This essay has been written in order to stimulate discussion about what has been described as General Charles Gordon's homosexual traits. The discussion begins by outlining the evidence often cited as proof that Gordon was a latent homosexual, then examines John Pollock's refutation of these allegations, and finally offers an alternative explanation for Gordon's behaviour.
Evidence for Gordon's alleged homosexuality
It has to be stated at the outset that there are no confessions written by supposed lovers. There was no court trial, as in Oscar Wilde's case, or army record of him having been cashiered for what was then, a serious offence. Writers who have maintained that Gordon was a closet homosexual, such as Richardson, largely rely on his behavioural traits to provide their evidence.
What is this evidence? Firstly he began his days by having a cold bath (a fact cited by many authors including Pollock). This is often explained as being necessary to "cool his passions." Secondly, there is his liking for small children, in particular boys. There is no doubt that Gordon enjoyed the company of young boys. From all accounts he seemed to have sought them out, spent time with them in his home and nursed them when they were sick. It has to be said that this suggests not only latent homosexuality but latent paedophillia. Thirdly, there is Gordon's aversion to women: he is on record as having refused invitations from women if he felt that he was being lined up to marry a young woman. Gordon remained a bachelor all of his life.
On their own, none of these facts provide conclusive proof of homosexuality, but taken as a whole, to the modern mind, it would seem to be fairly conclusive proof that Gordon was, as Pollock puts it, "sexually orientated towards men."
Pollock, who does not set out to refute the evidence point by point, starts by admitting that Gordon felt "ill at ease with women," and he then asserts that "many clues suggest a man of normal male instincts who was determined to stay celibate." He then quotes from a number of sources to show that Gordon approved of marriage but felt that he had never met a woman who would put up with his way of life. Pollock quotes at length from Gordon, that he needs a woman who would be "prepared to sacrifice the comforts of home, and the sweet society of loved one and accompany me whithersoever the demand of duty might lead. . . .Such a woman I have not met, and such a one alone could be my wife!"
Pollock's two points seem to conflict, for it could be argued that by saying he had never met a woman suited to be his wife, Gordon was avoiding making a socially unacceptable statement, that is, "I am not interested in women." Pollock did not effectively refute the allegation that Gordon was homosexual.
An alternative explanation for Gordon's behaviour.
Gordon presents as an enigma to historians, who usually aknowledge the following about Gordon:
1. He found normal social interaction difficult. He did not relate well to his peer group; fellow officers found him difficult, and he could often be tactless.
2. He found it hard to relate to adults, but related well to children.
3. He was meticulous and thorough in all he did, whether it was map making, being a governor-general, a social worker or teacher
4. He was obsessed with routines. Gordon would not start work until 8, even when he knew that important matters needed his attention. He had a cold bath every morning. This routine probably began during his school days; it was quite normal for public school boys to have a cold bath every day.
I would like to suggest that these are all traits of a condition called Aspergers syndrome, which the National Autistic society describes in the following way: "Aspergers syndrome is a form of autism, a disability that affects the way a person communicates and relates to others. A number of the traits of autism are common to Aspergers syndrome including:
- Difficulty in communicating
- Difficulty in social relationships
- Lack of imagination"
However, people with Aspergers syndrome usually have fewer problems with language than those with autism, often speaking fluently, though their words can sometimes sound formal or stilted.They also do not have the accompanying learning disabilites often associated with autism, in fact, they are often of average or above average intelligence.'
They are also prone to depression in later life owing to their desire to have normal social contact, which they are unable to maintain. Gordon is known to have suffered from bouts of depression.
Lack of facial expression is another trait of Aspergers syndrome, pictures of Gordon usually show him with a straight face. It is thought that Aspergers syndrome is an inherited condition, Pollock describes Gordon's paternal ancestors as "the solemn Gordons," this would seem to indicate that Gordon's father possibly shared his condition.
Today Aspergers syndrome is usually diagnosed in childhood by a consultant psychologist. It is not possible to have Gordon diagnosed. From the available evidence it is possible to deduce that Gordon had this condition. Why go to all of this trouble? Gordon would have found it highly offensive to be described as homosexual. He was a deeply religious man, and being a homosexual would be regarded as a sin in the circles he moved in, as would any unatural attraction to children.
Pollock, John. Gordon, the Man behind the Legend. Oxford: Lion, 1993.
Richardson Mars without Venus
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Last modified August 2000