Lambda Lore

Blow the man down

“Squeeze! Squeeze! Squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed the sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me, and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborer’s hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such abounding affectionate, friendly and loving feeling I was continually squeezing their hands… Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm forever!”

Calm down boys, this is not gay porn but great American literature.

I have this image that most gay folk are witty, urbane, sophisticated and well read, but then I meet, once in awhile, someone who’s lost all interest in literature because they’ve discovered that the name of the great American novel isn’t Moby’s Dick.

Seriously folks, wouldn’t you have stayed awake more in English class if you knew that at least half the people they were making you read about were gay men and women? Take for example Herman Melville, boring right? Hell no! How many of you ran away at the age of 17, became a cabin boy and shipped out to the South Seas? Then at the age of 22, jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands to spend a month on the only Polynesian Islands where homosexuality was practiced openly. Then a year later in 1843, having been voted off the island, enlisted as a seaman on the frigate United States?

Melville not only did these things but wrote about them. In his novel White Jacket he alluded to the “sweet sound that calls the young sailors” that Kermit the Frog sang about.

“What too many seamen are when ashore is very well known; but what some of them become when completely cut off from shore indulgences, can hardly be imagined by landsmen. The sins for which the cities of the plain were overthrown still linger in some of these wooden-walled Gomorrahs of the deep.”

Whether the 23-year-old Melville indulged in the “sins of Gomorrah,” that is open to speculation (I am betting he did) but what is known, is he certainly had a man crush on Jack Chase, who became his literary archetype for the “Handsome Sailor.” In 1891, three months before his death, Melville, after finally completing Billy Budd, Sailor dedicated the book to “Jack Chase, Englishman/Wherever that great heart may now be.

Melville’s manuscript Billy Budd, about the love between men at sea, languished in his estate for years –  too hot to handle. Finally in 1924, 43 years after his death, it was published; and is today considered to be one of only about 50works of western literature from the 19th century that treated the subject of male homosexuality, more or less, openly.

But Melville couldn’t be gay because at the age of 27 he married a woman, you say! I say, “Ha!” He was not content with the arrangement, let me tell you. In fact in his first book published after his wedding, Mardi, and a Voyage Thither (1849) about intimate male bonding, he equated marriage with suicide.

At the age of 30, Melville packed up his family and moved to Massachusetts where he became smitten with American literary giant, Nathaniel Hawthorne. We know of his infatuation from an anonymous review of one of Hawthorne’s poems that Melville published – probably to his wife’s mortification.

“The soft ravishments of the man spun round about me in a web of dreams… But already I feel that Hawthorne had dropped the germanous seeds in my soul;. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him, the further and further, shoots his strong New England roots into the hot soil in my Southern soul.”

Now that’s hot! And no, Melville was not a Southerner, so you can only imagine where the soil of his hot southern soul was. Oh, Mary!

In 1851, at the age of 31, Melville completed his masterpiece Moby Dick, which he dedicated to none other than Nathaniel Hawthorne. In his whale of a tale, there are passages after passages about male-to-male intimacy. I hope his wife didn’t read it.

Take, for example, when the youthful hero Ishmael arrived in the seaport of New Bedford, he found he had to share a bed with a stranger after the innkeeper tells him “I s’pose you are goin’ a whalin’ so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.”

Ishmael climbed into the bed, fell asleep, and woken in the dark by the return of a tattooed South Sea Islander named Queequeg. Though frightened that the fierce-looking islander might be a cannibal, Ishmael managed to fall back asleep with the native next to him, only to find in the morning that Queequag liked to cuddle.

“Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife.”

Ishmael soon warmed up to his bed mate saying: “I felt a melting in me… Wild he was, a very sight of sights to see; yet I began to feel myself mysteriously drawn towards him… and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me around the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me if need should be.”

Then Melville had the young hero and the Island native go to bed like a married couple. “This done we undressed and went to bed…Thus in our hearts’ honeymoon, lay I and Queequeg- a cosy loving pair.”

That Ishmael was in love with his tattooed Islander leaves no doubt after he lets Queequeg smoke in bed. “Be it said, that though I had felt such a strong repugnance to his smoking in the bed the night before, yet see how elastic our stiff prejudices grow when love once comes to bend them. For now I liked nothing better than to have Queequeg smoking by me, even in bed, because he seemed to be full of such serene household joy then.”

I bet their “stiff prejudices” grew. (Did I use my outside voice? Whoops!)

After Nathaniel Hawthorne praised Moby Dick’s literary merits, Melville exclaimed, My Dear Hawthorne, I shall leave the world, I feel, with more satisfaction for having come to know you. Knowing you persuades me more than the Bible of our immortality.” Hawthorne, however, uncomfortable with Melville’s queer adoration, became estranged from Melville by 1856, and they never saw each other again. Even with Hawthorne’s unrequited love, Melville still carried a torch for him. After Hawthorne’s death in 1864, the brokenhearted Melville wrote this poetic effigy: “To have known him, to have loved him After loneness long And then to be estranged in life And neither in the wrong And now for death to set his seal- Ease me, a little ease, my song.”

I hope my insipid Gay Literature 101 lesson on Herman Melville and his “Moby Dick” inspires some of you to peruse queer prose other than on Craigslist. Speaking of Moby Dick, this is my favorite literary joke:

“You know how you can tell Moby Dick is a sperm whale?”

“No Why?”

“Because he eats a lot seamen.”

Kaboom! Big finish!

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