Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 29, 2012 · 266 comments

in A Man's Life

In my unending search for just the right vintage images for our articles, I have looked through thousands of photographs of men from the last century or so. One of the things that I have found most fascinating about many of these images, is the ease, familiarity, and intimacy, which men used to exhibit in photographs with their friends and compadres.

I shared a handful of these images in our very early post on the history of male friendship, but today I wanted to share almost 100 more in order to provide a more in-depth look into an important and highly interesting aspect of masculine history: the decline of male intimacy over the last century.

As you make your way through the photos below, many of you will undoubtedly feel a keen sense of surprise — some of you may even recoil a bit as you think, “Holy smokes! That’s so gay!”

The poses, facial expressions, and body language of the men below will strike the modern viewer as very gay indeed. But it is crucial to understand that you cannot view these photographs through the prism of our modern culture and current conception of homosexuality. The term “homosexuality” was in fact not coined until 1869, and before that time, the strict dichotomy between “gay” and “straight” did not yet exist. Attraction to, and sexual activity with other men was thought of as something you did, not something you were. It was a behavior — accepted by some cultures and considered sinful by others.

But at the turn of the 20th century, the idea of homosexuality shifted from a practice to a lifestyle and an identity. You did not have temptations towards a certain sin, you were a homosexual person. Thinking of men as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” became common. And this new category of identity was at the same time pathologized — decried by psychiatrists as a mental illness, by ministers as a perversion, and by politicians as something to be legislated against. As this new conception of homosexuality as a stigmatized and onerous identifier took root in American culture, men began to be much more careful to not send messages to other men, and to women, that they were gay. And this is the reason why, it is theorized, men have become less comfortable with showing affection towards each other over the last century. At the same time, it also may explain why in countries with a more conservative, religious culture, such as in Africa or the Middle East, where men do engage in homosexual acts, but still consider homosexuality the “crime that cannot be spoken,” it remains common for men to be affectionate with one another and comfortable with things like holding hands as they walk.

Whether the men below were gay in the way our current culture understands that idea, or in the way that they themselves understood it, is unknowable. What we do know is that the men would not have thought their poses and body language had anything at all to do with that question. What you see in the photographs was common, not rare; the photos are not about sexuality, but intimacy.

These photos showcase an evolution in the way men relate to one another — and the way in which certain forms and expressions of male intimacy have disappeared over the last century.

It has been said that a picture tells a thousand words, so while I have provided a little commentary below, I invite you to interpret the photos yourselves, and to ask and discuss questions such as: “Who were these men?” “What was the nature of their relationships?” “Why has male intimacy decreased and what are the repercussions for the emotional lives of men today?”

Men as Friends


From the Civil War through the 1920′s, it was very common for male friends to visit a photographer’s studio together to have a portrait done as a memento of their love and loyalty. Photographers would offer various backgrounds and props the men could choose from to use in the picture. Sometimes the men would act out scenes; sometimes they’d simply sit side-by-side; sometimes they’d sit on each other’s laps or hold hands. The men’s very comfortable and familiar poses and body language might make the men look like gay lovers to the modern eye — and they could very well have been — but that was not the message they were sending at the time. The photographer’s studio would have been at the center of town, well-known by everyone, and one’s neighbors would having been sitting in the waiting room just a few feet away. Because homosexuality, even if 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.

When the author of Picturing Men, John Ibson, conducted a survey of modern day portrait studios to ask if they had ever had two men come in to have their photo taken, he found that the event was so rare that many of the photographers he spoke to had never seen it happen during their career.


When portable cameras for the amateur photographer became more widely available, they allowed men to photograph themselves in a greater range of more spontaneous situations, and the practice of sitting for formal portraits together waned in the 1930s. The snapshots usually were developed by someone else who would have gotten a look at all of them, so again, these pictures were not likely purposeful expressions of gay love, but rather captured the very common level of comfort men felt with one another during the early 20th century.

One of the reasons male friendships were so intense during the 19th and early 20th centuries, is that socialization was largely separated by sex; men spent most their time with other men, women with other women. In the 50s, some psychologists theorized that gender-segregated socialization spurred homosexuality, and as cultural mores changed in general, snapshots of only men together were supplanted by those of coed groups.

In all male environments, such as mining camps or navy ships, it was common for men to hold dances, with half the men wearing a patch or some other marker to designate them as the “women” for the evening.

Forming pyramids on the beach was a popular pastime for men through the 30s.

After WWII, casually touching between men in photographs decreased precipitously. It first vanished among middle-aged men, but lingered among younger men. But in the 50s, when homosexuality reached its peak of pathologization, eventually they too created more space between themselves, and while still affectionate began to interact with less ease and intimacy.

It’s not true that American men are no longer affectionate with each other at all. Hand-holding and lap-sitting are out, but putting your arms around your buddies is still common. Physical affection seems more common among high school and college age men, a time when friendships are closer, than among middle-aged men, and this has probably always been the case more or less. Although it may also have to do with generational and cultural changes, as we’ll touch on at the end of the article.

Men at Work

It was also popular for men to get portraits done with the guys they worked with, often while wearing their work clothes — from aprons to overalls — and holding the tools of their trade — from frying pans to hammers. That men wished to immortalize themselves alongside their “co-workers” shows how important work was to a man’s identity and the close bond men used to feel with those they shared a trade with and toiled next to.

When a photo studio wasn’t nearby, snapshots were taken. These snapshots reveal the camaraderie men felt with those they worked beside.

As the trades waned in importance, and white collar work waxed, photographs of men on the job became more formal and less intimate. Instead of seeing each as fellow craftsmen, working for a common goal with a shared pride in the work, men became competitors with each other, each trying to get ahead in a dog-eat-dog world. And a lot less work-related photographs were taken in general. Perhaps because we only take photographs of pleasurable things, things we want to always remember, and the pleasure men took in their work had fallen.

