Chubby Mature Gay Seeks Handsome Black Sailor: Whiteness, Billy Budd and the Erotic Submission to National Authority
Melville’s novel, Billy Budd, a seminal text within the history of American gay culture, launched a troubling visual erasure of nonwhite people from the canon of exemplary queer bodies in popular media. The African sailor in the opening passages of Melville’s novel and the force of his removal from the rest of the story, frames the textual figuration of my analysis. Once he passes by, the handsome African sailor is also passed by. The plot unfolds on a British military ship without him—in its wake over the next sixty years, the sailor is excised from all visual iterations of Melville’s text and subsequent queer analyses.
This is the narrative path—a movement of image, text and social power—which I would like to posit as historically American. My project catalogues the proliferation of images in art, advertisements and film that can be linked to Billy Budd as raw material. I argue that the representation of Melville’s work in contemporary media reflects the way we queer our submission to US citizenship and its attendant racisms, naturalizing white masculinity within self-proclaimed radical sexual subcultures, from dominant gay and lesbian to white transgender male social circles.