It’s Fun to Stay on the Ship at Sea

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UNRULY DESIRES
American Sailors and Homosexualities in the Age of Sail
by William Benemann
Independently Published
356 pages, $15.95

 

 

ANYONE who has read Moby- Dick will recall the scenes of Ishmael and Queequeg sharing a bed, or Ishmael giddily squeezing the hands of his fellow sailors in the sperm oil chapter, and wonder if Herman Melville was hinting at something more between Ishmael and his shipmates than mere camaraderie. An even more suggestive dynamic emerges in Melville’s Billy Budd involving the title character, Claggart, and Captain Vere, who describes Billy as “”the young fellow who seems so popular with the men—Billy, the Handsome Sailor.”

            In William Benemann’s insightful study, the driving urge for Ishmael and many others to take to the sea may have been about more than depression or adventurism. It just may have been because sailing ships offered one of the few places where one can express same-sex desire.

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Dale Boyer is the author ofThe Dandelion Cloud, Thornton Stories, andJustin and the Magic Stone.

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