Bosom Buddies: A Photo History of Male Affection

by Brett & Kate McKay on July 29, 2012 · 265 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

{ 265 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Kiltie July 31, 2012 at 10:58 pm

So, I have a question.

Are you saying that those of us who do not regularly express our feelings toward our close friends in such an overt manner are somehow less connected to them than men who are comfortable doing so?

Are blatant expressions of affection necessary so long as the bond is strong. A lot of you here seem to think that men no longer have very close friends based on the fact that we don’t greet each other with a kiss, or sit in each other’s laps for pictures.

That seems just as narrow-minded as the folks who don’t want to look gay.

102 Eddie in INDY July 31, 2012 at 11:26 pm

My dad (84 years old) tells me no one he knew posted like this when he was younger (1940′s ish) ….But he reminds me that those who did were not considered MANLY…..I am so tired of being told to conform to something I am not and risk being called narrow-minded. It seems now that calling Homosexuality out for being something it is not brings the wrath of those who are exactly what they accuse me of….narrowmindedness and being a bully….

Damn, I am tired of that…

Eddie In INDY

103 Michael July 31, 2012 at 11:56 pm

This article was great, but it made me sad because I feel the poignant feeling that something tremendous has been removed from the male friendship. I would attribute this firstly to the intense sexualization of everything possible. Sex is constantly talked about, sung about, written about, joked about, filmed and photographed. As a result people are MUCH more frequently thinking about sex. (Advertising uses saturation, and to very great effect also.)
Add to this mix that homosexuality is currently at this precise intersection of monstrous taboo (elevated exponentially because of the squabbles associated with the irrational desire to legislate it one or or another) and being on par with a badge of honor or heroism. (Think gay pride parades, shows like Glee, etc)
With both of these social changes its no wonder people’s brains simply can’t shut up when they see two men who intensely love each other but who never even conceived of carrying out sexual acts or romance.
How sad. This potentially huge area of a man’s life that could be deep, rich and free of guilt is simply gone because the second it surfaces it’s labeled as something else entirely.

104 Michael August 1, 2012 at 12:14 am

I’d also like to add that the term “bromance” was probably a valiant effort on the part of someone to salvage the idea of intense male friendship free of any sexual feelings. But the invention of the term is an indicator of a sad state. Now men cannot be friends (at least in the US) without constantly qualifying it and explaining to others (‘no homo’, ‘bromance’, etc).
An example of this is when a friend of mine and I spent the day together. He laughed and said “We’ll have to say ‘No Homo’ when we tell people about today.” I thought it was funny too, but how sad is it that both of us felt on some level that it was weird or wrong that we had simply hung out all day?

105 Orac August 1, 2012 at 2:28 am

Like many of you I lament the fact that something wonderful seems to have been lost. But I don’t understand the need to scapegoat a class of people for this. It’s not homosexuals that have forced this change but our own fear and panic at being thought gay. If we’re secure in our own sexuality–if we know who we are–we should be able to let those fears go.

If you’re the type of man that can express feelings of intimacy with another man you should do it and be brave enough to challenge the assumptions that come your way. And by that I mean more than just saying the facile “no homo”. Don’t just try to absolve yourself, challenge the assumptions and the label itself. When people stop believing that there’s something “wrong” with being gay all men will be free to express themselves.

106 Melika August 1, 2012 at 10:03 am

When I looked at the first set of photos, I wondered why, when the guys were seated side by side, one had a hand on the other man’s knee. It just seemed odd, until I reached the two black men and the one on the left didn’t have his hand on the right man’s knee. In the picture, he just looks cold, like he doesn’t really care about his friend. I think the placement of the hand on the knee answers the question: where do you put the hands in such a way as to show mutual affection?

It’s not just with men that the decline in overt affection has occurred. Women are also less affectionate (although still more so than men). There are photos of women in poses that imply homosexuality to people today that are nothing more than close friendship and affection. I don’t know about men, but women used to help dress each other (they had to, some of the closures are almost impossible alone). Having such familiarity without any sexual overtones creates a very easy relationship. Even today, I find myself curbing my own behavior to both show others I am not homosexual and to prevent any misunderstandings with lesbians.

I don’t want to get into a long discussion about homosexuality, but I would propose that homosexuality was determined to be a mental disorder AFTER it became both an identity and a lifestyle choice. Men were expected to behave as men. One might understand this behavior (homosexuality) to occur, but it was unacceptable to, in essence, pretend to be a woman just as it was unacceptable for a woman to behave as a man.

107 Steve August 1, 2012 at 10:08 am

Awesome post! All too true and present in our society. I am fortunate enough to be able to surround myself with people who do not shy away from affection and respect.

108 JB August 1, 2012 at 11:52 am

Not going to lie…2/3 of these pictures made me giggle. Rather that has something to do with the whole “they look gay” thing or not I’m not sure – I just found them to be weird. I, much like my father and grandfather, am not very outwardly affectionate except with my wife. Does that mean something is wrong with me? No, it is just how I am and it is how many men (and some women) are. I do believe overly affectionate behavior is a largely feminine behavior and I do not view that as an insult, merely a fact.

A lot of societal mores shift over time and it is not always a bad thing. It is worth pointing out that in Islamic culture this sort of outward affection is normal among men but they, like cultures of years past, are segregated by sex.

109 Rachel August 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Remember that these earlier photos were posed in a studio – not spontaneous snapshots of two men who happened to be in these positions, but rather intentional poses meant to show the bonds of friendship. Men didn’t necessarily hang out with their friends in poses like this all the time, even if they were more comfortable with physical displays of affection than we are today, but I feel that some of the comments above focus too intently on the physical, when it is the emotional connection that is the focus of this article. I do not think the problem today is lack of physically demonstrative affection between men – that is merely the manifestation of the sentiment. Rather it’s the value that our forbears placed on loyal friendship that we today have lost. “Til 1842 no two men were ever more intimate,” Joshua Speed told an early Lincoln biographer. “Our friendship and intimacy closed only with his life.” He is referring to the emotional and spiritual intimacy of friends. However, as noted above, nowadays “intimacy” is definied strictly in terms of sexuality and romance, with everyone else secondary to that. Consider Admiral Nelson friendship with and admiration for Captain Sir Thomas Hardy. As Nelson lay dying, his last words were concerned with the safety of his ship and of the future well-being of his beloved mistress (okay, he was also an adulterer, but divorce was not an option in those days). He was on his deathbed, after a decisive naval battle that saved the British fleet, and turned the course of war, and knowing that he would not see England nor any of his friends and companions again, and among his last words were “‘Thank God I have done my duty.” And it was then that he uttered the famous words, “Kiss me, Hardy,” which subsquently led to much speculation that Nelson was gay. Of course he was not, but even if he was, hypothetically, is that really the right question to ask regarding Nelson’s dying moments? I do think friendship and comradeship deserve at least as much consideration as sexual orientation and sexual and romantic relations, and in the case of a military hero whose brilliant action and courage saved an entire nation, and who gave his life for his country’s freedom, the question of whether his love for Hardy was sexual is somewhat disrespectful and irrelevant.

