Sexuality, Founded 1836

In today’s society, there are so many conversations regarding sexuality that it becomes easy to believe that this topic is one more closely associated with current generations. However, the accounts of Yun Ch’i-ho prove otherwise. Sexuality as it relates to race, culture, and social status brought on a particular level of concern and distress in his time here in the United States. It is known that race has historically been a characteristic to bring about particular societal influence and treatment. However, in the context of Yun’s experiences, race interacted with class and sexuality and brought about a cocktail of concern regarding whether Yun would find the love he desired and to what extent the scrutiny of his actions would impact his life.

In one experience, Yun notes that a student was expelled as punishment for being caught in Covington in bed with a black woman. Yun quoted “I don’t think he is any worse than many other dandies whose immaculate shirts and patent leather shoes make them look like gentlemen while their corruption out-heathens a heathen.” In other words, this boy, according to Yun, was punished more for being caught in bed with a black woman than other individuals with wrongdoings in their past simply because, well, apparently the act of sex in this context was seen as a greater misdeed. It is difficult to decode this situation because at one hand it seems as though it is the act of sex with a paid sex-worker that brought down the student, and yet the relevance of the race of the woman is just too large of a factor to ignore. In these times, being a black paid sex-worker was likely worse than being a white sex-worker.

This underlying theme of lust was also intertwined with love in Yun’s accounts. There seemed to be a particular insecurity on Yun’s behalf in multiple situations but in particular when Nettie Candler made the joke regarding Yun’s time at Oxford and the possibility, or lack thereof, of Yun finding a women; a white woman. Yun hastily interpreted the joke as a humiliating insult suggesting that no white woman would want Yun. It will never be clearly understood as to what way Candler meant the joke to be heard, yet what is clear is how Yun heard it and therefore the mental processes behind his thought. This relates to current times in the sense that societal generalizations are still internalized by populations of the public. For example, how many times do black men go into interviews already believing they won’t get the job? Perhaps these insecurities are what lead to the downfall of Yun’s relationship with Miss Tommie. Whatever the case, these times clearly brought about particular discomfort surrounding the sexuality of a “racial outlier.”

Yun’s quoted in his diary entry of September 10, 1891 “I don’t like using the phrase ‘come over and help us’.” This seemingly suggested a particular acceptance of the conditions as they were in the hopes of their gradual improvement. Yet with situations like that of Kitty’s cottage in which the construction of a single cottage for a freed slave can split a church, there is no wonder why it has taken so many years for conditions to still be in the process of improvement.

1 thought on “Sexuality, Founded 1836

  1. jsmit: In response to your statement: “In these times, being a black paid sex-worker was likely worse than being a white sex-worker” I think it is safe to say that in Atlanta in the 1800’s being a Black anything was worse than a white anything, but, in general, there wasn’t a lot of love for prostitutes at the time.

    I think you are spot on about the complexity of race and class in the Yun/Miss Tommie situation. The Candlers may have looked down on such a relationship because of race, but the language they used “she was below Yun” suggests they were talking about social class.

    Lastly, could you post a picture of the entry you refer to in your last paragraph? I would love to see what else he talks about on that page.

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