“Enforced mobility of work groups, the resultant discontinuity in personal relations–sometimes even the wife won’t go with you–perhaps explains the unwillingness of modern individuals to embark on intense friendships. What is the point of having a ‘best friend’ or ‘blood brother’ if you are constantly changing jobs and flats?” –Robert Brain

Men on the Field

As team sports became one of the great passions of a man’s life in the 1890s, the team photo became a required ritual. A team wished to have a memento of the exploits of the season, and no yearbook was complete without one. The changing poses of the team photo provide a window into the evolving mores of male affection, and perhaps into the evolving nature of sport itself.

At the turn of the century, team photos were more intimate and casual, with teammates piling on top of one another, leaning on each other, and draping their arms around one another.

1915 basketball team

Starting in the 1920s, team photos became more formal, more like the team photos we know today. Instead of touching each other, the men crossed their arms across their stomach or put them behind their backs. Each player stood more isolated from the others, much as the space between businessmen had grown as well. Still a team, but a team of distinct individuals.

Duke basketball team 1942-43

Men at War

Some of the most intense bonds between men have always been found among those who serve in the military. Gender segregation (at least in times past), is at its very highest. Men are far from home and can only rely on each other; together they face the highest dangers and are motivated less by duty to country and more by the desire not to let their brothers down. Serving is such an unquestionably manly thing, that homophobia dissipates; soldiers care less about one’s sexuality than whether the man can get the job done.

The man who served in WWII and experienced intense camaraderie with his battlefield brothers, often had trouble adjusting to life back home, in which he got married, settled in the suburbs, and felt cut off and isolated from other men and the kind of deep friendships he had enjoyed during the war.

My Buddy

Life is a book that we study
Some of its leaves bring a sigh
There it was written by a buddy
That we must part, you and I

Nights are long since you went away
I think about you all through the day
My buddy, my buddy
Nobody quite so true
Miss your voice, the touch of your hand
Just long to know that you understand
My buddy, my buddy
Your buddy misses you

Miss your voice, the touch of your hand
Just long to know that you understand
My buddy, my buddy
Your buddy misses you

Your buddy misses you, yes I do

Written in 1922 by Walter Donaldson, “My Buddy” was originally inspired by the heartbreaking death of Donaldson’s fiancee, but was adopted during WWII by the troops as a way to express their deep attachment to each other.

Today’s serviceman enjoys the same intense bonds as his forebearers did. But, at least in photographs, he is much less likely to express this bond in overt ways. The most common pose among today’s soldiers is standing side-by-side, holding one’s weapons.

Conclusion: What Is the Future of Male Intimacy?

“Boys imitate what they see. If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness between men they will grow up to imitate that behavior…What do boys learn when they do not see men with close friendships, where there are no visible models of intimacy in a man’s life beyond his spouse?” -Kindlon and Thompson, Raising Cain

Sociologists have noticed that Millennial boys seem much more comfortable with showing affection for each other than their fathers did. According to an article in The New York Times, whereas their parents might have given each other a high five, hugging has become the de facto way for teenagers to greet each other and to part ways — even to the point that non-huggers are viewed warily — and is as common among boys as girls. “We’re not afraid, we just get in and hug,” said Danny Schneider, a high school junior who was interviewed for the story. Some theorize that Millennial boys have become more comfortable with touching because their generation is less cynical and more cooperative and group-oriented.

Others posit that because so much of young people’s socialization is done online, they have a deeper need to physically connect in person to balance things out. And it may also be traced to the culture’s greater acceptance of homosexuality, although that has in turn solidified being gay as an identity, and it seems unlikely that men will cease wanting to communicate to others whether they are homosexual or heterosexual anytime soon. It also seems unlikely that in a transient and very coed, non gender-segregated society, male friendships will ever be as intense as they once were. Although even that is changing: twenty-somethings are much less likely to move these days than they have been in decades.

So what do you think is the future of male intimacy? What thoughts came to you as you looked at these photos? I know AoM has readers from all over the world, so fill us in on how men interact in your neck of the global woods.



Picturing Men: A Century of Male Relationships in Everyday American Photography by John Ibson

Photos sources:  Picturing Men and Flickr

{ 266 comments… read them below or add one }

201 Mack July 29, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Interesting article. I wonder how many of the photos are of family members (brothers, fathers and sons, extended male family members, etc) as opposed to just men friends?

202 Ter July 29, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Perfectly written and spot on.

203 Jake Wright July 29, 2013 at 2:40 pm

I grew up in Dallas and in that climate of hyper-masculine culture I know what it means to shy away from anything too mushy or percieved to be affectionate with any of my male peers or my close male friends. Myself and a guy I consider to be my best friend decided to go on a roadtrip to LA on spring break about two years ago and on the way we got into a really bad auto accident, and it turned out that it was left to me to pull him out of the wreck and keep him alive until help could come. It was only in that moment I realised how much I really cared about him.

Luckily his injuries were superficial and looked worse than they really were and he made a full recovery, but since that day I have not looked at him or my male friendships in the same way. We have developed a great deal of intimacy in our relationship and I do feel very protective over him and genuinely care about his well being and there is absolutely nothing sexual about our relationship at all. He has had a bunch of girlfirends and is quite a womaniser too and none of that has impeaded or informed the type of bond we have in a negative way because we are both heterosexual. But I think we have just both come to the conclusion that you can love somebody of the same sex intimately in a non-sexual way.

We hug each other whenever we see meet in person, I have kissed him on the cheek in front of my entire varsity football team countless times and not once has anybody even suggested we might be more than friends, and in all honesty I know I am not alone in saying this but many young men form close and intimate bonds with other males during their early twenties that I am pretty sure thay care a great deal about.

