Happy 194th Birthday
Henry David Thoreau, (1817-1862)
For more go to glbtq.com
. . . .Thoreau is perhaps best known for his stay at Walden Pond, chronicled in Walden (1854), and his night in jail after refusing to pay a poll tax to a government that supported the Mexican War and endorsed slavery. He wrote about this latter act of protest in "Resistance to Civil Government," popularly known as "Civil Disobedience," an essay that has inspired many, including Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
. . . .
Biographers remain undecided about Thoreau's sexuality. He never married. He proposed to Ellen Sewall in 1840, but she rejected his offer. Some believe he was a "repressed" homosexual and others that he was asexual and remained celibate all of his life.
But his Journals, his essay "Chastity and Sensuality," and the long discourse on "Friendship" in A Week are prolific expressions of the beauty, and the agony, of love between men.
Some of these discussions are said to refer to his brother or to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Others clearly refer to two men whom Thoreau found particularly attractive: Tom Fowler, whom Thoreau chose as a guide on a trip to the Maine woods; and Alek Therien, the Canadian woodchopper who visited Thoreau at Walden Pond.
The passion evident in his discourses on love and friendship, and the utter lack of reference to women in his writings, has made Thoreau of great interest to scholars of gay and lesbian literature. Jonathan Katz included a section on Thoreau in his Gay American History. Walter Harding, the distinguished Thoreau scholar, argued quite convincingly in 1991 that Thoreau's "actions and words . . . indicate a specific sexual interest in members of his own sex."
Complicating matters concerning Thoreau's sexuality is historical research suggesting that homosexual identity is a late nineteenth-century phenomenon. But, as Michael Warner suggests, Thoreau's writing resists normalization even within nineteenth-century "rhetorics of romance and sexuality."
Although Thoreau may not have identified as "homosexual" in the way a twentieth-century gay man might, his rhetoric of sexual difference strikes a chord with gay readers and anticipates an emerging homosexual identity: "I love man with the same distinction that I love woman--as if my friend were of some third sex--some other or some stranger and still my friend" (Journal 2:245).