The first on-screen kiss between two men.

“Wings”, 1927

This doesn’t show exactly what the caption suggests it shows. 

In this scene, the lower pilot is dying. He had been captured, managed to escape, and stole a German plane to fly back. The upper pilot–his best friend and rival for the love of Clara Bow*–shot him down, believing he was the enemy. This is him kissing his friend goodbye.

“But that’s still slashy!” you can say. Yep, it is. “You can read this as homoerotic!” Yes, you can. “Why are you denying this? Is it because you think being gay or bi is shameful?” A thousand times no. I am pointing this out because I think this is an important piece of evidence about what homophobia has done to our society and to male expressions of emotion. 

In 1927, the obvious reading of this scene, for audiences, was not that this was a romantic kiss. Audiences primarily understood this as an expression of friendship and love, because of course it was perfectly natural for non-romantically involved men to embrace or even kiss, particularly at highly emotional moments. Of course a dying man would want to be held during his last breaths. Of course a guilt- and grief-stricken man would want to kiss his friend goodbye. 

However, not very long after this, the commercialization and commodification of homophobia became a powerful force. The market (including Hollywood) began drawing lines and graphs and boxes, declaring which emotions, expressions, habits, and even colors “belonged” to men and to women. This kind of touch, which would not necessarily have been sexualized during many eras or in many cultures, became forbidden to men in the US, Britain and Canada (and many other places, too) within the decade–and is still lost to them today. This scene–a far more honest expression of grief and affection than anything we’re used to seeing in today’s action films–became gay. 

Now, if you strongly wish to write “Wings” slash, you can still do so–and not entirely by putting on your goggles! University culture of the 1900s-1920s definitely allowed for a far wider range of sexual behavior than frats do now, etc. I don’t want to police what anybody can and does find in “Wings.” But I think we should acknowledge what we lost when capitalism decided that, for men, kisses could only be sexual. 

*You may recognize Clara Bow from that goddamned photo that keeps making the rounds of the internet captioned, “A sex ed class in the 1920s!” so everyone can hoot with derision at the shocked girls in their desks. The photo is actually a still from a movie, and the star, Ms. Bow, is front and center. 

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