Lincoln in His Lover’s Nightgown
Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is consciously restrictive, concentrating as it does on how the vote was manipulated and the 13th Amendment passed, but Mrs Lincoln is not exactly missing from the movie. So why didn’t the scriptwriter Tony Kushner, a staunch gay rights activist who ‘personally believe[s] that there is some reason to speculate that Lincoln might have been bisexual or gay’, include any of that speculation in the film? There is a great deal of circumstantial evidence to suggest that Lincoln slept with a number of men. In an interview with Gold Derby, Kushner said:
I wanted to write about a very specific moment and I chose this moment and I don’t feel that there’s any evidence at this particular moment that Lincoln was having sex with anybody… He seems to have not slept and taken no time off and during this period I think he was beginning to feel ground to a pulp by the war and by the pressures of his job. I find it difficult to believe that Lincoln was banging anybody.
Not very convincing. Especially when you consider that one of the men who shared Lincoln’s bed was his military aide and bodyguard, Captain David Derickson (in 1862-63, before the film begins).
Kushner may find it difficult to believe that at the height of a political crisis such ‘banging’ is possible. But history and present times contradict such a narrow view. The teenage Abe was much more relaxed than his current sycophants. He wrote a pre-homage to gay marriage (quoted in William Herndon’s 1889 Life), which at the moment appears to be the only issue that divides centre-left from centre-right in Euro-American political life:
I will tell you a joke about Joel and Mary,
It is neither a joke nor a story.
For Reuben and Charles have married two girls,
But Billy has married a boy.
A few years ago, not long after reading C.A. Tripp’s pioneering The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln, I had lunch with Gore Vidal in LA, and taped our conversation for later use. The following exchange is revealing:
TA: Given the recent book and materials on Lincoln’s homosexuality how do you feel having portrayed him as a raving heterosexual in your novel?
GV: You’re a bastard. What a bastard question. It hurts. It hurts. How could I have missed that?
TA: You didn’t look?
GV: I had no idea, but since Tripp’s book I’ve gone back and devoured everything on the subject. There is no doubt in my mind. Once he was in bed with the Captain and the latter’s son walked in. On another occasion they were disturbed and Lincoln opened the door wearing his lover’s nightgown. Oh what a fool I was…
Kushner missed an opportunity to give the issue an airing and in so doing caved to what the marketing people think is a homophobic audience. Daniel Day-Lewis would surely have risen to the occasion, but perhaps another time.
Tariq Ali is the author of The Duel: Pakistan on the Flightpath of American Power. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.