May 9, 2012 in General
I just found out that it was Tom of Finland’s birthday yesterday – he was born on May 8th, 1920.
He wasn’t the first 20th Century artist to idealise and eroticise the male body, and others were playing with the same sort of images of hyper-masculine men, but he really made it work in a way that paved the way for so many others. Maybe he was just the right guy at the right time.
It’s pretty hard to find any of his work that still doesn’t resonate with how at least some gay men like to perceive themselves, with how some gay men like to be.
Think of all the hours spent in gyms, those tuna and brown rice diets, all that work to get the six-pack and the big biceps, that “perfect” body, so often the one that Tom was drawing. Tight jeans, leather jackets, the massive cock and perfect bubble-butt.
Of course, no matter how hard you work it you can’t do much about increasing your cock size.
But there has always been this Â gay tradition of eroticising the soldier, the sailor, the outlaw, the biker – unattached men at the height of their beauty. It wasn’t just Tom. Think of Genet and his pimps, sailors and criminals.
These images, in Western culture anyway, are so strong and keep on resonating. Look at this clip from Fassbinder’s beautiful film (1982) of Genet’s “Querelle of Brest”. The same sort of images, the same ideas of beauty, Â of what makes a man hot, and men who are somehow disturbing, somehow undermining what it is to be a man, even though they are so obviously and deeply masculine.
Of course, some gay guys find this image oppressive, putting up an image they can’t relate to, can never be, and one they associate with the bullies and bad-times they suffered, the teasing for not being “man” enough. But I know a lot of guys who went through school as skinny sissies and now have bodies that Tom would have loved. They find it empowering to transform themselves. Me, I’m too lazy…
This kind of super-butch man has always been slightly problematic Â in the gay world. Is this kind of image actually part of the closeted world? Is it conservative? Or is it liberating? Is it sexist? Or is it anarchic? Does it show gay men who are uncomfortable with themselves and overcompensate for the fact that the straight world still sees them as queers, as queens, as less than real men?
Or does it offer a powerful alternative to older stereotypes where gay men are weak, unhappy and bitchy?
It can be used any way, but I think it’s mainly disruptive – images of cops, bikers, soldiers, sailors, rugby-players, thrown into blind abandoned orgasmic ecstasy by contact with each other, not with women, is pretty subversive of what the rest of the world thinks it is to be a man I’d say.
But the romantic, erotic wanderer, and the sailor used to be the perfect example, is a strong image. He is hot. He is sexy. And he promises some sort of sweetly broken heart, after you have your wonderful hour/night/weekend affair while his ship in his port – and then he’s gone.
And even now that so many gay men just want to settle down into conservative suburban obscurity the image doesn’t go away. It’s found in porn, in advertising (which is often just porn with more clothes), the image lingers, and it does that because it’s so powerful, because it’s so damn sexy.
Because on one level at least, being gay is about feelings of lust for other men, and Tom and other artists gave us images of ourselves as strong and sexy – men as hot sweaty, masculine objects of desire. And I like that!
And one last example, New York based queer rockers KINGSHIP have this beautiful song and video “Wandering Sailor” that plays on these themes. Enjoy. And Happy Birthday Tom, and thanks.