Thoughts on Building Outliers: A Queer History Exhibit #3

Written by Tom Miller

It’s not all doom and gloom. I should be much more clear about that. As I noted before, each of the publications I’m perusing has a fair amount of positive news, articles on celebrations and victories throughout the community. We have to remember how isolated the existence of marginal communities was in the pre-Internet era. One of the sections of the exhibit that unfortunately didn’t make it (though I may try to shoehorn it into the comics exhibit) was on communication – letters, memos, magazines, newsletters. So many different ways of reaching out and trying to make connection.

But the thing I want to talk about today is the advertising. It’s amazing. In the archive, we’re fortunate enough to have some of the original photocopied and taped-together originals of ads that appear in many of the magazines I’ve been looking through. Again, remember that this was a pre-digital culture in a lot of ways, so ads weren’t composed in front of a computer screen, but on a desk, or at a kitchen table. We’ll be showcasing some of these pieces in the comics exhibit, really an exhibition of visual culture from the archive, along with the magazines in which they’re published.

There’s so much though. And queer advertising is not subtle. There are so many, so many, naked men’s butts. I thought that for today’s post, in the interest of building some buzz for the exhibit, and of showcasing some pieces that won’t be on display, I’d share a few of the pieces that have leapt out at me.

A caveat: it appears that, pretty much for all of queer history (or, at least, the bit I’m looking at), it’s the guys that are just totally fine with being naked in a magazine ad. Virtually no women at all. That’s probably a much longer conversation that we should be having, but I bring it up just so that you know why most of these ads I’m posting feature guys.


I hadn’t realized that queer vacation spots were such a big thing.


I remember when a Chaps restaurant opened up in Oakville, where I grew up. I have no idea if it was linked to Chaps in Toronto, but the connection was made anyway, and if you went to Chaps for any reason (I actually took a young lady there on a date), you were branded a fag.


Only one Rekroom & Boystown ad right now. They’re amazing, and I’ll be featuring them prominently in the comics/visual media exhibit.


Such a striking image.


I just love this image.

A taste of what’s to come, drawn from what was. We often talk about fashion and architecture as our two most public forms of artistic expression. But advertising has to be up there as well. What I think really strikes me about these pieces, and the others that we’ll be showing in the exhibit, is that it’s a public art that’s still relegated to a relatively private sphere. These images are pulled from the 80s and 90s, a time when that privacy was a matter of survival. I’m going to take some time in the next little while to pay attention to contemporary advertising, to see if any of the particularly queer aesthetic in these older ads has made it’s way into the mainstream. I’m trepidatiously optimistic.