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The First "Second Lady"

Is America ready for a female president? Or a black president? What about a gay president?

Well, back in 1853, Franklin Pierce named William Rufus de Vane King as vice president. A name like that should have been the first clue. President Andrew Jackson called him, "Miss Nancy", while the governor of Tennesse Aaron Brown dubbed him "Aunt Fancy... rigged out in her best clothes".

Brown went further, describing King and president James Buchanan as "Buchanan and wife". Buchanan and King lived together for 15 years before Buchanan became president. Neither man ever married a woman. After King left on a trip to France, Buchanan wrote, "I am now 'solitary and alone,' having no companion in the house with me. I have gone a wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them. I feel that it is not good for man to be alone; and should not be astonished to find myself married to some old maid who can nurse me when I am sick, provide good dinners for me when I am well, and not expect from me any very ardent or romantic affection."

Modern anti-gay apologists may argue that this is just an example of the flowery language of the nineteenth century. However, I think this avoids the truth: homosexuals were not invented in 1969. Many gay men feel that they were "born gay", and even if they grew up in a heteronormative community, they developed homosexual feelings absent any coercion of media or pop culture. So, if people can become gay before the age of 6 without any exposure to gay culture... why not in 1853?

King drank himself to death in Cuba, serving as vice-president for only 25 days. The office was vacant until 1857 when another vice president was named. Officials fought over where to bury his body, digging him up twice to move him to a new graveyard.

For more details, check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_R._King, http://www.tompaine.com/Archive/scontent/2458.html,

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Interesting piece of history there. And while homosexuals were not invented in 1969, the identity political movement did begin in June of 69. In my humble opinion, it was a mixed blessing. Yes, we got some much needed recognition, but we also became the wedge issue of the century when most of us simply wish to be left alone.

I still don't see how anything changed in 1969 except semantics.

There were more gay bars in Berlin in1910 than there are today in Washington D.C.

A whole lot has changed since 1969.
Let's see.
* Gay people aren't given lobotomies or electroshock therapy to change them to straight any more.
* The DSM no longer lists homosexuality as a mental disorder/mental illness.
* Cops don't raid gay bars and arrest everyone in them and then publish their names in the newspaper.
* Bars are no longer the domain of organised crime (read: the Mafia).
* Gay organisations, clubs, sports teams, newspapers, student groups can exist openly and without fear of legal reprisal.
* Homosexuality has been decriminalised.
* Pride parades are legal and garner public support. Last year, for the first time ever, a sitting governor of the Commonwealth marched in the parade. Before that, only gubenatorial hopefuls would march in the Boston Pride parade. And Boston's mayor marches every year, even when it isn't an election year. That would not have happened before 1969.

In the almost 40 years since Stonewall, a whole lot more has changed than mere semantics. More needs to change, to be sure. Gay citizens are still second class, all the responsibilities, but not all the rights as straight people. But we're working on it, we're working on it.

Ooh snap! I was thinking more about the internal state of a homosexual rather than the politics surrounding them. My theory is that a man giving a blowjob in 1908 feels pretty much the same as a gay man giving a blowjob in 2008.

When I invent a time machine, I will investigate this theory in depth.

Edited at 2008-04-15 09:06 pm (UTC)

The term "homosexual" was not coined until 1869. I'm not sure I can agree with you, because unless I have primary documents attesting to what someone was feeling, I cannot, as an historian, ascribe any feelings to an historical subject.

You could well be right, but I would not want to make that assumption.

In the debate between nature and nurture, I tend to side with nature. If boys can become gay without any exposure to another gay individual, or mention of homosexuality, then the "cause" has to be biological.

Assuming that human beings have not had a weird genetic mutation in the last hundred years, I can only assume that what that gay boy feels is the same that any gay boy would feel in any era. Of course, the way they *express* their homosexuality will change according to social mores. But history has nothing to do with it.

No, but the historian cannot ascribe feelings unless there is a primary document attesting to those feelings.

