These images from Walter Reuben Inc.’s collection depict same-sex couples and groups expressing affection, friendship, and other forms of intimacy. Many are from the earliest days of photography, and the bulk of the collection consists of images from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
“In the images one has the sense that the subjects are very informal and intimate with each other,” says a statement from Reuben, the curator. “Their body language, dress, and positioning display indications of intimacy of coupling in most cases. As many are from a period in which photography was not common, that these people choose to be photographed together for formal photos and for real-life postcards indicates that they are couples wishing to celebrate their union.” Some of the postcards are addressed to family members, who likely were fully accepting of the unions, Reuben notes. Several of the early candid shots are from the time of westward expansion, when most of the migrants were men; in the absence of women, they turned to each other for companionship, a scenario that played out during wartime as well. Past centuries “were perhaps more sexually fluid than one may think, and it was not till later that certain stigmas came to be realized,” the curator concludes.
This story is part of The Advocate’s 2022 History issue, which is out on newsstands August 30. To get your own copy directly, support queer media and subscribe — or download yours for Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.