Ishmael Are You Queer?

For some stupid reason, when I was 12 I decided I wanted to read Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. It was the summer after sixth grade as I was getting ready to head into junior high, and I was out with a youth tour group in Korea. I was probably anticipating being by myself for the most part, so I guess I wanted a thick obtuse book to keep me company?

I ended up having a lot of fun and didn’t read that much of the book, but one thing that struck me early on was the relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg before they headed out to sea.

He seemed to take to me quite as naturally and unbiddenly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me round the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be. In a countryman, this sudden flame of friendship would have seemed far too premature, a thing to be much distrusted; but in this simple savage those old rules would not apply. “10 – A Bosom Friend.” Moby Dick. Toronto: Bantam, 1981. 57.

Between Ishmael waking up to find Queequeg’s arm around him to this, I was convinced that they had fucked and were in love. I may have masturbated in the bathroom of my room at the Tower Hotel in Seoul to imagining this scene in my head, the overpowering Pacific Islander gruffly manhandling the lithe white man and making him cry in pleasure.

Now that I’m re-reading Moby Dick almost 25 years later, I was struck at how I had the same feeling when reading these prefacing chapters. There is something between the two that I’m not sure was supposed to be quite so explicit in 1851.

It makes me wanna ask, Ishy are you queer?