"The American Man has a very odd history, the remnants of which are still with us today, maybe even magnified in some ways. Certainly, we see the first American Man as a reaction to the English fop, as we see in the Washington Irving story. But even before the Washington Irving story, which was written in the 1820s, we see the American Colonialist really fighting against the notion of the effeminate Englishman, an odd notion since in fact George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and those other people all wore powdered wigs, had large libraries, and were actually rather dandified. One of the first American plays ever written is called The Contrast by Royall Tyler. It features two main characters: the effeminized English sympathizer— also an American— named Billy Dimple; and his opponent in love— they’re both after the same girl— whose name is Colonel Manly. So from the very beginning, we see this dichotomy, and we see it play out again and again.
I think the Brom Bones/Ichabod Crane story is simply one early aspect of this, but one which is really formative for American culture, even now, since most school children have to read this story which is at heart a story about a queer bashing.
In the story, which I’m sure most people know, Ichabod Crane is the effeminized school teacher who comes into this small town, who teaches children but hangs out with the women, who does knitting with them, who is part of the women’s sewing circle. His opponent is Brom Bones, who is a bully. At the height of the story, relying on the legend of Sleepy Hollow, which is that the headless horseman rides at night, Ichabod Crane is very fearfully riding home one night with this legend in mind. Suddenly, from across the bridge and chasing him is, indeed the headless horseman, who we know is actually— probably— Brom Bones with a lighted pumpkin on his shoulder. Ichabod Crane runs off— is bullied— out of town, essentially, and never is seen again. Presumably, he’s moved, although there’s always the possibility that he’s actually dead. What I think is most interesting, and most people don’t realize this about the story now, although certainly it would have been true back in Washington Irving’s time, is that the first line in the story says that the action takes place next to “Major Andre’s tree.” This is a reference to the tree upon which Major Andre, the man who worked with Benedict Arnold against the American forces, was hanged for treason. Now, people would have realized this in 1820, not now, but Major Andre was generally thought to be a homosexual or certainly a man who was in love with other men. So, even Washington Irving back in 1820 was quite aware of the homosexual subtext for the story.”
—Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States, in a Beacon Broadside interview conducted by Richard Voos (source).