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, but in his newest book David K. Johnson shows how gay commerce was not a byproduct but rather an important catalyst for the gay rights movement. LAM founder Chuck Renslow was one of the most successful publisher of physique magazines, and Johnson's research draws a direct line from the 50's beefcake magazine to the annual IML contest weekend that continues today.
This weeks guest is David K. Johnson, an award-winning historian and author. His first book, The Lavender Scare was made into a documentary film that garnered best documentary awards at over a dozen film festivals and broadcast nationwide on PBS June 18, 2019. His second book, Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement chronicles the rise of a gay commercial network in the years leading up to the Stonewall Riots. He earned a B.A. from Georgetown University and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University, both in history. He has enjoyed fellowships from the National Humanities Center, the Smithsonian Institution, the Social Science Research Council, and the Leather Archives & Museum. As Professor in the History Department at the University of South Florida, he teaches courses on the post-1945 U.S. and the history of gender and sexuality.