The construction workers that bloom in the spring, tra la

(It’s Tom of Finland time again, and this posting doesn’t shrink from the men’s sexual parts and man-man sexual acts that crowd ToF’s drawings, nor from street language for talking about these things, so this is very much not for kids or the sexually modest.)

Things were way too busy on Trois Lapins de Mars (which was both St. David’s Day and Shrove Tuesday), so I didn’t get around to posting the March page in my 2022 Tom of Finland calendar then. But here it is, in all its vernal working-class splendor:

(#1) In a 1988 drawing, three construction workers, on the right, experience the rising sap of spring — look, a footlong springing up! in early March! — while appreciating a police / military guy from (as you can see on his shoulder patch) the Tom’s Men force

Key observation: the scene is framed as a fantasy sexual encounter in which Uniform Guy displays himself as a lust object for Construction Guys, but in that encounter the wave of cruising is actually streaming in both directions.

Points to come:

— the construction-worker theme in ToF’s work

— ToF’s presentations of homomasculinity

— on categorization and labeling: a conceptual category I’ll call FORCES — which has no ordinary label in English — embracing the police and the military together

— on signs and symbols: the Male Triad symbol on the Tom’s Men shoulder patch worn by the uniformed guy and on his lapel

Objects of desire. Touko Laaksonen’s childhood lust objects were outdoors types in his area of Finland: farmboys and loggers, mainly. Then as a young man in a port city he was drawn strongly to men in uniform — sailors, soldiers, policemen — and construction workers. These high-masculinity working-class men became the foci of Tom of Finland’s sexual art (which eventually broadened to take in a wide assortment of types: bikers, cowboys, even powerful men in suits). As his style matured, he also moved from an obsessive focus on satisfying his personal desires to self-knowing, even self-mocking exaggeration and to an increasing passion for wielding his art to give other gay men a sense of empowerment and self-worth. (Meanwhile, he continued to get off on his own artwork. And why not?)

ToF’s style got slicker, his drawings more carefully composed, his art now deliberately funny, and as the man got more political, the sexual encounters in his art grow more democratic in character, with every man in them prepared to enthusiastically take any role in man-man sex (whatever they appear to be bent on at the moment — and that’s often open-ended — they’re ready to slide into another).

Look at the encounter in the 1988 drawing in #1 (note: Laaksonen died in 1991). The arrangement — the three Construction Guys in a group, with the two at the sides turned to face the one in the middle, while they confront a sex-drenched (and penis-labeled) Uniform Guy at the left — is formally satisfying, and also vaguely familiar: it’s the Three Graces, in one of their conventional arrangements, confronting a randy faun with his pan pipe. (I’m not claiming that ToF deliberately modeled #1 after one of the Three Graces paintings in European art, only that he aimed for a pleasing composition and pulled this template from his subconscious.)

(#2) Central figures from the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova’s (1757-1822) painting The Three Graces and Venus Dancing in Front of Mars (1798)

(#3) Pan — the horned and hoofed god of nature, wild places, of shepherds and flocks, often associated with sexuality and fertility — teaching his eromenos [his catamite, the young and beautiful receptive partner in Pan’s fucking], the shepherd Daphnis, to play the pan flute (Roman copy of Greek original c. 100 BC, found in Pompeii) [material adapted from Wikipedia]

Three Graces and Pan or no, ToF was certainly aiming for a pleasing arrangement of the bodies. And for laughter at the carnal exaggeration and the absurdity of the situation (Cop Ravishes Hard Hats With Shovels! News at 11!). And for the reassuring message conveyed by having the flanking Hard Hunks displaying their buttocks: Real Men Take It Up the Ass! Hot Boys Just Wanna Get Fucked! (Meanwhile, we all take it for granted that Everybody Sucks Cock!) That is: you’re ok, buddy, whatever your tastes are, whatever your practices are, whatever your fantasies are. Whoever you are, even if you’re a sensitive, artistic kid like Touko. (And, by the way, if you wanna jack off to Touko’s dirty drawings, that’s fine too.)

Two earlier construction-worker drawings by ToF.

(#4) Two construction workers from 1977: buddies standing staunchly together, tools and moose-knuckles at the ready

Meanwhile, the small signals of relative masculinity and of executive (vs. associate) status in a relationship — b vs. t indicators — are split between the two: L has the dark (vs. R’s blond) hair and the mustache (vs. R’s clean-shaven face) of a t, but the amiable (vs. resolute) facial expression, receptive (vs. assertive) dress (L wearing nothing but cute short shorts, with unbuttoned fly vs. R’s  serious jeans, black leather belt, and worker’s undershirt); L even wields an everyday (and concave) shovel, while R has a destructive (uncompromisingly phallic) sledgehammer — so, on balance, L is b to R’s t … at least for the moment (see the next item).

