QUEER VOICES
10/23/2012 11:08 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

LGBT History Month Icon Of The Day: Tom Of Finland

The 20th century certainly had its share of incredibly influential gay artists but one man's work arguably changed the way that gay men were seen -- and saw themselves.

Touko Laaksonen was born in Finland in 1920. As a child he loved music, literature and especially art and he began attending art school in 1939. Soon after Laaksonen began drawing homoerotic images of muscular men, many of whom were inspired by the men -- like lumberjacks, police men and sailors -- he looked up to and admired during his childhood.

In 1956, at the urging of a friend, he submitted several of his drawings to an American muscle magazine called Physique Pictorial and landed the cover of its spring 1957 issue. The editor of the publication suggested the artist change his name from the Finnish Touko to the American "Tom," and soon Tom of Finland was showing his work in major cities and publishing his images internationally. Along with a friend, Laaksonen started the Tom of Finland Company in 1979, which works to preserve and exhibit exotic art. Due to complications with emphysema, Laaksonen passed away in 1991.

Laaksonen's greatest contribution, aside from the beauty and humor of his images, is his drawings' proud, joyful approach to homosexuality and sex. "I work very hard to make sure that the men I draw having sex are proud men having happy sex!" Laaksonen once said. Tom of Finland's drawings were some of the first to depict gay men as healthy, happy people rather than demented deviants and they helped positively shape gay culture around the world.

For more information on Tom of Finland and to see images of his work, visit his foundation's official website.

Each day in October, which is LGBT History Month, we'll be featuring a different LGBT icon. Check back tomorrow for a look at another incredible individual who changed history and visit our LGBT History Month Big News Page for more stories.

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