Brian and I have been friends for about 6 years and we are both about 22 now, but my friendship with him has become one of the most rewarding and fullfilling experiences of my time on this earth and I am not ashamed to say we have a familiarity most of our other male friends feel quite envious of, and we are all mostly very masculine guys who you would not call gay by the light of day or otherwise,

We have in our time had many drunken misadventures and have been roomates too, so I have have seen him in every kind of way a friend can.

Brian lost his mother about 9 months ago and the one night I got in and he had just come back to campus that evening and he was lying on his bed and I realised he was actually softly crying to himself. And maybe not everbody will understand this but it just felt like it was the most natural and human thing to do. I didn’t say anything to him, I know that he was really close to his mom and I could not make it feel better. I just pulled up there alongside on the bed and lay down next to him and put my arm around his chest, and we lay like that for a few hours. And ever since we have been comfortable doing this type of thing together, and have even slept in the same bed a couple of times and spooned a little, and he is welcome to do so whenever he wants (So long as I don’t have a girlfriend which I do right now), and in spite of what anybody may think or say about this, he was not trying to poke me in the butt and there has not at any stage been anything sexual or homoerotic about our friendship or the desire to cross that line even though we have been naked around each other countless times and could have crossed that line ages ago.

We don’t live together anymore because he has moved in with his current girlfriend but I can honestly say I have never had a closer friend and I would do anything for him up to and including giving him one of my kidneys if he needed it, and I know he would do the same for me. And I have other friends who I am close to as well and I would feel no hesitation in being as intimate with them as I have been with Brian and I have never found them to respond in anyway but positively, which really only points to the fact that this is not about society or male culture in America, this is about a bond between two people and the scared thread of a kind of brotherly love which exists in us all and that can express itself in many ways. And just so you understand there is nothing about my friendship with Brian or any of my other friends and the type of intimacy which exists between us that my girlfriend or any of my other friends don’t know about.

In reading this article it just really made me think about how stupid people are in trying to classify everything and give it a label and look for hidden meaning in everything. I feel sorry for guys who don’t get to experience the warmth and familiarity I have with my mates, because I know for a fact that my world would be a pretty cold and unexciting place without them in it.

204 Marti July 29, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Read almost everything on here , and Orac’s right, me I identify as gay, but have plenty str8 male friends, and my nephews friends are in they’re 20′s and are fearless when it comes to hugs or even kisses among them… cause they’re secure in their sexuality … my dad was Cuban and always hugged me or kissed me on the cheek ,,, maybe it was “that” European thing cause his mom was from Spain… honestly I think if men had healthy bonds like this… be able to talk to each other as well… life would be better… hell, I think even marriages would last longer?!

205 James Abel July 29, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Well said, Marti.

206 Colin July 29, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Even just telling your male friends “I love you” can be a tad intimidating if others are in earshot. Nonetheless, I have started a while back to tell my friends this whenever I can. Even a neighbour I care for deeply and have hugged a few times – on one occasion he instigated the hug and have told him that I help him out because i love him. He has also responded with an “I love you too” in front of his wife.
The more we as men actually DO this, the easier it becomes and HOPEFULLY it would become the norm again.

207 Colin July 29, 2013 at 5:48 pm

One more reason that just came to mind for the demise in male – male bonding has been the feminism movement. Years ago there was the YMCA and the YWCA – NOW they are mixed. There have been male only golf clubs – which have been infiltrated by the females and there use to be Gentlemen clubs, where ladies were forbidden. These too have been closed due to the females wanting us men to NOT be together, All this occurs while there are STILL ladies fitness clubs and heaven help any guy who wants to infiltrate those.. – yet it was THEY who demanded equal rights. Where are OURS?

208 Eric July 29, 2013 at 11:53 pm

What a coincidence this post is. I was just re-reading the book “Self-Made Man” by Norah Vincent, a woman who went “under cover” for a year and a half disguised as a man to investigate the world of men from the inside out. Two parts of the book that are relevant here are those where she spent time in a monastery and where she spent time in a “male support group”. In both cases, she found that the “intimacy problem” was really screwing the guys up. More on the book here, and the part I describe is on p.3 :
Her undercover reporting on male socialization is thought-provoking & I suspect many AoM readers would enjoy the book.

209 will c. July 30, 2013 at 8:09 am

Very interesting article, photos and responses. Its a shame the current ” modern” , culture makes intimacy between men and even men and women, or women and women something other than holsum and friendly. We all need intimacy and its nice to see it freely shared.

210 M.T. Amerson July 31, 2013 at 6:57 am

I found this article fascinating. It is interesting to consider the evolution of male affection in our culture.

I found this interesting: “One of the reasons male friendships were so intense during the 19th and early 20th centuries, is that socialization was largely separated by sex.”

I have been living in Rwanda for the past couple of years. The culture here is still very divided between the sexes. Men spend most of their time with other men and women spend their time with other women. This could explain why there is a lot of male affection here!

The first time I went out drinking with my host father, he held my hand the whole way home. My male friends will often hold my hand as we walk or lean on me as we stand around. At first it can be very uncomfortable, but I slowly got used to it. Now I don’t mind the male affection (to an extent) and I welcome it. It will be interesting to see how I readjust when I move back to the States later this year.

211 Sebastian Vielma July 31, 2013 at 6:27 pm

I do find this article most interesting, and how perception of male affection has changed through time.