(#5) Two construction workers from 1980, an artfully composed arrangement of R dom and L sub; note the serious nipple pinch, reinforcing the dom’s status (as if the positioning of the bodies weren’t enough)

In Tom’s world, these relationships are fluid and easily slide from one into another. In the story unfolding in #5, R’s about to fuck L, but once L has been provided with the dick up his ass that he so deeply needs, R is probably going to hump up his buttocks and beg to get fucked in turn.

Masculinities and homomasculinities. All of this floats within a larger world that mostly configures cultural gender in terms of masculinity according to the norms of the dominant culture, according to a dogma in which (among other things) the masculine / feminine binary is sharp and stark: everything that is not positively masculine according to those (culture-specific) norms is feminine — and therefore, devalued and deplored in a man.

Becoming fully masculine (in this culture-specific way) and maintaining that state is partly a matter of acquiring and polishing a variety of arcane skills and practices — like (in the culture that surrounds me) pitching a baseball and amassing a body of information about sports teams — and partly a matter of pointedly avoiding anything with the taint of the (culturally) feminine about it.

This is a hard slog. Being normatively “masculine” (in this culture-specific way) means valuing competition and aggression over collaboration and affiliation, physical labor over intellectual and artistic activity, “worldly” activities (in business, politics, the military, sports, etc.) over “domestic” ones (cooking, decorating, childcare, etc.), and more. Men who are entirely comfortable in their maleness nevertheless might not make the “masculinity” cut (in this very culture-specific way).

The way to go forward here is to stop treating these culture-specific norms as somehow definitional (and therefore exclusionary), and to recognize that there can be many ways of being masculine: many masculinities. Some will, of course, be statistically more common at some time in some society, but we should be recognizing many acceptable ways of being (just as we recognize many varieties of a language). We should do that in part as a practical matter, to avoid the needless toll of anxiety and alienation resulting from attempts to enforce stringent normativity; but mostly we should do that as a moral responsibility, to treat other people humanely, with care and respect.

(I do understand that I am pleading my own case here, as well as the case of other men like me, who flunk various of the tests for the culturally specific normative “masculinity” that surrounds us, but march instead to different drummers, and march confidently.  But if I don’t plead my case, who will?)

Nothing I’ve said in this section so far has anything to do with sexual desires, acts, or identities, but nevertheless it’s relevant to ToF. Starting with the boy Touko’s obsessive interest in certain sorts of men: men who were very high in culturally normative “masculinity”. That in itself is scarcely notable: boys are, unsurprisingly, given to attachments to men who might serve as models of who they might become or as exaggerated fantasies of such models: great athletes, superheroes. What set Touko apart from these attachments was he viewed some of these (real or fantasized) men as affectional companions, partners of a sort — perhaps because such companions could provide aspects of his own being that were lacking: lacking because he failed to live up to the stringent demands of normative “masculinity”. (Oh, what a trap we set for boys like this! Already as a child, Touko was viewed by others as deficient, so he viewed himself as deficient, so he sought out men who would complete him, so he became a secret queer, a kind of outcast. Of course, the full story is more complex and nuanced than this, but that’s the outline.)

In any case, Touko’s secret dirty drawings became ToF’s male art, but they continued to celebrate icons of normative “masculinity”. The exaggerated hypermasculinity rolled on, even though it was self-consciously absurd and parodic — stuff you could laugh at and jack off to (as ToF himself did). Also, as ToF’s style evolved, admire as art (as I have done, in a modest way, above).

Now: just as ToF’s men are fantasies of hypermasculinity, they’re also fantasies of hypersexuality; ToF’s men are superqueers, ragingly, promiscuously, inexhaustibly sexual beings with every sexualized bodypart blown up beyond anatomical plausibility (but still at a humanly graspable scale — everything in excess, but just enough excess). In any case, as cartoons, they’re very far from slices of life, in fact they’re very small slices from (hyperbolic visions of) life in the MMS (male-male sexuality) world. (I use MMS to sidestep the issues involved in using the existing modifiers  homosexual, gay, and queer, because these labels fail to embrace the broad range of sexual tastes / desires, sexual practices, and sexual identities in the world in question.)

ToF’s MMS world embraces a variety of homomasculinities, allowing for all sorts of stances towards (among other things) taking the receptive or insertive role in cocksucking or (especially) assfucking; expressions of affection, especially kissing; short-term encounters vs. more enduring pairings; polygamy vs. monogamy; folding a sexual relationship into your wider social life vs. maintaining these as separate spheres; taking a submissive or dominant role in a relationship; and taking an executive or associate role. One of my favorite ToF drawings — a late, very carefully composed one — is atypically calm rather than (like #1) crackling with energy, illustrating something of the range of homomasculinities in ToF’s MMS world:

(#6) You get the overall layout of the scene, an affectionate hunk-couple quietly reading their books; you focus briefly on their handsome masculine faces (faces grab our attention); then your gaze is drawn to the central feature of the composition, which turns out to be the brunet’s beautifully muscular buttocks (in which the blond’s book is cradled), and you realize that the brunet is stark naked (presumably so that, as a good sub, his body is always available for the use of his partner), while the blond dom is fully clothed

But in one area there’s a signal limitation on the scope of ToF’s world: in men’s presentations of self as butch vs. fem, in one regard or another (especially in visible ways, in stance, gait, gesture, grooming, facial features, facial expression, and dress), to one degree or another. ToF’s guys are almost all really really butch.

