Strange Flesh: The Use Of Lovecraftian Archetypes in Queer Fiction – Lovecraft And Sex
Authors Note: This is part 2 of an ongoing series.
“When I was six or seven I was of course curious about the allusions which I did not understand in adult books, and about the prohibitions imposed by elders upon my conversation. Being of a scientifick and investigative cast, I naturally followed up the mysteries step by step in encyclopedias and other books – for with my temper no one dared seriously restrict my reading. Ending with the medical books of my physician-uncle, I knew everything there is to be known about the anatomy and physiology of reproduction in both sexes before I was eight years old; after which curiosity was of course impossible. The entire subject had become merely a tedious detail of animal biology… …the result was the very opposite of what parents generally fear – for instead of giving me an abnormal and precocious interest in sex (as unsatisfied curiosity might have done), it virtually killed my interest in the subject. The whole matter was reduced to prosaic mechanism – a mechanism which I rather despised or at least thought non-glamourous because of its purely animal nature and separation from such things as intellect and beauty – and all the drama was taken out of it. When the kids talked or acted dirtily I could have told them more than they tried to tell me.” (Lovecraft, 1994)
Lovecraft was a complex man in terms of his thoughts on sex, and there have been many theories and suggestions that have been discussed by academics in this regard for some time now. While some, have speculated that Lovecraft was a closeted homosexual. L. Sprauge De Camp writes in his work “Lovecraft: A Biography”:
“Others have surmised that he might have been a homosexual or at least a latent one. They have cited his indifference to heterosexual relationships; the lack of women in his stories, whose leading characters are often a single male narrator and one close male friend; and his many friendships with younger men, some of whom either were overt homosexuals or had tendencies in that direction.” (De, 1975)
It is very true of Lovecraft’s work that you could interpret it as being in regards to his closeted sexuality. Stanley C. Sargent argued during an interview with Peter A. Worthy, regarding the short story “The Outsider”:
“I felt convinced the author had gone through the same situation I was going through, the abject horror of recognizing you are gay in a very anti-gay world. [. . .] I tried to find an alternative reason for Lovecraft considering himself such an extreme “outsider,” but I discovered no plausible other reason for such an extreme feeling of being an isolated monster. I didn't really care a whit about Lovecraft's sexual orientation (I am not trying to claim him as one of "us"), so at the time it occurred to me that I might be projecting a bit. Yet, as I read more about Lovecraft's life, I began to see that all the ingredients were there. [. . .] His upbringing with a dominant, overly protective mother (who dressed him as a girl for the first few years of his life) and the nearly total absence of a father is the classic formula for a male child being gay. Although he declared his distaste for homosexuals, in particular effeminate males, he was often described as effeminate himself. Plus he was a close friend with Samuel Loveman for many years and Loveman was hardly in the closet about his activities. Finally, I can come up with no other logical explanation for Lovecraft's close relationship with the teenage Barlow during the last years of his life, to the point of making Barlow his literary executor.” (Sargent, 1997)
This is perhaps the most all-encompassing argument for Lovecraft being himself, a homosexual, however, this argument is not looked kindly upon by most academics, who point out that although Lovecraft didn’t seem to have much interest in heterosexual romance – on the page and in real life, he was generally indifferent to all romantic relationships. Bobby Derie, author of “Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos” points this out as well as stating that “he never gave any indication of considering or desiring a homosexual relationship, and at least for the brief period of cohabitation in his marriage (he) performed heterosexual intercourse.” (Derie, 2014)
It simply cannot be said without reasonable doubt that Lovecraft was a homosexual. There is no solid evidence to support the claim. Lovecraft never made any reference to any homosexual affairs or admission in any of his letters or any other written accounts. However, for many, the fact that he had a general lack of interest in the opposite sex, surrounded himself exclusively with male friends, wrote almost exclusively about men, and was by all accounts “unmasculine” in his behaviour, is proof enough.
“That he married a woman and had sexual relations with her, or that he was derisive to homosexuals in his letters, is insufficient or even considered proof for those determined to believe; certainly, some homosexual men have attempted to conform to heteronormative behaviour by engaging in heterosexual marriages and sexual relationships, or to hide themselves or voice self-disgust by loudly deriding homosexuals.” (Derie, 2014)
In Lovecraft’s short story “The Outsider” he tells the tale of a miserable, isolated narrator with little to no memory, who eventually discovers to his horror that he has become a kind of ghoulish creature. This story is probably one of the most often cited examples of homosexuality being written into his stories, however it does not hold up under scrutiny. In his article “Homosexual Panic in the Outsider” Robert M. Price explains that although he was analysing the concept of homosexuality in Lovecraft’s story, the “present article does not really count as evidence for Lovecraft’s homosexuality, since “The Outsider” ’s vivid parallel to “homosexual panic” notwithstanding, Lovecraft seems never to have undergone this crisis.” (Price, 1982) In response to this article, Eileen McNamara M.D. writes that although it is “entirely plausible” that Lovecraft had “homosexual desires” “…the story gives us no clue, and the repressed wish may also, or in addition, have been matricide or incest."