I do believe a great harm has done the pathologization of homosexuality to male relationship to his peers. I do believe it is important to seek in the deepness of ourselves our real identity as manly men, do not let be prejudiced by the influence of a misconception of homosexuality and allow ourselves to be more affective with our closest friends.
I do not mean we immediately start holding each others hands, but to be more affect and kind to our budies will do no harm

212 Andy A July 31, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Thank you for this fascinating article. I’m a 40-something year old male, and I’ve never been afraid to show my affection for my male friends – even in high-school (California) in the 80′s – although it has always felt a bit transgressive to do so.

In college, I was as surprised as anyone to find myself in love with another man, a man I’ve remained friends with even though the romantic relationship didn’t last very long. Since that relationship, I have only had female romantic partners, although I’m clearly open to either. I’m currently married.

Identifying as my sexuality never felt quite right to me. I haven’t really had the same life-experiences as someone growing up queer, and while I’d like to claim solidarity with my gay and bi- friends, and say ‘I’m bisexual’, what does that even mean to someone in a loving, committed hetero marriage?

It felt good to read that sexuality = identity is such a historically recent concept. It will allow me the space to ignore that question from now on, and simply display whatever affection I feel.

213 Ginger August 13, 2013 at 2:48 am

When I was in high school in Pennsylvania in 1980 and 81, we had an influx of Vietnamese refugees who came to live in our school district. I made friends with several of the girls in French class. They liked to hold hands while walking, which made me uncomfortable even then (although other forms of physical affection were normal for me and my friends). Today my teenage daughters and their female cousins are all very affectionate with each other, holding hands and helping each other dress, etc. But I know it is because they feel safe with each other, since they know each other so well and have no fear of it being misinterpreted.

214 Scout September 14, 2013 at 8:18 am

As I looked at these photos and read the commentary, I noticed tears in my eyes. What a hurt it is for both men and women and, I believe, our world that men have felt constrained against affection with one another these past few decades. It makes me happy that this may be changing. I’m a woman, by the way.

215 Souzana September 14, 2013 at 2:22 pm

One of the first things that struck me during my life in Greece (which continues now) was the visible affection between boys and men. As an American, this was at first startling, but soon seemed warming and normal to me. I saw teenage boys draped around each other as they sat on steps talking and shouting, and middle-aged men wrap an arm around a friend’s neck or squeeze his friend’s cheek. And girls often walking hand in hand…

216 Melody J Haislip September 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

Absolutely superb article and the pictures are wonderful. Men should be able to enjoy the same closeness with their friends that women do. After all, it doesn’t matter so much Who you love as That you love!

You know I’m going to have to read this again!

217 Linnette September 14, 2013 at 7:14 pm

These images are heart-warming!

218 Julia September 14, 2013 at 11:42 pm

I thought this was beautiful. It’s a shame that a lot of men don’t feel as comfortable with physical affection with their friends. Hugs make me feel a lot better. If men hugged their friends more, we’d all be a lot happier :P

219 fantas September 14, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Great article. I think this issue is quite specific to North American culture. In many other cultures, men form deep bonds with each other. Hold hands, Take pictures, spend a lot of time together, and care for each other just like what is preceived in the Western culture as feminine bonding. I hope this changes back soon. There are things only men can help and nurture each other with…

220 WendyC September 15, 2013 at 12:02 am

Male affection is nothing new, its just a matter of putting these photos into the correct perspective. I see brothers, fathers & sons, best friends, sports pals, college buddies, work colleagues, and brothers at arms. There MAY in actuality be a male couple or two, but who really cares? We all SHOULD have healthy relationships with both genders! Thanks for sharing the cool photos!

221 Donna Russo Morin September 15, 2013 at 9:14 am

My hopes have also been that my sons, now 20 and 23, would know the bonds of friendship–that, yes, include physical aspects, i.e. hugging, touching–that I have always enjoyed with my friends. There was an article written that it these very deep, affectionate bonds that are partially responsible for the longer lives of women. While I still find it psychologically intriguing as to what sort of ‘macho’ philosophical wave brought men away from that, it is wonderful to see my sons’ generation returning to it. They hug their friends, as stated, to say hello, goodbye, or for any reason of congratulations. And it is joyful to see.

222 Laurent September 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I am a male- When I was in college I made friends with an immigrant from Iran (of 3 months when I met him) and was a little surprised with the affection I saw between he and his family, friends, etc as I would go visit with them. He initially showed the same affection with me and at first it felt a little strange but as we grew closer to one another I realized how good it feels to allow someone the privilege to be close both physically and emotionally.

As he learned about customs and practices in North America he always spoke about how cold people are… and how hesitant they can be especially with personal space. However since we left the door open for this between us, there were many times when we shared our intimacy in a non-sexual way…

- at the loss of his first girlfriend and passing of his parents, we embraced with consolation on several occasions as his feeling had been shattered, and a couple of times slept together, occasionally embracing and talked well into the night;

- we exercised together regularly and we often touched one another and compared our bodies;

- one time he developed a temporary medical affliction (skin issues due to a different climate here) and allowed me to administer care, where I bathed him and applied salves to areas most men would feel ambivalent about touching.

He is married now, has his own family and lives across the country so we do not share this kind of bond anymore. But I have fond memories of these times where it was possible to learn to love and care for another man in a non-judgmental and open way. It taught me to learn how to be affectionate with my spouse and to learn to meet the needs of another person emotionally.

223 Jenny September 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm

This is so beautiful and such important research. Touches me to see these photos. I feel safer in cultures where men touch each other in a relaxed way. That’s what oxytocin does–helps us bond via touch–and we are interrupting our natural wiring due to homophobia. Thank you.

224 Varina Suellen Plonski September 16, 2013 at 1:04 am

Excellent article, and a perspective I had not considered before. As I scrolled down through the pictures and read the article, I found my perspective changing from our cultural “gay-dar” response to thoughts of “friends” and, most important, “trust”. This was especially true of the photos of military men. I have my father’s pictures from WWII, and those pictures had exactly this level of intimacy, something that comes only from knowing that the other guy’s got your back no matter what. This article was right on!

