Quantcast
Connect with us

Were Lincoln and Nixon gay? The ‘history’ book that is dividing America

Published

on

Award-winning author and gay-rights activist Larry Kramer’s new book aims to counter the exclusion of homosexuality from history

Gay-rights activist and award-winning author Larry Kramer is 79 and in failing health, but that won’t defuse the impact of his latest bombshell project: the first 800-page installment of a two-part history of America that tells of the secret gay life of figures from Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Mark Twain, Herman Melville and Richard Nixon.

The American People: Volume 1, subtitled Search for My Heart, has taken nearly 40 years to complete and may prove to be one of the most provocative historical, or pseudo-historical, accounts of American history.

Kramer, who is co-founder of Aids services group Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (Act Up), as well as a chronicler of queer life with plays including The Normal Heart and The Destiny of Me, said the book is a labor of love designed to counter what he feels to be the exclusion of gays – or gay life – from history books.

“It may look like fiction, but to me, it’s not,” Kramer said last week. “Most histories have been written by straight people. There has never been any history book written where the gay people have been in the history from the beginning. It’s ridiculous to think we haven’t been here forever.”

The American People, Volume I: Search for My Heart is causing consternation among historians, who say there is little evidence to back Kramer’s claims.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ron Chernow, author of an epic 2004 biography of Alexander Hamilton – the statesman Kramer claims was at least bisexual if not entirely gay – cautions against “ransacking history in service of a political agenda”.

Kramer also claims that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln not because he was unhappy that the South was losing the Civil War, but because Lincoln had spurned him.

“You only have to look at photographs of Wilkes and [co-conspirator] Lewis Powell to see that they’re full of their own beauty. We call it gaydar – the thing straight historians don’t have. Or take Mark Twain. He had a huge gay life.”

Kramer has a history of initiating high-profile disputes. He had a war of words with Tony Kushner over acknowledging Lincoln’s orientation in his screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s 2012 biopic of the civil war president.

ADVERTISEMENT

He scrapped with Barbra Streisand over her planned film adaptation of The Normal Heart. The author insisted it should include gay sex; Streisand retorted that her intention was “to promote the idea of everyone’s right to love. Gay or straight!”

The American People is likely to rankle with historians as there is no evidence many of historical figures were gay. He claims Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin became “hysterical” at the suggestion of homosexual tendencies in the president but this was, he added, “only because she didn’t write it first.”

The book, which has been labelled as a novel to avoid legal complications, has divided US reviewers. LGBT magazine The Advocate said that at points in Kramer’s book “the reader will feel like the audience at Springtime for Hitler”. The New York Times calls it “a far-reaching historical exposé .”

The first volume spans pre-Columbian Florida, Puritans and early settlements (brimming with same-sex desire), the American revolution, the Civil War and the years leading to the Second World War. It includes a history of syphilis, hepatitis, hatred, ostracism, concentration camps, the CIA, and a shadowy disease. The disease is named as Aids in the second volume, due in 2017, which will bring the history to the present.

ADVERTISEMENT

Aaron Hicklin, editor of Out magazine, said young members of the LGBT community are becoming interested in their history, a history that will not automatically be passed on because so many of the elder generation died young of HIV/Aids.

Whether it is absolutely accurate or not, The American People speaks to a need across gay and straight communities to revise historical accounts from which sexual orientation was absent. This can be seen in the mainstream – Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, for instance, or the story of Harvey Milk in Milk (2008) – but rarely goes further back in time.

“The gay historical timeline tends to go back as far as Oscar Wilde and no further,” said Hicklin. “There were pioneers before us but no one took the time to write about them, and there’s an appetite to claim a history that has been hidden from us.”

From some quarters there have been calls for a exclusively gay branch of archaeology directed solely at establishing sexual orientation (Kramer claims traces of semen found in the stools of English settlers prove his point).

ADVERTISEMENT

But where gay rights warriors sought to define themselves as gay in defiance of the stigma around Aids, Hicklin considers that sexual orientation is no longer a singular marker of identity. “Young people feel much more a part of mainstream society, so a lot has been forgotten about the price that was paid.

“For Larry Kramer, it’s important to carry on being the archetypal activist who wants to queerify history and bring it out into the public domain.”

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of The American People is that it was written at all. Kramer began writing it in 1975, soon after publication of his groundbreaking novel Faggots. He shelved it until 2000, when his liver was failing and he was given weeks to live.

By 2010, Kramer having had a liver transplant, the manuscript had swelled to 4,000 pages. Kramer’s editor at Macmillan says he is in no doubt that writing is what keeps him alive.

ADVERTISEMENT

Kramer believes the injustice is continuing. Thirty five years since HIV/Aids was identified there is still no cure, and violence against gay people is increasing in several parts of the world. “We should have our own army as gays,” he told The Advocate.

“It’s lovely that we can get married, but that’s really small potatoes compared to what we don’t have, which is equality.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

2020 Election

Panicked GOP leaders scrambling to get Jeff Sessions to run for Senate so they won’t be saddled with Roy Moore

Published

on

According to a 2020 election analysis in the Washington Post, top Republican Senate leaders are cringing at the notion that former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore could be their nominee for the seat currently being held by Democrat Sen. Doug Jones -- and are looking for a way out.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

NRA owes $1.6 million in unpaid bills to vendor who runs NRATV

Published

on

The National Rifle Association has a hefty bill that remains unpaid, despite making a huge haul in fundraising for the 2016 election.

According to Betsy Woodruff at the Daily Beast, the NRA owes $1.6 million to their vendor, Ackerman McQueen, they've used for advertising for years. The company is the one responsible for doing the media for NRATV, the group's streaming service for pro-gun television.

The two have had a long relationship and err on the side of quiet privacy, which Woodruff said on MSNBC, shows just how acrimonious the battle has become.

Continue Reading
 

2020 Election

Michael Moore warns that Trump will be hard to beat: ‘He hasn’t lost one inch of his fired-up insane base’

Published

on

Left-wing filmmaker Michael Moore thinks that Democrats had better get ready for a very tough fight in the 2020 presidential election.

Even though polls continue to show that President Donald Trump is historically unpopular, Moore believes that the president's base is fired up to reelect him and will crawl over glass to vote for him again next year.

In particular, Moore was struck by the massive enthusiasm that greeted the president at his big kickoff rally in Orlando, Florida.

Continue Reading
 
 

Copyright © 2019 Raw Story Media, Inc. PO Box 21050, Washington, D.C. 20009 | Masthead | Privacy Policy | For corrections or concerns, please email [email protected]

I need your help.

Investigating Trump's henchmen is a full time job, and I'm trying to bring in new team members to do more exclusive reports. We have more stories coming you'll love. Join me and help restore the power of hard-hitting progressive journalism.

TAKE A LOOK
close-link

Investigating Trump is a full-time job, and I want to add new team members to do more exclusive reports. We have stories coming you'll love. Join me and go ad-free, while restoring the power of hard-hitting progressive journalism.

TAKE A LOOK
close-link