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Tom of Finland’s Life, Love, and Work

by Werner Borkes in Films & Books , 17 februari 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

His drawings of leather-clad construction workers, soldiers and motorized police officers, all of whom are terribly muscled and well-endowed, have become blueprints of the gay community, as well as internationally recognized symbols of gay pride. Finally, we witness the long-awaited première of the Finnish feature film “Tom of Finland.” Gay Film Festival Roze Filmdagen is the first to show this biopic in the Netherlands.

The subject of the movie are the life, love and work of the artist Touko Valio Laaksonen (1920-1991), known by the entire world as Tom of Finland. In those days, gay art was still very much a taboo, and his work (eventually more than 3500 items) became a source of inspiration for gay men around the globe. The outcome could have been entirely different were it not for the Second World War. The then barely nineteen-year-old art student used the bombing blackouts to discover his sexuality. The Nazi uniforms were the cause of Laaksonen’s lifelong fascination with leather boots. Obviously, the entire Nazi ideology was reprehensible, but he liked to draw them; after all, they were the sexiest uniforms he knew.

Until the war, the young Touko could only dream of men. He grew up among the rough lumberjacks and farmers of the Finnish countryside, but did not participate in it. As the son of two teachers, the boy was mainly exposed to music, visual art and literature.

However, that did not mean he didn’t know where to look; Laakson’s knowledge of the male anatomy can probably be traced to his early years, observing rough farm laborers unnoticed. Laaksonen only discovered the construction workers, sailors, policemen and other types that would trigger his imagination as a student in Helsinki. He was only in a position to touch them during the war, when he managed to hoist himself in and others out of uniform.

After the war, the uniforms that excited him so began to disappear, and again he had to give full rein to his lusts on paper. However, in post-war Finland no money could be made with homoerotic drawings, and Laaksonen felt obliged to earn a living with freelance advertising. He would continue to do so up to the early 1970s.

After having sent his work to the American beefcake magazine “Physique Pictorial” in 1956 - that gave him his international name “Tom of Finland” - the demand for his secret drawings kept increasing. Because of less strict censorship during the 1960s, Tom’s drawings could now more easily be distributed.

The legacy of Tom of Finland is that he gave gay men the option of a masculine self-image in times when men had to hide away their nature. Works that clearly state that sex and passion between men can be über-masculine.

Daddy and the Muscle Academy

The biopic “Tom of Finland” was made in honour of Finlands hundred-year anniversary as an independent state. In Finland, “Tom” has achieved an unprecedented status. Many an average Finn has proudly licked a Tom of Finland stamp, or is sleeping under a Tom or Finland duvet cover. Because of this biopic’s première, this year, the Roze Filmdagen is presenting the  documentary “Daddy and the Muscle Academy” in its “Icons” program.

The film has been digitally polished because of its twenty-fifth anniversary, but has not lost any of its power. We see the enormous influence that one of the most important heroes of the gay world has (had) on gay identity with his provocative erotic drawings. The ground-breaking work combines an interview with Laaksonen (one of the few existing interviews and from just before his death in 1991) with interviews with some of his apprentices, original drawings, and steamy fantasy scenes inspired by his work.

The documentary and the feature film reinforce each other, and give a complete picture of the most influential creator of gay pornographic images.

- “Tom of Finland,” directed by Dome Karukoski, Finland 2017, Dutch première at Roze Filmdagen (March 8-18). See also
- “Daddy and the Muscle Academy,” directed by Ilppo Pohjola, Finland 1992. At the Roze Filmdagen.



published Apr 2017       

published Feb 2015       

published Aug 2015        Length: 6 minutes


In the New Issue of Gay News, 335, July 2019

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