The Paris Review

So What If Lincoln Was Gay?

“Why do you need him to be gay?”

This is how a friend (urban, liberal, male) responded when I told him I was working on a historical novel about Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with Joshua Speed. The implication of his question was clear. If I was going to go there, if I was going to plant my rainbow flag on the Great Emancipator’s grave, I would have to account for my private agenda.

Now that I type it out, that phrase sounds an awful lot like “gay agenda” and peels away to reveal the same fear at its base—that our received notions about historical figures might crumble under too close an inspection. And yet, in many cases, the underscored, wrote passionate letters to the Duchess of Marlborough. Michelangelo composed love poems for his male models. King James addressed his beloved Duke of Buckingham as “my sweet child and wife,” and Shakespeare publicly directed his first 126 sonnets to a “Fair Youth,” theorized by some scholars to be Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd Earl of Southampton.

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