On April 13, 2014, Itella Posti Oy, the Finnish postal service, announced the release in September of what are possibly the most openly erotic postage stamps to appear anywhere in mainstream circulation. The series of three stamps commemorate the work of Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), better known as Tom of Finland (link NSFW). The Finnish stamps are remarkable for their unambiguous and deliberate depiction of homoerotic images, nudity, and dom/sub sexuality that Itella lauds as “confident and proud homoeroticism.” They are also remarkable for their memorialization of a queer man through explicit depictions of the erotic art for which he became an icon to other queer men around the world from the 1950s onward. But looking at the Tom of Finland stamps, and recognizing postage stamps as an incredibly accessible and widely distributed site for history and commemoration, it is worth considering how other queer men and women have recently been featured. How do postage stamps contribute to a public history of queer lives and sexualities? Continue reading
Beardedness, or alternatively clean-shavenness, has long been an important signifier of manliness, inscribing crucial gender and sexual meanings onto the male body. But fashions in shaving are notoriously unstable, even in the nineteenth century, that idyll for the hirsute among us. Beardedness in nineteenth-century Britain, in fact, only reached its zenith in 1892, while the frequency of clean-shaven faces, lowest in 1886, continued to increase in popularity for the next 80 years. The necessity and expense of daily visits to the local barber, however, prohibited many from indulging in such luxury and before savvy marketers rooted the fear of the five o’clock shadow into men’s minds, a few days’ growth was often acceptable. Indeed, before the advent of the safety razor, many men might have agreed with the proverb: “It is easier to bear a child once a year than to shave every day.” Beardedness, and its intermediate variations, nonetheless had (and continue to have) definite implications for manliness and sexuality.
By Julia Laite
A recent post by regular blogger Nikki Daniels (‘An open letter to bearded hipsters’) that has made the usual rounds of facebook and twitter has got me thinking about how male fashion has long been central to the way we define what it means to be a ‘real’ man. The blogger wrote about how, in 2014, the disturbing trend of ‘hipsters’ sporting beards left her unable to be sure of her sexual attractions. ‘You’re confusing me’, she exclaims. ‘…who is the real man and who is the poseur?’ [emphasis added] She paints a portrait of emasculated men, wearing beards but not doing the things men were designed to do (‘kill stuff…chase stuff…fuck stuff’). She denigrates the pretentious bearded hipster largely with the weapon of sexuality: the men’s potential queerness, and the withdrawal of her (and other women’s) sexual attraction. The homophobic, gender-queer phobic and misandrist tone of the widely-shared post unsurprisingly attracted much criticism. But the vitriol about the ‘pussies’ who dare to wear manly-looking beards, but who are actually ‘vegan nancy boys’ who used ‘products’ to groom them, was viewed over half a million times, and shared 10,000 times, including by some of my female friends. I don’t necessarily mean to give a bilious blogger more of a platform, but it bears thinking about–you guessed it–historically.
The first few weeks of 2014 have seen a flurry of media reports about the private lives of world leaders both past and present, from Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to François Hollande and Barack Obama. Such fascination with the alleged sexual exploits of political leaders is often assumed to be a modern phenomenon: modern voters like their politicians to be faithful to their wives, but medieval kings could have as many mistresses and bastards as they pleased.
By Kim Racon
On what was likely a cold Sunday night in Cheapside, London, in December 1394, John Britby passed through the high road, catching the eye of a woman called Eleanor. She was bundled up but still held his attention. He approached her and asked her to have sex with him. Eleanor negotiated a price for her labor. Reaching an agreement, they found their way to a stall in Soper’s Lane and had sex. City of London authorities were nearby, waiting, and soon the pair were arrested and imprisoned.
The Mayor and Aldermen of the City, as well as John Britby, learned some time later that Eleanor was also John. And John Rykener now had to answer questions over that illud vitium detestabile, nephandum, et ignominiosum—that “detestable, unmentionable, and ignominious vice,” sodomy.
Nineteenth-century medical texts are extremely diverse in the topics they cover. They range from specialized works meant to be used by trained physicians and surgeons, to books of practical home remedies, to treatises on phrenology. They also offer much more than strictly medical advice – many of the works contain recommendations on how to navigate the complicated waters of love and marriage.
Not surprisingly, one theme that appears in their writings is how to reconcile the tension between physical attraction – necessary for procreation – and the loftier spiritual love which would bring two people together in marriage. Orson Squire Fowler, who along with his brother Lorenzo, was one of the leading proponents of phrenology during the nineteenth century, had plenty to say about love and sexuality. His fundamental belief was that love existed to drive procreation:
What inspires and enables gender to create offspring; and those precisely like their parents? LOVE. Only for this was it created. To this alone is it adapted.
By Łukasz Szulc
While the introduction of new internet domains such as .GAY and .LGBT offers the potential for queering internet structure, it also raises important questions which must be taken into account at this moment of redesigning the Domain Name System (DNS). This is also a significant opportunity for historians and other scholars to reflect on the ongoing relationship between LGBTQ communities and the internet, histories of naming and identity, as well as the unique histories of sexualities across regions affected by these new domains.
The internet has long been recognized as a medium with great potential for LGBTQs. Especially in its first years, the internet was considered a laboratory for individuals to explore sexual and gender identities. Later, scholars realized that online and offline worlds are much more interconnected than previously thought and that identity play or switch are in fact exceptional online. Still, the internet does make it easier for many LGBTQs to access LGBTQ-related information and make contact with others, particularly in the process of coming out (Szulc and Dhoest 2013). More recently, we can observe the proliferation of increasingly specialized LGBTQ websites serving the interests of all range of individuals and identity positions.