It was reported yesterday that Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, asked at a recent conference about the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, claimed that Keynes’ theories were self-centered and short-sighted because he was gay:
“Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had. He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of “poetry” rather than procreated.”
It has been amply noted that these comments were bigoted, sloppy, and fatuous, but it turns out that they’re based on a false biographical premise as well.
Keynes had many same-sex relationships, and in fact was apparently happily and exclusively gay until he was forty years old. But then he met Lydia Lopokova, and fell passionately in love. Multiple sources confirm that his marriage to Lydia was a sexually ardent one. Although I have only found snippets of their love letters online, one scholar describes them as a “rich cache of intimate, unabashed, and sexually explicit” material “that was matched by the couple’s passionate, adventurous, and uninhibited love life.”
And contrary to Ferguson’s insinuation, Keynes’ childlessness had nothing to do with his homosexuality, or with his personal preferences. Though Keynes and Lydia tried to have children, his beloved wife miscarried in 1927, and was later discovered to be infertile.
Ferguson’s absurd and ugly comments on Keynes bring to mind Howard Kurtz’s chiding of gay NBA player Jason Collins a few days ago. For Kurtz, the incongruity of a gay man having been engaged to a woman was so extreme as to suggest deception. For Ferguson, the idea of a gay man having a satisfying sexual relationship with a woman is simply unimaginable. For each, their assumptions about sexual identity led them to ignore the obvious — Kurtz skipped over Collins’ discussion of his engagement in his coming out article, while Ferguson didn’t bother to investigate a marriage that has been chronicled in great detail many times.
Here is the truth that both Kurtz and Ferguson can’t fathom: human sexuality is complex and varied and diverse, and it exists within a challenging, confusing, and at times punishing social matrix. Some gay people are led by all this to deny their sexuality, while others find that it has the capacity to surprise them — and us.
Update | Ferguson has apologized for his “stupid” and “false” remarks on Keynes.