110 D August 1, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Mr. ORAC, there is something wrong with being gay. But today it’s considered atrocious to make such a statement. Just because it’s the 21st century doesn’t make something that was considered immoral in ancient times ok now. Adultery is accepted now, that doesn’t make it right either. Sorry to be offensive. There is nothing wrong with showing affection.
I display affection towards my male friends
with no problem as long as it doesn’t cross the
homo line wich is not a problem. Most
heterosexuals have an instict to recoil, like a
safety switch. Although different races have
different standards about acceptable behavior. I
know Indian guys who hold hands while they
walk engaged in conversation and Asians who
put their arms around each other like a dude
and a chick would. For some reason knowing
they’re not gay removes the gagging reflex.
How do we know they’re not, you ask? Because

111 Richard Williams August 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Personally, if I’m going to snuggle up to another human being, it’s going to be my hot wife.

112 Orac August 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm

D, let’s not stray too far off the subject. I think Rachel pretty much nailed this topic with her comment directly above yours, and I like to think that my comment is complementary to hers. (with the understanding that she may not agree…)

As for “there is something wrong with being gay” I think you would be better served in saying there’s something wrong with being gay FOR YOU. (making the assumption that you yourself really aren’t gay) It’s not your place (or mine, or anyone’s) to judge the life of someone else. Why would you want to go out of you way to make someone else’s journey more difficult?

113 Baanrit August 1, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Thanks for posting this, I was just talking about this issue in class last week when was discussing the need to stow one’s visceral value judgements when studying history.

114 Ben August 2, 2012 at 10:22 am
115 Emily August 2, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I’d like to echo the sentiments of earlier posts that there is something sad about how everything is hyper-sexualized and made out to be homoerotic. I think a lot of the above photos reveal an innocence that our culture has lost (or sold). Oddly, I stumbled across this picture earlier today of an intentionally funny picture … and yet there’s something quite sweet about it.

116 Ron August 2, 2012 at 4:26 pm

I applaud the nudge toward viewing intimacy as capable of being less than sexual. I do not believe this post was meant to say that you must be physically social with everyone who is close to you. Though it is a nod to the idea that if you find it comfortable do not hesitate. As men it is wise to remember that no one can force you to behave a certain way, if holding the hand of a friend is not for you there is nothing to be ashamed of.

117 Michael August 2, 2012 at 8:34 pm

I think there are portions of society that still express this level of physical closeness. Perhaps not in pictures, but in other areas. I know it is quite common for men who ride motorcycles as a way of life often act like that. Even to the point of sitting on another’s lap. Don’t suggest you call them gay for doing it.

118 david August 3, 2012 at 8:27 am

I think this is very interesting, I mean it has become so common that male intimacy is viewed as gay that the common man is fearful of being thought homosexual. Homosexuality is forced on society, at least here in the U.S.A , to be accepted, but at the same time something to be feared. Everything is about homosexuality these days, I mean it gets as much coverage as any major issue, if not more.
In my opinion, if you love someone, whether it be platonic or romantically and whether they be same sex or opposite, you should show it on a level that is comfortable for you. I do not know how life was back then, but I would not feel comfortable posing in the ways like some photos above are pictured. However, I think society as whole has become colder, rather than warmer, especially with people in their 20s, so I do not think that this is strictly a male problem.

119 Cocktailsfor2 August 3, 2012 at 10:11 am

Without reading through all of the comments (I did read the last dozen or so before mine), I will say that in looking at all of these pictures, I can find only a very few where I thought the participants were more than just really, really good friends.

I am not gay, but have no qualms about putting my arms around male friends (straight OR gay) in pictures, if they are true friends, people whom I love.

120 Brandon August 3, 2012 at 11:17 am

Touch is incredibly important. Incorporating a tactile level to a friendship would be a great thing. By stigmatizing touch, we limit our affirmation.

121 Jared August 3, 2012 at 1:34 pm

I have always had pretty strong relationships with other men, especially so when in the military, but i am not all that touchy a guy. i am much more apt to take a picture side by side than sitting in my buddies lap.

122 Joel Settecase August 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Fascinating article. My friend Ethan has long bemoaned the fact that he can no longer give his buddies a good old fashioned hug anymore, because of fear that he (or they) will be perceived as “gay.” I have an article about male relationships on my apologetics blog. It’s (I hope) very rational. Check it out:

123 Michael Keating August 3, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Overall, I really liked this article and I really liked the pictures. However, I am saddened by some of the comments posted which either directly or indirectly show homophobic views. I am a young 28 year old gay man, and I have mostly straight male friends, all of which are very supportive and not afraid of giving me a bro-hug or putting thier arm around me for a photo. I think the “homosexual hysteria” of the 1950s is steadily disappearing, and most men of my age group have no problem with hugging one another or showing some sort of affection. I believe this is a great thing and I think it would be nice to see a return to a time where all men can show intimacy towards each other without anyone thinking it’s “wierd.” Afterall, this is 2012, not 1950!

124 John August 4, 2012 at 12:20 am

Orac’s second paragraph is very true. You should read it.

125 Dash Maverick August 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Just curious – and I’m unaware if this was mentioned previously as I didn’t read all the comments – could some of these men be of relation: brothers, half-brothers, step-brothers, cousins? I’ve notice in some of the photos a similarity of facial structure and features. Many of these poses seem more natural if relation is taken into account.

126 Holly August 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Apart from the American and European cultures, the rest of the world is comfortable being closer physically, without any sexual aspect to it. In other countries, men kiss each other on the cheek when they greet, women are often seen walking hand-in-hand, and dancing is something for everyone to do together without it “meaning anything.” In American’s over-sexualized culture, it is shame that we associate all touch with being sexual. The root of the problem is actually that Americans are starved for touch. When guys don’t get enough healthy affection from their dads, brothers, cousins, and friends, they will crave it in other ways, whether with same-sex or opposite-sex relationships. Part of the rise in homosexuality comes from the same reason for the rise in promiscuity, which is a lack of frequent, healthy touch in close relationships.

127 Leon August 4, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Another excellent article. I’ve been following this site from down here in NZ for some time and can’t express enough what a breath of fresh air it is in a world where almost everything you see in media has a consumerist angle.
It is a loss that we fear being intimate with our good mates because of how it may look. I blame (among other societal trends) the over sexualisation of practically everything – and that’s happened simply to sell more product. The terrible thing is I found a lot of those shots were making me think – That is so gay! It shows how much we reflect the current attitudes around us.

Keep up the good work.

128 Alejandro August 5, 2012 at 1:53 am

It’s true that affection between males in America has become taboo, or disregarded as loathsome. I think there are several factors contributing to it.

One is the gay rights movement, which pushed gay men and lesbian women out front into the public eye. But, the downside is that any affection between men was viewed disdainfully and attributed to supposedly inherent homosexual tendencies. Notice women weren’t burdened with the same belief.

Another is the response to that gay rights movement by religious and social conservatives. They specifically targeted men and boys. That gave birth to the “ex-gay,” or reparative therapy movements within religious (mostly Christian circles). Entire groups were set up to help males (and usually only males) overcome their homosexual inclinations.

Yet another cause is the modern feminist movement, which – especially beginning in the 1980’s – looked down upon anyone and anything male. Hardcore women’s rights activists viewed males as emotionally and spiritually inferior; therefore, any affection between males was seen, by default, as insignificant, or even depraved. In their view, everyone needed the love and attention of females, but not males.

