If I were asked to design a definitive course on the history of Gays and Lesbians in North America, I would include three books as required reading: Gay American History, by Jonathon Katz; From the Closet to the Courtroom, by Carlos Ball; and Coming out Under Fire, by Allan Bérubé [Free Press, 1990]. Moreover, I think the students would thank me afterward for choosing books that are authoritative, informative and relatively easy to read.
For me personally, Allan Bérubé’s seminal work represents an eye-opener like few others I have read. Indeed, I was moved from profound sadness to outright rage when I learned the systematic persecution that these innocent men and women had to endure in the service of their country. That, perhaps, is the greatest benefit that this retrospective can provide, for those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
The following is a précis of Bérubé’s thesis, but it is by no means complete or in depth. To really appreciate the full story of coming out under fire I urge you to read the original.
When the war clouds started to descend over Europe in the 1930s the United States military did not exceed two hundred thousand soldiers, and so to overcome this Congress passed the nation’s first peacetime conscription act. Consequently, conscripts began to fill the Army’s ranks in astonishing numbers (16 million in 1940-41).
With so many men available, the armed forces decided to exclude certain groups, including women, blacks, and—following the advice of psychiatrists—homosexuals (although this term was not yet widely used). Traditionally the military had never officially excluded homosexuals, but in Word War II a dramatic change occurred. Seeing a chance to advance their prestige, influence, and legitimacy of their profession, psychiatrists promoted screening as a means of reducing psychiatric casualties before they became military responsibilities.
In 1941, therefore, the Army issued a directive which disqualified “homosexual proclivities” as a “psychopathic personality disorder.” This was in keeping with the prevailing belief that homosexuality was a neurological disorder—i.e. the first signs of a brain-disease caused by heredity, trauma, or bad habits such as masturbation, drunkenness and drug addiction.
Moreover, the military encased this idea in “characteristics that were considered inferior or “degenerative” by virtue of their deviation from the generally white, middle-class, and native-born norm.” (Location 536).
“The framers of the Army’s interwar physical standards listed feminine characteristics among the “stigmata of degeneration” that made a man unfit for military service. Males with a “degenerative physique,” the regulation explained, “may present the general body conformation of the opposite sex, with sloping narrow shoulders, broad hips, excessive pectoral and public adipose [fat] deposits, with lack of masculine hirsute [hair] and muscular markings.”” (Location 536).
Bérubé then goes on to explain, “The reason for excluding these as psychopaths was that, like other men in this “wastebasket” category, they were considered to be irresponsible troublemakers who were unable to control their desires or learn from their mistakes and thus threatened the other men.” (Location 568).
To make matters worse, this sort of quackery was widely promulgated in training seminars for recruiters and physicians throughout the United States, and even published in medical journals for wider distribution.
On the other hand, because of women’s marginal status in the military prior to WWII, neither the Army nor the Navy had developed policies and procedures concerning lesbians. Therefore, women recruits were never asked the homosexual question, and were therefore able to enter the military undetected.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, however, the rules were relaxed to accommodate the demands of war, and the military was forced to accept and integrate most gay selectees. In fact, it was privately acknowledged that gay men had become vital members of the armed forces. Moreover, the gay recruits found ways to fit in and even to form close and lasting relationships with “buddies.”
Sexual activity was at a minimum until the recruits learned the rules, and then discrete opportunities could be found where there was a will.
“Not all trainees who approached other men for sex were gay. Heterosexual recruits who had had the most sexual experience with women or who felt strong sex drives could initiate sex without being afraid that they were queer, especially if their partner was gay and played the “passive” role. Teenage recruits who were just fooling around with each other, especially if they had been drinking, found themselves unexpectedly becoming sexual. Some older soldiers with more sexual experience in the military taught younger men how to have sex without getting caught. On the other hand, recruits who knew they were gay before entering the service were sometimes the most reluctant to have sex.” (Location 1103).
