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Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants Paperback – Mar 12 2013

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 302 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (March 12 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520274776
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520274778
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #798,277 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"A stunning success and an enormously important contribution to not only LGBT history, but also to the labor, feminist, legal, aviation, and AIDS historiographic literatures. . . . Plane Queer is essential reading for anybody interested in LGBT history. . . . Pick the book up. Read it. You won't be disappointed, I promise."


(Chrislove Daily Kos 2013-10-08)

"In this seemingly narrow demographic, Tiemeyer finds notable achievements in equal rights, from the first workplace health benefits for domestic partners, in 2001, to a 1984 legal decision forcing an airline to reinstate a flight attendant with AIDS, which he argues was a key step in the run-up to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act."
(Don Sapatkin Philadelphia Inquirer 2013-04-23)

"Tiemeyer's fascinating, in-depth study reveals that the very assumption that male flight attendants are gay has led to major conflicts--and major progress."
(Jim Gladstone Passport Magazine 2013-08-01)

From the Inside Flap

“Tiemeyer takes a completely original approach to a fascinating subject in aviation history and American history. He deftly reconstructs the careers of gay flight attendants and relates them to changes in urban nightlife, the technological and regulatory revolutions in aviation, the cold war backlash against homosexuality, the civil rights movement, feminism, neoliberalism, and the AIDS pandemic. His postmortem on the “patient zero” legend of Gaëtan Dugas is nothing short of a revelation.”—David Courtwright, author of Sky as Frontier

“Phil Tiemeyer’s terrific book delivers the long, forgotten history of the male flight attendant. That history stretches back to the dawn of commercial aviation, and was characterized by waves of toleration and scorn in which the male steward was repeatedly drawn in and then forced out of the occupation. Through jack-of-all-trades research methods, Tiemeyer has broken the boundaries that separate labor, legal, and LGBT history, and given us a unique vantage on the history of AIDS. Pioneering and important.” —Margot Canaday, author of The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth Century America

Plane Queer demonstrates the usefulness of thinking about the treatment of workers seen as "gender-queers": those who refuse to act in the ways expected of individuals of their sex, regardless of their own sexual orientation. In doing so, he expands notions of gender rights, queer rights, and the impact of homophobia on all workers.” –Ileen A. DeVault, Professor of Labor History, Cornell University

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.8 out of 5 stars 6 reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting June 27 2014
By Brad Coath - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Having been a flight attendant.......I never knew how much I was discriminated against ! but seriously...and this book is VERY serious, there is a lot of substance and education here, This is not a happy "coffee tea or me" romp and giggle. It is very informative and should be enjoyed by people into the history of gay men, labor relations and airline history. Amazing. Not for the faint of heart or those looking for a "light" read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Story of Sexuality and Gender in the Flight Attendant Corps Sept. 8 2014
By Roger D. Launius - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants" is an outstanding social history by Phil Tiemeyer about flight attendants and their challenges since the beginning of air transportation. He argues that these individuals were a distinct, highly-visible, uniquely-skilled work force whose actions were very much the stuff of popular culture. The male flight attendants looked to their profession as something more than a job; it was more like a calling, and it required sacrifice to carry the mission forward. Although the first stewards/flight attendants in the pre-World War II era were largely male, with the coming of war this profession became filled with women.

In the aftermath of the war stewardesses entered the popular culture as a glamorous profession for young, attractive, single women who wanted to see the world, meet wealthy and handsome men, and expand their lives beyond anything they had known in America. The “coffee, tea, or me” meme emerged in the 1960s at almost the same time that men sought to reenter the ranks of flight attendants only to find them shut out by industry policy. Lawsuits resulted and eventually the first male flight attendants began work.

Just as famously, the cultural mindset identified these men as largely gay and assigned to them gender-based, sexuality-based, and AIDS-based discrimination. Many were gay, Tiemeyer suggests, but not all. Regardless of sexual orientation they facilitated key breakthroughs in civil rights, helping to reinterpret Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protecting workers from sex discrimination as a means of breaking into the all-female flight attendant corps.