All of that may have contributed to the decline in life spans for men in the U.S. By 1980, for example, women were outliving men by as much as 8 years. Now, the gap has narrowed to 5 years. Still, the stigma of male affection has been deeply embedded in the sometimes-politically correct, yet overly homophobic American society. There’s nothing wrong with men showing affection for one another, especially if it’s a father-son relationship. Men would be better off without the restraints of being told how to live their lives.

129 Edwin Rowe August 5, 2012 at 10:19 am

I think this site is wonderful and will open people’s eyes to what was lost. Men alive today just accept “what is” as normal and don’t know why they feel a lack. Some of the comments on here were very insightful. I think the lack of male intimacy and touch does conduce to homosexual attraction because it makes fellow men the mysterious “other”. I wonder what society would look like if men did not have to take on a rigid sexual identity and could be open and affectionate with one another in public. It is very oppressive psychologically for men to have to explain what their relationship is with another man they are close to. Another thing that has been lost is the civility of privacy. The casual question, “are you gay?” is considered acceptable in today’s social environment, but is actually fraught with assumption and is an audacious intrusion on men’s close bonds.

130 Landon Aaker August 5, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Great post. However, I did think that the author gave too much credit to the possibility of homosexuality. It seemed like he was always saying, “This doesn’t mean that they were gay, but MAYBE THEY WERE.” No. I think the chance of the men in these pictures being gay is about the same chance of them being thieves or liars. It’s possible, but there is no reason to suspect it.

Also, I appreciated the differentiation between the idea of homosexuality as an act and as an identity. It exposes the “gay” identity as a social construct, built on nothing but the will of man.

Again, thanks for the great article!

131 James D'Souza August 6, 2012 at 1:47 pm

Great article!

Fascinating stuff seeing how men’s friendships have changed.

I’ve found that I’ve been more comfortable amongst women than groups of men. I’m not a great sportsman or sports fan and have tended to shy away from the overtly macho displays.

However, I do have a few close friends where all the macho nonsense is put aside – we’re just comfortable being *everything* we are with each other.

That’s the sense that I get from the photos in this post.

it’s given me context to my interactions!

132 Lori Rogue August 6, 2012 at 4:59 pm

I appreciate the time and thought that was put into the article.

It provoked lots of fun food for thought. I too found myself giggling through most of the shots. Though a woman, I do not think there is a photo of me in existence where I would have been so expressive as these men were. I don’t care if it was over sports, work comrades, military, etc. Half the time I was thinking, “Get a room.”

But all laughs aside, I guess you could say I am just glad these men were able to express themselves. There isn’t enough information to really form a solid opinion beyond that. How many were abusive at home? How many were cruddy fathers? Mean bosses. Slaveowners? Those are the legitimate questions that come to mind.

Anyone can take a picture. Rarely do they tell the truth that is behind the lens.

133 Michael August 7, 2012 at 12:54 pm

When I reached my thirties I found friends I really like and who I am very close to. Both male and female.
We learned to like each other touch, without thinking about being gay (in case of men) or adultery(in case of women).
I really don’t know if any of them IS gay – I don’t care because it is not important. I love them, but not going to sleep with them – it goes with FRIENDS of both sexes.

134 c August 10, 2012 at 5:29 am

Interesting that not ONE of these pictures had men that were fat!!! not even chubby!!

Great photo essay,, loved it.


135 idrissa August 10, 2012 at 5:47 am

I feel no real need to have male friends. I enjoy activities with my brothers that seems to be enough. Why would anyone want to hang around a bunch of knuckleheads?

136 Alex August 10, 2012 at 6:43 am

A very powerful article. It actually offered me the chance to distinguish clearly between my (inherited) perception of poses and the reality captured in these photographs.

I’ve recognised within myself that while I want to be more affectionate and intimate with my close male friends, the fear of appearing gay stops me – even if a friend initiates some kind of physical intimacy I pull away.

“Sexualised” is a great word for it. I see everything from a sexual perspective – and I know that this perspective does not originate in me, but is a collective societal creation. (I wonder how you perceived my words above: “a friend inititates … physical intimacy”; as I wrote them it sounded sexual from that perspective, but I left it there because it’s NOT).

I recently did a mental compilation of the words that 50 years ago did not have a sexual meaning but now do. I must have come up with 60 words without really having to try very hard. I didn’t even include the words “affection”, “intimacy”, “physical” as I recall. I think we could any of us come up with 100 if we dedicated an hour or so to the task.

137 Timothy August 10, 2012 at 10:24 pm

This article, and the comments, made me sad. Not just because the easy familiarity and intimacy once common among male friends is gone today, but because so many of us have lost the capacity. I do hug my friends, and have done for many years, but it feels somehow affected just the same. Certainly I wouldn’t be comfortable touching them on the leg or in many of the above poses, even though it would be an innocent and natural gesture. The instinct has simply been snuffed to the point where I couldn’t be touchy-feely with my friends even if I wanted to. Sure I’m not the only one with this problem.

At least I don’t feel awkward being affectionate with my own sons. So perhaps there is a chance that future generations might escape the ridiculous strictures stifling the friendships that once defined men’s lives.

138 Sylvie August 11, 2012 at 9:00 am

Oh, male affection. So great to see this article. I teach circus arts and have noticed that many very young boys (5 and under) will hug and hold hands with each other and give each other unabashed encouragement. This drops off so sharply as they get older. I imagine as they are increasingly exposed to the social messages that tell them it isn’t okay or normal. It seems like such a loss. But my husband and his 11 best friends from childhood have remained very affectionate and it’s great to be around. Safety in numbers, perhaps.

139 annie morgan August 11, 2012 at 11:44 am

So many comments, but close to the beginning are two from ‘Michael’, poignantly written, lovely to read. I’m a woman of 81, and can remember my Presbyterian, Scottish, almost emotionless father putting his hand on his friend’s shoulder and looking at him so affectionately that, even as a child, I could see the love he held. Oh how I deplore these days when it seems the first thing that crosses the average mind is the sexual context of almost everything (except maybe buying cereal at the local grocer’s, and I’ll bet someone will come up with it there, too).

140 Laura Lee August 13, 2012 at 10:04 am

I enjoyed this article and analysis. I do think that rules of what constitutes appropriate physical intimacy between friends changes across cultures and time.

On the other hand, I can easily see modern male friends striking some of the poses in these old pictures for photos.

Some of these images would probably not strike anyone as particularly unusual looking poses if they were not presented in the context of the other images on the page, which we would now find “suspect.” (Lap sitting and so on.)

I could easily see a modern team or a group of college friends to stand close to each other as they tried to get everyone into a group shot– as is the case in some of these pictures. And I have seen many pictures of male friends with arms over each other’s shoulders.

I have also seen pictures of modern guys joking around doing things like playing the woman’s role for humor, like the soldiers and– are they miners?–who are pictured dancing with each other when there are no women around.

I’d also just add that rules for physical intimacy vary not only by culture but by activity. Think about the hug huddles, hugs and butt slaps that the Olympic athletes did after scores.

So without the context, it poses food for thought, but it is hard to fully extrapolate about differences over time.