Meanwhile, Army and Navy officials struggled with how to manage the homosexual behaviour, and several approaches were developed. When challenged from the outside, particularly by concerned parents or clergy, their public stance was to condemn behaviour considered to be immoral in the wider culture, including profanity, drunkenness, erotic pictures, extramarital sex, lesbianism, homosexuality, and prostitution. Within the organization, however, military officials took a more understanding approach—forced into it by the need to hang onto trained personnel.
Trainees usually learned on their own how to put up with one another’s differences in order to get through basic training. They also received pleas for tolerance from the war propaganda which portrayed American soldiers as defending the ideals of democracy, equality, and freedom against the totalitarian Axis. But inspired more by necessity than idealism, male trainees responded to the demands of basic training by developing their own pragmatic ethic of tolerance: “I won’t bother you if you don’t bother me.”
One of the areas where blatant effeminacy was tolerated—even applauded—was in the “all-soldier variety show.” These began as a diversion, but soon became a popular form of frontline entertainment even under fire. These were all-male shows for each other that almost always featured female impersonation, and coincidentally provided a temporary refuge for gay males to let their hair down and entertain their fellows.
“The impulse to put on shows and perform in dressed generally came from the men themselves—soldiers without women, as well as gay men, had long traditions of spontaneously dressing up in women’s clothes. But during World War II, the military officials, pressured by GIs, their own morale personnel, and leaders in the civilian theatre world …found themselves not only tolerating makeshift drag but officially promoting female impersonation.” (Location 1677).
In 1941, strained by the demands of a massive war mobilization that included a large influx of gay soldiers, the military could no longer handle its homosexual discipline problems by sending all offenders to prison as required by the Articles of War. Therefore, based on the belief that homosexuality was a mental illness, there was a concerted effort to discharge homosexuals without trial while retaining those whose services were deemed essential. However, this policy ran contrary to the common law that held homosexuality as “an infamous and unspeakable crime against nature,” and that the military had a responsibility “to prevent such crimes with severe punishment and to protect the morals of the nation’s young people under their jurisdiction.”
Underlying all this was a sort of political upmanship among various factions of the military bureaucracy. For example, having sodomites released into the care of psychiatrists would greatly enhance the standing of psychiatry as a legitimate science, and for their part the generals resented the interference of the legals in the Judge Advocate’s office. Therefore, the unfortunate men and women awaiting jusice were helplessly caught somewhere in the middle.
There was also the question of what sort of discharge would apply–i.e. honourable medical discharge or dishonourable? An honourable discharge, it was argued, might lead to homosexual activity or declaration in order to escape compulsory service. Dishonourable discharge (so-called “section eights” or “blue cards”), on the other hand, were used only for men who had been convicted of a crime and who had served their sentences. These had been used successfully to eliminate social misfits–alcoholics, chronic liars, drug addicts, men who antagonised everyone—but technically did not include homosexuals. In the end (1943), however, the military issued a directive that steered a compromise inasmuch as sodomy was still deemed a criminal offence, but allowed for an exception where force or violence had not been used. These individuals would be examined by a board of officers ”with the purpose of discharge under the provisions of Section Eight.
It was intended as a more humane way of dealing with “offenders” but, as gay men and women would soon find out, it was fraught with difficulties of its own.
As officers began to discharge homosexuals as undesirables, the gay GIs who were their targets had to learn how to defend themselves in psychiatrists’ offices, discharge hearing rooms, hospital wards, and in “queer stockades.” There they were interrogated about their sex lives, locked up, physically abused, and subjected to systematic humiliations in front of other soldiers.
“The discharge system could drag any GI whose homosexuality became known or even suspected into seemingly endless maze of unexpected humiliations and punishments. Some gay male and lesbian GIs first entered the maze when they voluntarily declared their homosexuality, fully expecting to be hospitalized and discharged. But others, following the advice in basic training lectures to talk over their problems with a doctor, psychiatrist, or chaplain, were shocked when medical officers betrayed their confidences by reporting them for punitive action ad “self-confessed” homosexuals, or were disappointed and frustrated when more sympathetic psychiatrists could not help them at all. Caught during their processing for discharge in battles between friendly and hostile officers, they found themselves thrown around like footballs in a game over which they had no control.” (Location 4442).
