Inventors of Gay: Chuck Renslow and Dom Orejudos

By: Christopher Harrity
9.13.2011

You may not even know why you should be grateful to this power couple, but they shaped tastes and created culture from the middle of the last century. Between Resnlow’s gym, photo studio, sex clubs, and world-famous leather man contest, his influences can be felt from the rough and tumble bar, Eagle LA, to the Eagle NYC. In fact, the whole idea of a leather bar is built on Renslow’s concepts for the first leather bar, the Gold Coast, established in Chicago in 1958.

Renslow (right) was also a founder of early men's magazines that published male erotic artwork and photography. One of his star artists was his lover and partner of 44 years, Dom Orejudos (also known as Stephen and Etienne— below, left). Orejudos was as influential and as prolific an artist as Tom of Finland, but also deeply involved in the ballet world as a dancer, choreographer, costume designer, and set designer.

Renslow’s concept of a leather family, or community, can be seen in the growing power and influence of the International Mr. Leather contest, established in 1979, and held yearly in Chicago. Renslow’s ideas that the leather community should be responsible, inclusive, diverse, and give back to the community at large helped make this misunderstood identity more mainstream.

Orejudos' friend Durk Dehner (pictured below, left, with Orejudos) learned about the artist Tom of Finland through their friendship. Because of Orejudo's influence, Dehner saw a need for helping Tom control the use of his art all over the world. From that he created the Tom of Finland Foundation, which houses and curates a large collection of male erotica in Los Angeles.

Renlow’s photography as Kris of Chicago pushed the legal boundaries at the time. Renslow would use the men who joined his gym as models, and besides being some of the most erotically stimulating work of the time, he showed the world that a powerful, masculine male image could also represent gay men. Renslow is still living and politically active in Chicago. Orejudos died of AIDS-related complications in 1991.

 

Friends with:
Dr. Alfred Kinsey – famous for writing The Kinsey Report on male sexuality
Sam Steward (Phil Andros) — writer of early erotic fiction and tattoo artist
Chuck Arnett — early erotic artist
Cliff Raven — tattoo artist

 

Why we care:
These guys helped dissolve the "fey queen" stereotype, which was really the only gay stereotype at that time (not that there is anything wrong with fey queens). They lived a fantasy life of sex, art, muscles, and leather — while they built an empire based on those same subjects. Their fans include Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol.

 

 

 

Kris of Chicago's Photography

 

 

Etienne's Art

 

 

"Inventors of Gay" is our series on important people and cultural influences in LGBT history that helped create the culture we enjoy today.

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