141 Laura Lee August 13, 2012 at 10:06 am

P.S. The first image in this article reads to me like a father and son picture. I agree with the person who noted that a lot of these may be brothers and relatives.

142 Darren August 13, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Fascinating post!

I saw that a couple of people pointed out that some of these could be family members, but I don’t see how that matters either way. Because do you know any fathers and sons or brothers who would pose by holding hands or sitting on each other’s laps? I don’t know any. Whether they’re family or friends, this really shows how male intimacy has fallen, period.

143 Adrienne August 14, 2012 at 2:58 am

Kittie – I think an important point is why, exactly, there is a perceived decline in physical affection inside friendships. Is it because, for some reason, people are naturally moving away from the urge for physical contact with their friends? Or is it because there’s a taboo on getting too touchy with other men? Seems it’s more likely to be the latter and that does kind of sucks.

144 Dave August 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

I’ve lived in China on and off for the last sixteen years, on the country’s eastern coast where economic development has been most rapid. During my first years here, I can remember occassionally seeing men holding hands while walking the street, or making similar gestures of affection in public. Most of these men were migrant workers from inner China. As the years went by I saw fewer and fewer instances of this, and I can remember an occassion or two when two men were informed, in a chastising tone, that their public affection was now being perceived as homosexual behaviour (which was extremely taboo at the time).

It seems to me that society’s distate for men displaying public affection is related to a rise in consumerism and overall affluence. Cosumer culture and wealth were definitely on the rise in the US in the 40s/50s and China in the 90s/early 2000s. What could the exact connection be?

145 Hollie August 14, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Great post! I’m in my late thirties, and I remember boys who were my peers in the early 80′s, who seemed far more comfortable with leaning on each other and being close to each other than the kids I see today (I have two kids in grade school).

I agree with the person who says they miss the days when sexual content wasn’t read into absolutely everything. It’s true, there isn’t a separation anymore, and it you want to make one, it can unintentionally come across as prudish.

Also – did anyone notice the little woman? (

146 Pete August 15, 2012 at 4:09 am

I worked in South Sudan for a year, what struck my western eyes as rather odd was the affection shown between males, holding hands as they walked, the contact of friendship. Where did we in the “civilised” world go wrong, at what time was it decided that men cannot be close enough to touch each other!

I have to admit that my social conditioning is still deeply ingrained such that I feel uncomfortable holding hands with another man, and I feel uncomfortable with that discomfort. I did however accept the sign of friendship from my Nuer friends when they held my hand, even though the inner me was flinching, I’m sorry to say!

Stigmatising contact between males continues, and sadly grows in strength in many countries.

147 Tom August 15, 2012 at 4:15 am

I think simply enough that in these modern times we have forgotten how to love each other without either screwing each other or screwing each other over, and we worry too much about what others might think. In many cultures, male affection is common… They just don’t happen to be English speakers. The internet, the way society is set up in English speaking countries is geared more towards the individual and less towards a communal nature as is necessary for us 100 years ago, and is still so in many places on Earth.

I think we in America have made a trade-off. We live in a much advanced society of technology and medicine and such, and we’ve somehow traded a goodly portion of our camaraderie, our kinship, and in a small way, our courage for that. It is what it is.

148 LL August 15, 2012 at 4:51 am

The photos struck me as touching and innocent. I noticed that quite often the men are young – under 30 – and I wondered if showing physical affection for friends was acceptable so long as it was seen as a thing young men did and grew out of once married (there is a passage in Brideshead Revisited which suggests this might have been the case).

Since hugging a woman who wasn’t your sister/mother/wife/fiancee would have been unacceptable before the 40′s, I wonder if some of these photos indicate not so much homosexuality as simply a need for human physical affection which is now channeled towards girlfriends? Touching doesn’t have to be sexual, it’s used among apes to foster social bonds and I don’t see why it’s necessarily any different for humans.

149 Adam August 15, 2012 at 7:23 am

I think the comments are interesting in that most of them are from either straight men or straight women.

I’m gay and what I see in the photos is the same sort of physical intimacy I share with my friends. These aren’t people I wish to sleep with – just friends who are comfortable with each other. And if 5 of us cuddle up on a couch to watch TV that’s okay. Perhaps because being gay has already ‘broken’ the ‘taboo’ of male intimacy we’ve been given societal permission to be physically comfortable . (scare quotes intentional).

Or perhaps it’s because society has an awful track record of portraying LGBT people as everything from sex-crazed perverts to flaming stereotypes (and most of us aren’t) we no longer give a crap what other people think.

I had a solid relationship with my straight father and brother, but it was never physically expressed when I was younger – perhaps because I was afraid physical contact would expose what I was (at the time) trying to keep hidden. Once I came out and everyone knew the deal I was better able to relax and give my brother a hug once in a while.

So I guess my point is that gay men are better at expressing physical friendship without the ritualization straight men put on it (butt slapping in sport, “no-homo, bromance etc) simply because we’ve already been pushed out of the boundaries assigned to straight males.

As society moves toward a broader understanding and acceptance of homosexuality it will also move to a more relaxed approach of male intimacy because the thought of being mistaken for gay won’t be so terrifying.

150 Catherine August 15, 2012 at 9:47 pm

How wonderful to flip through these photographs and momentarily return to an era in which relationships (regardless of sexual preference) possessed infallible bonds so obviously free of judgment and apprehension. I must say that, although embedded in the midst of interweb thought – I found it refreshing to slowly scroll through the eyes of each of these men, imagining the years and experiences that created such loyalty and love between them, while being free of any narrator/preacher/politician/protestor/Bible beating CEO’s ideas or unwanted opinions. Sometimes it sure is nice have a thought of your own – and black and white stills of unknown souls almost always seem to speak volumes. Great post.

151 Natalie August 16, 2012 at 10:38 am

I feel lucky that the male friends I have (which includes my fiance) are very affectionate with each other, everyone hugs everyone to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’. They profess love for each other when drunk and sober, sometimes ironically, to be funny, but I think deep down it is genuine. I Why can’t guys say they love each other in the same way girls do? I have so many female friends who I truly love, they’re like sisters. Nothing sexual about it. So when my fiance says some of his friends are like brothers, why shouldn’t that equate to a real, fraternal love? I look at the above photos and just feel happy and reminded that the men around me are getting it right and hopefully my sons will be very comortable in their own skin, and happy to show affection to their male friends and equally their partners (male or female) with no awkwardness or fear of being labelled. :-)

(I also have to say the men in quite a lot of the photos look very similar facially, so could well be brothers?)

152 Chas August 16, 2012 at 11:07 pm

More than a wonderful series of photos, an incredible article. I noticed a total difference of intimacy on a trip to rural Tanzania than in the Midwest USA. Men would hold hands with other men while walking and talking to identify that they were having an important conversation or showing them something. We went to a discotheque and it was very much segregated by sex. Men danced with men, and women danced with women. Men danced ON men and women danced ON women in a perfectly platonic way. This was completly shocking to the entire group of American guys who went to the discotheque, but we all collectively decided “when in Shirati, do as Shiratis.” So we got rid of our American labeling system and enjoyed the disco the way it was being enjoyed by the locals. Guys held hands with guys, and it was chill. Guys would dance with you, and you had to let it happen, had to let it happen and enjoy it because that is what everyone else was doing. I remember it being hard to get over the barrier of my American sexuality indoctrination… but when I really freed myself to enjoy the platonic same-sex relationships that developed, you could really tell that a different, more meaningful camaraderie developed between two people, two men.

