Buying Gay

How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement

David K. Johnson

Columbia University Press

Buying Gay

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Pub Date: February 2019

ISBN: 9780231189101

328 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $32.00£25.00

Pub Date: February 2019

ISBN: 9780231548175

328 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $31.99£25.00

Buying Gay

How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement

David K. Johnson

Columbia University Press

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 catalogs, pen-pal services, book clubs, and niche advertising for gay audiences. Such businesses have often been seen as peripheral to the gay political movement. In this book, David K. Johnson shows how gay commerce was not a byproduct but rather an important catalyst for the gay rights movement.

Offering a vivid look into the lives of physique entrepreneurs and their customers, and presenting a wealth of illustrations, Buying Gay explores the connections—and tensions—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 censorship 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 rights movement and shows how consumer culture helped create community and a site for resistance.
This deeply researched book expands our understanding of pre-Stonewall gay male activism by describing a bold group of physique photographers, magazine publishers, and booksellers who were more militant than the Mattachine Society and built a far larger constituency through their explicit portrayal and defense of homoerotic desire. A revelatory and compelling history. George Chauncey, author of Gay New York
What do 1950s muscle magazines, gay booksellers, and pen-pal networks have to do with the LGBTQ movement? A great deal more than you might think. In this compelling book, David Johnson unearths stories of shrewd businessmen and hungry consumers who, through asserting their right to sell and buy and read what the law tried to ban, challenged repression, fostered gay community, and helped to build a movement. Leila J. Rupp, author of A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America
Johnson’s convincing fleshy history challenges conventional wisdom, arguing that what we have called the ‘homophile era’ (defined by 1950s and 1960s gay rights social movements) was actually ‘the physique era’—when the market of homoerotic fitness magazines and mail-order commerce produced a much larger imagined community and had arguably more significant legal impact. Lucas Hilderbrand, author of Paris is Burning: A Queer Film Classic
David K. Johnson’s Buying Gay is a groundbreaking work that reshapes how we think about queer history and its political movements. Johnson explores the barely underground world of pre-Stonewall publishing that shaped LGBT life, politics, and promotion of a gay identity. Johnson’s lucid writing and enthralling story startlingly remaps and complicates movement history, suggesting that an army of consumers cannot lose. Michael Bronski, author of A Queer History of the United States
Offering a deeply researched, panoramic view of a world that had not yet received a serious scholarly treatment, Johnson persuasively shows that gay consumer culture developed earlier than we imagined. A landmark intervention in LGBTQ history. Timothy Stewart-Winter, author of Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics
Filling unfortunate gaps in the historiographies of business, capitalism, and consumption, Buying Gay is an exciting, innovative, original, and groundbreaking new study of gay consumer culture in the 1950s and 1960s. Marc Stein, author of The Stonewall Riots: A Documentary History
Contents
Preface
List of Illustrations
Introduction
1. Emerging from the Muscle Magazines: Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild
2. Selling Gay Books: Donald Webster Cory’s “Business with a Conscience”
3. The Grecian Guild: Imagining a Gay Past, and Future
4. “I Want a Pen Pal!”: Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield and the Adonis Male Club
5. Defending a Naked Boy: Lynn Womack at the Supreme Court
6. Consolidating the Market: DSI of Minneapolis
7. The Physique Legacy
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Notes
Index

About the Author

David K. Johnson is associate professor of history at the University of South Florida. He is the author of The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government (2004), which was made into an award-winning documentary.