1. niles says

    “Gay photos” is somewhat of a misnomer. “All-male” would be more accurate, as these were from a more innocent time when physical intimacy between men was not the topic of such rigid classification as it is today.

  2. SayTheTruth says

    Nothing gay there, misinformation is the worst tactic. Obviously there was gay people (whatever they called themselves) in the past, but don’t confuse with this. By the way, some of those pictures meant “brothers” o “like brothers”, nothing else. Same sex dancing was also pretty common, in times where premarital contact with women was frowned upon, meaning nothing else than dancing. Tango (by the way) began as a dance BETWEEN men.

  3. Manny says

    @niles TOTALLY agree. it’s a historic fallacy to assume these men were having the same type of relationship gay men do today.

    “gay” is a modern-day social construction

    before the word “homosexual” became an identity, men, were simply men, and enjoyed the company of each other without anyone implying (for good or bad) there was anything more involved. that’s what these photographs capture.

    remember, the word “homosexual” itself didn’t even exist until the late 1890s, and it didn’t mean what it means today.

    These photographs were ubiquitous back in the day. They stand out now because of the dramatic shifts in attitudes for men and men in intimate relationships.

    The book, “Picturing Men: A Century of Male Relationships in Everyday American Photography” by John Ibson has plenty more of these photos.


  4. gregorybrown says

    It’s tempting to look at these images and project our own ideas. Without a context there’s risk in slotting most of these–or any–into a niche that makes us feel good now.
    I am glad to see that men felt comfortable sharing such close intimate contacts, but don’t want fall into the fallacy of making that mean more than it might. At most, we should all regret the loss of that. We are all diminished.

  5. Chadd says

    I agree that the pictures don’t confirm (or deny) the sexuality of the men photographed. Lets assume that many of the guys are straight, so I can at least say how nice it is to see straight men enjoying a level of comfort and friendliness with each other that would be unheard of today.

  6. UFFDA says

    It’s true there may not be a single gay man in these pictures, I know that. So what. I like imagining that many men everywhere and for all time are in love with one another because in fact many have been and will be. That’s the unadmitted, unknown, hidden truth of it. So these guys are stand ins for me for the truth that I know is abundantly out there. They’re all petting the dog as they come in the house, saying “Honey, I’m home.” Makes me feel good.

  7. says

    This title is somewhat misleading. Like others said, the whole modern notion of homosexuality and being gay did not exist back then. I wonder if there is a place online to find old pictures of actual, romantic, same-sex couples from the past…

  8. Adam says

    This appears to be misinformation from Towleroad. It’s as if Andy Towle wants to use the word “gay” in association with all forms of intimacy between men. Hold your gay horses, Andy.

    Some of these images might be of a sexual nature but, in those days, men would often pose intimately together with no intention of getting into each other’s pants. There was no gay branding as there is today.

  9. Bollux says

    Only the third, fourth and fifth would I consider to be remotely conveying any same-sex intimacy. And without context, research and verification, it is simply unethical to label the individuals in this pictures as gay.

  10. David Hearne says

    These are photographs, not cave drawings. To declare that they are not modern is absurd. To declare that gay relationships didn’t exist as we know them at the time of these PHOTOGRAPHS is absurd.

    That doesn’t mean that all or any of these men are not gay. Men have been having enduring romantic relationships a lot longer than last week. Oscar Wilde was born in 1854. Magnus Hirschfeld was born in 1868. The Civil War was photographed.

  11. jpeckjr says

    @David Hearne. Your point is well-taken. Photography in one form or another is a relatively recent art form, emerging in the 1840s. I would guess many of these photos were taken between 1900 and the beginning of WWII. Postcards were not common until 1890 or so — I collect them — and “real photo” cards like these were relatively uncommon until 1910. I imagine many of these men are brothers or cousins, certainly military buddies, making a photo to send to family and friends. Similar photo postcards exist of women.

  12. Adam says

    Male-male sensuality began its decline around the time feminism began to surface in America.. Feminists have destroyed men’s sensual relations to each other with the caveat that it is only acceptable if it is associated with sexuality as well.

  13. Markus says

    I am happy to promote a site that specializes in just this kind of photo,
    No BS, no theme other than photos prior to the 50’s, of men, not really sexual because explicit photos could not be taken then unless you had your own dark room. But the pure innocence of the pictures and the fact that everyone in them is now long dead makes them somehow so awesome I can’t get enough. It is like a boy of 17 in 2177 looking at photos of the pioneers of gay and thinking what beautiful men we were, and how sad it is we are all dead when clearly we were so hot in our time.

