Physique Pioneers: The Politics of 1960s Gay Consumer Culture

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2010


Queer culture, Gay communities, Male homosexuality, Magazines, Magazine publishing, Lesbianism, Consumer culture, Gay rights movements, Men


This study outlines the rise of gay consumer culture from 1945 to 1969—an examination of the production, sale, and consumption of physique magazines, paperback novels, greeting cards, and other items available through gay-oriented mail order catalogs. It agues that purchasing such consumer items validated gay men's erotic attraction to other men, contributed to their sense of participating in a larger community, and provided particular class-, race-and gender-based models for what it meant to be gay. It examines how physique magazine publishers, in their legal struggles with censorship laws, marshaled a ground-breaking rhetoric of legal rights and collective action that led to the first gay judicial victories establishing the right to market such commodities. It demonstrates that a national gay commercial market preceded the development of a national gay political community and that the development of that market by a small group of gay entrepreneurs was a key, overlooked catalyst to the rise of a gay movement in America.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Journal of Social History, v. 43, issue 4, p. 867-892