Same-Sex Desire and the American Slave Narrative
To shed light on same-sex experiences of American slaves, author Charles Clifton suggests re-reading narratives written by former slaves. For instance, in The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, former slave Equiano discloses that, on his passage from Africa, a white co-voyager named Queen “messed with me on board” and “became very attached to me, [saying that] he and I never should part.” Equiano “grew very fond of” another white companion. On many nights they laid “in each other's bosoms.”
About his fellow slaves, Frederick Douglass writes in My Bondage and My Freedom, “No band of brothers could have been more loving.” He leaves un-detailed his “long and intimate, though by no means friendly, relation” with a former slave master. And he alludes to the “out-of-the-way places . . . where slavery . . . can, and does, develop all its malign and shocking characteristics . . . without apprehension or fear of exposure.”
Clifton observes “in these passages a familiarity with same-sex relations on the part of the authors.” He remarks that there are many “unchartered areas of research” within “the realm of slave sexuality.” An unbiased “attempt to read…what was not overtly articulated” may unearth relationships that “are not necessarily heterosexual.”
1. Charles Clifton, “Rereading Voices from the Past: Images of Homo-Eroticism in the Slave Narrative,” in The Greatest Taboo: Homosexuality in Black Communities, ed. Delroy Constantine-Simms (Los Angeles: Alyson, 2000), 347.
2. Clifton, 346-347.
3. Clifton, 347.
4. Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom. Part I. Life as a Slave. Part II. Life as a Freeman. (New York: Miller, Orton and Mulligan, 1855), 421.
5. Douglass, 62.
6. Clifton, 349.
7. Clifton, 358.
8. Clifton, 344, 358.