Let Me Be Queer

Barack Obama’s 40-Year-Old Letter Reveals His Bisexual, Nonbinary Arc

Former President Barack Obama has a pretty good track record with LGBTQ+ rights, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and overseeing the legalization of same-sex marriage while in office. But a decades-old letter from Obama to a former girlfriend reveals the president may have been more than just an ally to the queer community.

In a 1982 letter to his then-girlfriend Alex McLean, a 21-year-old Obama revealed that he frequently fantasized about having sex with men.

“In regard to homosexuality, I must say that I believe this is an attempt to remove oneself from the present, a refusal perhaps to perpetuate the endless farce of earthly life. You see, I make love to men daily, but in the imagination,” Obama wrote in the letter.

It’s a long-winded way for Obama to say he’s bisexual in theory, if not in practice.

Obama also gave his thoughts on the gender binary in the letter. Spoiler alert: he’s not a fan.

“My mind is androgynous to a great extent and I hope to make it more so until I can think in terms of people, not women as opposed to men. But, in returning to the body, I see that I have been made a man, and physically in life, I choose to accept that contingency,” he added.

Again, to put it in layman’s terms, it sounds like though Obama stuck to his gender assigned at birth, he might have explored a nonbinary identity if he’d grown up in a more open-minded era.

These quotes come courtesy of biographer David Garrow, who wrote the 2017 Obama biography Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. The letter recently recaptured public attention thanks to an interview with Tablet Magazine, where Garrow explained the roundabout way he got access to the surprising quotes.

“When Alex [McLean] showed me the letters from Barack, she redacted one paragraph in one of them and just said, ‘It’s about homosexuality,’” Garrow explained. To find out what the paragraph said, Garrow sent his friend Harvey Klehr to the archives of Emory University, where the letters were being kept. There, Klehr copied down the quotes by hand, before sharing them with both Garrow and the New York Post.

Of course, the 44th President of the United States apparently having both bisexual and nonbinary tendencies wasn’t on anyone’s 2023 bingo card, and the internet had plenty to say.

This isn’t the first time Obama’s former seduction tactics have gone viral. Back in 2020, a section of Obama’s memoir A Promised Land caught the internet’s attention for a passage where the former president described how he’d use books to connect with different women he was interested in: “Marx and Marcuse so I had something to say to the long-legged socialist who lived in my dorm; Fanon and Gwendolyn Brooks for the smooth-skinned sociology major who never gave me a second look; Foucault and Woolf for the ethereal bisexual who wore mostly black.” 

Obama admitted the technique rarely worked, instead leading to platonic relationships. Now, if he had only told that “ethereal bisexual” how much they really had in common, maybe things would’ve ended differently.

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