WHO’S YOUR (LEATHER) DADDY?
WORDS + INTERVIEW BY CARLY AIMI
FRIDAY, JUNE 16TH, 2017
JOSH PAUL THOMAS
STYLED BY MARK SALDANA
Grindr, Scruff, Tumblr … Terry Miller takes us offline and through the IRL archives of Tom of Finland’s hard copies.
During this month during this year, when social and political tensions are at an all time high, where art is being censored—stripped funding because people fear what consequences may come from supporting someone who speaks out ... We couldn’t be more proud to get super queer. To celebrate revolutionary artists and homosexuality. Plus it’s really fun.
Better known under his pseudonym Tom of Finland, Touko Valio Laaksonen is acclaimed as the "most influential creator of gay pornographic images" by cultural historian Joseph W. Slade. Most of Laaksonen’s earlier illustrations were for private eyes, burned after being viewed—works of art that no one had ever seen before because in some places the punishment would be death. Tom of Finland found catharsis from the forced privatization of the gay community with his erotic illustrations, creating a cultural phenomenon just as relevant today as it was then.
The Tom of Finland House sits three stories above Los Angeles’ Echo Park, the home and pieces of artwork within it, have been preserved by its foundation, a non-profit organization that’s been protecting and promoting erotic art for over 25 years. We were lucky enough to have the home all to ourselves (things might’ve gotten a little weird, shhhh) and meet up with Terry Miller for a photoshoot featuring Nicopanda x Tom of Finland. Miller might not need an intro, but it’s so fun to write about him, how could we not? Miller is an ambassador for Tom of Finland. Which means he embodies the art, sex, style, masculinity, and cultural iconicism that’s found in Laaksonen’s work. And when he’s not doing that, you know, he’s sitting on the Board of Directors of The Seattle Symphony and hosting gay nights around town.
In celebration of pride, we present a twenty-two piece “Daddy” approved collection, exclusively available at OC, Nicopanda, and the TOF store. The tees, tanks and hoodies are filled with Laaksonen’s iconic illustrations, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the foundation (even better, right?). Below, we get queer with Terry Miller on the significance of Tom of Finland (if you don’t know, this is mandatory reading), pride and why in Miller’s life, it’s always leather weather.
CARLY AIMI: What is your favorite Tom of Finland piece of work and why?
TERRY MILLER: My favorite piece of Tom of Finland is The Hitchhiker. This dude has been the secret man of my dreams since I first saw him in my teens. It’s also fueled an obsession with owning a motorcycle that my husband won’t let me bring to fruition.
In your opinion why is it so important to preserve erotic art?
Erotic art has been around for eons, look at greek art for instance, there was never a problem or issue with celebrating the erotic as long as it was fairly heteronormative. Homosexual erotic art has been in that zone of seeming less important because of our own minority status. Preserving this art now is imperative to claiming part of LGBT history. No matter how out there, or transgressive it is, we need to preserve and celebrate the works of great homo artists. Etienne, Harry Bush, George Quaintance, Tom of Finland, etc. all of it holds value, not just historic and sexual, but cultural.
There’s probably so many gay teens in rural areas that don’t know about Laaksonen’s work—How do we continue TOF’s reach and influence across the country and world?
Protecting his value by preserving and licensing his work for good use, and carrying on a tradition of gallery and museum shows worldwide is very important. This is much easier in Western Europe where TOF is seen as a positive figure not just by the LGBT community but he is beloved by straight people across Scandinavia.
This is why Tom of Finland Store’s online presence is such an asset now. A place to build collaborations with other gay artists and designers, and sell and purchase art by Tom all under one “roof”. It makes sense to see a whole collection of work evolving together and being presented in one place.
What’s the day in a life of a Tom of Finland ambassador? And how do you project the ethos of TOF in your personal life?
HA! It’s not leather leather leather every day. I exercise, eat healthy and just try to exude a positive and confident vibe about my own sex and sexuality. I mean I have a variety of other interests. I’m on the Board of Directors of The Seattle Symphony, but I also hold filthy, dirty, sexy, sleazy gay club nights at Seattle’s Eagle Tavern. It’s good to have a broad outlook and variety of interests, I don’t ever want to be bored by any of them and the more I bring to each through the others, the more interesting they all become.
As far as his ethos, I grew up with Tom’s Art. Whenever I found it I picked it up. I never knew you couldn’t have the sex Tom’s men were having. I mean. How fun is that life?!? I live like I want to be that Daddy. Your results may differ. But put a little of Tom’s swagger in your step and I guarantee you’ll immediately be more popular.
If he was alive today, where do you think he would find inspiration or create something different while still maintaining integrity?
Porn is EVERYWHERE. Now that we all have mini computers riding around in our back pockets he’d probably be looking at Grindr, Scruff and Tumblr. The era’s and influence of looks is so ephemeral and comes and goes pretty quickly. Twinks were in, and now it’s about Daddies. Pups are the new thing, then Pups and handlers are on the wane. He’d probably be drawing and illustrating all these trends in the same fucking sexy way he always had.
Would he resurface a political message with the state of the world today?
Tom was political in his own way. Just for the mere fact of being an out gay artist during the time he was working … Life at that level is a political act. What’s fun to watch is the way his past art is now being reshaped and used to create new political statements. Take Lockwood 51’s “Fuck The Police
” tee shirt, or do a google image search of Trump fucking the world. It’s a Tom of Finland illo being reused to make a statement about Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord. Pretty genius. (If not totally disgusting to think about …)
With the current state of the political climate, why is pride month more important than ever?
We have to remember that Pride marches and parades aren’t really for the LGBT community. We are the actors and we are being watched by a mostly heteronormative audience who is viewing what we do and the variety inside these cultural gatherings as something we put value on, and we are telling that heterosexual audience that we want them to value those things too. Trans kids, Dykes on bikes, Leathermen marching in their harnesses… All of it is worthy of value and we take pride in all the parts of our community.
Do you have any thoughts/advice on how we can not only protect pride but defend it?
Pride is not the deadly sin it’s made out to be. LGBT Pride needs defense to keep our civil liberties coming. The more we value ourselves the more we will find value in government recognition of ourselves.
How does TOF’s work influence your everyday wardrobe?
I have an extensive leather collection, various outfits. I wear my skin tight Levi’s the way Tom’s men do, rolled up with thick cuffs at the top of my boots (a look gay skinheads have carried on), and I have had my custom made leather jackets tailored with extra large collars that I ALWAYS POP UP!! That is quintessential Tom of Finland Style. A Tom’s man should always wear his collar up in my opinion. It’s cult-ish looking, but if you were gonna join a cult, why not the one with all the hot men with giant dicks?
How does wearing leather gear affect your attitude? Does it change your persona?
I’m generally happy and outgoing, sometimes a little shy if I’m meeting a famous conductor, or awestruck at an extraordinary performer. But if I’m out wearing leather, I hardly have to make a move, people are immediately drawn to me, and then conversation is a game of flirtations and sexy non-verbal innuendo. I’m laying out everything and basically telling whoever I’m with that their coming to me is a move on THEIR part. Maybe it was a brave step for a buttoned up Twink to come up to me and say, “Hi.” I find that really charming.
Photography Josh Paul Thomas | Styling Mark Saldana | Production Carly Aimi | Talent Terry Hecker | Special Thanks Yosef Kalfon | Nicopanda | Tom of Finland