Sep 12, 2012

The Gay Villages of Sonia and Tim Gidal


When I was little, my search for a "good place" often led me to the My Village book.  Tim Gidal (1909-1996) was a a pioneer in the field of photojournalism and a respected academic at the New School for Social Research.  In the interest of fostering international understanding, he and his wife Sonia published My Village in India (1956), a photo-story about the everyday life of a real ten-year old boy in a rural village.


It became so popular that they started scouting out villages in other countries, eventually traveling to 23:

1956: Austria
1957: Yugoslavia, Ireland
1958: Norway
1959: Israel, Lapps (Norway)
1960: Bedouins (Jordan), Greece
1961: Switzerland
1962: Spain, Italy
1963: Denmark, England
1964: Germany, Morocco
1965: France
1966: Finland, Japan
1968: Korea, Brazil
1969: Ghana
1970: Thailand
They only stopped when the couple divorced.



Each story was written in present tense and covered a few days in the life of a 10-12 year old boy: shepherding in Yugoslavia, fishing in Norway, tending to a vineyard in France.  He also went to school, played with his friends, talked to other villagers, went to a festival or took a field trip to a big city, and sometimes solved a minor mystery.  On the way you learned something about the history, language, and culture of the country (probably for the first time).

No gay people or same-sex romances were ever mentioned.  So why did these books offer a glimpse of a "good place"?



1. The boys were all exceptionally cute, from my preteen vantage point, and in warm climates they often stripped down to swim or fish or frolic.  Even in cold climates: the Norwegian boy stripped down for bed, and the Finnish boy was photographed completely nude in a sauna.













2. Their fathers, older brothers, and neighbors all lived off the land: they were farmers, shepherds, fishermen, loggers.  That meant endless photographs of muscular adult men.


3. American media of the 1960s was full of preteen boys "discovering" girls.  But the Village boys never expressed the slightest interest in girls.  Indeed, they didn't seem to know any, other than their sisters.

4. However, they often came in pairs that were extremely expressive by American standards: always hugging, wrapping their arms around each other, lying side by side, even kissing each other on the cheek.  To my preteen mind, it was obvious that they were boyfriends.