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that man

I was just reading in one of the local rags about Peter Berlin. You know, THAT Peter Berlin? The one who looked like a Ton of Finland drawing had come to life? Yes, that Peter Berlin. In this era of Snapchat and viral videos the idea that someone would become his own idea of a gay icon is quite plausible. But I'm talking about way before viral videos and way WAY before Sanpchat were just a glint in the eye of some nerdy programmer. I'm talking gay prehistory here. 

And we all know that gay prehistory is anything pre-internet. In those days, print material was king and the hungry self-promoters we find today thirsting from left and right on twitter or instagram were non-existent. Or were there? There was Peter, who basically invented the man he wanted to see and went ahead and became him. I don't remember anyone who even looked like Berlin in real life: all wide shoulders and impossibly small waist and long, long legs with a fantastic bulge. 

Peter Berlin created and curated Peter Berlin. He basically took most of the pictures that exist of himself (and got Mapplethorpe AND Tom of Finland to immortalize him!) and was very careful as to how he was portrayed. It was an image that he kept up to today, when we get a glimpse of who the man was through interviews in some local gay magazine or through the documentary that Jim Tushinski made of him in 2005. 

Gay men living in San Francisco in the 70's may have been able to see him walking the streets or frequenting the bars in the city. But I guess few actually got to know him. Because Peter Berlin never stopped being Peter Berlin. He's said that he felt some kinship with Marilyn Monroe: Norma Jean created Marilyn, but she was ALWAYS Marylin once she left the house. 

In this era of social networking, social media and 24/7 news media a character like that could not exist. The scrutiny would kill any and all notion of fantasy or attempts at curating an image. Besides, people are not titillated by the same things. What Peter Berlin did for decades would be destroyed by TMZ or Reddit in ten minutes. And I think that's kind of sad. And pathetic. We are so used to find, consume and discard what we find that there's no room for fiercely individual characters to develop.

In the 70's and 80's and even at the beginning of the 90's it was easier to remain who you were (or wanted to be) and not having your life intruded by the glare of the ever present eye of the media. And it's not that people does not curate their public image: you have all those 'influencers' on Youtube or twitter or snapchat or cable tv, who strategically disrobe their lives for all to see. But they all end up being empty containers, because there's always the news outlet or the gossip rag or the online forum that gets ahold o the story that negates everything that they have been trying to feed the public and then it's over for them. The pack moves on to the next sideshow.

So for me, Peter Berlin IS iconic. Thank goodness his images are still here to give us that 'come hither' look from the distance. A distance that the years have not really tarnished and we get him as he intended it: like a living, breathing, avatar who was always just a few pages away but always out of reach. He gave us what he wanted and made us want it, too. Probably very few people got to know the real Peter Berlin, but I'm sure millions wanted him. And that's what he wanted:

"When I die the Peter Berlin image will stay forever online and in people's minds. Does it matter to me? Not at all. I never did anything in order to leave something behind. When I die they can take what they need and throw me in a hole. All that happens after is not important."


Robert Mapplethorpe
Tom of Finland

Tom of Finland


  1. HELLO! what a way to wake up this morning! your blog was at the top of my reading list. YOWZA! such a nice lollipop on that man!

  2. Peter Berlin and Tom of Finland get me very hot. I many have to excuse myself quick to the restroom.....my Jean's are buldging.....

  3. Mention Peter Berlin and any queer man of a certain age will probably get a smile on his face. You’re right, he developed and lived his brand. From the golden hair to the tight jeans and impressive bulge, he was/is a sight to behold. Thanks for bringing a spotlight onto this yummy man, babe.

    XOXO 👨‍❤️‍💋‍👨


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