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Through a new critical reading of the relevant images found in The Young Physique and Physique Pictorial, I explore how the sailor has become a homoerotic icon and how the sailor has become an object of gay fetishization and fantasy. Through media (in this instance: magazines), I focus on the time period between World War II through Gay Liberation in the 1970s, showing how the culture of the port cities of New York City and Los Angeles helped to create this homoerotic image of the sailor. Through a reading of three images that demonstrate the homoeroticism of sailor imagery from these magazines, I analyze how sailors in the popular imagination are viewed as the epitome of all things American yet occupy a distinctly queer space of desire. I argue the patriotism of the sailor is not necessarily at odds with the desires of a gay readership because it upholds an institution invested in both whiteness and masculinity. Additionally I argue that the lack of Black sailors (and Black models, at large) in these magazines points to how these publications sought respectability through an investment in whiteness. The Black sailor becomes an exception to these representational politics through his absence.


This is the author's accepted manuscript of an article originally published in The Journal of American Culture, available at

Sailors_Figures.pdf (403 kB)
Sailor Figures

Available for download on Wednesday, January 01, 2025