Dian Hanson knows men. She’s spent her life studying the lascivious underworld of sex and fetishism. She’s tested vibrators for Puritan journal and anthologised the history of big breasts, big butts, big pussies and big penises. Hanson has been swotting the clandestine desires of horny hombres since the beginning – her father was the Supreme Grand Master of a mystic Christian sex cult, so that might explain something. Her latest amatorious oeuvre celebrates the arcane brotherhood between the servicemen of World War II.
Dazed Digital: For My Buddy you worked with Michael Stokes, who had an archive of over 400 images. What generally connects you to an image?
Dian Hanson: There are times when content is so great, so surprising or shocking, beautiful, or sexy, that it will trump everything else and we’ll decide to use an image even though it’s a little blurry or something. Michael Stokes collects old photos from World War II, and that just sent my bells off right away, because I know that WWII has an enduring fascination particularly for gay men, because it was a time of unparalleled male bonding; it was first big war where they had good photo technology. In World War I a lot of men had cameras, but the photos produced were tiny. I saw the broad appeal, that they’d of course appeal to a gay audience, but they would appeal to a female audience and to people who aren’t looking at them within a sexual context, to see these young men in the absolute peak of their physical perfection. Most of these young men would never be in such fine shape again, and in many cases they had been selected especially for their attractiveness and their condition. Scotty Bowers told me, in the Marines they had an appearance standard that people had to meet. No one could wear glasses, no one could be overweight, they had to be young and fit and in fact there was racial discrimination. They all had to be white at that time, because they felt the more alike they looked the more likely they would bond and support each other.
DD: Wow, I didn’t know that, that’s incredible.
Dian Hanson: I’ve done a lot of gay books and I know what will appeal to a gay audience, but also, as a woman who’s attracted to men, I clock along with the gay audience. I’m not one of those women who’s just looking for a guy in a suit. I like the rough guy, I like a simple, physical man. And they had fabulous asses, these guys. Whatever it is that a guy has to do in combat, it builds great gluteal muscles.
DD: There’s an image titled ‘The Physical Examination’. The young enlistees had to essentially masturbate in front of the military doctors — is that right?
Dian Hanson: It wasn’t quite masturbation, they had to 'milk' their cocks, so they’d give it a couple of squeezes, just like you would, say, milk a cow’s teat. They’d get their fingers right at the groin and milk it the length of the penis a couple of times to see if anything would come out! There’s the one wonderful photo where the man is standing in front of the doctor, and the doctor has his hand on the guy’s penis, and the guy is looking up towards the ceiling in resigned mortification. And the row of men behind him all with their pants down. They were some of the best pictures.
“You watch television, you watch movies, you never see anyone with acne, you never see anyone with a scab, you never see anything like that. Now photographs are all routinely retouched, and it’s made people very prissy about real life and real humans”
DD: What were some other examples like that, that may not have made the edit, or do you just go for it and put everything in?
Dian Hanson: No, we didn’t. In the end we decided to leave out the Germans. Because Benedikt Taschen is German and of course he has every modern German mortification and horror of the Nazi atrocities. There were a lot of interesting and funny German pictures. During the war the Leica camera company gave top-of-the-line Leicas to German soldiers so they took a lot of photographs, and there were a lot of really funny ones of them clowning around in the barracks with their guns, naked except for their boots and their belts. There was a great one of naked men having to ferry officers across a river on their shoulders – the enlistees were completely naked and the officers were fully dressed, with their helmets and boots, riding on the shoulders of these men like horses, but in the end we looked at it and said, ‘You know, let’s just keep the Allied troops.’ The Germans most commonly got naked but there are a lot of Australians in there too…Australians were probably the second most common. And I suspect it was because they had a nice temperate climate, where nudity was easy.
DD: It seemed there was less questioning of male sexual identity. A more subtle interaction under the guise of camaraderie.
Dian Hanson: Yes, definitely.
DD: Men were seen as ‘men’ and if they sucked the cock of a fellow soldier maybe it wasn’t considered gay. Do you think it’s changed now or is it just labelled differently?
Dian Hanson: Well, I think awareness has made it all change, and you’re absolutely right, during that period men had a stronger male identity, they all thought that they knew what a ‘queer’ was. A ‘queer’ was a girl, essentially. A man was not identified as homosexual unless he was extremely feminine. There was a very small group of ‘out’ gay men, and they all identified in this very feminine way. It’s kind of like the way it is in prison, the vast majority of men, even if they are gay by nature, they don’t act feminine and as long as they act masculine they’re not gay, and anything they might do is not gay— because they’re masculine. I’ve talked to men from World War II and they’ve said things casually like ‘Oh, yeah, when I was in the service if we wanted a blow job we’d go find a queer, because they gave the best head.’ Scotty [Bowers] told me ‘If you want a blow job you want a professional, you don’t go to a woman.’ So these guys, their notion was, as long as they weren’t giving the blow job, they were straight. If they were gonna get the blow job, it would have to be delivered by someone who was gay-identified. But very few of the men there, even though they were gay, weren’t gay-identified.
DD: You’ve spoken about the “sissification” of modern straight guys, with metrosexuals maybe bringing about the cultural revolution of acceptance through nouveau masculisation. Can you elaborate on that?
Dian Hanson: A big part of it is fallout from the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Before that people were quite willing to just have sex whenever they could have sex. Then AIDS came along, and made us equate sex and death, and sex was suddenly dangerous, people could have diseases. It created a wariness of all kinds of danger from sex, and people started thinking about cleanliness, they started shaving their pubic hair – which became very popular in the 80’s, partially porn-driven but also sanitation-driven. When I did The Big Book of Pussy, we had a lot of vintage photos in there, women with pubic hair, and very young men were just horrified, ‘Oh, God, no, I could never get near that.’ It’s like you’re a young man, you have high levels of testosterone and you couldn’t get near that? You would turn that down? The Internet and the rise of Photoshop has allowed boys from an early age to see very, very clean and perfected bodies, pore-less skin, perfect skin, not a dimple, not a blemish, nothing. You watch television, you watch movies, you never see anyone with acne, you never see anyone with a scab, you never see anything like that. Now photographs are all routinely retouched, and it’s made people very prissy about real life and real humans.
DD: How do you think these ‘hetero’ men would’ve felt about being in this homoerotically framed book?
Dian Hanson: Well, we’re lucky most of them are now either dead or in their nineties. We’ve made the book carefully, we don’t say that any of these men are gay, in fact we try and make a disclaimer in there that we’re not saying anything about these people’s sexuality. The probability is that very few of the men in this book were gay. What we’re really doing is presenting that most desirable of things, ‘straight guys for gay eyes.’ Straight guys doing things that make gay men happy. It’s not a book about man-to-man sex, it’s a book about man-to-man love and affection.
DD: It’s a brotherhood. WWII veteran Scotty Bowers describes it well. How did you come to work together?
Dian Hanson: Scotty’s the author of a book called Full Service, about his lifetime as a hustler. He’s straight-identified, he’s been married a couple of times, he’s still married and he’s 90 years old. He first began having sex with men for money when he was 12. So by the time he went into the Marines he had already had sex with a lot of men and the odd thing was, when we started talking about the war he went totally straight, suddenly he was all ‘Fuck this’ and ‘Fuck that bitch’. He went from the usual Scotty Bowers talking about the war into his ‘Wartime Scotty Bowers’, because he was a Marine and he said, 'If they even thought you were gay in the Marines, they kicked you out.' In the military, he’d always been a loner, he had never really had male friends, he saw men as potential ‘tricks’, but he learned the closeness and the love of men.
DD: And it really illustrates a completely different era, I mean the ‘no queens in the Marines’ chapter, where he’s talking about ‘Garbage Mary’ and how her kids would jump on his back for pony-rides while was fucking her…That’s crazy!
Dian Hanson: And it was acceptable for 400 men to line up to have sex with three women in government brothels, but it was not acceptable for a guy to give another guy a blow job. I found the research very interesting, we wanted to have excerpts from famous written works.
DD: I noticed Gore Vidal.
Dian Hanson: We have Gore Vidal, but also James Jones, who wrote From Here to Eternity and The Thin Red Line. He served in the military, went home, got married, had kids, drank a lot, wrote his books, and when From Here to Eternity was originally published, the publishers made him take out all the gay subtext. The book has been re-released recently at the behest of his daughter, with this put back in. There’s a character who kills himself in the book because they all had a gay patron who would buy them drinks and who would blow them, but this one man starts blowing his ‘queer,’ and because he’s curious about that he immediately questions his sexuality, and ends up killing himself.
DD: So he completely identified as a heterosexual for all intents and purposes?
Dian Hanson: His whole life, yeah, exactly. It’s a very interesting take on it and yet at the same time James Jones has one of my favourite quotes that’s in there from The Thin Red Line, where he’s talking about the ‘dark hairiness of their genitals seen through their underwear’. It’s just the most evocative line. I can’t imagine a straight man deciding to notice and write that in his book.
DD: It’s kinda hot, gave me a tingle Dian, not gonna lie.
Dian Hanson: It’s really very hot. Gave me a tingle too!
My Buddy is published by Taschen and is available in April 2014