Yesterday, HuffPo’s “Gay Voices” published an article titled “Larry Kramer On His New Book, The American People, Which Identifies George Washington, Ben Franklin And More As Gay.” WOW, I thought. Ben Fucking Franklin!? The septuagenarian notorious in France for his dalliances with the ladies while serving as American ambassador? A homo!? Let alone old George. Poor Martha. After all this time, we find out she was just his beard.
In The American People, Kramer describes George Washington as a man who had sex with men — a “big queen,” he said in an interview — and writes the same of Alexander Hamilton, who “was in love with George,” Ben Franklin, Andrew Jackson, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and “the most powerful gay man” in American history, J. Edgar Hoover.
Oooooh. I see. Not gay. Just “men who had sex with men.” Excuse me while I go bang my fucking head against this fucking brick wall.
I’m not going to argue the historical elements of the text because I’m not qualified. For the sake of the argument, I’ll concede that all these guys had sex with others of their gender. But for fuck’s sake, it’s two-thousand fucking fifteen. Can we stop reducing all same-sex sexual activity to “gay!?” Ben Franklin was not fucking gay. He loved the ladies. That wasn’t for show. Maybe he loved the boys, too, but he wasn’t “gay” as defined as “homosexual” as defined as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions primarily or exclusively to people of the same sex.”
I get that the whole “bisexual invisibility” thing is heavily driven by the fact that bisexuals melt into both the gay and heteronormative social structures absent a concerted effort to make their distinction known. But this kind of shit doesn’t help. Bisexuality is a known thing in the world, but nowhere in the piece does the writer even pretend like there is anything other than gay or straight. And HuffPo’s not the only one. The Guardian also published a piece on the book with only one reference to the word “bisexual” and only in passing.
This kind of shit perpetuates the myth than human sexuality is binary. That we are defined as people by the acts we sometimes do. Occasionally, I pick something up with my left hand but that doesn’t make me left-handed. Maybe George Washington once sucked a dick, but that doesn’t make him gay. It doesn’t even make him fucking bisexual unless he really, really liked it. Maybe Lincoln “enjoyed the company” of the other men back in his circuit courts days, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t also passionate about Mary (before she turned into a psycho, anyway).
Why? Why does this still happen? We don’t live in the Seventies anymore. The world is full of great big beautiful gradations of experience and identity. Why can’t these articles even hint at it, let alone embrace it?
I’d argue that by perpetuating the binary myth the author damages his own premise. We need to publicize that it’s perfectly normal and incredibly common for humans (even old historical ones) to have sexual contact with others of their gender at some point in their lives. Once that becomes common knowledge, a lot of the stigma around same-sex sex would evaporate.