153 Alex August 17, 2012 at 2:38 am

These photos really brightened up my day and made me appreciate the memories of close friendships gone by. I agree with Orac’s comment above saying “When people stop believing that there’s something “wrong” with being gay, all men will be free to express themselves.” I identify as bi with friends of many genders and enjoy the non-sexual intimacy of my buddies. That’s all there is to it!

154 Reda August 17, 2012 at 7:40 am

Naiveté is the thing we are loosing.

155 Mary August 17, 2012 at 3:04 pm

That was a very interesting post! It had never crossed my mind before, but I think I agree with the author on the fact that societies in which homosexuality is still seen as an act are more relaxed about same-gender intimacy.

As some readers have noted, there are a lot of differences regarding displays of affection between the East and the West. Here’s an article that gives some insights about ‘skinship’:

156 Matt August 18, 2012 at 8:01 am

A couple of comments/questions. One – where are these photos from? I’m presuming most/all of them are American in origin? How do they compare to photos from other countries in the same periods? – the UK and Western Europe especially?

The second thing is – I’m not completely convinced by your history of sexuality, or at least, not insofar as it applies to the world outside the US. In England, for example, there’s very good evidence of changing ideas about sexual identity across the sexual spectrum over the C18, including (though definitely not limited to) the development of a kind of ‘proto-gay’ identity.

I can’t really talk about the US – I simply don’t have the knowledge – but I would be suspicious of a ‘clean break’ history, especially one sited as late as the late C19/early C20.

Otherwise, very interesting! i just wish all those people who want to see gay people as somehow ruining things for everyone else would remember that we’ve had more done to us than we’ve done ourselves.

157 yeese August 20, 2012 at 7:57 am

or they were just many (like ellen would say) ‘bad paid for photos’ photos :D. of course i kid

158 Opinionated August 20, 2012 at 11:07 am

This is great and some comments here are a bit odd considering the tone of this article. The author isn’t arguing for or against society here he is pointing out differences in today’s society vs. another generations and I think if you were idependently study this you would find his same conclusions. It doesn’t make anyone less or more of a man if they pose like this though if you have strong opinions that this mean are less manly because of their poses then perhaps you need to look in the mirror yourself. Can’t wait for a society where we remove ourselves from the masculine and feminine classifications. The fact is there are effiminate straight men and masculine gay men and vice versa left and right. This was a great read, thank you!

159 Dennis Hinkle August 21, 2012 at 3:29 am

To see an objective account of what is happening to young male relationships today, see this TED talk by the famous psychologist Phillip Zimbardo. Don’t miss it!

160 Christopher August 21, 2012 at 5:29 am

I marvel at some of the black and white thinking that I routinely see when I come across articles like this which solicit comment from readers. First allow me to say that I have slept with both men and women and the experiences including the emotional aspects of the events were decidedly different each bringing with it joys and conundrums. Emotionally I prefer men. Physically it is a toss up. We (men) understand one another ( for the most part) including bodily responses to passion. It isn’t something we talk about like many women do. Conversely, I find the idea of gay marriage ridiculous. I have been married and for me the entire idea of marriage is predicated on family and advancement of the species, not all this hyperbole about love and romance. All of these comments about ancient taboos on homosexual behavior are completely incorrect and suspect given scholarly study on the subject. Everything from reliefs to ancient writings indicate homosexual behavior in all levels of society. The difficulty with linguistic challenges makes translation of ancient practices untenable. It is quite possible that certain homosexual practices were abhorrent in some cultures ( anal penetration) but that same gender attraction and many forms of physical interaction including kissing, oral sexual expression and masturbation were both sanctioned and included in normal relational repertoire. I understand people from both camps will find my comments odd and at variation with the norm but I believe the longer I live, the more I’m convinced that there is much more gray than there is black and white.

161 Diane Stewart August 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

I’m a fan of European football (soccer) and have been amazed at the way the players touch each other. The Spanish and Portuguese players in particular often hug, sling their arms around each other, and even kiss on the cheek, pat each other on the butt, or put their hands on each others thighs like in the previous photographs. I’ve seen players play with one another’s hair when sitting together. At first I was stunned since this behavior is so different from American men. Most of these guys are married with kids, or have girlfriends, and this behavior is normal to them. I think it’s beautiful, and it always makes me feel good to see them express their affection this way. I wish our culture weren’t so homophobic.

162 Middelkoop September 23, 2012 at 3:08 am


It is a fact that the word “heterosexual” is the opium of modern societies. So the real problem began when people were forced to show what identifies them and that affected the whole system.

And yes I cannot stand men saying things like “No homo” because it means they hesitate about their sexuality giving explanation to everyone.

When I saw the photos well it was weird because I am not used to that behavior at that level but I liked the idea of a society where men are not worried for hiding their male affection. Let’s be honest, we live in an age where the most confusing thought is “am I gay for doing this?” (no against homosexuality) but I always told myself not if I am sure of who I am so there is not reason to be afraid. We are human and not just cold creatures otherwise it would be going back to primitive caveman behavior. I personally felt kind of sad because as a man sometimes we need the touch of another man like a hug but some friends are really not used to .

163 Jones September 27, 2012 at 12:53 pm

God, so much going on here. I agree with your idea that the rise of homosexuality as an identity, something that you are or aren’t, must have a big part in this. But as others have pointed out in the comments, it’s also got to be the sexualization of everything. Sex is projected so constantly and ubiquitously into our lives that it can never be gotten away from. And a related circumstance is that our sexual lives are no longer clearly bounded from anything else. The rules, institutions, etc. are gone, but those things played a big role in making it possible to have space that is non-sexual.

I encountered this personally when I visited Pakistan when I was 15. I was hanging out with my cousin who was around my age. One day I was laying down on the bed, and he came and put his head down on my stomach. I was alarmed and confused, until I got to the logical conclusion: there wasn’t a chance in hell that he was gay; I come from an exceedingly homophobic culture that has influenced me without my realizing it, and Pakistanis don’t have such a culture.

164 Jan M September 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Wonderful post — thank you for the great photos and the food for thought. I have specific questions about two of the photographs here. How can I contact the authors directly, please? Thanks again.

165 Jeff Blanks October 8, 2012 at 10:50 pm

I wonder about this. The situation we’re in today is a direct result of what purports to be a re-assertion of “manliness”, which is apparently defined as “unwomanliness”. You’d have to suppose that the sexes have nothing to learn from each other for that to hold. I approve of this article; I don’t approve of the hidden (?) assumption that we must choose between two traditionalisms in order to find ourselves in the wake of the Sixties (apparently so terrible and disruptive of the Cosmic Order that they must remain unspoken, as they are in this article). One must be enough of a man to tear up one’s Man Card. (Or, to put it another way, one be must enough of Not A Boy to tear up one’s Not A Woman Card.)

166 Tim, Cantonese Nationalist October 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

A lot of people are tiptoeing around the mainpoint, for fear of being Politically Incorrect—for fear of being labelled a ‘homophobe’.

