Friday, September 26, 2008

Another perspective on fence-sitting

In researching nineteenth century abolitionist movements, I found a story of an anti-slavery preacher receiving threats to be "ridden out of town on a rail." I had heard of this before but wasn't entirely certain what it meant. I thought of "riding the rail" which sounds like riding the railroad, but being "ridden" didn't seem to fit, and riding a train is hardly a threat. I found that riding the rail and being ridden out on a rail has a much less benign meaning. Wikipedia gives the following definition:
Riding the rail was a punishment of Colonial America in which a man was made to straddle a fence rail held on the shoulders of two men, with other men on either side to keep him upright on the rail. The victim was then paraded around town or taken to the city limits and dumped by the roadside. Injuries from the ride could, if the victim were stripped, result in a cut crotch that often made walking painful. The punishment was usually imposed in connection with tarring and feathering.
This photo, linked from the Wikipedia article, entitled "Rebs on a Fence," illustrates the punishment:

Of course this reminded me of "fence-sitters," a derogatory label for bisexual persons, and gives a whole new perspective of what it means to "sit on the fence." I wrote earlier about reclaiming the identity of fence-sitting, since the societal fence between straight and gay is a false barrier that bi/pan/omni-sexual folks seek to dismantle. What might it mean for patriarchal monosexual society's fence to be an instrument of torture through genital mutilation and mob justice enacted upon social miscreants?


  1. oh. my. god.
    that's horrifying! i have heard that phrase "run out of town on a rail" over and over, and didn't realize it was so brutal. i assumed it was just humiliating.
    i will definitely not use the phrase anymore!

  2. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



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