Nor were things to improve when they were returned home to civilian life. Gay veterans with “blue” or undesirable discharges where stripped of his service medals, rank, and uniform, then given a one-way ticket home where they had to report to their draft board to present their discharge papers. The stigma attached to these discharges was not an accident. Rather, it was intended to punish homosexuals and prevent malingering, and requirement that the GI report to his draft board ensured that his community would find out the nature of his discharge. Therefore, they were forced to come out to their families and communities. Wherever blue-discharge veterans lived, employers, schools, insurance companies, veterans’ organizations, and other institutions could use their bad discharge papers to discriminate against them.
One of the most vindictive punishments meted out to these veterans was the denial of GI benefits that included federally subsidized home loans; college loans with allowances for subsistence, tuition, and books; unemployment allowances; job training and placement programs; disability pensions and hospital care. Top officials at the Veterans Administration were responsible for this denial, contrary to Army policy and Congress, but nonetheless the VA refused to drop its anti-homosexual prohibition. Consequently, many blue-discharge veterans found it difficult (impossible) to find employment, but when they applied for unemployment insurance, or small business loans, or college assistance, they were denied in a Catch-22 situation.
One of the side effects of this discrimination was that having survived fear and death on the battlefield, some gay combat veterans began to cast off the veil of secrecy that so seriously constrained their lives. For them, “coming out” to family and friends was not nearly as terrifying as facing the enemy in battle. Moreover, the popular press began to take notice of the blue-ticket discharges, and their plight, and started to publish columns on the “Homosexual Minorities,” characterizing them as “anther minority which suffers from its position in society in somewhat the same way as the Jews and Negroes.”
Unfortunately, this period of ‘liberal’ attitude was short-lived, for in the late 1940s a preoccupation with conformity came a fearful scapegoating of those who deviated from a narrow idea of the nuclear family and the American way of life. However, you will have to read this most remarkable book to learn the outcome of this. (less)
[October is Gay History Month, and in commemoration of this I recommend this seminal work as the quintessential record of gay history in America]
About the author: Katz taught as an adjunct at Yale University, Eugene Lang College, and New York University, and was the convener of a faculty seminar at Princeton University. He is a founding member of the Gay Academic Union in 1973 and the National Writers Union in 1980. He was the initiator and is the director of OutHistory.org, a site devoted to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, (LGBTQ) and heterosexual history, that went online in September 2008, and is produced by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, an institute at the City University of New York Graduate Center, under a grant from the Arcus Foundation.
Katz received the Magnus Hirschfeld Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Sex Research from the German Society for Social-Scientific Sexuality Research in 1997. In 2003, he was given Yale University’s Brudner Prize, an annual honor recognizing scholarly contributions in the field of lesbian and gay studies. His papers are collected by the manuscript division of The Research Libraries of The New York Public Library.
Review by Gerry Burnie
“We have been the silent minority, the silenced minority—invisible women, invisible men. Early on, the alleged enormity of our “sin” justified the denial of our existence, even our physical destruction” p1. So begins noted sexual historian, Professor Johnathan Katz, in his seminal “collection of turbulent chronicles,” Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. [Plume; Rev Sub edition (April 1, 1992)].
He then goes on to add to this lamentable observation:
“During the four hundred years documented here, American homosexuals were condemned to death by chocking, burning, drowning; they were executed, jailed, pilloried, fined, court-martialed, prostituted, fired, framed, blackmailed, disinherited, declared insane, driven to insanity, to suicide, murder, and self-hate, witch-hunted, entrapped, stereotyped, mocked, insulted, isolated, pities, castigated and despised.(They were also castrated, lobotomized, shock-treated, and psychoanalyzed…) Homosexuals and their behavior were characterized by the terms “abomination,” “crime against nature,” “sin,” “monsters,” “fairies,” “bull dykes,” and “perverts.”p17.
Professor Katz then goes on to document every word of these in a 720-page, annotated thesis, which—quite astoundingly for such a scholarly work—remains immensely readable.
