In Love and Invisible: Vintage Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Couples from the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a time often associated with repression, many gay and lesbian couples boldly celebrated their love through studio portraits.

Despite the popular belief that gay relationships were shrouded in secrecy, as Oscar Wilde famously described in his poem "Two Loves" as "the love that dare not tell its name", gays and lesbians Couples often choose to express their affection openly. ,

In fact, many same-sex couples live together openly throughout their lives. This was particularly more viable for women, as social norms allowed women to live together even if not married, often euphemistically referred to as "female companionship".

For men, opportunities to meet like-minded individuals were more discreet, such as gentlemen's clubs, bathhouses, pick-up spots in parks, certain intersections, etc.

The world of theater and circus also has a well-known history of homosexual activity, dating back to when male prostitutes plied their trade in theatres.

In the armed forces, particularly the Navy, homosexual relationships were notorious, perhaps due to the prevalence of sailors seeking mates during their long voyages.

The late 19th century in the United States and Europe was characterized by Victorian moral values and rigid gender roles. Heterosexuality was not only the social norm but was actively promoted as the norm.

In contrast, homosexuality was largely condemned and stigmatized. The term "homosexual" itself did not appear until the late 19th century, and was often associated with deviance and mental illness.

Same-sex relationships during this era were often marked by ambiguity. While there were certainly individuals who openly identified as gay or were involved in same-sex relationships, many others lived lives of concealment.

Fear of legal repercussions, social ostracism, and moral condemnation lead many people to suppress their true identity and desires.

Laws against homosexuality were enforced in a variety of ways, from public arrests and trials to institutionalization in mental asylums.

These legal consequences pushed many individuals into isolation, making privacy an essential aspect of their relationships.

To communicate their love secretly, individuals often resort to subtle codes and signals. These included symbolic clothing choices, secret meetings, and coded language.

For example, wearing specific colors or flowers indicates one's sexual orientation, allowing one to discreetly identify potential partners.

During these decades underground communities began to form. These communities provided a sanctuary where individuals could express their true selves and find like-minded companions.

Despite the oppressive climate, there were early signs of change.

In Europe, leading sexologists such as Magnus Hirschfeld and Carl Heinrich Ulrich began advocating for the rights and recognition of homosexual individuals. The first organizations dedicated to LGBTQ+ rights and visibility emerged during this same period.

In the United States, the early 20th century saw the beginning of LGBTQ+ activism.

The Society for Human Rights, founded in Chicago in 1924 by Henry Gerber, was one of the country's earliest LGBTQ+ rights organizations, though it faced legal repression.

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