One of my favorite things that expresses the BDSM/Leather subcultures of LGBTQ is Tom of Finland. His highly masculinized homoerotic art really lent a lot of influence to gay culture in the late twentieth century. Many of you have probably seen his images in places before and not recognized the artist. They ranged from the stylized clothed Castro Clones to the full-on hardcore pen and ink drawings. His art has inspired the adult industry from videos down to sex toys. So, let’s take a look at the man behind Tom of Finland and some of his images.
Touko Valio Laaksonen was born in Finland on May 8th, 1920 and died November 7th, 1991 and was best known as Tom of Finland. Joseph W. Slade, cultural historian, has called him the most influential creator of gay pornographic images. He has created over 3500 images that are known to have overly endowed primary and secondary sexual characteristics and either wearing very tight clothing or appear in some stage of undress. By the early 70s gay porn and male nudity had become decriminalized and rapidly overwhelmed the market, it was during this time that Laaksonen saw his change to start mass producing books of his images. By 1973, three short years, his artwork had become so popular that he gave up his office job in Helsinki with an international advertising firm and focused solely on producing his images. He was quoted as saying, “Since then I have lived in my jeans and lived on my drawings.”
Tom of Finland’s fame came at a time with body and sexual glorification was at its heights. This was the time before the AIDS crisis and gay porn had just became legal. There was a sense of reprieve among the gay male population, a time for us to fully embrace the masculinity of what we are and act on it. However, this “clone” model was mostly found in urban centers of larger cities, that same sense of freedom wasn’t granted to the more rural gay male, so these sketches gave a smaller sense of that liberation. This style of art created a dress code for an entire subset of the gay male population and became THE way to identify and advertise your sexuality to others. His artwork also inspired another artist G.B. Jones who went on to create “Tom Girls.” Her work typified strong punk girls and sub-culturally identified women. Jones’ work showed these women other throwing the authority figures that tried to oppress them. Jones and Laaksonen did many exhibits together, as their work played well off each other.
The same style that Tom of Finland inspired went on to inspire more characters. Paul Hopkins was cast as Michael Tolliver in the 1993 adaptation of the sex and third books of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City because of already mustachioed persona he already had. Freddie Mercury even adopted similar dress styles to the masculine creations of Laaksonen. When Laaksonen came to America to do an exhibit of his work, he was shocked to see how much his artwork had already inspired groups of people. As he tended to take inspiration for photographs and real life, this gave further inspiration for his future works. This style carried through the 80s and still maintain large popularity well into the 90s, with the Leather/BDSM groups of the LGBTQ community.
I mentioned in a previous post (insert link from post) taking about my first adventures into gay bars and trade nights at the bar I frequented. From there I was entranced with the dress style of Tom of Finland and the leather community. I mimicked it in my ways, adopting leather pants, chaps, harness, hat, tank tops, and cutoff jeans. As I moved away from Virginia and into North Carolina, I was exposed to a whole new type of gay bars. I went to the Woodshed and the Charlotte Eagle. The Woodshed was a Leather Bear bar and the Charlotte Eagle was like every other Eagle, Leather/BDSM bar. These places took the leather fetish wear to a whole new level. Here I saw larger trade shows that included props like St. Andrews Crosses and barber chairs. Things that seemed literally ripped from the artwork of Tom of Finland.
Being introduced to these images early had already fed my lustful desires and when I was seeing them carried out in living color in front of me, only added to them. The dress style fascinated me, and the acts being shown caused immense intrigue. While I, myself, may not be a fully participating members of the BDSM community, I do appreciate the aesthetics of the culture. As the years have progressed it does seem that the influence of Tom of Finland has waned, somewhat. The leather community has gotten away from many of the aesthetics and only kept the basic core. It is why I feel it so important to remember the roots from which we came. May Tom of Finland and Touko Valio Laaksonen continue to be fuel for young and old masturbatory fantasies alike. If you have never experienced his artwork, there is no time like the present to become a fan.
**Trailer for the Tom of Finland Movie**