For example, there is the chronicle of the earliest known case of a homosexual being put to death in America, that of Frenchman Gonzalo Solís de Merás, murdered in St. Augustine, Florida [my winter home], in 1566. Also, The execution of Richard Cornish for sodomy in Colonial America, 1624; and of William Plaine in 1646. There is also a record a Black man, Jan Ceoli, living on Manhattan Island, who was condemned to be “choked to death, and then burned to ashes.” In the same Dutch New Netherland Colony, Jan Quisthout Van Der Linde was sentenced to be “tied in a sack and cast into the river” for a homosexual rape.
An early report, 1824-26, identifies homosexuality in American prisons, and concerns “prostitution” of “juvenile delinquents” with older male prisoners. Male prostitution is also prominently mentioned in a report, dating 1892, documenting the homosexual underworld in American cities. These reports also include descriptions of Black male homosexual transvestites, homosexual activity at steam baths, newspaper solicitations, and street life.
There are also early reports of a civil servant being discharged: a New York policeman, for making improper advances on other males while on duty (1846), and of a minister separated from the church for homosexual activity (1866). The clergyman was Horatio Alger.
In 1896, the family of a wealthy businessman, Henry Palmer, petitioned the court to have Palmer declared mentally incompetent on account of his homosexuality, and although a prominent doctor testified to his “absolute certainty of Palmer’s sanity,” the court found him “insane,” anyway.
Lesbians didn’t seem to fare any better, for in 1636 John Cotton made a proposal to the Massachusetts Bay Colony that homosexual relations between women be placed on par with male homosexuality as a capital offence. In 1656 the New Haven Colony passed a law prescribing the death penalty for lesbianism, as well as male homosexuality.
Professor Katz has also dedicated a significant portion of his scholarly work to Native Americans. One of the earliest reports, dated 1528-36, states:
“During the time that I was thus among these people I saw a devilish thing, and it is that I saw one man married to another, and these are impotent, effeminate men [amarionados]and they go about dressed as women, and do women’s tasks, and shoot with a bow, and carry great burdens,…and they are huskier than the other men, and taller…”p430
Another report, dated 1673-77, reads:
“I know not through what superstition some Illinois, as well as Nadouessi, while still young, assume the garb of women, and retain it throughout their lives. There is some mystery in this, for they never marry and glory in demeaning themselves to do everything that the women do. They go to war, however, but can use only clubs, and not bows and arrows, which are the weapons proper to men. They are present at all the juggleries, and at the solemn dances in honor of the Calumet; at these they sing, but not dance. They are summoned to their Councils and nothing can be decided without their advice. Finally, through their profession of leading an extraordinary life, they pass as Manitous,–That is to say, for Spirits,–or persons of consequence.p.433
Moreover, an 1889 report by Dr. A.B. Holder, describes “A Peculiar Sexual Perversion,” i.e.:
“The word bō-teˊ I have chosen as being most familiar to me and not likely to convey a wrong impression, since I shall be the first, perhaps, to translate into English and define it. It is the word use by the Absaroke Indians of Montana, and literally mans “not man, no woman.”…
“The practice of the bote among civilized races is not unknown to specialists, but no name is suited to ears of polite, even though professional, has been given it. The practice is to produce the sexual orgasm by taking the male organ of the active party in the lips of the bote, the bote probably experiencing the orgasm at the same time. Of the latter supposition I have been able to satisfy, but I can in no other way account for the infatuation of the act.”
Among the monumental, literary works of history, Jonathon Katz can rightfully take his place. Or, as another reviewer has already put it, “Jonathan Katz would be sainted if he never wrote another word or produced another bit of research.”