There is also the question of Lovecraft’s gender identity, which we will touch on briefly. Some critics have for example questioned Lovecraft’s “male-ness” and attributed his staunch attitude towards sexuality as a way to try conform to the cisgender norms of his society.
“Given this background, Lovecraft’s later homophobia can be seen as his means of self-definition to correspond to his scripted gender role while distancing himself from the early liminal space he occupied.” (Derie,2014)
The background being referred to is Lovecraft’s early years, how (as previously stated) as a young boy Lovecraft would go unbreeched, with long girlish hair up until he was about six years old, also having the tendency to insist repeatedly “I’m a little girl!” (Joshi 2010, 65-66)
However, once again, Lovecraft’s critics desire to place him within the LGBTQ box fall short, as Lovecraft himself explained:
“My mother innocently helped to swell my self-esteem by recording all my ‘cute’ childish sayings, and I began to make these ‘naïve’ remarks on purpose to draw attention.” (Derie, 2014)
Adding to the case against Lovecraft being transgendered in some way, his wife Sonia has pointed out that Lovecraft’s mother dressed him the way she did because she “wanted to have a daughter.” (Derie, 2014)
This small argument over Lovecraft’s gender identity, like his sexuality, does not hold up particularly well to the microscope. Kids say the darndest things after all, and it was common practice for children (no matter their biological sex) to go unbreeched and with long hair in that day and age. After his hair was cut and he began to wear pants, there is no evidence in any of his correspondence with others or even his private writings to suggest that he struggled with his gender identity in any way. (Derie, 2014)
So what was Lovecraft’s deal then? A young writer who was homophobic, yet effeminate. Had only male friends (many of whom were gay), was married and consummated that marriage, yet disgusted by sex and sexuality in all shapes and forms. It is most likely that Lovecraft himself was an Asexual man trying to fit into a heterosexual society. It can be suggested that the source of Lovecraft’s “outsider-ness”, what made him write such spectacular horror fiction was that he knew even if only on a subconscious level, that he was different, specifically, sexually different to those around him.
“It should be noted that much of Lovecraft’s apparent misanthropy was, for the most part a rhetorical and ideological construct rather than one he enacted literally in his life… His marriage to Sonia Greene shows he had some difficulty applying his professed anti-Semitism, and his friendship with Samuel Loveman also shows the incongruities between his prejudices and his social life. Loveman was a homosexual poet whose work was greatly admired by Lovecraft… While I do not subscribe to the theory proposed (too reductively) by some that Lovecraft was a repressed homosexual, (I find viewing Lovecraft to be simply asexual more accurate) Lovecraft’s apparent (and likely subconscious) tolerance for homosexuality presents some interesting possibilities. Firstly, homosexual relationships are not incumbent upon women (always a social conservative, Lovecraft unsurprisingly viewed women as being secondary and somehow lesser beings than men). Secondly, homosexuals, unlike women and those of “inferior races”, did not reproduce and thus contribute to the horrors of miscegenation and degeneration that Lovecraft feared.” (Lord, 2004)
In the end, it can be supposed that this was what Lovecraft’s horror was all about: him dealing with the (perceived) horrors of miscegenation and how they were contributing to the downfall of human society. But perhaps, even further than that, his fears spoke of a disgust for mankind itself, a viewpoint that would tie in well with his chosen literary philosophy of Cosmicism. And upon touching upon these perceived horrors of miscegenation, we can move on from the man Lovecraft, and begin to discuss the first of our pieces.
De, C. L. (1975). Lovecraft: A biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Derie, B. (2014). Sex and Lovecraft. In Sex and the Cthulhu mythos [Kindle 6 version]. Retrieved from http://www.hippocampuspress.com/h.p-lovecraft/about-hp-lovecraft/sex-and-the-cthulhu-mythos
Lord, B. (2004). The genetics of horror: Sex and racism in H.P. Lovecraft's fiction. Retrieved from http://www.thephora.net/forum/archive/index.php/t-41907.html
Lovecraft, H. P. (1994). Letters to Samuel Loveman & Vincent Starrett. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press.
Price, R. M. (1982). H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. West Linn, OR: Starmont House.
Sargent, S. C. (1997). Stanley C. Sargent. Retrieved from http://reocities.com/athens/forum/4162/sargent.html