Plane Queer and the Male Flight Attendant

Phil Tiemeyer's study of the history of men among the cabin crew makes great summer reading

For those looking for a headier sort of beach read this summer, an academic offering may be of particular interest to LGBT audiences. Phil Tiemeyer, a Philadelphia University history professor, has penned Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants, published in March by the University of California Press.

While Tiemeyer’s book might sound a bit too intellectual for passing the hours by the pool, the eye-catching cover – featuring a man decked out in skirt and handbag, used to illustrate a 1968 opinion piece in the Miami Herald‘s Tropic Magazine entitled ”Down with Equal Opportunity: Day of the He-Stewardess Is upon Us” – is indicative of the engaging content.

Plane Queer

Plane Queer

From the dawn of commercial airlines, through equal-opportunity court cases, debunking the AIDS ”patient zero” label hung on Air Canada flight attendant Gaëtan Dugas, all the way to JetBlue’s Steven Slater exiting down the emergency slide in 2010, Tiemeyer’s tome presents an arguably epic tale. In detailing the arc of the male flight attendant, Tiemeyer’s study includes violent crimes, corporate intrigue, congressional squabbling, courtroom drama and elements of the gay-rights movement.

It’s even got exotic locales.

”The lone Pan Am policy that explicitly addressed problems tied to homosexuality involved the Beirut base in the mid-1950s,” Tiemeyer writes, for example. ”Perhaps being so far from corporate headquarters enabled the flight attendants based there to be less circumspect than their U.S.-based employees. According to a few flight attendants I interviewed, the base was well known for its gay stewards, so much so that it drew the attention of the corporate office.”

If you’re boarding a plane this summer, Plane Queer will certainly keep you from taking your cabin crew for granted, whatever their gender.

Plane Queer is available online for $24.95 from the University of California Press at ucpress.edu.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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