8 Comments

  1. Cathleen McKague

    Great article. I think that all of your conclusions are spot-on, and I really like how you contextualise the respective pieces of stamp artwork, and link them to current events too.

    There seems to be a double standard at work, at which you hint at the end of the article. Let me try to explain my position. Emotionally, I feel it’s a punch in the gut whenever ‘homosexuality’ is celebrated exclusively with male symbols. I see this everywhere–at Pride events, in Pride literature, in queer criticism, in film…you get the picture. It’s as though female homoeroticism is relegated to the sidelines–or fashioned as exclusive property of the heterosexual male gaze. It’s a replication of patriarchal power relations–sadly enough, in the LGBTQ community. (Don’t get me started on the invisibility of the bisexual figure!) However, I also recognise that perhaps it’s more difficult to be a non-hetero male, as this group does NOT benefit from the power-holders’ approval. So I’m of two minds about the dominant visibility of the non-hetero male.

    I also think you’re absolutely correct (in our conversation elsewhere) in identifying the exploitative potential of the Tom of Finland imagery. I almost think that the ‘Milk’ stamp is the better choice as it emphasises the ‘normality’ of the non-hetero figure. The community has been struggling so long simply to obtain status as equal and–dare I say–ordinary in comparison with heterosexuals. I can see your point also here about the US making the stamp ‘safe’ too. But yes–on the one hand it’s good to depict the artist’s work in a way that he would have approved (and done himself, likely); and on the other hand the Tom images feed into the stereotype of the rapacious homo male. I think it’s always good to get people talking and to make strong statements, but the stamps can be potentially problematic in reinforcing the sexualised side of the non-hetero male at the expense of all other sides!

    • Thanks for the feedback and conversation Cathleen. What surprised me most was not so much that Jansson’s sexuality was invisibilized (which is rather too common unfortunately), but that it was done so the same year that Itella was SO willing to make such a HUGE statement about male homosexuality (even if it subscribed to particular stereotypes in doing so). I would really have liked to have seen reference in the stamps to Jansson’s partner, who was also a prominent artist and collaborator well known to many Finns. But as you rightly point out, homosexuality (and homoeroticism) is publicly acknowledge/celebrated as a male phenomenon. And, really, even then it’s represented as experienced by particular raced and classed men.

      The issue of ‘normality’ is a tricky one for me because it would also tend to invisibilize (and further marginalize) anyone who wasn’t normative or sufficiently “straight-acting,” to use a more offensive term. But the reliance on stereotypes of the rapacious homo male are problematic too. I can find positives and negatives for both, and can find no solution besides MUCH MORE homo imagery in which all range of images are presented more regularly!

      • I’m replying both to you and to Cathleen very late in the timeline…so I guess this may never actually be picked up.
        So, it was quite a cool thing for a leatherman (I guess that must make me a rapacious homo male, Cathleen,…I just see it a bit differently…well, I would wouldn’t I: happy to discuss!.) to be on a stamp, you know. There is something so queerly subversive about using the completely mainstream medium of the postal service to show the dom/sub thing, and articulate it in the language of the leatherman via Tom’s take. And, if there is one thing we get it is dressing in order for our sexuality and position on the queer spectrum to be expressed, and equally to be observed and objectified so it is both ironic (as Tom was) and spectacularly exhibitionistic to be on a stamp. It’s kind of the opposite to the occasional flurries of tutting and embarrassment from some quarters we can sometimes come up against …a concern that we might risk bringing disrepute to the gay community by going too far in all our leather, whereas we think that MUCH MORE STRICT LEATHER (to riff on your capitalisation) is always the way to go.
        I do, also, get the need for a wider showing of all sorts of homo imagery across all mediums that play an everyday role in life as a way of enabling societies to work through gay politics and range of gay identities. I don’t think I would, however, want that to lead to an over normalisation or dilution of queerness. That risk remains lower for leathermen who could be seen as stealing the march as a public acknowledgement of male homosexuality, like on a stamp, (and, yes, also the role of class you, Justin, touch on, or at least economic privilege: all this leather costs a lot and is out of the financial grasp of many who actually can’t afford to spend what they have to in order to look how they feel and want to be seen). So, it remains a bit more complex as a way of showing less obvious, less sexualised aspects of queerness in mainstream images where the context isn’t queer to begin with.

  2. While the Jansson stamps leave out her sexuality, I don’t think that is a problem in any way. Finns widely acknowledge her being a lesbian, but while there are elements in her stories that mirror her personal life, she has always been cherished because of her art per se. Because she has merits by her art alone I do not see it relevant to bring up her sexuality that often. I would see that a bit degrading, as to me that would be a signal like “even though she’s queer she managed to do art, so let’s take her as an example as a queer who managed to make art”. Her art is very loved and praised in Finland, so I see no problem with the stamps commemorating her as an artist, not as a queer.

    • I agree with you that the stamps not highlighting Jansson’s sexuality is in and of itself not a problem. The stamps are first and foremost about her achievement as an artist and writer about the Finnish natural environment and the Moomin characters. And my understanding is that even though she is well known today as a lesbian icon in Finland, when alive she valued her privacy and drew little attention to her private life.

      It would have been interesting, however, had the stamps even shown Tuulikki Pietilä in the background, signalling subtly the collaborative nature of their relationship, which also affected Jansson’s art and writing. And even if there was no indication on the stamps, it is an interesting omission that Pietilä appears nowhere in the promotional materials (at least those I read in English).

  3. Love the Tom of Finland stamps and your analysis. Amazing how much work these tiny snippets can do in the right hands!

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