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Plane Queer

Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants

Phil Tiemeyer
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    Plane Queer
    Book Description:

    In this vibrant new history, Phil Tiemeyer details the history of men working as flight attendants. Beginning with the founding of the profession in the late 1920s and continuing into the post-September 11 era,Plane Queerexamines the history of men who joined workplaces customarily identified as female-oriented. It examines the various hardships these men faced at work, paying particular attention to the conflation of gender-based, sexuality-based, and AIDS-based discrimination. Tiemeyer also examines how this heavily gay-identified group of workers created an important place for gay men to come out, garner acceptance from their fellow workers, fight homophobia and AIDS phobia, and advocate for LGBT civil rights. All the while, male flight attendants facilitated key breakthroughs in gender-based civil rights law, including an important expansion of the ways that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act would protect workers from sex discrimination. Throughout their history, men working as flight attendants helped evolve an industry often identified with American adventuring, technological innovation, and economic power into a queer space.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95530-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)

    The idea for this book came to me back in 2004, while I was sifting through a box of materials in the Pan American Airways Archives at the University of Miami. Among the archives’ vast collection of papers, I found dozens of folders, enough to fill an entire box, marked “Stewardesses.” One folder in this box jumped out at me: a relatively thin one marked “Stewards,” whose contents, though not extensive, were fascinating. I first noticed newspaper clippings from the late 1960s, which spoke of a court case filed by a young Miami man named Celio Diaz Jr. Diaz invoked...

  6. CHAPTER ONE The Pre—World War II “Gay” Flight Attendant
    (pp. 14-41)

    From histories of the flight attendant profession it would be easy to come away with the notion that America’s first flight attendant was a woman. Many accounts describe how a savvy Iowa nurse, Ellen Church, approached executives at Boeing Air Transport (the predecessor of United Airlines) in 1930 and prevailed on them to usher in a new female member of their flight crews who would keep passengers comfortable and assist them in emergencies. Far fewer accounts mention that such jobs actually existed before Church and that men, not women, held them. Pan Am’s inaugural flight between Key West and Havana...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Cold War Gender Order
    (pp. 42-59)

    The airplane’s success as a piece of military hardware during World War II had a profound impact on postwar civil aviation, stimulating immense growth for the industry. Wartime output included vast supplies of the airlines’ favored DC-3 aircraft, modestly modified for military purposes, which became a major workhorse for deploying troops and replenishing supplies across Europe and the Pacific. When the war ended, the military decommissioned many of these planes, selling them at discount prices to a variety of airlines and charter services, some of them founded before the war and others entirely new start-ups. This glut of newly available...

  8. CHAPTER THREE “Homosexual Panic” and the Steward’s Demise
    (pp. 60-79)

    The 1950s were arguably America’s most homophobic decade of the twentieth century, even though many people at the time worked to promote greater tolerance for gays and lesbians. Most famously, sexologist Alfred Kinsey and his associates laid out the basis for a more inclusive society with their 1948 study,Sexual Behavior in the Human Male.¹ Known simply as the Kinsey Report, the taboo-breaking best seller had a lot to say about homosexuality that raised eyebrows. Most shocking were the findings that 10 percent of men preferred sex with men and that 37 percent of men had experienced same-sex stimulation leading...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Flight Attendants and Queer Civil Rights
    (pp. 80-108)

    The 1960s were effectively a lost decade for male flight attendants. The historical norm, established in the 1930s and still true into the mid-1950s, of having men compose a sizable percentage of the flight attendant corps had been broken. The career was now preponderantly female, so much so that only 4 percent of flight attendants were men by 1966.¹ This small vestige of men tended to be well-paid, very senior employees at Pan Am and Eastern, men hired back in the post-World War II years. Others were pursers at other international carriers, while the remainder were Hawaiian men hired at...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Flight Attendants, Women’s Liberation, and Gay Liberation
    (pp. 109-135)

    When a new generation of male flight attendants debuted in the early 1970s, American attitudes regarding gender and sexuality were evolving quickly. Progressive activists worked to introduce concepts like women’s liberation and gay liberation into the cultural mainstream, though they were countered by a growing, equally devoted activist base of traditionalists. Both of these movements in the culture war would grow in breadth and sophistication as the 1970s progressed, and their pitched battles continue to this day.¹ Yet for a brief spell at the dawn of the 1970s, it seemed as though feminists, at least, had turned a corner among...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Flight Attendants and the Origins of an Epidemic
    (pp. 136-167)

    AIDS had a devastating impact on the flight attendant corps. As members of one of America’s gayest professions, many of them belonged to the communities hardest hit when the epidemic officially began in 1981. Flight attendants’ experiences with AIDS extended beyond the sensationalized media reports written for general readers, who typically had no firsthand interaction with the disease.¹ Practically every flight attendant in these years lost colleagues, friends, or loved ones from among their coworkers. And it was almost always the gay men who were falling sick in the prime of their physical health, at the dawn of their adult...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Traynor Legacy versus the “Patient Zero” Myth
    (pp. 168-193)

    Three and a half years after his death, Gaëtan Dugas figuratively rose from the dead. Thanks to author Randy Shilts, he posthumously became the most fantastical myth of the AIDS crisis, the alleged missing link between an African disease and the American heartland, whose hedonistic sexual cravings spread the disease across the continent. Yet the AIDS crisis that Gaëtan’s second persona—Patient Zero—returned to in 1987 was radically different than the one he had left. Actor Rock Hudson’s revelation that he had AIDS, and his death soon after, on October 2, 1985, stunned the U.S. public and finally focused...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Queer Equality in the Age of Neoliberalism
    (pp. 194-219)

    While the period since 1993 is heralded by the airlines themselves as gay-friendly, the reality has been more complex for queer flight attendants. After all, the courting of gay consumers and the expansion of LGBT-based employment benefits have coincided with a more advanced phase of airline deregulation that has destabilized the industry. The 1990s and 2000s have seen the dissolution of industry giants like Pan Am and Eastern (both were liquidated in 1991), the disappearance through mergers of other legacy carriers like TWA and Northwest Airlines, and recurrent Chapter 11 filings by every other major network carrier that existed prior...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 220-226)

    Plane Queerhas analyzed the deep intersections of sexism and homophobia in the flight attendant profession. While these two modes of discrimination have always plagued this workplace, the male flight attendant’s legacy illustrates that they have been particularly acute at select moments in U.S. airlines’ nearly ninety-year history. The intensity of sexism and homophobia has corresponded not only with shifting cultural norms but also with evolving economic and legal factors. Sexism and homophobia, instead of operating as independent cultural variables or predictably moving along a consistent trajectory (from, say, being very intense in the beginning of the profession to declining...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 227-266)
    (pp. 267-278)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 279-288)