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“True towel tales . . . as told to us by a soldier.”

Life in the armed services had a long-lasting impact on America’s homosexual population. Far from home, many gay men and lesbian women felt less social pressure to conform to heterosexual social norms, and the need for manpower made the military somewhat more tolerant of homosexual men and women in its ranks (although it still purged many gay and lesbian soldiers). Many who first expressed their sexual orientation during the war later became pioneers in the gay and lesbian rights movement. This towel advertisement was one of a series published during 1943–44 that framed its sales-pitch in homoerotic imagery inspired by purported testimony from G.I.s overseas. The ads, which are sexually ambiguous, suggest how the same-sex environment in the military afforded young men, both gay and straight, with opportunities for sexual self-discovery.

Source: McCall’s, June 1944—Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.