Venice Bathing Pageant 1926
I bought this panaramic photograph depicting a 1920's beach bathing beauty contest from an e-Bay seller who named it after the advertising sign seen on a background building, Venice Meat Market, while crediting himself for his wicked sense of irony. What the seller didn't realize however, was that he may be getting more meat on the bone than he bargained for, as all these beauties are cross-dressing men.
This had to be the highlight of the gay Venice season, then as now a haven for non-conformists. Scores of contestants in all sizes and hundreds of onlookers pose in a parking lot for a group shot. That they did so, displaying no furtiveness or stigma, but in fact seem very amused with themselves, speaks to a level of sophistication at odds with the middle of America.
Non-competing drag queens vie with real women filling out the sea of onlookers. Winners have already been chosen and sashes awarded, with the beautiful princesses in center court, and the Miss Congenialities, and Miss Poises flanking. Unfortunately, I can't reproduce the whole extended line, nor post with the high-focus details unshrunk, but the effect given off by so much personality and individuality on display is impressive fun.
Very impressive too, given the accepted wisdom in understanding the gender politics of the era, is the cocky behavior of the red-blooded American men who are not afraid to show their appreciation for the feminine treats, some leer quite salaciously. It should be remembered that actual behaviors between the sexes were constricted in the pre-birth control era, even if the history of lust and orientation likely remains the same.
At some point after World War II, recognition and awareness of the fact of same-sex desire became more widespread, then eventually universal. After the 60's, and birth control, women could express their sexuality more completely. The former standard defining sexual roles altered into a rigid boundary, where a man who had sex with a man even once was at risk for being labeled queer.