Friday, Sir and I went to see the Bristol premier of the 'TOM of Finland' movie at the Watershed - in full leather, together with guys from both the Southwest Rubbermen and LeatherWest.
TOM was an artist from Finland, who escaped the homophobia and repression of the mid-C.20th by creating graphic portrayals of strong, PROUD, masculine men enjoying gay company and explicit sex - usually in hyper-masculine clothing and situations: bikers in full leather, sailors and army guys, foresters and fishermen... At a time when homosexuals were considered deviants, criminals and sissies, TOM's Men were often smiling, always happy and proud, and - above all - MEN.
It's difficult to emphasise just how important TOM's work was to gay men like me in the early years of the burgeoning gay rights community. In a time that wanted to silence us through shame, TOM gave us an aesthetic of masculine power and PRIDE - and told us that we no less a man for wanting and loving other men. His images also fuelled an entire generation's sexual fantasies...!
TOM's work was eventually picked up in America, where it became a huge influence on gay culture, and his aesthetic is at the heart of what became the Leather Pride movement. 'The Village people' could have stepped out of any one of his drawings, and every gay club with its muscle guy's, bikers, Leathermen, uniforms, and sports Fetish ultimately owes their existence to him.
The film was both sad and uplifting in equal measure. The sadness came from seeing (and, for those of us old enough, remembering) the danger and fear of repression - the arrests for 'indecency', the risk of imprisonment or sectioning for 'sodomy', the newspaper exposes and the revulsion and ostracism of family and friends if our 'dirty secret' ever got out - and the self-hatred and shame that it bred in us. It was also the grief of remembering all those friends whom we lost during the AIDS crisis...
The uplift came from seeing a man who refused to be cowed: who fought to keep a sense of pride in himself and his friends, and who created images to express his love and passion for life and love and sex. It came in seeing so many classic images that he created - and remembering the first time we ourselves had seen them: and our initial shock and guilt had given way to arousal and then pride...
And the best bit of the whole experience: realising just how far we have come by how fantastically the Watershed welcomed us - and even set up a group photo for us to celebrate. And then - even better: watching the film with a cinema filled with Men in Gear: there in Pride, and camaraderie, and Brotherhood - sharing our love of the man who had given us a new image of ourselves, and PROUD in who we have become.
TOM would have been proud!
If you can't make it to one if the many screenings around the country, 'TOM of Finland' can be viewed online at the BFI website.