Tom of Finland: Sexual Liberator?

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IN THE SUMMER of 2005, I was contacted by the Tom of Finland Foundation about the possibility of my writing a brief Foreword for a collection of the gay artist Tom of Finland’s drawings, an expensive, large-format book to be published this year by a prestigious German publisher, Taschen. I was baffled as to why I would be solicited since I have never publicly expressed admiration for, or even an opinion about, Finland’s work, and I have written about the need to explore—not judge—certain gay charades of violence like those celebrated in his drawings. My “outlaw” status, I was told, would complement the book. I suspected, too, that it was felt that I might add a certain “literary respectability” and seriousness to the book, perhaps allowing the collection to be viewed as a chic, if exotic, coffee-table book rather than one relegated to a specialized group of core admirers.

I met with the editor, a charming woman. It was agreed that I would write the Foreword on one condition: that I would be free to express my views. When I went through copies of the drawings that were provided and that would be included in the collection, I became uneasy very soon. When I came upon one where a swastika predominated in the context of gay subjugation, I felt I could not write the kind of introduction that I assumed the publishers expected. I did not want to contribute a Foreword that would harm their endeavor. Both the editor of the collection and the head of the Foundation were informed of my intent to withdraw. I was encouraged to proceed with the Foreword, even if controversial, and I did so with the clear understanding that they might choose not to publish it.

The editor admired the resulting essay and wanted to use it. The head of the foundation, a long time devotee of Finland, did not, nor did board members.

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