A Queer History of the United States
time Julia Ward Howe began writing The Hermaphrodite, an uncompleted novel that details the life and loves of Laurence, who is both woman and man. Laurence has “bearded lip and earnest brow . . . falling shoulders, slender neck, and rounded bosom” and tells Emma, a woman who falls in love with him/her, “I am as God made me.” Howe uses the noted Greek sculpture known as the Sleeping Hermaphrodite as a central image in the work and, as Fuller did with classical allusion, uses it to convey a multiplicity of meanings. The bi-gendered Laurence is often confused about her/his life, but feels filled with enormous emotional and sexual potential that is, like the sculpture, sleeping. Although Emma calls Laurence a “monster,” Howe’s attitude to the character is kindly ambivalent. Later in the book, when Laurence has a passionate, unconsummated affair with sixteen-year-old Ronald, Howe is overtly sympathetic.
    Scholar Gary Williams argues that The Hermaphrodite, which was not finished or published in Howe’s lifetime, was her way of attempting to understand her husband’s relationship with Sumner. Not having a specific language for a love between men that can coexist with a love between a man and a woman, Howe imagines a man-woman, in the classical mode, who is capable of both. Julia Ward Howe knew how to directly express what was wrong with her life. In 1854 she published Passion-Flowers, a book of poems that openly spoke of her isolation as a woman and mother in a difficult marriage. But The Hermaphrodite is not simply coded fiction about a personal problem. It is a manifestation of a culture in which gender role limitations and nontraditional sexual relationships were actively, albeit in a coded way, discussed as political issues. Howe’s involvement with a wide range of social change movements—helping to organize the American Woman Suffrage Association, convening the first national meeting of women ministers, and, as editor of The Woman’s Journal, advocating a feminist argument for peace—informs how she thought her views about gender and sexuality were a vital component of full citizenship.
    Same-Sex Desire and the Democratization of Race
    The influence of the transcendentalists and their bold philosophical and social views promoted a public discussion that treated issues such as race, science, reproduction, gender, and sexual activity outside the realm of religion. For many of the transcendentalists, science replaced theology as they embraced the new work in the natural sciences, including the theories of Charles Darwin. One of the transcendentalists’ greatest political legacies—articulated by Thoreau, but embraced in various forms by most of his circle—was the concept of civil disobedience: an individual’s legitimate resistance to legal authority when her or his standard of personal morality is compromised.
    Throughout the century, the subject of race and racial difference was central to discussions of personal liberty and how the promised ideal of freedom could be manifest in a country that, amid institutionalized slavery, was becoming more diverse. These discussions happened in myriad venues: pamphlets, broadsides, sermons, lectures, novels, and theatrical dramatizations such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Discussions of race did not focus solely on abolition. Leslie Fiedler’s 1948 essay “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!” elucidates how American literature has a history of connecting same-sex male eroticism and interracial friendships between white males and men of either Native American or African descent. Such relationships appear in novels by James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, and Mark Twain, among others. The association between male homoeroticism and race was not accidental and was easily integrated into American culture. Fiedler claims that these relationships are not just about race, but are reflective of a desired male flight from the “civilization” of women and the family

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