A new book is taking a compelling look at the history of faux-lesbian fantasy photography and the practice’s relationship to the male gaze.
Lesbians For Men is a first of its kind coffee table book that brings together photography from over the decades that explores female sexuality created in relationship with the straight male sexual desire.
The book is authored and edited by Dian Hanson who began her publishing career as an American pornographic magazine editor, historian, and occasional model. Her background informs much of Lesbians For Men, with Hanson most famous for serving as the editor of Juggs and Leg Show sexual fetish magazines.
Many of the woman depicted in these images are actually straight ― but history and the way the images are framed and marketed would communicate otherwise.
“I like my books to educate as well as entertain,” author and editor Dian Hanson told The Huffington Post. “I was researching what’s out there, what others were publishing, and saw several books with photos of women together ― what we called girl/girl back in the porn business ― all maintaining the time-worn fantasy of ‘young girls exploring their bi-curiosity.’ I thought, ‘Why not shake this up? Why not make an honest book about the history of faux lesbian photography aimed, as it all is, at the straight male gaze?’ I’m a big fan of sexual truth, and believe we can know the truth without sacrificing the fantasy.”
Check out a more extensive interview with Hanson below, as well as some images from Lesbians For Men.
The book stretches from 1890 to the present. Tell us some of the biggest changes that have occurred over the last century regarding these kind of images.
The most obvious change is the rise and fall of explicit imagery. At the dawn of photography all nude images were produced outside the law, with no attempt to conform to law, and were therefore uncensored. Most images were made in France, where prostitution was legal, so it was easy to find models willing to take on any subject, as they were performing these acts in their professional lives already. This continued on up until WWII, when European photographers were, in many cases, imprisoned and killed. After the war production moved to the U.S. and was constrained by American morality and laws that condemned all gay imagery as perversion. All of this loosened as obscenity statutes were struck down in the 1970s, but even into the 1990s American prisons disallowed images of the most tepid and unrealistic “lesbian” sex as perversion dangerous to prison order.
Many queer people find these kinds of images ― “lesbian” content for straight men ― to be degrading and even dangerous to the lives and experiences of queer women. What, if anything, useful can come from viewing / talking about them?
Unlike other books with similar photos there is NO pretext that these women are lesbians. Just the opposite, the text is a well-researched, accurate exploration of why men respond to such imagery, and informs the male audience that such photos are staged, overwhelmingly, by straight women solely for the purpose of male titillation. When I see fantasy repeated so often it becomes truth, I have to step in. I am here to educate, as real sexual education is shockingly rare.
For some queer women, this kind of content might have been the first (and only) woman-4-woman content they could find for themselves. Can you address the radical nature of repurposing and/or reappropriating this content by and for queer audiences?
I produced magazines targeted to heterosexual men for 25 years before coming to TASCHEN, and from the very beginning I received letters from women who repurposed these images for their own pleasure, including one from my best friend in adolescence. Thus, this doesn’t seem very radical ― rather, entirely natural. On Our Backs, under Susie Bright, was a great contribution to female sexuality in the 80s, but since fantasy refuses to draw inside the lines, many women still preferred, and prefer, those straight girls in the men’s magazines. Just as readers of my old foot fetish magazine masturbated to shoe photos in Vogue. Repurposing is ecologically, and sexually, sound.
What do you hope readers / viewers take away from the book?
Truth and beauty.
Lesbians For Men will be available for order later this month.