They also helped—sometimes inadvertently through their professionalism on the job and sometimes through activism—to build acceptance for their community. They came out to employers and co-workers, responded to homophobic and AIDS-phobic ideas, and advocated for LGBT rights. This is social history of a high order; it is also a success in drawing an important aspect of aerospace history into a larger conversation about the culture of America in the period since the 1960s.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Luther Vandross sang, "So Amazing"! July 26 2015
By Jeffery Mingo - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm worried that tenure boards could say, "Well who cares about gay stewards?! No tenure for you!" However, this book is so amazing and thoughtful, it boggles the mind. I simply loooove this book and applaud the scholar for making it. This was such a profound mélange of history, gender studies, gay studies, inter alia, that it boggle the mind.
The book's title has a double meaning. A gay steward is the "queer" on the plane. Moreover, they may perform a role in which they make the plane or plane staff or plane trip non-normative i.e. "queer." (Btw, I don't think the author ever mentions that they former Nirvana member played the role of a gay steward in one Foo Fighters video.)
The author never mentions Dr. Christine Williams, as far as I remember. She has written several books about the experiences of workers in professions that consist mostly of people of the opposite gender. Thus, she has studies female engineers, but also male nurses and librarians. I think of this author's book is a continuation of Dr. Williams' pioneering efforts.
For those who doubt the cultural importance of gay stewards, the author emphasizes two things. First, the Patient Zero of Randy Shilt's "And the Band Played On" was a foreign, gay flight attendant. This caused a hysteria. However, a few years ago, the press covered a flight attendant who jumped out a plane on the slip-n-slide slide with two bottles of beer. Instead of being reviled, that steward was seen as a working-class hero. The author has explained how so much has changed in the past 70 or so years of flight.
To the author's credit, he doesn't leave other identities at the table; this does not just deal with sexual orientation. The author asks very quickly, "Stewards do comforting, servile work and thus are deemed feminized, yet (Black) Pullman porters did the exact same work, only a trains, and their sexuality was never questioned." He stated that only white and white-looking Latinos were the only hired stewards originally, so there is a reason why gay men of color do not originally appear in the text, not out of oppressive motives. He speaks about how the racial civil rights movement influenced the original gay rights movement, which included many stewards.
I forgot the name of it, but another scholar wrote an amazing book in which she explain why we now associate figure skating with women when it was originally seen as an upper-class leisure activity for men. I think folk may want to read these texts back to back.
Again, two loud snaps for this powerful, thoughtful, informative text. Give this man tenure five months ago!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible! Oct. 24 2014
By DarianC - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Incredible oral histories. The author did an great job of capturing the seriousness of both the AIDS crisis and the importance of men moving into a female dominated workspace. This was a great book to read for my history of masculinity graduate course. It was well written.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for airline buffs and anyone interested in social change, gender, and workplace issues April 3 2016
By Dr. Cathy Goodwin - Published on
Format: Paperback
I read this book because the author has been my neighbor. I learned about the book when I encountered him at a local dog park. I was interested because I did a lot of flying back in the glory days of flying; back then flight attendants had time to talk to the passengers and I learned so much that I'm often asked, "Are you sure you didn't fly?" Phil's references to the good old days, with airlines like Eastern and TWA, brought back a lot of memories.

Then, as an academic, I was involved in social science research. I was impressed with the depth of the research and analysis that went into this book, as well as the writing.

As a female who remembers overt sex discrimination all too well (as compared to the covert discrimination that's still with us), I was particularly fascinated by the relationship between discrimination based on sex and based on sexual orientation. It's horrifying to read arguments supporting the need for female flight attendants - their "charm" and ability to comfort the passengers. These actions reinforced the notion of stewardess as object of male fantasy, calling in turn for stewardesses to wear short skirts and remain unmarried.

Recent news stories reveal that United and El Al Airlines now require flight attendants to wear high heels during take-off and descent, although they may wear flatter shoes during inflight service. These rules seem to reflect the persistent stereotype associating professional dress among women with wearing of heels, the higher the better, even when these shoes might be a safety hazard. That's the subject of another study.

And it's equally appalling to read that psychologist Eric Berne, best-selling author of Games People Play, testified about "homosexual panic" with all kinds of bizarre references to the passengers' subconscious needs. I remember when everyone was quoting Berne and the notion of "games" became a popular metaphor. Clearly there's a need to separate scientific understanding of human behavior from value-driven judgments rendered by practitioners in legal and medical settings.

Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the role of the flight attendant has become depersonalized and even militarized. Today's flight attendant can be heard making one annoying announcement after another, mostly about where to stow baggage and how to keep the aisles clear. Although flight attendant selection and training focuses on interpersonal skills, we continually read horror stories of flight attendants who ordered passengers removed for what seem to be arbitrary reasons.

Recently I upgraded to business class for a long flight. The flight attendants were unfailingly courteous and professional, but were so busy with the service they didn't have time for any contact beyond, "What would you like for dinner?" They were completely uninterested in chatting with the passengers. Their gender - and their personality - were completely irrelevant.

In a final irony, gender issues still manifest on board the aircraft. You can search out news reports to learn that El Al airlines is being sued by a female passenger. She was ordered to move because a male passenger wouldn't sit next to a woman due to his religious beliefs. She - not the male - was ordered to move. The flight attendant, I believe, was male.