Phillip Nobile wrote to wish that I link to his reply to Andrew Sullivan, whom I quoted approvingly in my last Lincoln post. After reading it all yet again, Nobile's 2001 HNN posting, Donâ€™t Ask, Donâ€™t Tell, Donâ€™t Publish: Homophobia in Lincoln Studies? followed by his Weekly Standard Review and finally Sullivan's New Republic essay, I have to say I come down once again on the side of Sullivan.
Details are in the extended entry.
Lincoln spent years sleeping in a small bad with Joshua Speed, he slept in the White House with Captain David V. Derickson when his wife was away and pulled strings to keep the good captain around. Nobile, who well knows these facts and in 2001 wrote, "I do believe that bisexuality (he was bisexual by definition) is the best explanation for Lincoln's sex life" and "If I am right, all of Lincoln biography is wrong and all of Lincoln's biographers were blind" now finds "One of the biggest roadblocks to the Gay Lincoln Theory is the fact that neither friends nor enemies ever connected the man to homosexual thoughts, words, or deeds. Would not a secret of that magnitude have leaked out somehow, sometime?" Well, no. Sorry Phillip, my experience tells me otherwise. Once again I side with Andrew Sullivan:
The contours of a closeted gay life--the subtle effects of concealed homosexuality on behavior, public and private--are most easily recognized by other gay men, for the simple reason that many have experienced the same things. And the very nature of a closeted life is that it is hard to discern from the surface.
Nobile and C.A. Tripp were friends for 25 years, then had a falling out; now it's Tripp's The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln we're talking about, rather than Nobile's A Harp of a Thousand Strings: The Queer Lincoln Theory. It's hard not to wonder how resentment might impact his review. Or his plagiarism charge. Remember, I believe that everything's derivative and plagiarism is particularly tricky to discern in a work of collaborative non-fiction. In this instance Nobile's own telling leaves me still trusting Simon & Schuster's general counsel Elisa Rivlin, who in an endnote writes, "From 1996 to 2000, C.A. Tripp worked with Philip Nobile on the early drafting of this book, principally of this chapter, the original draft of which was written by Mr. Nobile. After disagreement on various points of interpretation, methodology, and wording, the relationship came to an end."
Nobile does make his points; I'll grant him that the onset of Lincoln's puberty was at age 11 not 9. But that doesn't change the totality of the evidence. Writes Sullivan:
In any particular piece of evidence that Tripp discovers, I'd say it's easy to dismiss his theory. But when you review all the many pieces of the Lincoln emotional-sexual puzzle, the homosexual dimension gets harder and harder to ignore. As conservative writer Richard Brookhiser has noted, all we can say with complete confidence is that "on the evidence before us, Lincoln loved men, at least some of whom loved him back." That's a pretty good definition of the core truth of homosexuality.
As to the other reviewers who trash the book, Phillip, you had it right back in 2001: "Perhaps the best word to describe their reaction is homophobic, that is, fear of a lavender Lincoln."