This site deals with the Art of MANliness, so I will address the issue at a full charge(!)

Homosexuality, feminism, trans-gender and every kind of perversion promoted by the mass media and corrupt governments have *destroyed genuine male intimacy.

Adam, the ‘gay”s comment about:
“As society moves toward a broader understanding and acceptance of homosexuality it will also move to a more relaxed approach of male intimacy because the thought of being mistaken for gay won’t be so terrifying.”

–means only this, ‘The thought of a gay being mistaken as a gay in public won’t be so terrifying.’ But for straight males it will *always be. No one can fight against what Mother Nature (or G-d) has created us as.

Male intimacy will be expressed less and less because as many males have said, they do so for fear of persecution. Homosexuality is the polar opposite of heterosexuality (what is natural) and because of this homos and heterosexuals are at odds with one another. Now we heterosexuals (the majority) must accommodate a minority (homosexuals) so that this minority can feel “comfortable in public”, while us heterosexual majority will forever remain “uncomfortable in public”.

The full-blown exposure of Homosexuality has destroyed the manliness of men and done away with the innocence and naiveté expressed between men and women.

Homosexuality was regarded as a mental illness (based upon sound research) for a reason.

—Tim, Cantonese Nationalist

167 GP October 28, 2012 at 10:31 am

I would like to note that your writing is academic. Reading it over and over again is pleasurable. It is logical, grammatical, and rhetorical; reflective of the intellect involved in the research and writing of this article.

Thank you for that.

PS. I find the pictures rather spooky.

168 escadah October 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Nice piece. I am glad I stumbled on it. While goin thru d pictures, @ some I ws lyk meehn dis is gay n in some pictures we still have that ‘intimacy’ wen men take a photograph.
I kinda find it duhhhh wen I see dudes fingers linked and taking a walk or dancing all over eachother, well u may say my finking is cos of the ‘hypersexuallity’ of d modern day now. There should be AFFECTION(would rather use that word rather than INTIMACY) but should not be overtly between whatever sex. Cheers. From Nigeria

169 Max November 11, 2012 at 8:07 am

When of the greatest atrocities in mankind it was to declare inapropriate the art of touching among men. As human beings we all need the power of validation, affection, need and love and it’s not other way that can happen without having the power of touching. To form a character in a child life it’s imperative to show that affection. Dolls are not only a toys design for “girls”. Babies is a result of an interaction of a woman and a man and yes a mother’s touch is the beginning of bonding between the child and his/her mom, but where the other part of this equation is? There it’s where the problem start. Men need to re-examine this issue and bring it to it natural form. The day that men start touching other men, there it will be a more productive interaction as human beings and the assurance of love, need and affection will return and allow children and adults to fulfill that part of this equation so long missed in the development of human behaviour.

170 SIRI November 25, 2012 at 9:24 pm

In Asia; it was a normal thing between men(friends) to be close just like girls do like holding hands, putting hands on each others shoulders while walking, hugging each other when they meet, sitting beside each other or taking care of each other while far from home. But now a days due to the influence of Americanization( I preferably used the word but not to insult anyone, its the term used for “foreign thinking” that we never had before the IT revolution); boys are intimidated by the judgment of people around them and are afraid to even touch each others hands by mistake in public! This is so annoying and it could lead to a totally different effect on the human(Male) psychology which could be a Negative one too, i mean; it is so disturbing as if being male is like being prohibited to have affection towards anyone but their sexual mate! There are BROTHERS, SISTERS, FRIENDS, DAUGHTERS, COUSINS, PARENTS, GRAND PARENTS ETC; for a male too. He is not just a sex machine or something(like something without any moral value at all) but these extreme enforcement of society over men could lead them to become like that. Now that ugly influence of wrong society thinking is taking its toll on girls too. I have been told by one of my associate not to hold my friends hand( I am a girl and my friend is a girl too obviously) as my fellow employers are having fun teasing us for being homo! I just cannot believe it! WE WERE CATCHING OUR HANDS WHILE CROSSING A BUSY ROAD IN BANGALORE CITY. If anyone can understand how difficult it is to cross a busy road in BANGALORE; u would understand how normal it is to do so. sometimes even if you are strangers. Come on. I just cannot believe it.

171 sherry November 28, 2012 at 10:39 pm

I stumbled (literally) onto this website and i am glad I did, because i enjoyed this article very much. the comments are interesting andi thank everyone for insights given. Much harm has been done to men by not affirming them touching them holding them,laughing with them, enjoying them as men. MEN not women….this is not a anti-women statement. Many male homosexuals are looking for this type of interraction and affection from other men and living with the devastating LIE that the ONLY way to get it is by living in a gay homosexual lifestyle.These are vibrant, intelligent, creative, affectionate MEN with little boys inside who are longing for the male touch that is presented in these pictures. There is an innocent, pure, and fun relationship that men have with other men and it is refreshing to see. They don’t have to use spoken words. THEY JUST ARE WHO THEY ARE. Watch 2 and 4 year old boys and how they approach each other with physical touch. Pure, non sexual, exhillarating, tapping, poking, tickling, extatic, breathless, enjoyment and acceptance…from a FRIEND!

172 Dean Bailey - Beyond the Shades of Gray December 3, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Wow! Simply an excellent job of presenting this topic to your readers. I have to share a link to it on my own website!

You have taken that which I present as a mere theory in my book, “Beyond the Shades of Gray,” and you’ve run with it to the point that you have more than proved it out.

I especially like the fact that you closed with the quote from Raising Cain:
“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

Well Done!

173 El Cantador December 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I taught junior high for many years, and there is actually more variety than you might think. One year, I had a class of eighth-graders to whom hand-holding and lap-sitting (with other boys) was all the rage. This was in the American Southwest in 2006. Boys today are starting to hold hands again, partly because to some of them, being homophobic is the ultimate in uncool. It may actually be common among the straight boys and not among the gay boys, since the latter are typically anxious about being seen as gay.

174 Billy December 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm

I am shocked and appauled by some of the comments on here. But I am so grateful for this posting and these images. What a healing!

175 SophiaH. December 15, 2012 at 6:07 am

TOLERANCE dwells between condemnation and acolyte adherence.

176 Tom Kelly December 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Dear Brett and Kate…

I find these lovely photos almost heartbreaking in their sweetness.

The beauty, to me, comes from exactly what you describe: the intimacy of friendship, whether gay or not.

When I was a little boy, my little-boy friends and I used to hug and be close. Then we learned, sadly, by osmosis….not to.

So sad.
I miss that, but am glad to have it with a few male friends. Some gay, some not.

In Europe, I’ve seen very macho men walking hand-in-hand and always wondered “what is wrong with us in America, that we feel inhibited to do likewise.

Just silly.

But I enjoyed your explanation of how this state of affairs came to be.

Merry Everything to you, with my thanks for your excellent writing and lovely photos.

177 Gerogio December 23, 2012 at 9:20 am

Orac, you’re right. :D

I don’t think it’s the openness of homosexuality (which there’s nothing wrong with) that has stopped behavior like this (intimate, close, etc) but the rise of homophobia. So many don’t want to be thought of as gay that they don’t show affection for male friends. Coincidentally, giving rise to “no homo” and “bromance”. Both of them sound douchey, now that I think about it.

