LOVE STORIES: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality

Jonathan Ned Katz, Author . Univ. of Chicago $35 (426p) ISBN 978-0-226-42615-0

Forget about the Lincoln Bedroom scandals of the Clinton administration; the real scandal is who was in Lincoln's bed in 1837. This highly provocative, often startling reconsideration of 19th- and early 20th-century male-male sexual relationships begins with a detailed description of what Katz depicts as Abraham Lincoln's romantic, erotic relationship with Joshua Speed, the man with whom he shared a decades-long intimate friendship, as well as a bed for three years. While Speed himself wrote that "no two men were ever more intimate," Katz is not arguing that these two men were homosexual; Katz makes it clear that referring "to early nineteenth-century men's acts or desires as gay or straight, homosexual, heterosexual, or bisexual" places "their behaviors and lusts within our sexual system, not theirs." Katz, whose groundbreaking 1976 Gay American History is foundational to contemporary gay and lesbian studies, has researched deeply and widely, uncovering astonishing materials: a relationship between John Stafford Fiske, the U.S. consul to Scotland in 1870, and famous British cross-dresser Ernest Boulton; the existence of the Slide, a male-male pick-up bar in Greenwich Village in the 1890s; romances between older sailors and their "chickens" during the Civil War. Walt Whitman, noted Harvard mathematician James Millis Peirce, writer Charles Warren Stoddard, English philosopher Edward Carpenter—Katz finds these men engaged in deeply loving and erotic friendship with no specific labels of sexual orientation attached. All of this is described and shaped with enormous sensitivity and judiciousness. Written clearly, succinctly and free from postmodern jargon, Katz's arguments are strong and vibrant. By contextualizing "sexual, acts, sexual desires, sexual identities" in their historical periods, but never avoiding the specifics of sexual activity or emotional connection, he contributes surprising, even shocking, insights into how sexual and emotional relationships are constructed, as well as demonstrating the enormous diversity and malleability of human eroticism. (Dec. 21)

Reviewed on: 10/22/2001
Release date: 12/01/2001
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Paperback - 426 pages - 978-0-226-42616-7
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