What a psychologist or a sociologist or an interculturalist might do with the data is something else entirely. But as a trained historian, I can only work within the confines of my discipline, and leave the sorting out of feelings to psychologists. Otherwise one is not engaging in history.

I see your point, but human beings haven't changed in ten thousand years, nor has human behavior. It would be pedantic to need to prove that people had feelings like "love" or "desire" in the seventeenth century. I think we can take homosexual orientation as a given during the Reformation.

It was mostly political. Before the 1960s, we did not have such a thing as identity politics where people's politics were equated solely based on their sexual preferences, race, gender, etc. The 1960s brought about the concept of identity and special interest groups that have changed the political landscape quite a bit in the following 40 years. It is more than semantics, believe me.

However, you are correct in pointing out that gay people have existed for centuries and probably even millennia. However, the term homosexual did not exist until the 1800s, the gay political movement until the 1960s, and the conservative backlash until the 1980s. In any event, what it means to be gay in 2008 is much different than what it meant back in the time of Polk or earlier. There is now the social construct of the gay identity which many GLBT activist buy into without much thought.

As for me, I am not identified by who I am attracted to. That does not affect my political choices or how I view the world. It does help me understand the place of "other" in our society, but I still have my points of views regardless of whether or not I like women or men. Unfortunately, so many young gay men and women buy into the idea that to be gay or lesbian they have to be progressive and liberal in their politics. There is very little room given to those who are raised conservative and do not wish to reject that political identity simply because they are homosexual. For too many, the coming out process has become a process whereby so-called "gay politics" are ingrained as being the only option politically for GLBT Americans.

It was always my understanding that the coming out process was where a person got comfortable being themselves on their own terms, yet experience and a good number of hysterical shouting matches that began as simple discussions of social constructs in the GLBT community have proven that this is not the case.

Then why isn't it the Pink House?

Madonna isn't president yet!

Wanna come spend the night with me at my place this week?

Is it pink? {grin} No offense, but I need a some time. You know what I mean...

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I had to get a government background check 3 years ago for my job. I put down a friend who already had a clearance as a reference. However, I didn't think that the investigator would delve into how we knew each other or where we met: in a dungeon at a local Denver leather club. You haven't lived until you've had to explain S&M sex to a cute straight intelligence agent while tied to a chair taking a polygraph test.

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Yes... I work in the defense industry. Although I have to note that I don't invent the bombs that blow up small children. Instead, our department focuses those 16 and older...

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It's accepted, even encouraged. You see, we are into hurting people.

Now that's a riot! I thought it was hard explaining polyamory, but this has me beat! (all puns intended)

Yeah, I'm an idiot. I even put down "Colorado Leathermen" as a hobby. It's interesting that 20 years ago... if they found out you were gay you couldn't get a clearance. You were expected to keep it quite hidden. Now, if they find out you're closeted (gay but not open about it), they will reject a clearance because you weren't forthcoming.

Maybe in the future, homosexuality will be mandatory to work for the government. That's the way it's going...

And I had heard that the White House staff called him Aunt Fanny. This is my favorite White House story. Thanks for putting it here!

King also had a prediliction for wearing silk scarves and wigs... and this in an age where men didn't wear wigs in public any more.

After Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln became president, and there are many gay rumors about him (see C.A. Tripp's book "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln" or Larry Kramer's upcoming "The American People".) My theory is that for twelve years in the nineteenth century, an undercover cabal of gay politicians controlled American.

I'm not sure it was undercover!

uh huh-huh. Yeah he could pass for straight. Well, I'm not saying he's definitely gay, but it wouldn't exactly take a stint in the Navy to get him to do muffitt's hair ...

Actually quite a few history books lean to and openly admit he was a nancy boy (gay). I have yet to see one person or book calim this to be an example of flowery speech. If you get a chance read Bland Ambition by Steve Daily.

It's odd that the first response to the image was, "he's kind of hot." His eyes are a bit weird.

This led to the realization that it might be possible that I could, one day, be the Monica Lewinsky of the vice president world.

I know,I'm sick.

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