Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement

David K. Johnson. Columbia Univ, $32 (320p) ISBN 978-0-231-18910-1
In this intelligent work, historian Johnson (The Lavender Scare) explores what he terms “the Physique Era” in American gay history, spanning 1951 through 1967, when now nearly forgotten bodybuilding beefcake magazines fostered a virtual community for gay men. Johnson makes a compelling case that, in contrast to the academic tendency to dismiss physique magazines as mere artifacts of closeted life, physique entrepreneurs went on to found other businesses and ultimately created “a gay market, by and for gay people” that “was crucial to the emergence and success of a gay movement,” wedding capitalism and social justice. The book profiles various enterprises, among them the bodybuilding magazine Physique Pictorial; the Cory Book Service, a gay book of the month club; the Grecian Guild, a gay social fraternity; the Adonis club, a pen pal service; Lynn Womack’s physique periodical and gay novel publishing and distribution “empire”; and Directory Services, Inc., which provided gay business directories (for example, lists of gay bars) and later furniture, books, greeting cards, and photo developing services, becoming profitable enough to finance (and win) a legal fight for the right to free expression in 1967. Johnson draws on archival evidence and original interviews in prose that remains accessible even as it demonstrates his scholarly chops. This excellent history brings to light a little-known subject with a well-supported, unusual argument. Illus. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2018
Release date: 02/26/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 978-0-231-54817-5
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