For the gay community and the troops who were affected by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that image may become as iconic as this one:
The tenderness of Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta and her girlfriend of two years, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, echoes Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous image of a sailor kissing a nurse on V-J (Victory Over Japan) Day in Times Square, 1945.
Gaeta’s and the anonymous WWII sailor’s body language and poses are strikingly similar: Each leans in, supporting their partner at the neck and lower back. The difference is in the recipient of their affection. Though Eisenstaedt says he never learned the identity of his couple, he thinks they were strangers. He told Life Magazine the sailor was “running along the street grabbing any and every girl in sight.” That explains the nurse’s self-conscious pose, one hand against her chest, the other gripping her skirt for modesty’s sake.
It was the contrast of the white nurse’s uniform with the dark sailor’s uniform that made the photo for him. “Now if this girl hadn't been a nurse, if she'd been dressed in dark clothes, I wouldn't have had a picture. The contrast between her white dress and the sailor's dark uniform gives the photograph its extra impact,” he wrote in “The Eye of Eisenstaedt.”
Snell’s scarf adds a line of white to her black jacket, reflecting the white of Gaeta’s dress shirt against the dark naval uniform. They also embrace more as equals, unlike the WWII sailor and nurse. And theirs is a more reserved kiss, possibly because the couple knew they would make history. They learned they would be the first same-sex couple to share a kiss three days earlier, thanks to Gaeta’s winning ticket in her ship’s raffle.
Snell told the Associated Press she had been “nervous” about the attention, but because this couple is more familiar with each other — Snell wears what looks to be an engagement ring on her left hand — their kiss seems to have more tenderness.
Though the similarities in the two images are notable, it’s doubtful Wednesday’s kiss will rival the V-J kiss in photographic history. Still it’s likely meaningful enough for gay and lesbian service members as a reminder that they can imitate the iconic image just like any other couple.
Correction: In one instance, this post previously used an incorrect title for the subject of Eisenstadt’s photo.