We’ve Already Had a Gay President: Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Sullivan is a conservative political writer and commentator and one of the pioneers of political blog journalism. He was born in England, where he attended Magdalen College, Oxford, but moved to the US in the 1980s to pursue a Masters in Public Administration and a PhD in Political Science at Harvard. He has remained in the US and has focused his writing on American political life.
In 1991 at the age of 27, Sullivan was appointed editor of The New Republic, over which he presided for 250 issues until he resigned in May 1996. Sullivan's tenure at TNR was often turbulent, controversial, and pioneering. The magazine expanded its remit beyond politics to cover such topics as the future of hip-hop, same-sex marriage, and affirmative action in the newsroom. TNR also published the first airing of 'The Bell Curve,' the explosive 1995 book on IQ, and 'No Exit,' an equally controversial essay that was widely credited with helping to torpedo the Clinton administration's plans for universal health coverage. In 1996, Sullivan was named Editor of the Year by Adweek magazine.
Sullivan is openly gay and has been a key figure in the public discourse on such issues as gays in the military and same-sex marriage. His 1993 TNR essay, 'The Politics of Homosexuality,' was credited by the Nation magazine as the most influential article of the decade in gay rights. His 1995 book, 'Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality,' was published to positive reviews, became one of the best-selling books on gay rights, and was translated into five languages. He followed it with a reader, 'Same-Sex Marriage: Pro and Con,' and testified before Congress on the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. His second book, 'Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival,' was published in 1998 in the United States and Britain. It was a synthesis of three essays on the plague of AIDS, homosexuality and psycho-therapy, and the virtue of friendship. Sullivan tested positive for HIV in 1993, and remains in good health.
In the summer of 2000, Sullivan became one of the first mainstream journalists to experiment with blogging and soon developed a large online readership for his blog The Daily Dish. He has blogged independently and for Time.com, but in February 2007 he moved his blog to The Atlantic Online where he now writes daily.
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
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.
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