The Europe that Gay Porn Built, 1945-2000

Lead Research Organisation: Birmingham City University
Department Name: ADM Birmingham School of Media


How did the growing transnational circulation of gay male erotica and porn magazines in postwar Europe contribute to the development of a shared identity and sense of belonging among European gay men? How did this form of erotic citizenship echo or complicate narratives of cosmopolitanism, human rights, equality, social justice, and pluralism that were being associated with the parallel project of European integration and citizenship?
While the existence of Europe has been evident to those who inhabit it for centuries, its definition by positive means is a more recent phenomenon. Originally known by what it was not, "Europe" eventually came to be defined by what it was thought to actually be. At the core of that positive refashioning of "Europe" was the developing belief in a common "European" history and political identity retroactively mapped back to the origin myth of "Greece." As a response to the legacies of European nationalisms and two world wars, the commonalities attributed to European peoples gained political momentum. They were alluded to and publicly deployed by the ideologues of European integration, who sought out means through which to imagine a European commons. Today's European hegemony is thus anchored in four myths of origin: a legal system heir to Roman law, a social ethos of solidarity grounded on Christian and humanist legacies, a recognition of individual rights and freedoms, and a universalism derived from Enlightenment principles of reason, universalism, and cosmopolitanism.
It was in relation to those values and principles of postwar "Europe" that the gay movement would also come to define itself. Fuelled by rural-to-urban and transnational movements of people triggered by WWII and its aftermath, as well as by a growing "lifestyle" consumer culture, gay men eventually started to perceive themselves as members of an oppressed minority and come together as a transnational political constituency. As recent studies have shown, central to the coalescence of the movement around liberal universalism was its transnational coordination by means of media exchanges among gay men at local, national, and supranational levels. Those studies, however, have privileged activist organisations, their relationships with national and supranational European political institutions, and their media networks, despite the fact that media scholars have convincingly argued that it was erotica and porn, and not activist media, that managed to reach the largest numbers of gay men across extensive geographies, ultimately connecting them and allowing them to imagine a community of which they were part.
To address that scholarly gap, "The Europe that Gay Porn Built, 1945-2000" will map for the first time the European networks of production, circulation and consumption of gay erotica and porn magazines published between the end of WWII and the turn of the 21st century, and build on them to develop a cultural study of "Europe" as imagined by gay men. We will do so in three key innovative ways: (1) by exploring how the gay sexual imaginary mediated by print gay porn cultures will have catalysed new and likely conflicting ways for gay men across Europe to imagine both one another and their non-European others. (2) by investigating the resonances and dissonances within and between that pan-European gay sexual imaginary and the Europeanist imaginary being advanced by political institutions. (3) by focusing on the erotics of "homoeuropeanism" to interrogate what we talk (or don't talk) about when we talk about "Europe." At a time when nationalisms and euro-scepticism is gaining political momentum across the continent, the project will offer a new important vantage point from where to think "Europe" through unveiling how the latter was imagined and erotically iterated by a minoritised community that would eventually be embraced by European institutions themselves as a way of defining the exceptionality of Europe against its others.


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