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It has never been a bed of roses for the ones who choose to change the narrative. All the notable artists who have pushed themselves beyond their limitations and stayed courageously true to their art had to live a life of deception, obscurity and ostracism.

Touko Valio Laaksonen, who created the 20th century’s most path-breaking homoerotic art, did it behind the hidden identity of ‘Tom‘, later expanded to ‘Tom of Finland‘, by the editor Bob Mizer. His art is considered a revolution in the world of gay sexuality.

He found his muse in the labourers and men in uniform — muscular, strong and masculine. They represented to him the ideal macho gay man, revelling in their identity as men. His work created a legacy, from print and film to exhibitions and stamps. In 1991, an independent Finnish filmmaker, Ilppo Pohjola, made a movie called Daddy And The Muscle Academy, which still remains one of the best introductions to Tom’s life and work.

Tom’s men were physically strong in his art and he was questioning the common cultural projection of gay men as effeminate sissies. Films, literature and art almost always stereotyped the gay man, playing him for laughs or ridicule, and Tom’s work questioned that.

A classic example of Tom’s famous hyper-masculine style

Tom had a day job in advertizing and in his free time, in his home, away from everyone, he created the art world of modern homoerotica. He is still considered one of the greatest icons of the LGBTQ+ community.

The force of religion and Victorian culture that we have all imbibed has not allowed human beings to dig into their sexual nature, let alone fantasy.

Sexual contentment followed by liberation is one of the most potent sources of consciousness. Anything that decides to stop this flow of expression reduces human beings and degrades their sense of self. Most feel guilty expressing hidden desires even to their partners of many decades. Many women across the world have not even experienced an orgasm because their voice has been stifled with the inner voice of conditioning.

Being anonymous with a hidden identity helped Laaksonen unleash his desires into his art.

Tom lived a dual life. He wore a suit to work and in his limousine, he kept his leather and the rest of his clothes that defined who he was.

We all have more than one side to us. Very few have dared to address that part hidden under the debris of cultural conditioning of right and wrong.

Sex, masturbation, multiple partners, one partner.. these are all subjective to each individual. The minute we squeeze the various sides of us into one box, or worse, express only one side of ourselves all the time, that’s when a distrustful, cynical attitude towards something as normal as sex arises.

I am hopeful we have more straight people speaking in unison with the burgeoning LGBTQ+ community that only very recently have found their voices, through grit, daring and patience.

Voices that I have heard which are full of anguish, rejection and a just a simple appeal, “take me in your fold, I am like you, just like you relate to a song on a rainy night of rejection, I too feel the same pain when I am abandoned. I too fear death, old age and seek liberation, I too want to revel in the life I was given”

Tom, we salute men like you. I imagine you riding this storm on your bike across harsh weather & rough terrain, a trailblazer on a journey to express yourself and pave the way for others like you across the world to do the same. To not just feel accepted, but to enjoy your uniqueness and express yourself the same way everyone else can.

The world has changed and will keep changing. The month of June is celebrated every year as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, commemorating the Stonewall Riots. That is just one such example of years of struggle by a relatively small, oppressed community to bring a drastic positive change to our social fabric. They’ve turned the revolution of being aware and accepted into an unstoppable marathon.

Tom, you would be proud.


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Featured images courtesy the Tom of Finland Foundation

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