Hat Tip to Dan Young.
I saw a most interesting photo in my email Thursday morning from the Oregon, Wisconsin Historical Society. I could not locate a precise time or listing of which team was pictured, but that was not required, since what struck me at once is that no contemporary photo staged this way would be now considered. And that is rather sad.
Given the macho lingo so overused by many men today along with the derogatory use of the word ‘gay’ assures us that the grouping of Oregon athletes from the picture is one that could never now be photographed. It reminds me of the Civil War photographs that men would often take (if they had the means) prior to going to war. Many of the pictures show close male bonds and even tender-type images with their buddy, brother, or fellow soldier from their local area. During the pre-war days, it was common for male friends to visit a photographer to show their love and loyalty towards each other.
Physical non-sexual intimacy between men was much more prevalent in the early years of our national story, as evidenced also in letters that allowed for emotional intimacy from the likes of Alexander Hamilton along with numerous examples of deep regard among elected officials in Washington. Over the decades of reading and better understanding history one of the features of small-town America that forms a perfect mental image for me was summed up by online writers, Brett & Kate McKay. I pull this from my files today to make the case.
The photographer’s studio would have been at the center of town, well-known by everyone, and one’s neighbors would have been sitting in the waiting room just a few feet away. Because homosexuality, even if the thought of as a practice rather than an identity, was not something publicly expressed, these men were not knowingly outing themselves in these shots; their poses were common, and simply reflected the intimacy and intensity of male friendships at the time — none of these photos would have caused their contemporaries to bat an eye.
The photo that arrived in my email and prompted this post is a reminder of the limitations that men have constructed for themselves in our society. Emotional distance with a limiting and unhealthily self-created definition of what constitutes ‘being male’ has stunted men and negatively impacted families. Years ago, I asked historian Stephen Ambrose, during one of his many visits to Borders Books on University Avenue about this form of male bonding and how it manifested itself during WWII, a time period he wrote about in numerous volumes.
I recall his speaking about late teenagers (boys really) who had known nothing other than their farms or villages and close families then walked into a completely new world of terror and unknowns, coming to soon realize that their lives depended on their fellow soldiers. With such a connection with strangers, it was easy for them to find bonds of intimacy and deep emotional regard for each other. Those friendships and relationships made solid individuals, but such interactions should obviously not need to be confined to the war theater.
Some foolishly claim from a political perspective that men are losing their masculinity, but I would argue what society requires are men who understand the totality of being human and living the whole spectrum of their emotions.