Friday, November 7, 1997

Celebrating Tom of Finland

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #64, November 7, 1997)

The year was 1957 when the pioneering “bodybuilder magazine” Physique Pictorial became the first American publication to print the work of Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen. Editor Bob Mizer assumed no one in this country would ever be able to remember such an unusual name so he decided, in a stroke of unintended genius, to call the artist Tom of Finland.

From that one magazine cover, the art and archetypes of Tom of Finland have gone on to profoundly influence gay male culture and, by extension, society at large. Tom’s men, still arresting and arousing today, were absolutely revolutionary at the time he started drawing them. He was creating positive masculine role models for himself, and for the rest of the emerging gay culture, where none had existed before. In contrast to the prevailing image of male homosexuals as either tormented, self-loathing souls or “sissies” (as documented in the movie The Celluloid Closet), Tom’s men were both rugged and beautiful at the same time, and they reveled joyously in their masculinity and their same-sex sexuality. The men in Tom’s world were free of guilt, shame and angst at a time when men in the real world were still struggling with that concept.

As gay male culture has grown freer and more comfortable with itself, Tom’s Men have become cultural icons. We are drawn to the look—we want to associate with these men, we want to become these men. And we do. From The Village People to real people in the Village, on Castro Street and in The Tank on Sunday nights, Tom of Finland’s pictures continue, forty years later, to define, mirror and inspire our community.

This 40th-anniversary year of Tom's first publication in America has been marked by three significant events: the publication of the Tom of Finland Retrospective III, containing many examples of Tom’s drawings that have never before been published in book form; the publication of The Complete Physique Pictorial 1951-1990, a complete reprint in three volumes of the magazine that introduced Tom’s art to America; and the introduction of a line of Tom of Finland clothing taken directly from Tom’s drawings. The clothing collection features high-quality, moderately-priced items such as flannel shirts, leatherwear, tank tops, swimwear, vests and “Tom Fit” jeans. So far, of course, you can’t buy them in the Twin Cities; evidently merchandise buyers for local stores don’t think we can handle clothes with that much testosterone.

You’ll be able to see the clothes (and let the folks from Tom of Finland see you) at the Tom of Finland “Manhunt,” an educational/promotional event which is currently touring the country and which will be in Minneapolis on Thursday, November 13 from 9 pm to 3 am. It’s called a “Manhunt” because they are looking for real men to model their clothes in advertisements in major fashion magazines. (No, they are not looking for pumped/steroid bodies. They are looking for men of all types, sizes, shapes, ages and colors, who share the attitude of Tom’s men in that they are confident and comfortable with their sexuality.) You’ll learn about the Tom of Finland Foundation’s mission, accomplishments, and upcoming events nationwide. You may even get lucky and win some of the books and clothing that will be given away. (Or you may just get lucky, if you know what I mean.)

As a warm-up for this event, you might consider renting a copy of Daddy and the Muscle Academy, Tom's filmed autobiography/documentary in which Tom himself (in Finnish, with eloquent subtitles) tells his own story and the story of his art. You’ll gain an appreciation of what makes Tom’s art so extraordinary and so enduring. (While you’re at it, make it a double bill with The Celluloid Closet.)

Yes, It’s At the 90’s. Go To It Anyway.

So far this column has stayed neutral on the subject of the Gay 90’s — I have publicized events at the Gay 90’s in the same fashion as events at other places. This column has never discriminated against establishments that cater to leather only on certain nights of the week, and it will not discriminate against establishments that cater to a gay clientele only on certain nights of the week (such as Tropix). If anyone is having an event that is of interest to the leather community, you’ll find it here (assuming I am made aware of it, of course).

The Tom of Finland Manhunt has three strikes against it: 1) It's Thursday night, which means people have to work the next day. 2) It's cosponsored by Camel cigarettes, which might be offensive to those obsessed with political correctness. And 3) It’s at the 90’s. I urge you to ignore all three of these reasons, and go anyway. Don't say “no” because it’s at the 90’s. Say “yes” because it’s Tom of Finland, an important part of both gay male culture and leather culture which deserves to be supported and celebrated. And you might even enjoy it.

Upcoming Leather Events

Tom of Finland Manhunt
Thursday, November 13, 9 pm-3 am, Gay 90’s Dance Annex
(See accompanying article for details.)

Mark Your Calendar . . .

Sunday, November 23: The Black Guard’s annual Chili Feed at Tropix, 400 3rd Ave. N., Minneapolis. (Details next issue.)

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