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Friendship (Euphemism)

by Hans Hafkamp in Columns & Opinions , 31 maart 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Last year saw the thirtieth anniversary of the Homomonument, signifying that for three decades now, the call “Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen” (Such an endless desire for friendship) can be heard from the old centre of Amsterdam. In 1979, when the plans for the monument were just in the early stage, this line of poetry by Jacob Israël de Haan had already been used as the title of an anthology of Dutch homoerotic poetry.

The use of this particular line in both cases makes it clear that it concerns “the love that’s called friendship,” to translate the title of a sonnet sequence by De Haan’s contemporary Albert Verwey. For those subjectively interested in male love, for more than a century it was obvious what it was really about - “friendship” was a (euphemistic) synonym for homosexuality.

For the Dutch, the most obvious example of this was the magazine of the club what would eventually become the gay interest group COC. It was founded in 1940 as “Levensrecht” (Right to Life), with three issues before the outbreak of the Second World War. In 1946, the magazine was brought back to life, and in 1948 an issue appeared with the subtitle “Monthly for Friendship and Freedom of the Centre for Culture and Recreation Shakespeare Club.” From 1949 onwards, the magazine would continue under the title “Vriendschap” (Friendship). For the first fifteen years the magazine had a neutral subtitle, especially for outsiders. Only as of 1963 it was made clear on the cover that “Vriendschap” was a monthly devoted to “homophilia.”

Friends in the Victorian era, or is there more? The COC, consciously or unconsciously, dovetailed the title to the homoerotically inspired magazine “Freundschaft,” which appeared in Germany in the 1920s, as well as the subtitle of “The Quorum: A Magazine of Friendship.” A trial issue of this magazine was released in January 1920. The magazine was (most likely) published by, but at least distributed amongst the members of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, a club that supposedly dealt with the study of all forms of sexual pathology and psychology, but was “in truth little more than a cabal of homosexuals,” according to Timothy d’Arch Smith in his study “Love in Earnest” (London 1970).

In the thorough introduction d’Arch Smith wrote for a photographic reprint of this single issue, published in 2001, he stated that the subtitle alerted “a readership ‘that way’ inclined with a codification of unequivocal import. ‘Friendship’ meant same-sex relationships inclusive of the bedroom: had done so for a long time and would for longer still serve as a password among the cognoscenti. The sexual reformer, Edward Carpenter, had popularized it with his anthology of homosexual literature across the ages, ‘Ioläus: An Anthology of Friendship’ (1902), notorious enough in book-trade circles to be nicknamed the Bugger’s Bible.”

When Carpenter compiled his anthology, he was aware of the fact that in 1900 in Germany the anthology “Lieblingminne und Freundesliebe in der Weltliteratur: Eine Sammlung mit einer ethisch-politischen Einleitung von Elisarion von Kupffer” had appeared with the publishing firm of Adolf Brand, also responsible for publishing the first gay magazine in the world, “Der Eigene: ein Blatt für männliche Kultur” (1896-1932). In the year of publication the pseudonymous Numa Prätorius wrote in the “Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen” about this anthology that “exalted idealism, depth of thought and noble language (...), make Kupffer’s introduction a valuable contribution to homosexual literature.”

The Camp Wild WestThe concealing use of “friendship” remained in vogue until the 1960s. In 1961, the anthology “Eros: An Anthology of Friendship” was published in London and compiled by Alaister Sutherland and Patrick Anderson. Although Anderson, in his introduction, almost compulsively avoided the word homosexuality, a large proportion of the included authors make clear what in this case is meant by “friendship,” since in the meantime they are firmly anchored in the canon of gay literature. It is therefore ironic that Anderson writes that he found it stimulating to experience “less of the smell of sulphur than expected, less of that stark sweat-acid dressing room scent, and more material that is lyrical and gay.”

It’s ironic because he used “gay” in this context, since this word would soon be chosen by the people with an erotic same-sex preference to characterize them as open about their preference. They no longer wanted to hide behind a euphemism like “friendship” or even “friendship love,” but were proud and open about their desires.



published Aug 2016       

published Oct 2018        Length: 7 minutes


In the New Issue of Gay News, 335, July 2019

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