Author(s): David K. Johnson
In 1951, a new type of publication appeared on newsstands - the physique magazine produced by and for gay men. For many men growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, these magazines and their images and illustrations of nearly naked men, as well as articles, letters from readers, and advertisements, served as an initiation into gay culture. The publishers behind them were part of a wider world of "physique entrepreneurs": men as well as women who ran photography studios, mail-order catalogues, pen-pal services, book clubs, and niche advertising for gay audiences. While such businesses have often been seen as peripheral to the gay political movement, in Buying Gay David K. Johnson shows how gay commerce was not a byproduct of the gay-rights movement but an important catalyst for it.
Offering a vivid look into the lives of physique entrepreneurs and their customers, and presenting a wealth of illustrations, Johnson explores the connection – and tension – between the market and the movement. With circulation rates many times higher than the openly political "homophile" magazines, physique magazines were the largest gay media outlets of their time. This network of producers and consumers helped foster a gay community and upend censorships laws, paving the way for open expression. Physique entrepreneurs were at the center of legal struggles, especially against the U.S. Post Office, including the court victory that allowed full frontal male nudity and open homoeroticism. Buying Gay reconceives the history of the gay movement and shows how consumer culture helped create community and a site for resistance.