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The smoke may have cleared from the ridges of Brokeback Mountain, but whether there were really queers among the steers on America’s frontiers remains an open question. In the unsexily titled Male-Male Intimacy in Early America, William Benemann charts the fortunes of the pink team through American history, peeking into bedrooms (and tents, barracks, and lower decks) from the Puritan colonies to Mormon Utah to that once-and-future gay mecca, San Francisco. If übersexologist Alfred Kinsey was right, and 4 percent of men are exclusively homosexual, Benemann argues that, circa 1790, some 32,292 white gay males were, à la Rock Hudson and George Michael, “hiding in plain sight.” Since few clear written or oral references to a homosexual identification exist, the author mines scant source material to find—sometimes unjustifiably—what we would now label homosocial activity, if not exactly Founding Fathers caught in the act. Giving colonial Americans credit for a fluid, Studio 54–esque understanding of sexuality, Male-Male Intimacy searches for arenas where men “temporarily” turned to other men for sex in the absence of women or attracted men interested in other men in the first place. What else was a hot-blooded, buckle-shoed man to do in a New World whose unknown, hardscrabble shores attracted few genteel ladies? When metropolitan Europeans finally established themselves, there were as many as four men for every woman, leading to “America’s first domestic partnership ordinance,” a 1644 Virginia law that allowed men to share a household. “Sodomie” was still punished by death, but prosecutions were rare. As the Village People implied, service at sea also served to bring sweaty men together in cramped conditions for years at a time. Benemann unearths cases of young “chickens” servicing older sailors of senior rank for money. The line between comradeship and romance is just as blurry in war—take Revolutionary War hero/rumored homosexual Baron von Steuben’s psychological and/or physical ménage with two aides. Even outside the military, the anonymity of a growing America’s few big cities (including the transient, mostly male Washington, to which Benemann devotes a chapter) allowed inhabitants to practice crimen inter Christianos non nominandum, the “sin not to be named among Christians.” Unfortunately for Benemann, homosexuality remains just that in the colonial record. No explicit first-person narrative of participation in a homosexual act is included in the book—everything is wink wink, nudge nudge, and hearsay. A $10 bill may not look the same after reading about Alexander Hamilton’s “romantic friendship” with fellow revolutionary John Laurens, but their passionate declarations—“I wish…by action rather than words, to convince you that I love you,” for instance—become ambiguous taking into account 200-plus years of cultural change, lexical shifts, and homophobic biographers. Benemann further weakens his case with armchair psychology (naval corporal punishment as homoerotic “theater of pain”?) and a pedestrian search for gay themes in American literature (Melville was queer—not big news). By the time Mormon polygamy is offered as an “alternative to traditional American sexual relations” that attracted homosexuals, Male-Male Intimacy starts to sound like an overdue undergraduate thesis. If any American colonial men were “in the life,” Benemann hasn’t evocatively portrayed that life here. His book’s speculative balancing act and awkward terminology—“male-male” instead of “gay,” “had a romantic friendship” instead of “were fucking”—show that all roads that begin with shaky sources end in speculation. Still, despite the gaps in the record, Male-Male Intimacy’s central point—that early Americans “were not ‘homosexual’ in our current understanding of that term, but…helped create communities that allowed for an alternative sexuality”—is striking, even with the old-fashioned dick-and-balls left out.—Justin Moyer