  14. says

    It’s true that male-male affection had a different connotation in the past, and that many of these men may not be gay. It’s also true that the modern concept of gay relationships didn’t really exist in mainstream society, as a very well known entity. But it certainly EXISTED. Don’t tell me there weren’t gay people or gay couples before people caught on.

  15. MateoM says

    Just so we’re clear, Adam is the new alias of the infamous Towleroad troll Rick/Jason, as evidenced by his anti-feminism, and anti-woman stance. Next he’ll be saying that women are the most homophobic. It’s his cut and paste rant he posts under many aliases on this blog.

  16. G.I. Joe says

    @ MateoM: Don’t be so mean. Rick/Jason/Adam is clearly suffering from the fact he didn’t get socialized as a man among men (probably because those wonderful all-male kids identified him as a sissy) and longs for it so much he HAS to blame it on someone. Why not women?

    BTW, clearly some of those pictures are from brothers and friends, but some are also more than that, would have been more than that. Would they have identified as “gay”? No. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t.

  17. Adam says

    These men had a different mindset from the men of today because their interactions with each other were not dictated to by the political correctness of gay and feminist ideology. Men had a greater psychological freedom to sensualize with each other than they do today.

    Don’t underestimate the role of feminists and women in general. Once you stop oppressing women, they become the oppressors. Women ultimately want greater rights than men. Women are currently oppressing us men, including gay men.

  18. Jon says

    Many of these comments reminds me of the critics and authors during the first half of the 20th century, who literally jumped through hoops to explain why Walt Whitman couldn’t have been homosexual. Even though the photograph of Peter Doyle and Walt Whitman gazing lovingly into each others eyes was burned into their consciousness.

    Whatever the sexuality of these men, they obviously thought enough of each other to have themselves photographed in an intimate way. These photographs are the exception, not the norm and should be appreciated in that context.

  19. Warren C. E. Austin says

    More detailed information about this topic may be found in the coffee-table photography art-book ( which arose out of an exhibition (Affectionate Men Part I & II
    A Photographic History of a Century of Male Couples) of images during the late 90’s in New York City. I can no-longer find a reference to the original gallery (I thought I had book-marked it); but, the exhibition has been since touring the world and seen in many of Europe’s and North America’s largest cities.

    In addition, a fellah named the MUSIC MISFIT has prepared two Flash presentations based upon the aforementioned book which may be found here:

    Both are worthy of your attention.

    Warren C. E. Austin
    The Gay Deceiver
    Toronto, Canada

  20. V-8 says

    Paul Kubek is a sweetheart of a guy, all muscles and fur and a sweet heart and his partner the same… whether he’s mistaken or not about the provenance of these images (I believe they r not even postcards, possibly carte de visite instead), his intentions r good…

    and btw, photography is modernity…… modernity is something really in place in the 19th and 20th century (think industrial revolution, the hausmannization of Paris, etc)… Pop Art, Mad Men, Vietnam War etc… that is the end of modernity…. some would say we r even past postmodernity (80s to turn of the century)…

  21. Paul says

    Thanks V-8 – appreciate that :)

    In my own defense I’m well aware there there is no “proof” these gays are gay – nor do I say it anywhere in the piece. The gay attribution is only in the Towleroad headline (thanks for posting it!) not the piece itself.

    The piece is about what these images are to ME – and how I did look to them for historical context when there was little to none to see.

    Whatever they were in the past – you can’t deny the evident intimacy.

  22. MEMARCH says

    Wow, gay men like to pick apart EVERYTHING – even an attempt to document a history that most want to sweep under the carpet. And no. You did not invent homosexuality in the 80’s. Gay men have been here since the dawn of time. These photos go beyond some academic posturing about the intimacy of all men in a different age. These guys are closer than close and I suspect, were not treated very kindly for their closeness. I don’t know what mystical world most of these commenters are referencing, where straight men were sensually touching and sharing sexual experiences without judgement. Get real.

  23. Not that Rob says


    You’re clearly ignorant of the past. The concept of homosexuality did not exist back then (although there were ppl who fit into that classification) so men weren’t raised to be afraid of appearing gay. That’s why they could be more intimate without judgement.


    You probably think black people are oppressing white ppl now too. Get bad on ur meds and check urself into a mental health clinic.

