How Tom of Finland’s ideal world empowered gay men and shaped our culture

31st May 2021, 9:56 pm


The artwork created by Tom of Finland had a profound effect on gay men all over the world.

Some of us can get caught up in the imaginative escape that is our ideal world. An ideal world is one where you are free from whatever circumstances are restricting you. It’s all about freedom. For many gay men, the artwork created by Tom of Finland personified our ideal world. It gave us a look at the possibility of fitting into environments where we wouldn’t be accepted in the real world.

Touko Valio Laaksonen was born on May 8, 1920 in Kaarina, Finland. He began drawing erotic images in his college years, but destroyed them before leaving to serve in the army. Laaksonen served in the Finnish Army in World War II. He later submitted his drawings to the American magazine Physique Pictorial, who first published his artwork in 1957.

It was also during this time that Laaksonen adopted his pseudonym, Tom of Finland. Tom’s artwork wasn’t merely erotic or titillating. It was daring, even brave for its time, as homosexuality was illegal and still considered a mental illness.

However, this defiance of societal norms was exactly the theme of Tom’s work. Tom’s artwork often portrayed gay erotic fantasies that consisted of masculine, muscle-bound men in uniform. While this was due to Tom’s own interests, it also served a greater purpose.

Tom showed us that we could be the police officer, the cowboy, the sailor, and the soldier. Not only that, but we could fill those traditionally masculine shoes while openly enjoying having sex with other men. Tom showed us that our gayness wasn’t limited to a stereotype perpetuated by closed-minded bigots whose goal was to weaken us.

Instead, Tom gave us strength by appropriating the classic archetypes of masculinity and turning them on their head. Whether his Kake character topped or bottomed, he didn’t lose one ounce of his strength. He didn’t relinquish any of his masculinity. He maintained all of it the entire time, as did his many partners.

And even if some of us don’t fit into that masculine ideal, we also get empowerment out of Tom’s drawings. Our empowerment comes from the fact that this is a world where those men are allowed to be their true sexual selves. In turn, this helps those within that world not view our femininity as weak. Tom’s world wasn’t a world where masculinity was the ideal. It was a world where everybody could be themselves without judgement.

I’m beyond impressed with the level of talent Tom possessed. His composition and attention to detail was amazing. His ability to convey such detail was the cherry on top. Some of his artwork almost doesn’t look hand-drawn. They sometimes look like photographs of real humans. That goes to show you how Tom saw his subjects and characters. He was in tune with them on another level. He knew exactly how to translate that onto the page.

It’s hard to deny the influence Tom’s world had on gay culture. The leather scene exploded after Tom became well known. Leather biker caps matched with a thick mustache became a common look among gay men in the seventies and eighties. Hitting the gym became a regular pastime and even the world of gay porn acted accordingly.

Joe Gage, a legendary gay porn director, payed tribute to Tom’s Kake comic, “The Intruder,” in one of his movies. Men in uniform became a popular category and suddenly, we were seeing Tom’s fantasies acted out on screen. It took off because, in a way, a lot of us had similar fantasies. That’s another reason Tom’s work was so influential. We now had someone to lead the way.

Tom taught us to appropriate the symbols idolized by our oppressors and make them our own. He taught us not to give into bigoted propaganda. He taught us to be strong. He showed us we could be whoever we wanted to be. In a way, his work wasn’t just for us, but for homophobes as well. It showed them how wrong they were about us. And gay culture’s embrace of Tom’s ideal world further sealed the deal.

That helped bring Tom’s ideal world slightly closer to reality. The Tom of Finland Foundation was formed before his death and continues to this day. Its primary goal is to “promote Tom’s work along with other erotic art so that it receives the academic attention it deserves.” Tom passed away on November 7, 1991 at age 71.

Tom’s work was about sex and gay sex in particular. It made a statement that sex is okay. Having sex is okay. Fantasizing is okay. There’s nothing wrong with loving and enjoying your sexuality. Shame and judgement are not present in Tom’s world. This is what his work was about.

But it was also about much more. It was about empowerment. It was about breaking down barriers of prejudice. It was about, above all else, freedom. This was Tom’s ideal world and it resonated so much that it became ours.






Celebrating 101 years of Tom of Finland

    Tom of Finland taught us that we could be anything we want to be. He gave us a whole new vocabulary of what we could be. His life was a lesson in being the consummate Homosexual.  


Published: 31st May 2021

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