We’ve Already Had a Gay President: Abraham Lincoln

One great thing about blogging is being able to talk about things that others are afraid to—like the fact that one of our greatest presidents liked to sleep with men.
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Question: Who is the greatest gay American?

I think there were two great gay Americans obviously, and that was Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman. 

Question: Abraham Lincoln was gay?

Andrew Sullivan:  I think it’s obvious, obvious that the man was gay and not many people sleep with other men and when the other man leaves have a nervous breakdown.  Very few other presidents in history have slept with a man in their own bed in the White House while their wife slept next door.  It is staring us in the face.  It was written at the time, historical consensus is slowly shifting.  It’s far too dangerous right now for people to acknowledge.  But which, I mean, no only was he... had a homosexual orientation, but he actually was sexually active as well, which is really quite remarkable. 

And I know it is controversial... there was amazingly—unfortunately flawed because the guy died before he finished it—"The Intimate Life of Abraham Lincoln" by C.A. Tripp, which really blew a lot of this stuff out of the water.  And mainstream Lincoln scholarship for a long time completely dismissed this, in fact.  But you are beginning to see in the scholarship out there, an emerging scholarship, that what people at the time called his lavender streak, at the time, is a core way of understanding who this human being was.  Not that he didn’t also function heterosexually; gay people in these periods of time had to.  And the social and psychological pressures that required people to adhere to heterosexual norms were overwhelming.  And not that we will ever find, you know, proof of such, but just the simple facts I told you, which no one can dispute, are pretty remarkable. 

Now, they have to dispute it, "Oh men slept with each other all the time in log cabins in the 19th Century and there was this principle with intimacy and friendship that we've sexualized and blah, blah, blah."  All of which is true.  But in the White House? When you were already married?  I mean, it’s staggering.  And no one disputes these facts.  So what do you think? 

Again, I think that one of the great things about a blog is to write and think about stuff that the people kind of know, but don’t want to talk about.  And yet which are really, I think, pretty obvious, but are restrained by taboos. Taboos, you know, that’s... like the race and IQ taboo.  Like the Trig taboo. Like things you can’t actually—not even answer, there may not be an answer for some of these things that we can nail down with any certainty, or that we can do so without people cooperating or finding new sources that can confirm it—but I don’t see why we sure as hell can’t actually talk about it. And that’s what blogging does that you can’t do when you are putting down a fact on paper, forever.  You know?  You can ask questions.  As long as they’re not sort of leading and obviously malicious leading questions, but genuine questions.  Can we talk about whether the Pope is gay?  Can we?  Can we talk about whether Elena Kagan is gay?  When it would seem that every, I don’t know a gay person anywhere who believes that either of them is straight. 
 
But look, I’m not one of these people who thinks everybody’s gay.  I’m really not.  I think very few people are gay.  I’m a two-percenter myself.  But I’m not going to sit around and  pretend I’m not thinking things on my blog when I am thinking them and when I’m open to rebuttal.

Recorded on October 12, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller