One of the characters in my next novel attended Virginia Military Institute during the 1950s. I chose VMI specifically because all of their old yearbooks are available online, at the Internet Archive. The 1950s were a strange time, especially, I guess, at a southern military school with a tradition of conservatism. In the course of reading through these yearbooks, I can’t help but see all kinds of weird, and, yes, frightening, little (and sometimes big!) references to homosexuality. \
Here’s a subtle one, the description of one of the graduating cadets under his formal picture, in the 1957 yearbook:
Although not a “ladies’ man” by VMI standards, Bill was never one to turn down a trip to Hollins or Randolph-Macon. Not one to be easily shaken from what he believes is right, Bill has nevertheless endeared himself to cadets in all four classes by his gentle, easy-going manner, no matter how trying the circumstances may be.
If you’re not gay, or if you didn’t grow up in a place where homosexuality was a taboo subject, only permissible on the edges of the conversation, you are probably shaking your head in confusion. But I can’t help but think there’s something queer about Bill, and that that’s what the author of this description was trying to tell us. How, precisely, did his “gentle, easy-going manner” endear him to all the cadets, and why describe his circumstances as “trying?”
“You’re reading too much into it, Manley.” I can hear you guys now.
So try this on for size. It’s also from the 1957 VMI yearbook:
Even more interesting is how closely this image, from 55 years ago, mirrors this one, from 7 years ago, also from the Virginia Military Institute (though they didn’t put this one in their yearbook):