Buying Gay by David K. Johnson -Paperback
Published 3rd March 2021
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Buying Gay - How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement
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.
Named one of the 20 best LGBTQ reads of 2019. - Attitude
Named one of 'The best queer(ish) non-fiction tomes we read in 2019' - Advocate
Named a top ten book by the 2020 Over the Rainbow committee of the American Library Association
'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
Imprint: Columbia University Press
Publication Date: 3 March 2021