WATCH: Tony Kushner on why Abe isn’t gay in ‘Lincoln’

Hey, why didn’t firebrand gay writer Tony Kushner express his belief that Abe Lincoln was probably gay in the biopic he wrote for Steven Spielberg? When Kushner began tackling the script six years ago, rumors flew claiming that he got Spielberg to agree to let him show a hint of lavender (to quote Carl Sandburg‘s description of Lincoln), but the final version is sexless.

“I find it difficult to believe that Lincoln was banging anybody” at that time in history when he was “ground to a pulp by the war and by the pressures of his job,” Kushner says in our video chat. “Now maybe he was. I personally believe that there is some reason to speculate that Lincoln might have been bisexual or gay.”

Historical evidence is titillating. Much has been made about the fact that Lincoln slept in the same bed with his pal Joshua Speed for three years when they were young adults, but Kushner doesn’t think that meant they were lovers. Back in those days, men frequently shared beds without their hands wandering under the sheets.

However, Lincoln’s relationship with his bodyguard, Captain David Derickson, was much more suspect. During the early days of the war, in 1862 and 1863, they not only shared a bed frequently, but Lincoln once answered a knock at his bedroom door while wearing Derickson’s nightshirt as the captain slumbered in his sack. Gossipmeisters buzzed about them. The wife of a navy aide wrote, “Oh, there is a Bucktail soldier here devoted to the president, drives with him, and when Mrs. L is not home, sleeps with him. What stuff!”

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Lincoln once wrote a poem that hinted at gay marriage:

“For Reuben and Charles have married two girls,
But Billy has married a boy.
The girls he had tried on every side,
But none he could get to agree;
All was in vain, he went home again,
And since that he’s married to Natty.”

However, Kushner avoids all that in his biographical treatment of American’s 16th president.

“I wanted to write about a very specific moment and I chose this moment and I don’t feel that there was any evidence at this particular moment that Lincoln was having sex with anybody,” Kushner says. “He seems to have not slept and taken no time off during this period …. I don’t say in my movie whether the Lincoln character was gay or straight. You can ask Daniel (Day-Lewis) what he was playing, but it did not seem to me a thing to make a movie about now.”

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However, Kushner asserts, “I think people are absolutely right to make speculative fiction about Lincoln’s sexuality. There’s enough evidence to speculate. There are, unfortunately, no memoirs, no diaries, nothing to say for sure.

“I absolutely believe that the Lincoln marriage was a real marriage,” he adds. “These two people loved each other …. It wouldn’t be the first time that a gay man and a straight woman hooked up and had a great marriage. But I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

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3 thoughts on “WATCH: Tony Kushner on why Abe isn’t gay in ‘Lincoln’

  1. Kushner punted on this one. There is a brief scene where an awoken aide asks if Lincoln “wants company” and Lincoln says no and tousles his hair. That ain’t enough from our leading gay playwright. And did people really say “fuck” and “shit” that much back then? I know we didn’t invent the words, but I question how much effort went into figuring out how people spoke back then. But as they say, “Other than that, how did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” I appreciate that Tony told a very political story and found parts of it very affecting.

  2. This is a joke, right? If anything, the fact that Kushner is the “leading gay playwright” as Andy wrote and he still ignored the possible gay subtext just goes to show where that ranks in this story. It’s a political, historical film!

  3. Kushner didn’t “punt”; he knew the gay question would overwhelm his message, especially in a story about Lincoln. Kushner’s name is so closely associated with “Angels in America” that his mere presence irks those who would accuse him of a “gay agenda”; making his Lincoln gay when by his own admission it wasn’t needed for the story would have only confirmed those accusations. To paraphrase a line often falsely attributed to Lincoln, Kushner kept his mouth shut and made some people think he was stupid, rather than opening his mouth and removing all doubt.

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