Correspondence from Larry

From William A. Percy
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Letters to the Editor US News and World Report

Dear Sir,

I would be grateful if you would print the following letter:

What Jamestown are we talking about here? “What really happened in Jamestown 400 years ago” [January 29]. It is not the one, I believe, that actually existed. You have left out the most important point about it.

“Jamestown was initially an all-male settlement. … It is difficult to believe that a group of young and notoriously unbridled men remained celibate for an extended period of time. It seems likely that some male settlers deprived of female companionship would have turned to each other instead.

“Settlers in the seventeenth-century Chesapeake often paired off to form all-male households, living and working together. …it would be truly remarkable if all the male-only partnerships lacked a sexual ingredient… It seems reasonable to assume that much of the sex that took place in the first few years of settlement was sodomitical.” Sexual Revolution in Early America, by Richard Godbeer, University of California at Riverside, published by Johns Hopkins [2004].

In other words, Jamestown was one of America's first gay communities. True, there was no word for “homosexual” then, but so what? Boat after boat from an England that had promised these men women failed to deliver but a few of them for almost twenty years. Year after year in the wilderness made lives for hundreds and then thousands almost too harsh to bear without affection. My own research is turning up not only widespread coupling of men with each other, indeed even with personal commitment ceremonies, but actual families being formed as two men bought infants from the Indians to raise as their own.

The operative words in Professor Godbeer's quote are “It seems reasonable to assume.” Why, year after year, are homosexuals left out of all histories of our country? Why are academics and historians so naïve, nay blind, certainly frightened of us? Homosexuality has been here since the beginning, like heterosexuality, for which there also was no word.

The writer was the founder of the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies at Yale, as well as the co-founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis and the founder of ACT UP. He is the author of the novel, Faggots as well as the play The Normal Heart and the screenplay for the film of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love. He is currently writing The American People: A History.

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