Was Walt Whitman Gay? Examining the Controversial Theories

Walt Whitman, an American poet, essayist, and journalist, is renowned for his contribution to American literature. Whitman’s works, including his magnum opus “Leaves of Grass,” are famous for portraying American culture and democracy. However, as with many historical figures, there have been ongoing discussions and debates about Walt Whitman’s sexuality. In this article, we will delve into the various theories and speculations regarding whether or not Walt Whitman was gay.

The Historical Context

To understand the controversy surrounding Walt Whitman’s sexuality, it’s essential to examine the historical context of the time in which he lived. During the 19th century, homosexuality was largely considered a taboo subject, and homosexuality between men was even criminalized in some parts of the United States. This social stigma meant that many LGBTQ+ individuals were forced to conceal their true identities and live secret lives.

Walt Whitman’s Writings

One of the primary arguments for Walt Whitman’s homosexuality is the content of his writing. In “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman writes openly and explicitly about the male body, which was highly unusual for the time. For example, in his poem “Song of Myself,” Whitman writes, “The scent of these armpits is aroma finer than prayer.” Additionally, Whitman’s portrayal of male-male relationships and his use of masculine pronouns have led some to speculate that he may have been gay.

Relationships and Personal Life

Another aspect that has fueled the speculation surrounding Walt Whitman’s sexuality is his personal life. While Whitman never married, he did have several close relationships with men throughout his life. One of the most significant relationships was with Peter Doyle, a streetcar conductor whom Whitman met in 1865. The two men became close friends, and some speculated they were romantic partners. However, there is no conclusive evidence to support this theory.


Despite the evidence suggesting that Walt Whitman may have been gay, some have argued against this theory. One of the primary counterarguments is that homosexuality as a concept did not exist during Whitman’s time. According to this theory, being gay as we understand it today would have been foreign to Whitman and the broader society in which he lived. Instead, it is suggested that Whitman’s writings about the male body and relationships between men were simply expressions of male camaraderie and friendship.


In conclusion, the question of whether or not Walt Whitman was gay remains a topic of debate among scholars and historians. While there is evidence to support the theory that Whitman was gay, there is no conclusive proof. Ultimately, the question of Whitman’s sexuality is secondary to his literary legacy, which continues to influence and inspire readers today. Regardless of whether or not he was gay, Walt Whitman’s contributions to American literature are indisputable, and his work continues to be celebrated and studied by scholars and readers around the world.

So, was Walt Whitman gay? The answer remains elusive, but what is clear is that his writing and personal life have left an indelible mark on American literature and culture.