The Great Frontier of the Western Queer
The identity of LGBTQIA+ individuals dates back to before the common era. So, it is no surprise that these identities are represented in the western part of the U.S. as well. For those who are unaware each letter in LGBTQIA+ represents one or more identity. The singular represented identities include “L” for lesbian, “G” for gay, “B” for bisexual, “T” for transsexual, and “I” for intersex. Whereas the letters “Q” and “A” have 2 meanings, “Q” represents those whose gender identity is Queer or an individual who is questioning and the letter “A” represents asexual or ally to the community. The final part of this acronym is the “+” which encompasses all the sub identities with in each identity represented in the letters. These identities have been around for so long, yet they have always been tabooed in many cultures. In western culture, the more conservative part of the United States of America is the southern and western states. Although these identities were present, they tended to be very hush hush about true intentions and feelings in many cases publicly. Through research I found the LGBTQIA+ community was represented in many different ways in history and even has had and continues to have a strong media presence.
In many cases the lines of sexuality were blurred especially in all male societies. The census taken by the state of California in 1850 “revealed that more than 90 percent of the state’s population was male. Certain professions, such as cattle herding and mining, attracted a high proportion of unmarried or unattached men because the labor was strenuous, time-consuming, and often necessitated living in primitive and makeshift camps–a lifestyle that was perceived as inappropriate or even dangerous for women” (1). A brother hood is formed through interdependence of one another in these all male communities. Bommersbach author of “Homos on the Range: How gay was the West?” quotes author of Same Sex Affairs Boag in her article which states, “it was not unusual for same sex relationships, and it was just an acceptable thing to do. People engaged in same sex activities weren’t seen as homosexuals” (2). This in sight is very interesting to me because the fact that same sex activities and same sex relationships in same sex communities were accepted discredits the fact that what was happening was out of societal norms is sort of comforting. Understandably they did not have terms like gay or homosexual at the time, even heterosexual was not even used in print till the early 20th century. The term used back in the early 19th century for gay men was punk more used today commonly in prisons to identify sexual partners.
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The term used to describe these communities made up of interdependent men was a paradise of bachelors. In these paradises of bachelors there were organizations that were all-male social clubs such as service clubs, professional clubs, and fraternities which are all still very common to this day at a different level of interaction. Their admission process was quite elaborate, “initiation ceremonies (were) intended to create intimate bonds between members, these organizations took over some of the traditional functions of the family and provided sanctioned social outlets for men to interact with other men without the presence of women” (1).These groups were present across the United States, but a large portion were formed due to western expansion. The western expansion caused certain professions to shift location and even new professions to spike up causing lots of migration towards the west for fresh starts. These professions and land being unchartered was considered unsafe causing men to be more dependent on other men. In these communities’ men depended on one another for economic assistance, and companionship. In these communities nothing else really mattered other than survival and getting rich, race was often seen as secondary “White men amicably shared tents, food, and economic responsibilities with Chinese, African American, and Latino miners” (1) emphasis was placed completely on the interdependence of the social and economic state of the cowboys. Without the presence of women, the unstable line dividing the homosocial from the homosexual (that is, dividing non-sexual male bonding activities from sexual contact between men) became even more blurred. Men shared beds in mining communities and on the range, and cowboys and miners settled into partnerships that other men recognized as “bachelor marriages”. In attempts to normalize their actions camps in California held dances were half the men danced as if they were women wearing a patch to represent their feminine role. Although there was an absence of women it is important to comment on the fact that for some of these men the only way to be comfortable with being with another man is if they took the more submissive role. So were all men in bachelor paradises 100% gay I would say no, but they were definitely not 0 or 1 on the Kinsey scale.
It is difficult to find unambiguous references to homosexual relationships in nineteenth-century American writings, partly because there was no vocabulary to express such relationships at the time. Walt Whitman, who had several intimate relationships with men, struggled with this absence of language in his poetic efforts to describe and record his passionate same-sex relationships. In his Calamus poems and the “Twenty-eight Bathers” section of Song of Myself, for example, Whitman produced moving, evocative portraits of male homosexual love. But he often felt compelled to “shade and hide [his] thoughts,” as he put it, because he was unable to speak as explicitly as he might have liked. Interestingly, Whitman’s descriptions of heterosexual encounters caused more public outrage than his “Calamus” poems did, perhaps because his homoerotic imagery was new and innovative, and thus unfamiliar to much of his audience. Still, the implications of Whitman’s poetry certainly reached some of his readers. Eve Sedgwick has noted that Whitman’s writings, Whitman’s image, and Whitman’s name came to function as a kind of code for men to communicate their homosexual identity and their homoerotic attractions to one another: “Photographs of Whitman, gifts of Whitman’s books, specimens of his handwriting, news of Whitman, admiring references to ‘Whitman’ which seem to have functioned as badges of homosexual recognition, were the currency of a new community that saw itself as created in Whitman’s image.” While certainly not all bachelors had homosexual experiences, the creation and legitimization of new social spheres made up of single men defined and enabled a variety of masculine identities and same-sex relationships. An interesting poem with unknown author encompasses the social climate of the west in bachelor paradises, “Young cowboys had a great fear/That old studs once filled with beer/Completely addle’/ They’d throw on the saddle/And ride them on the rear. The poem is very crude way of describing what was happening in the male dominant communities out west.
All historical writing about LGBTQIA+ lacks information on lesbians in the Old West. Part of that is due to the age-old problem that history has often ignored the women in order to concentrate on every nuance of the men. But part of this is also due to the fact that lesbian women were hard to identify. Women have forever and will always have close female friendships and connections, and if any of those became or were sexual, they could easily be disguised. It could be inferred that many spinsters never got married due to their attraction to women. Historically men have never reacted as negatively to female same-sex activities as they have to men’s same sex relationships. The idea that lesbian tendencies are not well documented in history does not surprise me because it was frowned on. As well as the enjoyment men may have gotten from it, but did not want to support it so the subject was never brought to light. There presents is important thing that is over looked mostly because women are underrepresented throughout history.
Even more aggressively denied was the presence of trans identities in the Old West. At the hoedowns there was an extreme gender imbalance between men and women. At these events some cowboys wore an apron or a bandana to signify them as “women,” they would also be referred to as “ladies fair” or “she” during these dances. Another recorded account of cowboys challenging the borders of gender, was by a man by the name of Jake DePuyster. He noticed the lack of feminine energy rose to the occasion. DePuyster had a trick up his sleeve to bring the men’s moral up he cross dressed impersonating a woman. He did this by “wearing a red hat with flowers and a green feather, a pink sash tied around his waist with a bow and a pair of bloomers which hung down over his chaps, gun belt, and spurs. Although his buddy was not amused, Jake, by all accounts, became the belle of the ball” (4).
The longest account of hidden sex identity is held by a man named Charely Parkhurst they were actually born as Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst. “The story goes that while in the poor house he discovered that boys have a great advantage over girls in the battle of life, and he desired to become a boy”(9). This well-known stage coach driver from east to the west was known for being the safest driver and having a special relationship with the horses. Etched on their grave in Watsonville, California is the “First Women to Vote in the U.S.” allegedly Parkhurst was registered to vote in Santa Cruz County about 50 years before women were given the right to vote (9). Although some suspect that Charely was just a disguise for Charlotte which would make the above statement true. “It was illegal, it was a crime, so people didn’t go around professing what their real identities were. They were hidden identities.” stated Dr. Mark Jarrett author of E Pluribus Unum. If Parkhurst was truly transgender as people speculated after their death, than their tomb stone is false because they did not identify with being a women when/if they voted in the presidential election.