This documentary history is utterly astonishing for the amount of research it implies, the documented stories it tells, the humanity it describes, and for the easy-to-read journalism in which it is presented. Among the GLBT communities, this book should be the Bible of not only the past, but also the present and the future—as in “we’ve prevailed in spite of all.” Five Stars—plus. (less)
You may have noticed I have a passion for WWII-vintage stories, and have reviewed several in the past. I like the era in general. It was a time when the free-world was drawn together by a war in two theatres, and men bonded together as warrior brothers—and sometimes more. Wingmen by Ensan Case (a pseudonym) [Cheyenne Publishing, 2012] captures the latter phenomenon with remarkable clarity and credibility. It is, in fact, one of the best war stories I have read.
Ensign Frederick “Trusty” Trusteau, one of two wingmen assigned to “skipper,” Lieutenant Commander J.J. “Jack” Hardigan. Trusteau is a handsome, capable aviator, who has honed his reputation as a “whoremaster” because that was (and is) the gold standard among predominantly male societies. It was very often a sham, or cover-up, but it was better than being considered the “odd-man-out.”
Jack Hardigan is a hard-drinking, hard driving skipper, who is dating a wealthy widow in Honolulu, but apart from a certain level of affection, there is no evidence of sexual activity between them. Therefore, there is no grand regrets when she breaks off their relationship for someone else.
The relationship between the two men starts, as it usually does, with earned respect on both sides; in this case as pilots of the famed Grumman Hellcats flown off the deck of a carrier. The bond grows stronger with each mission—warrior brothers—until it inevitably ends in a hotel room in Honolulu, where the line between brothers-in-arms and lovers is finally crosssed. However , if you are looking for a torrid, sexually erotic scene between two horny flyboys, you (gratefully) will not find it here. This scene is definitely sexy because of the circumstances—and the fact that we’ve been waiting for it for nearly two-thirds of the story—but in 1979 you didn’t write that sort of thing if you wanted to find a publisher—even an avant-garde one. Nevertheless, I think it is made a more realistic story because of it. This a story about men in love in war, and not about sex per se.
Of course the story wouldn’t be complete without an appropriate setting, and Case has provided it on board a fictional aircraft carrier, the Constitution. You can almost smell the sweat and testosterone in these scenes as they jostle aboard her. His apparent knowledge of naval aircraft is an asset as well, with just enough detail to help the reader understand without bogging the pace down in the process.
For those into WWII nostalgia there are also well-known battles, i.e. Wake Island, Tarawa and Truk Lagoon, where most of the Japanese Imperial fleet was wiped out—60 ships and 275 airplanes. Case has also provided an insight into the gruesomeness of war in some tense scenes where men are shot down, blown apart, and drowned mercilessly in the fray, and in the end Jack risks his life to save his lover.
Nevertheless, I agree with several other reviewers that the story should have ended on a high in 1945. The last part is interesting, mind you, and wraps up some loose ends, but it is anticlimactical. Given the excellence of the preceding, however, I’m not letting it dampen my overall impression. Five bees.(less)
[Editorial comment: The Goodreads’ posting of this book comes with a caveat, i.e. “Publisher’s Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” which I find ‘objectionable’. Were this a heterosexual story with heterosexual ‘sexual practices’ would it have the same caveat? I think not. Therefore it is demeaning at best.]
This is the second of Z.A. Maxfield’s stories I have reviewed (see: St. Nacho’s, February, 2010) and I am happy to say that Secret Light [Loose ID LLC, 2011] is generally of the same well-written calibre.
Set in 1955, a period when the memory of WWII is still fresh in many people’s minds, we find Rafe Colman, an gay Austrian DP (displaced person) with his own, tragic memories of the war. These include the death of his parents and the murder of his dearest friends, a gay couple, and so he is understandably and profoundly affected by these events.
As is so often the case (it certainly was in mine) he has learned to cope by adopting a persona that ‘fits’ mainstream expectations; especially for a single man–nice guy with an eye for the ladies, friendly with everyone but seldom personal, successful with a medium-high profile. The problem with role playing of this nature is that it sublimates the real person inside, and no one can be allowed behind the scenes for a closer look.
Of course, this doesn’t prevent some busy bodies from drawing their own conclusions, rightly or wrongly, and from acting on them on account of prejudice or spite. So, when Colman’s house is vandalized because he is perceived as ‘German,’ the police become involved in the person of officer Ben Morgan; a closeted gay man, himself.
