Would most Americans during the Civil War know of the existence of homosexuality?

Sep 2013
824
Chattanooga, TN
#1
I recently was having a conversation with an octogenarian uncle of mine, and he said that he did not even know that there was such a thing as homosexuality until he was 15. He said that homosexuality was so stigmatized that it was taboo to even acknowledge that it existed in the 1940s and 1950s. Consequently, he did not know that there was ever a homosexual on the face of the Earth until he was 15.

I'm most curious about the Victorian Era. I think homosexuality might have been even more stigma and less known (among people who did know about it) back then. Since it was taboo to even talk or write about homosexuality back then, it's difficult to know the awareness of it among the population back then. I know that the word gay did not mean homosexual back then, so let's please not get into that. During the time of the American Civil War, would most American adults know about the existence of homosexuality in humans? I mean, from 1861-1865, would most American adults know that a small minority of humans are homosexual?
 
Dec 2014
350
Italy
#2
I recently was having a conversation with an octogenarian uncle of mine, and he said that he did not even know that there was such a thing as homosexuality until he was 15. He said that homosexuality was so stigmatized that it was taboo to even acknowledge that it existed in the 1940s and 1950s. Consequently, he did not know that there was ever a homosexual on the face of the Earth until he was 15.

I'm most curious about the Victorian Era. I think homosexuality might have been even more stigma and less known (among people who did know about it) back then. Since it was taboo to even talk or write about homosexuality back then, it's difficult to know the awareness of it among the population back then. I know that the word gay did not mean homosexual back then, so let's please not get into that. During the time of the American Civil War, would most American adults know about the existence of homosexuality in humans? I mean, from 1861-1865, would most American adults know that a small minority of humans are homosexual?
It was known in the American West history (1800-1900), but as a social life, it was a secret.
 
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Mar 2010
9,842
#3
When my Mum moved from Ireland to Australia in the 1970's, someone said to her.

"Watch out for Henry, he's a poofter."

"What's a poofter??" My convent raised mother asked.

After a brief explanation as to what a poofter was my Mum replied.

"OOHHH, we don't have them in Ireland."

So it is entirely possibly that some men wouldn't have known, particularly the younger ones. But I would find it hard to believe a man in his 30's wouldn't.
 
Apr 2016
81
Colorado, USA
#5
William Rufus King was elected vice president in 1852. Many people who knew him suspected he was gay. King was a life-long bachelor who preferred fancy clothes with lots of lace. His voice and other mannerisms had a feminine quality to them. When they were senators together he was also roommates with future President James Buchanon, another life-long bachelor. The roommates aspect is not by itself conclusive. At the time Washington was a small town, and when Congress was in session there was always a housing shortage. Congressmen sharing hotel rooms was a common practice. The fact that both King and Buchanon could be elected to national office suggests that in the 1850s homosexuality may have been slightly more tolerated than in the 1950s. If King and/or Buchanon had a secret in their lives, the lack of a modern mass media helped them keep it. I suspect that 20th century attitudes towards homosexuals were a result of the Victorian Era and had not always existed. (Yes, technically the 1850s were in the Victorian Era, but I'm not certain when Victorian sexual attitudes arrived in the US - possibly not until after the Civil War.)
 
Apr 2016
81
Colorado, USA
#6
By the way, can anyone confirm or deny my suspicion that the term 'lesbian' may have only come to mean female homosexuality during the Victorian Era? I know the word refers to the island of Lesbos and to the poetry of Sapho, but the association of Lesbos/Sapho with female homosexuality was only made in the late 1800s, yes or no?
 
Nov 2010
7,540
Cornwall
#7
I don't believe the sexual behaviour and urges of adolescents has changed too much since Spartan times.

The Victorians didn't 'not do' things. They just didn't exist at polite dinner tables.

Plus - all those soldiers together with no women? Just think about it for a bit.
 
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Sep 2013
824
Chattanooga, TN
#8
"I don't believe the sexual behaviour and urges of adolescents has changed too much since Spartan times."

Actually sexual behavior does change with the times. Premarital sex was far less common before the 1960s. Homosexuality was widely practiced and not taboo in Ancient Greece. Like I said in the opening post, homosexuality was so hidden and taboo that my uncle never even heard of it in the 1940s until he was 15.


"Plus - all those soldiers together with no women? Just think about it for a bit. "

I never thought of that before. Good point. It probably would have been somewhat like prison with people who normally identify as straight being "prison gay."
 
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Sep 2013
824
Chattanooga, TN
#9
I just researched this briefly on the internet. The word homosexual was not invented until the 1890s. We all know the word gay didn't mean homosexual back then. How hidden was homosexuality in the 1860s America? It appears it was so hidden that there was not even a word for it! That's pretty darn hidden.
 
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Aug 2015
263
Indianapolis
#10
I'll guarantee you that Gronk the Caveman knew about homosexuality! Whether or not a given society is evolved enough to recognize it publicly is a different story but, come on man, they knew about it!


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