225 Louise September 16, 2013 at 7:18 am

It is coming back I hope… Just last week I saw 2 young men touch in a kind and friendly way. They were surrounded by 14 year old peers, so that is promising. Maybe if all men can touch again things will change on a human level too!

226 Klara Gaia September 16, 2013 at 8:55 am

As someone who has lived in developing countries mostly in Africa where homosexuality is strongly frowned upon at the same time i notice men having very close relationships often to the point of sharing a bed (mostly out of necessity due to poverty, one friend not having a home so he joins) so this ties in cosley with this. The rejection and unacceptance of homosexuality in these countries may be more than meets the eye, and may in fact be a wise decision as it puts all these close male relationships to question.

227 Dan September 16, 2013 at 1:17 pm

I saw nothing wrong or “homosexual” about these photos. It’s guys with their best friends getting photos taken!! The photos are actually really beautiful and when with “bros” that’s what it’s supposed to be; good friends good times great photos amazing memories!!!

228 Hayden September 16, 2013 at 8:12 pm

It is true that the younger generations are reverting back to intimacy between same genders in non-sexual ways. As a teenager with a budding adult-like social life, my father often lamented on why guys my age always went out and about together. He said when he was my age, he would may run into a male friend while he was out, but if he went out, it was always on a date or occasion with a female or to interact almost soley with girls. In fact, being a southerner, he suspected any close relationship between two males to be a homosexual one.

My group of friends and I all hug often closely and very intimately often when we see each other, always at least upon greeting and parting. Even though I am an out gay male, I’m friends with mostly straight guys, most of which take no hestitation in being physically affectionate with me short of being sexual, only lovingly and openly in a friendly sorta way.

We occasionally sleep in the same beds or near each other on the floor when travelling. And nothing sexual has ever happened and we’ve never confused our relationships as being romantic or sexual in any way.

It’s the way it was growing up, when we were kids. Though we have behavior and do things as adults now, it is the same sense of a community, a family.

229 John September 16, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Thank you so much for sharing. These pictures are wonderful and inspiring,

230 el polacko September 16, 2013 at 11:44 pm

saying that ‘things were different then’ is often a way that gay history is erased. regardless of how society defined the relationships, deep emotional relationships between men have been a part of society since the beginning. there’s an obvious difference here between the pics of guys in groups with their arms slung over each others shoulders and the visual record of romantic couples showing their affection for one another.
what’s great about these pics is that they do preserve a bit of gay history for us and for future generations.

231 Frank September 16, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Great article. And, I think, very relevant to our times. I’ve had a association with several men’s circles, or groups, if you will over the last few years and this subject is discussed quite frequently when it comes to relationships and feelings of loneliness and isolation. It’s interesting to note that the custom at the end of our meetings is to give and receive hugs from the participants and I’ve noticed that I now am in the habit of greeting my good friends, male or female, with a hug rather than a handshake. A handshake seems somehow inadequate to express my affection and love for the important people in my life. Just the other day at a festival with hundreds of people around, a good male friend gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek. I noticed that it left with a smile and that I felt not the slightest shame over such a public and intimate display of masculine affection.

232 Chuck Dunning September 17, 2013 at 11:08 am

Thanks for this! I always appreciate when male-oriented publications help break down some of our silly stereotypes. When I was a kid (born in ’61), it was perfectly acceptable for boys to walk with their arms around each other. Sometime in the 70s that changed, and seemingly overnight. Hugging went with it. I work at a university now, and it’s perfectly clear that most of these young men have a lot less trouble with that sort of thing than my generation did, and I’m proud of them. It’s time men’s liberation reclaimed some of the capacity for physical affection we ironically sacrificed in reaction to women’s lib.

233 Sasha September 17, 2013 at 9:01 pm

when I studied Arthurian legend in college, I took a class called “Queer Knights” – the name was not meant to be literal, but it explored this exact topic. The way medieval French Arthurian legend was written (mostly by Chretiens de Troyes but others, too), reveals the knights were intimate, though not sexual. So, they held hands, they shared beds, and there’s one story that reveals that Lancelot was buried beside his buddy, Galehaut.

234 Patience V September 17, 2013 at 11:45 pm

I felt very sad, seeing these photos and knowing that so many men have missed out on the closeness of open physical friendly affection between comrades. But I really hope that this is a dying trend, because I don’t know how I would have got through my young adulthood without a lot of hugs and physical affection from friends and family.

235 Lori Anderson September 18, 2013 at 8:01 am

I absolutely loved these photos. I collect cabinet cards and such but have never seen anything quite like this, other than in WWII books and the like. My little boy (who was seven at the time) was admonished at school for hugging someone, was told by a teacher that hugging was not appropriate. Made me all sorts of sad.

236 Amy H-F September 18, 2013 at 9:20 am

A friend just forwarded me this site after our conversation about modern South Korean culture where young men feel free to hold hands, hug and cuddle without societial pressure. My daughter is very into Korean culture and she loves that young men her age are comfortable showing each other affection. It is refreshing to know that the pendulum is swinging back the way you describe above. I truly believe that men are stonger, better husbands and fathers when they are free to show their love openly. This article made my day!

237 Jason September 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm

This is a great website and has helped me alot on manliness. Which has been very helpful because I’m not your typical guy. I wear my heart on my sleeve, show emotion and affectionate.

My best friend and I have a very atypical relationship. It’s one of those “bromances” and at work we are insperable. We hug, laugh, make fun of each other, and have said I love you to each other and meant it on numereous occasions. We’ve opened up to each other and know we can be vulnerable and don’t have to be strong when it’s just us.