Call it “gaydar,” or whatever, the two of them come to recognize themselves in the other, and a relationship is formed based on mutual understanding, honesty and caring. It is not all cotton candy and roses, however, but at least the promise of an HEA ending is there.
While the plot circumstances aren’t particularly original, as they were in “St. Nacho’s”, the same attention to detail and atmosphere has been used to give the reader a sense of time and place. The character-development is also topnotch, which adds greatly to the credibility of their actions, and the pace allows the reader to appreciate both these aspects.
The drawback for me was the somewhat obvious story manipulation, resulting in resolutions that were just a bit on the convenient side. I hasten to add that these were not incredible in nature, but they were noticeable enough to affect my score.
Altogether, though, I have no hesitation in recommending Secret Light as an enjoyable read for all its great parts. Four bees.(less)
The so-called “Stonewall Inn Riots” of 1969 are considered the ‘enough-is-enough’ turning point in GLBT relations with the broader public, and the predominantly homophobic officials who policed it. Likewise, in Canada it was the 1982 “Bathhouse Raids that gave rise to the Gay Pride demonstrations. Imagine, therefore, that the Song of the Loon, by Richard Amory [re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press, May 1, 2005] was first published three years before Stonewall, and 16 years before the Bathhouse Raids. That make it a true artefact, and as an unapologetic homoerotic novel, it is also somewhat of a legend.
It is not to say that homoerotic books weren’t available before 1965. They were. However, they were generally badly written, and could only be purchased through P.O. boxes, or from a clandestine bookstores, like the “Glad Day Books” in Toronto, hidden away on the second floor of a non-descript building.
Although I was aware of Song of the Loon, and remember the making of the 1970, motion picture version, starring John Iverson, Morgan Royce and Lancer Ward, I never got around to reading the novel until now. I was struck, therefore, by the amount of sexual content (albeit not as explicitly written as today) and the gutsyness of the both the author and publisher in publishing it.
The plot and style are noteworthy, as well. Someone has described the style as “pastoral,” and I think this describes it very well. It is evocative of the ‘return to nature’ movement—complete with a cast of noble savages—where man is able to find his inner self in an idyllic setting; and, as one might expect, the characters are all idyllic too, including, to a lesser extent, the villains.
This is not to belittle the story in any way, for I think we have all wished for a Garden of Eden existence where the inhabitants are all hunky and horny, the risks are minimal, and homophobia does not exist.
If you are looking for the ultimate feel good story, you should give this one a try. Enthusiastically recommended. Four bees.(less)
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most review...moreGerry B's Book Reviews
It’s unanimous: Barry Brennessel’s novel The Celestial [MLR Press,LLC, September 6, 2012] is a great story! Most reviews I have read have dipped into the superlative bag for apt descriptors, and I must agree.
My approach comes from my passion and accompanying research into American frontier history, including the California mining communities of the mid-1800s, and I must say that the author has captured the tone of these rough-and-tumble, gritty and grotty settlements remarkably well.
Set against this rugged backdrop is the wide-eyed naïveté of farmboy, Todd Morgan, and his companion Lâo Jian; both innocent romantics who just want to live and love in the midst of this harsh environment.
Part of Brennessel’s strength as a writer is his ability to create vivid characters who are both interesting and unique. Each character has a distinctive voice that sets him (or her) apart while contributing to the over all story. So, whether it’s Ned Calvert, Todd’s irascible uncle, or the young Irish miner, Breandon (on whom Todd has an early crush), they all contribute in their own way.
One of the regrettable aspects of frontier society was the degree of prejudice against certain ethnic societies, i.e. Native Americans and certain foreigners, especially–to the miners–the Chinese, who were called “Chinamen,” “Johnny Pig Tails,” or “Celestials” (because they came from the so-called “Celestial Empire.”)
The miners resented them because they saw them as competition, and distrusted them because they tended to stick to their own communities, which is not surprising since they were generally shunned elsewhere. As a result the Chinese were subjected to all manner of abuse, even murder, and Brennessel has done quite a credible job of portraying this.
