Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tommy and Buzz: All My Love

I recently came across this picture of Tommy and Buzz. I got to wondering what the story was behind the moment they shared together on the beach. The inscription on the back of the photo is so tantalizing and sweet:

"To Buzz, I'll always remember the times we spent together. All my love, your Tommy."

If Tommy or Buzz are still alive they are now both close to or well into their 80s. The world has totally transformed in the time that has elapsed since this moment was captured on the beach. Do you think they still remember that day?

I've carefully looked at each of the 300+ websites that this image appears on and searched for clues to their identity. There are none. It's likely neither know that their image has been populated around the internet.

Who they are and were--and what times they shared--are likely forever lost to history. If someone had not located this picture and taken the time to digitize it, the entire memory of this experience might have been erased for all times.

 I'm overwhelmed contemplating that thought. It inevitably reminds me that some day I too will be erased from the this world. All that I am will be reduced down to ever-smaller bits of data. Eventually that which is I will evaporate and return to whatever it was from which I emerged from when I became an I. It will happen to you too.

Go back and read that again slowly. 

...and now back to Buzz and Tommy

The identities and experiences of these two young men have been taken up by the modern-day queer community. The moment they shared together appear on the blog Homo History, in the poetry of Brody Wood on Wild Gender, and myriad other blogs and Tumblr pages.

The interpretations of this image are sweet, tender, and sometimes sexual. We must not forget that they are just interpretations. We've got no actual facts beyond an image and the fifteen words inscribed on the back. Tommy and Buzz may be gay, bisexual, or heterosexual. We'll likely never know.

Interpretations are not facts that represent some objective reality. Interpretations are expressions of our own inner world. We see this picture and it tells us what we want to hear. It tells us what we need to hear. Our interpretations of this image are reflections of us. For many gay men, this is an image of young love containing a sense of comfort and authorization for their own experiences in their own lives.

What do you see? Who are you revealed as when you look at this image and text?

It is easy to see Tommy and Buzz as two young gay men--two handsome young men standing close on a beach with an expression of love. In our modern world this automatically reads as same-sex love. Heterosexual men are not currently authorized in American culture to express love so openly to each other out of fear of being called gay. 

This has not always been the case. Cultural norms used to include men (heterosexual, gay, otherwise) touching, hand holding, kissing, and expressing love. 

That tenderness and intimacy between men has gradually been supplanted. The possibilities of what friendship between man can be has, perversely, shrunk as the liberatory movements of the 60s and 70s became part of our modern culture. To be seen as heterosexual, men have been forced to eschew intimate touch and friendship out of unexamined issues of homonegativity and heteronormativity. 

Intimacy and tenderness between men has become solely something for men who are attracted to other men. Images like those of Tommy and Buzz are read as "gay". Gay men look at the image and see support, comfort, and validation. Heterosexual men look at this image and see two men expressing love--something gay--and thus something they wouldn't do. This image, as frequently interpreted, serves to further alienate men from other men. Gay men are alienated from heterosexual men because the possibility of intimacy and closeness between men who are not sexual partners is forbidden. Heterosexual men are alienated from other heterosexual men because of the belief that intimacy between men is a "gay" thing.

What do you see now when you look at Tommy and Buzz?

I see myself. Someday when all that is left of me are some words, images, and memories, people will look at those things and see themselves. That's how it always has been--and how it always will be.

For more images of vintage men and their relationships (some gay, some straight) visit: Two Men and Their DogAdam and Steve in the Garden of Eden: On Intimacy Between MenA Man and His DogThe Beasts of West PointVintage Men: Innocence Lost | The Photography of William GedneyIt's Only a Paper Moon;Vintage Gay America: Crawford BartonThese Men Are Not Gay | This Is Not A Farmer | DisfarmerDesire and Difference: Hidden in Plain SightCome Make Eyes With Me Under the Anheuser BushHugh Mangum: Itinerant PhotographerTwo men, Two PosesPhotos are Not Always What They Seem,Vintage Sailors: An Awkward RealizationThree Men on a HorseWelkom Bar: Vintage Same Sex MarriagePretty in Pink: Two Vintage Chinese MenMemorial Day Surprise: Vintage Sailor LoveMemorial Day: Vintage Dancing SailorsThe Curious Case of Two Men EmbracingThey'll Never Know How Close We WereVintage Love: Roger Miller Pegram,Manly Affections: Robert GantHomo Bride and Groom Restored to DignityThe Men in the TreesThe Girl in the OuthouseTommy and Buzz: All My Love,Men in Photo Booths, and Invisible: Philadelphia Gay Wedding c. 1957. You can also follow me on Tumblr.


  1. Hi Jason

    Do you know about the Devotion Project? - a series of short videos celebrating glbtq relationships - gay male, lesbian, transgendered, poly... Watched them all last night (and balled my eyes out!). I think you will love, if you haven't already seen.


    1. Hi Catherine,

      Thanks for the comment and the tip. I haven't heard of the Devotion Project. I've got it queued up to watch just as soon as I get some time.

  2. Lovely. The part that stands out for me is the sweetness of their arms touching. There is a familiarity there. Lovely.

    1. HI Terry -- yes. The picture tells so much about their familiarity and friendship. These vintage images have totally captured my interest. I post a lot of them on my tumblr page -- and am just about read to post another set of pictures and what I learned about them here on my blog.