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!”
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.”
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.”