud, by the way, was one of the most influential architects of the vicious orientation-essentialist myth.)

For “heterosexuals” in particular, getting close to a friend of the same sex ends up seeming perverse, and being moved by his or her beauty feels queer. To avoid being mistaken for gay, these days many self-proclaimed straight people—men especially—settle for superficial associations with their comrades and reserve the sort of costly intimacy that once characterized such chaste same-sex relationships for their romantic partners alone. Their ostensibly normal sexual orientation cheats them out of an essential aspect of human flourishing: deep friendship.


"Deep" friendship. In today's world, there is hardly any such thing. It's about the money or it's about the, well, you know.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yeah no question Hamilton liked women; the real dirt on him was his affair.

There was also dirt on G. Morris.

I've never studied the claims about Franklin, but I assume what I've heard about him being a womanizer is true.

I think for a lot of men who get married (to women that is) their wives -- if they have good marriages -- demand most if not all of the emotional intimacy (the whole "soul mate") thing.

For men who don't get married to women or who may have been same sex attracted in a context that neither recognized the "homosexual" identity nor validated same sex sexual behavior, forming the close same sex friendships that sublimate erotic desires was the dynamic that resulted.

The concept of a "soul mate" derived from Plato's metaphor that included same sex eros.

That's why I disagree with the First Things article, and the "deconstructionist" left philosophers it invokes. They are trying to deconstruct a real thing that really exists.

Lincoln may well have been one of these same sex attracted men who found his soul mate in the form of a same sex partner. I don't think there's any evidence he had sex with Joshua Speed; however, if I am not mistaken they shared a bed in the White House (hence it wasn't out of necessity or for travel purposes). And when he was separated from Speed, Lincoln had a nervous breakdown of sorts.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The concept of a "soul mate" derived from Plato's metaphor that included same sex eros.

"Platonic" love is sexless, no?

Mark DeForrest said...

"For men who don't get married to women or who may have been same sex attracted in a context that neither recognized the "homosexual" identity nor validated same sex sexual behavior, forming the close same sex friendships that sublimate erotic desires was the dynamic that resulted."

Jon, what if this gets the dynamic almost precisely backwards? What if what is happening is that modern Western culture is sexualizing relationships that historically in the West and in other cultures still exist but not as sexual relationships? Part of the problem with the argument that all close same-sex friendships are just subliminations of sexual desire makes a huge assumption about the nature of human friendship and the nature of human sexual desire -- and it is this assumption that is driving much of the poor historical scholarship involving the same-sex relationships that have been documented in the historical record. Good historical scholarship looks to transcend the intellectual fashions of the moment to try to understand the past on its own terms -- and then to draw modern lessons from that understanding.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Part of the problem with the argument that all close same-sex friendships are just subliminations of sexual desire makes a huge assumption about the nature of human friendship and the nature of human sexual desire -- and it is this assumption that is driving much of the poor historical scholarship involving the same-sex relationships that have been documented in the historical record. Good historical scholarship looks to transcend the intellectual fashions of the moment to try to understand the past on its own terms -- and then to draw modern lessons from that understanding."

I take it you are not a fan of John Boswell's.

Seriously though, I wonder if you have read Plato's Symposium.

No one is claiming, as far as I can tell, "all" very close same sex friendships are sublimated homosexual eros.

Some are. In terms of the "assumptions" about the "nature" of close same sex friendships and sexual desires in light of trendy intellectual fashions of Western thought, I'll simply note, this understanding goes back to Plato's Symposium and is therefore, the antithesis of modern or trendy.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or not.

Platonic Love in a Colorado Courtroom: Martha Nussbaum, John Finnis, and Plato's Laws in Evans v. Romer

http://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1222&context=yjlh


See also:

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/in-the-case-of-martha-nussbaum

http://linguafranca.mirror.theinfo.org/9609/stand.html

Art Deco said...

I take it you are not a fan of John Boswell's.

His work was bagged and stuffed twenty years ago (and the thesis implausible to begin with).

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