Gays of Yore

Is there a queer backstory behind the infamous “friendship kiss” photo?

If you’ve been on the Internet for any length of time, you probably know about the “friendship kiss” photo. An infamous historical document to rival the big titty Nazi lady of legend, the photo depicts two soldiers—one Russian, one American—passionately smooching in 1945. While we don’t know the exact identities of these soldiers, we know they were celebrating the end of Hitler and WWII, which would probably put most people in a romantic mood after half a decade of uninterrupted war.

But why is this kiss called a “friendship kiss,” and can we be certain there’s nothing romantic about it?

Ahh yes, a friendship kiss
byu/PumaTat0 inSapphoAndHerFriend

Thanks to Twitter being completely and entirely broken, it’s hard to source the first instance of this photo raising eyebrows on the Internet. Years ago, when the (now mostly defunct) account @oldpicsarchive first posted the photo, it received a famous reply from the user @gayavengrs asking, “did they do friendship anal also?”

A fine question indeed, and worthy of looking into! While the Soviet “friendship kiss”—also known as the socialist fraternal kiss—was definitely a real thing and a way to show care and brotherhood between men in communist countries, the passion evident in this photo had a few people wondering whether it was a convenient excuse to smooch your good looking comrades.

Since the original posting, this photo has shown up on Reddit boards, Facebook groups, and other random forums online for years, and it always garners the same response. “Suddenly I’m soviet,” one poster says, followed by someone else joking that “it’s not gay if you win the war.”

While this was certainly a practice that didn’t always carry queer connotations, many viewers question whether or not this kind of friendly behavior was partly just a clever way of expressing one’s love for other men without getting jailed or killed. If that was the case, bravo, gays of yore! Literally slipping gay culture under the enemy’s very nose!

If you’re looking for the perfect use of the “and they were roommates” meme, this picture is basically it.

“Fraternal kiss, friendship kiss, kiss of peace….” one Facebook poster wrote underneath the photo. “ok fine but why are their eyes closed and their heads tilted”

I mean…great question. There’s no doubt that fraternal kisses happened, but did they always involve tongue?

“There’s not too much of a story to be told,” one Redditor said of the image. “In many eastern european countries, kissing is an acceptable, non-sexual sign of extreme affection. It much less common today, but in more rural areas, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get a kiss on the mouth from somebody of the same gender if you are close.”

Sure, but also…

“My dad was in WWII “The Big One”” another poster wrote, “and I’m pretty sure what he would say about this pic.”

Whether or not this particular instance was queer, we’ve definitely seen queer takes on the socialist fraternal kiss. A famous 1990 mural painted by Dmitri Vrubel on the East Berlin Wall depicts prominent socialists Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker locked in a passionate kiss, an image drawn from a 1979 photograph. We also saw a repeat of this imagery in 2016, when the Lithuanian artists Dominykas Čečkauskas and Mindaugas Bonanu painted the figures of Trump and Putin locked in a similar kiss on the outer wall of a restaurant. The image, which was meant to criticize both men’s oversized egos and recall the uneasy relationship between Russia and America during the Cold War, was copied, taken out of context, and finally painted over in 2019.

There’s definitely a fine line between using the image of men kissing as satire—which homophobically assumes that the sight of men kissing is inherently funny or strange—and using the image to call out anti-gay politicians on their hypocrisy. Either way, we know there’s a long tradition of explaining away kisses between men, and both Vrubel and Bonanu/Čečkauskas’ works play on that theme.

We may never know the original context of the kiss between the unknown Russian and American soldiers, but we do know that their kiss will continue to echo throughout history. As a powerful image of passion between men, it has already stood the test of time.

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