Male affection in vintage photos.
By Gwen Sharp, PhD
Today in the U.S., one of the major rules of masculinity is that men must avoid physical intimacy with each other unless they want to have their sexuality called into question. The guy horrified by the potential implications of a casual physical touch is a common trope in our pop culture.
But this wasn’t always the case. For physical closeness and even casual expressions of intimacy to become threats to masculinity, homosexuality had to enter the public consciousness as a stigmatized identity. That is, a man being gay had to be a possibility in observers’ minds when interpreting their behavior, and men had to be eager to avoid any such assumptions.
Over at the Art of Manliness, Brett and Kate McKay have posted a fantastic collection of old photos showing men posing in ways that show a high level of comfort with physical contact between men. Many of them show men posed in ways that would be unacceptable among straight men today. Here are just a few; I highly recommend looking at their entire post:
The McKays point out that sitting for a portrait required men to go to public businesses and openly pose for a photographer. These poses were quite common for men at the time and wouldn’t have been read through the lens of potential gayness that viewers today would likely apply.
Once personal cameras became popular, formal studio photos waned, but early snapshots showed similar poses:
Though snapshots eliminated the need to go to a public place of business and pose, film still had to be developed by a professional, who would look at each image (and, even when I was a kid, developers would occasionally refuse to develop photos due to content, and occasionally you heard of a developer calling the police about photos they believed revealed illegal activities). The fact that physical touching is so common among men in early snapshots indicates that there was nothing scandalous or threatening bout such poses. Only as the performance of masculinity became increasingly focused on an obsessive avoidance of any perception of gayness or femininity did such touching become taboo.
Seriously, though — -check out their entire post. It’s awesome!