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Gender and sexuality aren’t necessarily related, and it isn’t talked about unless it’s in the context of homosexuality despite the fact that heterosexual people perform their gender and sexuality as well. In Daddy and the Muscle Academy it shows a change in popular gender performativity in Tom of Finland’s art. In the documentary it explains that Tom’s art originally had to feature feminine, handsome young men. At the time, that’s what the popular performance was.
Performativity is often thought of in extremes, such as drag, but the truth is that everyone performs their gender in everyday life. It’s a process of iterability, “A regularized and constrained repetition of norms” (Jagose 87). This includes simple things, such as putting on makeup, shaving or not, and choosing your clothes. However it also includes more complex ideals, like behaviors and ways of speaking and presenting yourself.
Performing the identity of a gay man was often only seen as a feminine thing, and homosexuals weren’t actually thought of to be men. Tom of Finland’s art helped change that sort of thing. His art featured overly masculine men, with exaggerated masculine features. It really was the start of a new type of gay man, “The 1970’s utilized Tom’s drawings as a model for performing identity” (Lahti 188). Tom’s drawings were really the start of this image of a leather man, of having bikers, sailors, and police officers being represented in a homosexual, fetish-like way. It really showed the world that homosexual men were men.
It shows masculinity as being part of class and body. Being a strong, manual laborer is masculine in Tom’s world. This was unusual in the time period. Having the men be manual laborers, “naturalizes the display of seminaked muscular bodies” (Lahti 189), which is good in the context of avoiding censorship. Supposedly this was strategic in avoiding that restriction from the US Post Office. It helped spread his work and make it more popular due to this.
To say that his art is not problematic is a lie, despite having that sort of good impact there are also issues with racism, consent, and Nazism within his art. The black men in his art are often shown as rapists, which is a historically racist and incorrect portrayal. The Nazism is well explained in the context of his life, having it be based off of his own fantasies while he was a soldier in Finland.
There is also the issue of the men performing in a manner of hyper masculinity, which is extremely restrictive and difficult to completely achieve, especially for homosexual men. Though gay men began to set their own standards for masculinity through this, it still sticks to heterosexual standards of masculinity beyond heterosexuality. For the time, this was a very interesting change and nowhere near as problematic as it may be considered today. Many feminine gay men “converted” to leather men. In Daddy and the Muscle Academy, one man tells a story about being rejected by a leather man at a bar, and converting to a leather man afterwards in order to get more men like him. It was beyond successful, and he did actually manage to pick up the first man who rejected him earlier.
Tom’s art changed not only the way society viewed the homosexual man, but how homosexual men viewed themselves in their own community. There’s a new set of standards, a new subculture of gay men right along there with the ones that perform femininely. Despite the issues related to Tom’s art, within the community, Tom’s art signaled a big change of normalizing homosexuality as just another thing a man can be rather than a third sex.
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