178 rick e ricardo December 23, 2012 at 1:27 pm

If you are not a homosexual, you aren’t going to become one by engaging with another man in any kind of embrace. The photos speak volumes about the way men were. people didn’t judge someone a gay person because they were photographed in bond with their friend. I f you have a best friend,especially for many years your relationship is as close as perhaps your wife without the sex probably. then,one could show that affection. now, one can be suspect. it’s a sad commentary on how the american male has been manipulated into behavior that speaks only to identity with someone’s idea of what a man is supposed to be. Affection towards other males is suppressed for fear of deviating from the norm. It’s almost like being identified as a Jew in Nazi Germany.
I find in those emotional situations of happy or sad times an awkward reserve by men embracing other men, a wanting of more physical contact but the ” I don’t want to be labeled a homo” thought stops the desire.
I hate this society that labels people, it’s ok for athletes to hug, jump each other, embrace, be naked,,shower together at their place of employment but no where else.
Today’s generation coming up may crack that code but, have you been to the Y or any health club lately. where once the locker room was just guys walking around with nothing to hide, no embarrassment being nude or disdain for any else nude, it was just the place to shower shave and change. today if you walk around sans towel or clothes you are in the minority, in fact there are some guys who seem offended at the sight of another man who is naked. privacy rules as if these guys don’t want anyone to see their junk. i can only think they are ashamed or self conscience that they aren’t hung like a porn star. it is so foolish. one has to be secure and unfazed to be themselves these days.
If we don’t stop worrying what others think, if we don’t stop letting a media and marketing department tell us how to dress and how to act, then we are doomed. it will be like living in a fascist world. I hate it.
If what the issue is, is homophobia, get over it. if you hug or hold or massage,or even sleep in the same bed, it won’t make you gay. Are you so insecure that you think you will become a homosexual if you touch another man. That’s fukked up.

179 JFG December 31, 2012 at 11:30 pm

This article could just have easily been about women. At 67 years old I remember holding hands and hugging my ‘girl’ friends, dancing with them instead of young men, laughing and talking to both genders without a social issue making us self conscious.
We have lost our innocence and solidarity with others in our communities. We do battle each day to be the winner, but what we have done is lose our sense of oneness with others. Oneness Not Sameness.
We are all human, period! And instead of fighting to stand out in the crowd, we should embrace our sameness and our differences without anger or jealousy.

180 Bill January 3, 2013 at 11:46 pm

I am a 38 year old married man and my best friend is 54 and married as well. I am not an overtly affectionate person with anyone except my wife and my best friend. I feel no less awkward walking the street with my arm around my buddy than I do holding my wife’s hand in the park. I feel very sad that so few men have the kind of friendship I do. Nothing can replace the intimacy I have with my wife and nothing can replace what I have with my buddy. My other friends will occasionally tease us and call us “boyfriends” but so be it. They fact is everyone should have, outside of their marriage, a platonic bond, full of affection, so tight and so strong. I live for my wife and I’d die for my buddy…in a second.

181 Justin January 5, 2013 at 12:39 am

@ Kiltie (comment 101)

Touch is an incredibly intimate and necessary bonding tool. An inability to be physically intimate may suggest a lesser level of intimacy in general.

182 Mathew Davydiuk January 28, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I do a lot of personal development work with men. One of the biggest barriers is intimacy. This goes for all people. Particularly in the gender standards we prescribe to men. Homo phobia is prolific as is sexism. Until we decide to “man up” and challenge our notions of what being a man is, and our very limited idea of sexuality then in my judgement we will be losing out. Not to mention the countless acts of violence that are perpetrated by mostly men. In order to change we have to change within. This doesn’t mean I have to cuddle my male friends, and it doesn’t mean I have to kiss men. Intimacy comes from being honest, truthful, and showing vulnerability. Physical affection is partially a cultural construct, and we have to decide wither this is the culture we want to perpetuate. I personally love male affection, I love being close to my male friends, I love the hugs I get from my father, I love to share physical affection and receive it because its an acknowledgement of my trust and care for that person. On one hand we need to decide for ourselves, and on another we have to engage with and stop violence perpetuated by this cultural constructs that are choking the life out of men, women and children.
Good article. I appreciated that Id like to see more pictures of men being intimate in the media

183 Benjamin February 1, 2013 at 6:45 pm

Thank you for posting this. There is a whole world of other photos of affectionate men out there. Many of these photos are among men who are innately heterosexual (the majority of men) but there are some who are legitimately gay oriented and these individuals need to have their voice heard and their story told. There are millions of gay people throughout history from ancient to modern times who’s story needs to be told as it was.

Unfortunately our American culture is still heavily influenced by Puritanical religious constructs. Our modern culture is slowly breaking those old toxic homophobic traditions down but it takes time. The day upon us when people are known for the love and commitment they have toward those whom they are committed to and love whether they are gay or not. Both heterosexual marriages and same gender marriages are equal in legitimacy and this has been the message all along.

184 T-Dogg February 10, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Hey Tim, Cantonese Nationalist,

There isn’t anything wrong with being gay, transgender, or a feminist. The Bible does not even condemn any of these things. And you calling me a pervert is not appreciated. I am just like everyone else in this planet, a human being who deserves his own rights. It is people like you that make life worse for anyone who isn’t straight and hetero normative. Because of people like you, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens are more likely to commit suicide due to bullying or feeling different compared to their straight counterparts. And all these “Ex-Gay” groups are proven to be psychologically damaging. If people are more comfortable with themselves and would stop stigmatizing homosexuality and all the other things you call “perversions” then people would express themselves more without caring about opinions from others.

To Brett and Kate Mckay,
Nice article and nice pics!

185 Edik February 18, 2013 at 10:32 pm

My father (now in his 60s), used to hold hands with his best friends in public. But not anymore when gays show off extra public display of affections. I don’t know if that was the main cause, the fear of being tagged as gay. I won’t dare ask him.

186 Mark March 8, 2013 at 7:50 am

Interestingly enough, here in the North of England I have observed far more male to male contact than I would have in my youth; not necessarily hugging, but the handshake seems to be making a comeback, initiated perhaps by colleagues from the Indian sub-continent and Poland, of whom both sets can be seen to be very comfortable with such physical contact – a welcome return to such ‘intimacy’ as long as it is genuine.

187 Etand March 10, 2013 at 3:48 am

In two years I was backpacking remote villages and towns all around India, I found male affection in public way over what would be considered ‘cool’ in the USA or even mediterranean. These are some pictures I’ve taken along the way:

188 Barbara Griffin March 11, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Very interesting article with interesting pictures, but I don’t see how much can be deduced. Is the final deduction is that men don’t show affection NOW? There other factors such as the photographer (no, put your hand on his knee). Why don’t they pose like that anymore? Because most of the time they look dorky. Maybe photographers have been taught to just pose people by each other instead of touching because… some of those poses were dorky. And many many of those photos were of *related* men, most likely brothers. It is uncommon for actual brothers to just go out and get their picture taken now. And, OF COURSE, they posed more intimately since they were related.
All I’m saying is no conclusion can be made from these pictures since there are too many factors that are unknown. They were VERY interesting to look at but we don’t know their relationships, their sexual preference (closeted or otherwise), who decided on the pose, etc.
Let’s not read too much into this….