Nonetheless, Todd and Lâo Jian persevere primarily because of the strength and love they derive from one another, and this is the inspirational theme that underlies the whole story. Highly recommended. Five bees!(less)
I had previously passed on Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for long...moreI had previously passed on Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for long (male) ‘horns,’ but seeing the reaction it has received from so many readers, my curiosity finally got the better of me.
What I found was a pulp-style western, written (for the most part) in the classic vernacular. These are both good features from this reader’s point of view. Moreover, Victor Banis has also done quite a good job of capturing the atmosphere and camaraderie of a 19th-century cattle roundup; ruggedly independent men, interacting man-to-man, and free from the disruptive influence of women.
And, yes, there was sex between some of them [see: Queer Cowboys by Chris Pickard]. It was common for men in early Western America to relate to one another in pairs or in larger homo-social group settings. At times, they may have competed for the attention of women but more often two cowboys organized themselves into a partnership resembling a heterosexual marriage. This is reflected in a poem by the renowned cowboy poet, Charles Badger Clark, i.e.
We loved each other in the way men do And never spoke about it, Al and me, But we both knowed, and knowin’ it so true Was more than any woman’s kiss could be. We knowed–and if the way was smooth or rough, The weather shine or pour, While I had him the rest seemed good enough– But he ain’t here no more! The range is empty and the trails are blind, And I don’t seem but half myself today. I wait to hear him ridin’ up behind And feel his knee rub mine the good old way He’s dead–and what that means no man kin tell. Some call it “gone before.” Where? I don’t know, but God! I know so well That he ain’t here no more!
However, as can be seen from the above, it was seldom if ever overt, and this is where the story lost credibility with me. Buck was just a bit too out to be believable—or to have even survived, for that matter. Moreover, as several other reviewers have already noted, his fellow cowhands were also incredibly accepting of a way of life that was still considered “unspeakable.”
These are not fatal flaws, just niggling drawbacks, so I want to stress that this is an enjoyable story with some really strong writing, and a bang-on style. In fact, the style is every bit as authentic as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Three and one-half bees.(less)
As a history buff I’m always on the lookout for new and heretofore unknown discoveries, and William Benemann has serve...moreGerry B's Book Reviews
As a history buff I’m always on the lookout for new and heretofore unknown discoveries, and William Benemann has served up a dilly with his intriguing biography, Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade [Bison Books, October 1, 2012].
William Stewart was a Scottish nobleman—19th Laird of Grantully and 7th Baronet of Murthly—with an adventurous spirit, and a larger than life personality. Being gay, and at odds with his older brother John (the 18th Laird), he hied himself off to North America where men were men; women were scarce; and not just a few of the men were open to a bit of manly sex.
Sir William fit into this testosterone-dominated milieu rather well, being an expert rider and a better-than-average marksman, and as proof of this he was both liked and respected by such people as William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame), and frontiersmen Kit Carson and Jim Bridger. He was also constantly surrounded by a retinue of young men, including a rakishly-handsome French Canadian Métis named Antoine Clement—undoubtedly Stewart’s lover—but if anyone noticed they either didn’t connect the possibility, or simply overlooked it.
Altogether, Stewart spent approximately seven years in America, returning to Scotland only briefly between 1839 – 1841 (with Antoine Clement in tow) when his brother John died—making William the 19th Laird of Grantully. When he returned (with a trunk full of costumes), he arranged for an elaborate, invitation only, huntin g party. It was a modest affair with only thirty-or-so guests, as well as cooks, servants, doctors, lawyers and such, but whether this was a bit beyond what frontier America was willing to accept, or whether times were changing, a fast-running scandal preceded him back to civilization, and from there he hastily returned to Scotland.
Obviously, this is merely a thumbnail-precis of the 384 pages of easily-read, meticulously researched, and fascinating story of the not-so-straight-West. My humble thanks to William Benemann for keeping this story alive, and for sharing it with us. Five Bees.(less)