No doubt this is a reflection of the times, when what I’ve come to call f-gays — effeminate / fem / femme gay men, variously characterized by critics as

flamboyant, flaming, faggy, faggot, fairy, pansy, sissy, campy, mincing, prissy, nelly, stereotypical, gay-acting, too gay

— were objects of contempt and figures of nasty fun, not only outside the MMS world, but often within it as well. Contempt and nasty humor that easily spilled over onto MMS men in general. ToF (who was, I gather, inclined to f-gayness himself and was steadfastly averse to being filmed, preferring to communicate through his drawings, plus very rare interviews) hoped to advance the causes of gay men by celebrating homo-hypermasculinity. Through male figures who are simultaneously preposterously butch and preposterously queer.

[Short digressive sermon. Well, ToF died 30 years ago, and it’s time to recognize varieties of f-gayness as just more homomasculinities and to celebrate them. We’ve come a long way with guys who openly love to get fucked, we’ve started to learn not to be hysterically avoiding everything that might be viewed as “feminine”, so it’s time to take the next step and unreservedly embrace our fem brothers, some of whom are way tougher than the butch boys (and if they’re not, if they’re just sweet, then that’s adorable and just fine, thank you). If you are one of my fem brothers, take a place at the table and sing out. (I remind you that a great many years ago one of my fem brothers took my cherry — broke me in, as we faggots say — and did it with astonishing skill and affection. I owe those guys.)]

Categories and labels. Back to #1 and the guy on the left, who’s in the uniform of Tom’s Men (see the shoulder patch). Men in uniform — sailors, soldiers, and policemen — constituted the category of one of Touko Laaksonen’s objects of desire from childhood on, so they’re all over ToF’s artwork (along with construction workers, also seen in #1). But of course it wasn’t just the uniform: postmen and male nurses don’t fall into the category.

Roughly, it’s the uniform as worn by members of a force, in this sense from NOAD:

noun force: … 4 an organized body of military personnel [aka service members] or police: a soldier in a UN peacekeeping force.

So English has a collective noun for referring to a group of military personnel or police. This is framed in a disjunctive definition, but the disjunction military personnel or police is actually a description of a cultural category; members of our culture recognize the unity of this category, to the extent that quite a few straight women and gay men find men in this category especially attractive, indeed somewhat arousing (while finding no such charms in mailmen and male nurses; the uniform by itself is insufficient to trigger desire).

You might have hoped that forces would do to refer to people in this category (so that male forces or force men would refer to the category of ToF’s lust objects, but no, at least not in current everyday English. We have the category, which we might call FORCES or COPMIL, but we don’t have an everyday label, an ordinary lexical item, for it. It’s an unlabeled taxon — one of an enormous number of such; I post periodically on the topic.

(Side note. Up above, I referred to straight women and gay men — another disjunction referring to a category of some cultural significance (a category you might call MALETROPES), and yet another unlabeled taxon.)

The Tom’s Men logo. On the shoulder patch and lapel of the cop / serviceman (Tom’s Men appears to be an, um, irregular order-keeping force of some kind). This is in fact the Male Triad symbol — stylized dick and balls — as discussed in my 4/9/18 posting “The gay world of Yvon Goulet”:

(#7) An especially simple version of the Male Triad, kin to a doggie bone or a dumbbell

The Male Triad — two balls flanking a hard dick — also functions as an organizing principle in visual art, in what I’ve called the genital triptych, as in this Yvon Goulet painting:

(#8) t-room cruising at the urinals; yes, back to the workmen in #1 and the Three Graces

As it happens, the Tom of Finland Foundation has adopted a logo related to #7, which has a much more anatomically detailed cock, plus wings: the Flying Cock (their name). Here it is in the full insignia for the foundation:

(#9) The laurel wreath culminating in two dickheads is an especially nice touch; in any case, the logo and insignia carry on the ToF tradition of venerating cocks obsessively while mocking that reverence (meanwhile, thanks to King Missile, I have grown accustomed to imagining detachable penises, but a flying cock is even more delightful)

ToFF licenses the Flying Cock for outside users — in particular, the Jonathan Johnson Flying Cock collection of fine jewelry. The banner logo:

(#10) The fabulous purple-pink Flying Cock; the jewelry is sterling silver (I especially admire the silver belt buckle) or brass, with one piece finished in this remarkable color

And so we mount our sturdy cocks and fly off on their powerful wings into the purple-pink sunset. To all a good night!

One Response to “The construction workers that bloom in the spring, tra la”

  1. Mark Mandel Says:

    “inexhaustibly sexual beings with every sexualized bodypart blown up beyond anatomical plausibility (but still at a scale: everything in excess, but just enough excess).”

    I enjoyed the double meaning of “humanly graspable”.

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