The picture of us in my apartment is the two of us on his sectional all covered up being goofballs, and I know modern society would frown on it and see it as gay. And I don’t care.

I wish more guys out there had the bond that he and I do.

238 Julian September 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm

I have had several close male friends in my life and despite that I am gay and fought those demons, my friendship never impuned these relationship as sexuality never impacted our feelings for each other.
This was a great article and ALL parents should examine their own feelings about their sons, bonding and male relationships.

239 Liz September 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I loved the pictures but the comments from men were very rewarding. It gives me faith that men still have the potential and freedom to form the loving and physical relationships that straight women have always enjoyed.

240 deborah elliott September 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm

these are amazing photos i love looking at photos old and new and these are just wonderfull ,thank you for them all

241 Bruce September 18, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Looking at the faces of the men in the photos at the beginning of the article I can easily believe that many were probably brothers.

242 Ryan September 18, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Most of the classic non-military photos seem to be family members. The guys are very similar in face and build. The military ones are from guys who often have been bonded deeply, like family, but know how fragile life is and so temporarily extend each other the courtesy of familial bonds.

243 kav September 19, 2013 at 5:38 am

What an insanely interesting website. I honestly expected to have a giggle and say “geeeeeeeeeeeeeeey” a lot but I actually learned a lot. Very informative and very engaging.

244 Sarah September 19, 2013 at 5:56 pm

There are many old photos of my family with males showing affection for each other. I assumed this was singular among my family, this article has made me reconsider. This is a photo of my grandfather with his brothers about 1920.

245 Paul September 19, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Thanks for this website. I came across my dad’s old WWII army photo album the other day. He was only 18 when he was called up in early ’42 and I am sure scared s’less. Like an earlier poster, many of the pictures look very intimate and familiar, yet these guys could not have known each other very well. I guess those circumstances cause quick and deep friendships. I don’t ever remember seeing my dad hug or even put his arm around another guy, let alone along with the typical poses, monkeying around in his skivvies. I never saw him look so comfortable and relaxed in his own skin. He must have been really relaxed because his Italian mamma would have seen these pics and he was scared to death of her. I wish I had seen these much earlier. If I had known that this crazy and fun guy was buried somewhere deep inside him I would have kept until I found him and brought him back to the surface. God we could have had some fun. Well, I would have dispensed with the skivvies part though.

246 Gary Magruder September 20, 2013 at 8:28 pm

As a gay man(71) with my male spouse of 50 years come January 17th, I was moved by the photos. I hope this intimacy and the comfort in allowing others to see its expression becomes the norm once again. It would also,it seems to me, open the opportunity for same sex couples to express their affection in public without fear of abuse from those seeing it. While I fully agree that men and women in this cultural period of history were comfortable expressing affection and were not sexually active with each others necessarily or even likely, I also would suggest that some of them clearly were lovers and even for extended periods or a lifetime. While it is important to not make relationships that what they were not, to say a rose is not a rose and insist that it is an apple blossom is a mistake also. Same sex love has surely existed from the beginning of time whatever it was called and to pretend otherwise is a lack of knowledge of history ,hidden, and biological exhuberance that anthropology and science assure true searchers is the case. All loving expressions of care and honest affection and degrees of love in its variety will hopefully flourish . Let it be.

247 gaby September 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm

In Nigeria, straight men commonly hold hands. You know they’re straight because homosexuality is held to be a horrible evil. To them, holding hands is just a natural part of friendship.

248 jonathan cracknell September 26, 2013 at 11:43 am

It is valuable work that you are doing: conserving this record before it disappears or is destroyed.There are scholars in New Zealand who have just brought out a book of early colonial male friendships which is excellent.

249 Marcela September 26, 2013 at 3:41 pm

I cannot help thinking that these pictures would be perfectly normal today if the people there were girls / women. Women can show tenderness to each other and (as you say, they could be also lesbians), but intimacy is “more normal” among women, as it was in former times among men.

250 E Bishop Wooten September 27, 2013 at 3:43 pm

My how times have changed. No wonder gays want to get married nowdays. What they are seeking in marriage is what normal guy friends used to do before homophobia. For the most part anyway. Women have no problem being that intimate with their bff’s.

251 Paul Braintree November 2, 2013 at 7:13 pm

I have wonderful homosexual friends, and I do not judge them, but for myself I honestly believe that homosexuality is a sin just like the Bible says. And I believe that it is homosexuality that has brought about the lessening of innocent intimacy and affection between males. Males are paranoid about being perceived as homosexual.

I came upon this site today because I was looking up rare pre1850 pictures and same as did the author of this article, I noticed that there was a lot of ease and noticeable affection between males in quite a number of those pictures. Was very remarkable. I have pictures now shown here, of the same nature. They speak volumes about the difference between a moral society and a decadent one in which immorality is common place.

252 Robert November 16, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I am fascinated by these photos and the commentary that goes with them.
I have been exclusively gay all my life but have never felt much affinity for the “gay attitude, posing and jokes that my gay friends enjoy. I don’t begrudge them their fun but do find it a bit boring and repetitious. I feel somehow vindicated to know that many men in other times felt free to publicly express their affection for each other without it being considered a sexual statement, although doubtless in some of the photos there was a little more affection than in othersthan in others. I was also very intrigued with my own reaction to the pics. I found myself trying to judge which each, just friendship or something more. As if that is of any importantce. This probably says more about me and others of the twenty first century to whom sex is everywhere and made a part of everything from sales campaigns to choosing new friends. It is considered more important than integrity or honesty and is considered by many to be the most important part of a person’s identity. How refreshing to see that it was not always so.