189 Tim Birchard March 12, 2013 at 10:53 am

This is right in line with the concept of sexualizing intimacy… Because homophobia kept me from sharing brotherly bonds with other males as I was growing up, the only “intimacy” I experienced was during sex with women. As the years went by, whenever I would begin to build a brotherly bond with another man, I would suddenly shut down emotionally and do what I had to in order to end the bond… Since sexual relations were my only context for experiencing this intimacy, I thought the presence of this emotional bond indicated that I was gay. (And I’d been taught very early on that being gay was not okay.)

When I finally came to understand that I’d been robbed of brotherly intimacy with men, gay and straight, I was very angry. Thanks in part to my involvement with Mankind Project (, I can now enjoy a new sense of intimacy with my brothers, with my sisters, and with myself.

190 John March 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I see absolutely nothing wrong with male friends wanting to share affection, it’s tragic that society has become so obsessed with not wanting to seem gay that men don’t feel as comfortable sharing it as they once did.

191 Nancy March 12, 2013 at 3:25 pm

This is an amazing set of photos. I’ve never seen men being intimate. So refreshing. At some point, I think maybe middle school, my son stopped overnights with his male friends. I remember feeling saddened. He was also teased by older male cousins when he cried. So, now he’s American adult male – hold in emotions and no intimacy. His best friend killed himself when he was in 9th grade. While I fell apart, he didn’t show emotion through the whole process. Socialized.

192 Ed Tejirian April 13, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Really interesting comments. In my own research, almost half of men in their twenties and thirties were aware of some degree of sexual feeling for another man–most commonly a very good or best friend.

193 California April 28, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I like this topic very much. I have my family’s old photographs and I have seen these types of images. I have never looked at them thinking anyone was too close or it didn’t look right, etc. When I look at my grandfather’s c1910 photo of him and his fellow classmates, all male, laying on the grass, very close, sometimes laying partially on each other, I only think how happy they were and wondered if they had stayed in touch over the years. In another photograph were my grandmother, before her marriage, was with a group of men and women and they were dressed very well, with hats and all, and they were sitting on each other. They all looked so happy and young. So when I looked at these photographs, that is what I thought about these men. But I have to admit, I have complained lately to my daughter-in-law about the photos that she and other women of her age (twenties) posting images over and over of themselves, from the top so you can see their cleavage, the puckered lips, the girls all together simulating kissing, and I have asked her why post so many photos of yourself kissing the camera. Where are the other activities in your life? Here you are in the car, in the bathroom, at the club, all trying to say I’m hot, don’t you think so? But fewer images of them with men in similar, sexy poses. And what happens, I ask, when one of your FB friends comes to you at a party and says you are hot! You say get out of here, you are creepy… I would like someone to write about this current phenomenon, because i think it is very harmful to our little girls trying to grow up with their role models all so self interested and teaching them to be also. I was stunned to see an image on FB of my granddaughter with puckered lips kissing the camera. When I talked to her about this she just laughed and said what are you talking about? We are just having fun.

194 Will Snyder May 28, 2013 at 10:12 am

Very interesting photo essay. A very good comment on American history. One possible correction, however. The poem at the end, “My Buddy.” certainly may been used in WWII, but I’m sure it was used in WWI as well. In the 1927 film, “Wings,” the son, “My Buddy,” may have been used as either an organ and orchestral score during what was a silent film. Years ago, I met the organist, who composed background music that had been played during the Paramount classic that won the very first Oscar for Best Picture.

195 Charles June 18, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Back in the 40s we walked along with arms around each others necks, placed our hands on each others shoulders or knees as we talked. On hot days we went skinny dipping to cool off. We never heard of homosexuals. We were innocent and showed each other affection by physical contact. Now kindergartners are afraid to touch each other. No innocence. Sad

196 Weldon June 20, 2013 at 2:10 pm

My best friend and I have been besties for 26 years and showing affection is definitely part of our relationship. We always hug (and I mean warmly and tightly) and tell each other that we love each other. We give each other massages (he especially likes me foot massages) and we have been known to kiss each other on the cheek and even hold hands. But none of this is in any way sexual. Sure, I may be g0y but he is as str8 as an arrow. We do realized that our kind of friendship is rare and unique and we have always said that God brought us together and we don’t take that for granted. He will arrive here for dinner with his family (including 5 great kids) in a few hours and he will come looking for me to give me a big hug.

I have always related our friendship to my favorite “couple” in the Bible: Jonathan and David. Just read over their story and see two men who showed each other great affection. They had a great love that was described by David as being greater than the love of women. No, I do not believe it was sexual. I don’t know what all they did together… but I bet it was beautiful and perhaps today’s society would not understand it. But that is why I tell my buddy that what we have is better than sex.

197 HRed June 24, 2013 at 1:22 am

Nice pics & good work. The extreme homophobia/fear of touch is a very US and very recent POV. When I lived in the USSR/Russia in the early 1990′s, it was common (& completely charming) to see men holding hands or hugging each other, or sailors on shore leave sitting head to head and talking on a park bench. It was even relatively common for men who were not gay to share a bed – for the simple reason that housing was hard to come by; people were used to living in close quarters (after a party it wasn’t unknown for many of the guests to crash & sleep literally 8 to a bed … generally non-sexual but if the host & hostess went at it you closed your ears). While it’s more extreme for men, Americans in the last 40 years have been almost pathologically afraid of touch outside of the sexual realm – my Latin American friends (women) have commented that they are never touched by men who are not their partners in a friendly way in the US & miss that; and even though women “hug” one another I, as a girl, was exposed to the message that if you hold hands with a female friend people will say you’re gay as early as 5th grade (this was in late 1970s). So – I think the story is not completely about masculinity, but rather, why Americans have been, from WWII up to very recently, so afraid of physical touch and so quick to sexualize any touch or image of the body (same-gender, cross-gender, or, for women, breast feeding).

198 DM in Texas July 27, 2013 at 7:31 am

Fantastic article and great pics! Made me sad though too: My best buddy and I have always been warm, affectionate with each other…hugs, arms over shoulders etc. …but the past couple of years he shies completely away from any contact…says affection between men is for “fags”.
He now believes that even saying “Good night” when taking leave after an outing together or with friends is “too mushy”.
Thank you, modern America, for making everyone so damned homophobic!

199 Pam July 29, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Curious, how many of these males pictured together are brothers?

200 Bobby July 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm

If I may just put in my two cents on the back and forth of homosexuality being wrong or right: I am not a religious man, but I respect that it makes many people do very kind things, and being such a sensitive subject I will leave it out of my argument. To each his own. My thoughts on homosexuality are decidedly neutral. I believe a man should be judged by how he treats others, and the measure of his honor. So many people seem to look down on others for what (in their thoughts) is wrong, but one must understand that these beliefs are not universal nor should they be. Diversity in life creates difficult situations, difficult situations are what great men cut their teeth on. So please, I invite any who read this post to go out and just talk to someone who lives a different lifestyle than them, not about their sexuality or whatever their difference is, just talk as you would with any man or woman about life, the weather, news etc. Maybe you will be surprised.

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