  24. Lawrence Stepney says

    Geez. Homosexuality has been around for the longest. Are the guys in these photos gay? I don’t know. But Kubek says, (paraphrasing) “I fill these photos with myself, and give them life.” It’s his collection and right to use his imagination any damn well way he pleases. He was just sharing that, and beautifully I might add. Stop being so critical and reading more into it than what it is.

  25. Derrick from Philly says

    Oh, my God, I’m going to have to die this morning. I actually agree with something Old Maid David Hearne said. I don’t have any razor blades so I’ll have to overdose on Advils.

    Yes, as David said, there was a concept of “Gay” before the term “Gay” was known. There was a subculture of same sex attraction that was semi-separate from homosexual men/women who stayed in the closet. AND many in that subculture were what we now call Transgender.

    Just like everybody else: Young Gay people study Gay history but only absorb what makes them feel good. Transgender folk dominated the “Gay subculture” for centuries. Why? Because they couldn’t hide in the closet….they couldn’t pretend. Most of them couldn’t/wouldn’t marry a member of the opposite sex and do their same sex stuff on the down low.

  26. Dan Cobb says


    You say gay is a modern construct.

    Pleease! Gay is a modern word, that’s all.
    There have always been men who lived as “gay men”… the intimacies, the love, the lust and passion (gay) men feel for other men has always, always been a part of human culture, just as it is today. The “how” may be different… in that gay men today might be more open with others. But believe me, there is no difference between now and 100, 300, and 1000 years ago. Emotion, love, longing, lust… existed in men for men in all of human society. There is nothing “modern” about gay passion, sex and love.

  27. Dan Cobb says

    I suspect that the dance picture might even be a dance class. This is clearly NOT a group of gays dancing, it just wouldn’t have happened back in the day.

  28. Dback says

    Quoth Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Just something to keep in mind during all these discussions. (As the maxim goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words”–in this case, we fill in the words we wish we could hear.)

  29. Henry Holland says

    “The concept of homosexuality did not exist back then”

    That’s simply not true, why keep repeating a falsehood? These photos appear to be from the late 1800’s > early 1900’s, there were people like Edward Carpenter and John Addington Symonds in England and Magnus Hirschfeld in Germany that advocated for “gay” rights, even if the terminology was different (Carpenter called himself and his partner of 37 years George Merrill Uranians, for example).

    The first gay rights group in the US was formed in the 1920’s. Harry Hay started The Mattachine Society in 1950, they certainly had a concept of being “gay”, I have copies of their periodical One from the early 50’s to prove it.

  30. Dback says

    And I agree, a few of these photos are ambiguous, and may just be reflecting the times in which they were taken–but something in the 3rd and 5th photos definitely conveys a VERY deep male friendship, and I’d say full-out romantic love.

  31. Alan says

    What a bunch of cranks in these comments. While the title of the article might be misleading, and given we know less than nothing about the men in the photos, there is a gentle naivity to them that is really quite lovely. Men interacting with each other without fear or weapons (or booze). C’mon guys lighten up.

  32. BobN says

    I think it’s really odd for modern gay men to assert that men in the past “couldn’t” have loved each other, wanted to spend their lives together, sought out everything we seek out because back in those days the word “homosexuality” didn’t exist.

    I knew what I was before I knew what word to give it. And in a culture which suppressed information and offered disinformation instead, I still managed to emerge like all the rest of you.

    To say it would have been LESS possible in a society where men could openly dance with each other is ABSURD.

  33. David Hearne says

    I have literally hundreds of photographs of family and their friends from the mid-1800’s forward. Some are candid and some are what I call the “Philadelphia studio poses”. Some of these photos were taken in the finest studios of Philadelphia and some were taken in photo shops on the boardwalk in Atlantic City and Ocean City (MD) and other resorts.

    NONE , N O N E, show men in the kind of poses found on that video. There are men with arms around shoulders and the occasional waist, but there are no men sitting on the lap of another, or holding hands.

  34. E. Manhattan says

    Yes, “homosexual” and “heterosexual” are recent constructs as personal identities – they date from the late 1800’s.

    But before then, and in many cultures since then, romantic relationships, either sexual or not, have been frequent between men.

    Keep in mind the well-documented street pickup scene in Manhattan in the mid 1800s. Men having sex with men, being romantic with men, but not calling it “gay”, since that hadn’t been invented yet. Read Walt Whitman’s diary entries about picking up men and going home to sleep with them – it sounds to me like Manhattan in 1840 was very similar to the castro in 1979.

    So – yes, some of the men in these photos were in love or in lust with each other. Depend on it.

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