253 Nina Svalberg November 20, 2013 at 10:03 pm

This is the most interesting article I have read for ages. Absolutely fascinating reading!
This is a historical niche that I’ve never come across before, but which is of course very important. I love the photos, some of which captivated me more than others. I would have loved to know the story behind each photograph and who these men and boys were. In the “trades” section, would it be possible to add which trade or kind of work they depict, and in general would it be possible to add the decade under each photograph? Sometimes I didn’t know if the photo was from e.g.1880 or 1915. Apart from the incredibly interesting content of the article, I want to congratulate you on the excellent editing. It was a true joy to read for me as a translator. ;-) Warm regards from Mexico.

254 Denz November 21, 2013 at 4:55 pm

Growing up in the Philippines, my straight peers were very comfortable in being physically close toward me. I was the one who had issues because I knew I was gay and I did not want to be found out. Even as a young man, my internalized homophobia was so strong my peers thought I was a snob for not putting my arms around them or letting them fall asleep on my shoulder. When I did find someone I felt comfortable with, our closeness ended up in homoerotic play. To think, I could’ve been homosocial with guys I had a crush on but it was me who had the issues.

255 sam November 21, 2013 at 11:35 pm

wow Jake Write, you story is really epic.

Be thankful that you have such an amazing friend and life. Awesome man.

I can only wish to find a friend like you.

God Bless Man

256 Lucas el katalizador November 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Men in India do manintain a close contact, extreme closeness and constant touching.

257 Ikahn El November 27, 2013 at 3:46 pm

I lived with very puritan views growing up in Catholicism.
My best friend is Saudi. He’d never been told by his father, brothers or friends, ‘I love you’ until I did. We’ve been friends for twenty five (or so) years.

258 Emily December 16, 2013 at 5:27 pm

The problem is not just in that we are terrified of being seen as Homosexual here in America, although that is a large part of it. I see at least two other reasons. First there is an instinctual response which has been hard coded into men born in and around the sixties which makes them uncomfortable even touching other males. Second our culture sees all affection in a sexual manner. My best friend (who is my brother) and I enjoy going out together and because he and I are affectionate towards another people think that we are boyfriend and girlfriend, men are thought to be sexual beings in a way women are not and unlike woman there is no trope of men going out and being affectionate together the way there is for women. Which is in my mind one of the saddest things in the world.

259 Christian Jones January 2, 2014 at 9:32 pm

I am a 22 year old man who struggles with homosexual desires. I am also a christian man, and believes that homosexuality is a sin. My issue exactly lies in the lack of male-bonding close relations ships with other men as a child. When I grew up, I never really was shown love by my father, and always longed to have male friends to talk to, lean on, hug/kiss joke around etc. I was always jealous of other men who received this. My woes developed into insecurities and I began to sexualize my intimacy for a man instead of brotherhood. Now I’m kind of stuck trying to build relationships with other college aged men now. Thank God, I understand the root of the issue. It’s just hard engaging in non-sexual male relationships because I’m not used to it. I know Jesus will allow my same-sex attraction desires to subside, so that I can really bond with men in brotherhood.

260 P.M. DILLON January 16, 2014 at 6:19 am

I think all this shows a sad loss of
the sense of community ie., relating to one another without labelling (one is this or that) etc., from what one can gather reading the above’ it shows that all was much better when men / women had this fine sense of intimacy and altruism towards one another !!!

261 Michael February 3, 2014 at 9:07 pm

Although I am a Christian man, my biblical, historical and interpersonal research about human sexuality has uncovered things most westerners would consider scandalous. One of those things is about how culture has perverted affection between friends. We Christians are the worst at taking cultural taboos and practices and labeling them as “Christian,” just to stigmatize those who don’t fit into our “American” way of thinking.

I belong to a large Christian men’s group. I have been told that, as an elder in this group, I have been the most impactful individual. When I asked, “Why?” I was told that I was the most comfortable man in the group who is never afraid to show his emotions, including his affection for the other men. I have some of the best friends in the world in this group. We are incredibly affectionate towards one another.

There is one man in particular whom I have traveled and stayed with in the house he is building on the Western Slopes of the Rocky Mountains. (We are working on the construction of this house together). Our friendship is as intimate as two “heterosexual” married men can be. We hug, talk to each other while we are doing our own toiletry, have seen each other naked, and (because there aren’t any inner walls as yet in his house) have even seen each other sitting on the pot taking a shit. I sleep in the buff, mainly because I have an extremely high metabolism and I sweat profusely at night, and my friend has seen me walking nude to the bathroom, and get into and out of bed without any clothes on.

I am a retired Navy veteran. While I was in the Navy, I had several exceptionally close male friendships with some of my shipmates, whom I loved deeply and affectionately. Two of these men came to my rescue, when my first wife divorced me, and I crashed into a depression I couldn’t get out of without their help. I had gone home from the court house, after my first divorce hearing, devastated that this was happening to me. When I arrived at my rented room in a private residence, I blocked my door with half of my furniture, called and left a message for one of my buddies, got undressed, crawled into bed, and cried myself to sleep.

The next thing I knew, my two buddies had entered the home, pushed my door open, shoving the furniture out of the way, threw the covers off me, took me in their arms and held me for two hours, as naked as a jaybird as I was. They prayed over me, told me how much I was loved, by them and by God, and they had no qualms about my state of undress, nor of the condition of my broken heart.

These men were my Good Samaritans that day, and one of those men is still, to this day, one of my very best friends. He is closer to me that my own biological brothers, who rarely, if ever communicate with me.

It is time for the men in America to reclaim their true masculinity. My Savior, Jesus Christ, had a VERY good friend – his name was John. John was the ONLY man who showed up at his friend, Jesus’, crucifixion. The ONLY one. And this man reclined with Jesus at the Last Supper, in a “full-chested embrace,” as the literal Greek expresses it.

