While men have always had sex with men and women have always had sex with women, the idea that a person could be of a particular homosexual type (as opposed to someone who did homosexual acts) only emerged in the late 1800s (in Western culture anyway). Even then, it took a very long time for the idea that gay people might be among us to filter through popular culture. Only after an active gay liberation movement made homosexuality more visible did people actually start to look for it in people they knew.
Accordingly, things that look very “gay” to us today, didn’t look that way before homosexuality became part of our consciousness. In a previous post on this topic, I discuss a vintage soap ad in which two naked men in a public shower have a conversation about “hard” water and “lathering” up. It seems to have clear gay undertones today (maybe overtones), but it wasn’t meant to suggest homosexuality then. Likewise, a series of military recruitment posters, sent in by Katrin, might very well trigger the “specter” of homosexuality today, but likely would not have inspired giggles at the time.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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