David and Jonathan, in the Old Testament, were both married, heterosexual men, BUT, they LOVED one another deeply. It could be said of them that they, as fellow soldiers, slept together at night to keep each other warm, loved one another through some of life’s worst trials, and David mourned for his friend, Jonathan (when he died in battle), and said that his love for Jonathan was deeper and richer than the love of a woman.

Most people in our culture call most expressions of affection “gay” or “homosexual,” just because they are uncomfortable or scared to death of these God-given affections. If only we would grow up as a culture! MY life has been, and will continue to be, enriched by the love of my male friends. I am not afraid to tell them I love them, in front of other men, and to kiss them on the cheek or to put my hands on the faces and tell them that they are God’s treasures to me. That is the way God is calling us, as men, to begin to do for one another. As Leanne Paine once wrote, “In the healing of the men, is the healing of us all!” It is time for the masculine community to shed some of the perverse stigmas we have placed on our love and affection for one another. Heck, if we don’t do it for each other, who will? As much as my wife and I love each other, she cannot be “all things” to me. In order for me to be a well-rounded and fulfilled man, I MUST experience 1) the love of my God, 2) the love of my brothers, and 3) the love of my wife. ALL of these are crucial to my wholeness as a man.

If my God loves me so much that He dances over me with joy, why shouldn’t we men do that for each other? Let’s grow up, my brothers, into that manhood God originally intended for us! What an incredible adventure my life has been! I wouldn’t change ANY of my experiences as a man. I have learned how to love and be loved, through them all.

262 Andreas Ahrlund March 4, 2014 at 3:27 am

Id say the main reason for fear of intimacy with men, or actual gay relations is that it limits your access to straight sex and intimacy as a guy, at least if some women assume “He cant get a girl, so he vents with guys”. Its a very faulty way of thinking though, similiar to guys that dont dare to get rejected by girls because they think every other girl will notice and be disgusted.

Its simply not the case. Sex and intimacy is hard to get as a man, noone is surprised if you get rejected IN REALITY. In the “political” sphere of culture this isnt always the case, and you might get judged. In less sexually judging cultures(club enviroments in sweden etc) you dont really lose anything from approaching sexually or being intimate with guy buddies.

A thing I must add is that a friend of mine that was out and “winged” me a lot when whe chased girls for 6 months everynight, is that we started to be very intimate(non sexually) to cope with all the female rejection, lack of intimacy, and the allure of female physical affection both sexually and non-sexually.

Id say the greatest asset a man has to temper the allure for women wich often makes him ruin his life or fail to get women- is lack of male physical affection. If you already have easy access to affection and hugs, then a lot of the allure women can give you- the physical affection and sex – is neutralised.

The hungry dont get fed, so having access to affection will get you more affection.

Im not saying this means you have to turn bisexual, its more of a “hug your buddy” thing so youre not all starving, then you can have relations with the girls you want and not be so needy :)

263 James March 5, 2014 at 7:45 am

I came here looking for a specific pose (I’m an artist, I needed a reference) but I found so much more. This article is magnificent.

264 American Guy March 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

My need for healthy same sex intimacy and the cultural messages against such male intimacy is at the heart of so much sadness for me. I received no intimate touch from my father. The society he grew up in shamed males who did. I learned very early that intimate touch between males was wrong. As a teenager I was sexually active with a girlfriend. At this same time I was invited by a male friend to experiment sexually. So, while in high school, I had two very sexual relationships going on at the same time. After high school I went on to identify myself as a straight male and lived the straight life, all the while, remembering and missing the closeness and intimacy that I experienced with my male high school friend. This intimacy stroked something deep inside me. Intimacy and sexuality became very much entwined in my mind. This led to years of confusion over my sexual identity. Messages from my culture continued to promote the idea that if you desire same sex intimacy or have experienced sexual relationships with the same sex – then you are homosexual. It frustrates me that American culture pushes so hard to force people into categories. Gay, straight or bi. Separate from my own sexual experiences, I must admit that I really do miss intimate, non-sexual same sex touch. This was recently made very clear to me as I lived in Southern Italy for a season. My heterosexual male friends all touched, hugged, kissed and would basically hang on each other. When I experienced their intimate, non-sexual affection, I felt complete. In this cultural context, I was touched, kissed and embraced by other males daily. In America, the only situation that I can experience this male-to-male affection is in the gay community. I cannot completely explain how much it meant to me to experience non-sexual, male-to-male intimacy while in Southern Italy. I felt, in so many ways, that I was home.

265 R.G. Watson March 11, 2014 at 9:27 pm

Beautiful and well- written article. The photographs are heart-breakingly touching. I have read the article and all the comments for the second time, and looked again at the photos.

The comments are as interesting as the article and the photographs. My thanks to Jake Wright for his beautiful account of male-male friendship; and to Colin, who has it right: women do not like to see men being happy together, without them. And yes, everywhere you look, institutions, organizations, businesses and government have been feminized. God help the man who wants to join a woman-only athletic club, because it is conveniently located near where he lives! I read recently just such a news article. The ladies were outraged, but it is OK to make any male-only group open to women, yeah…

I have book-marked this article so I can read it again and look at the wonderful photographs. How sad and distant, the four business men in the office, carefully separate and not touching…

Perhaps when the fires of feminism have died down, male friendships will again be common.

266 Heather April 17, 2014 at 7:42 pm

In my family we have two brothers and about 8 of their friends, all of whom are male. They have always been affectionate with each other from the time they were in primary school. When you see them together you can see the love they feel for each other and it’s wonderful to see. To me it seems a shame that male intimacy is on the wane. I liked the pictures very much and I saw respect and intimacy and friendship in theme. Thanks for sharing. Heather

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