OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Phil Tiemeyer

Portrait of Phil Tiemeyer

Phil Tiemeyer is an assistant professor of history at Kansas State University and has served twice as a research fellow at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He is the author of Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants (2013), which won the John Boswell Prize. The book examines how flight attendants have combated sexism and homophobia over the last eighty years to create a more just and equal workplace. Focusing on men in this profession deepens preexisting understandings of how gender discrimination operates, forces consideration of homosexuality into the foreground, and highlights how advocacy for disability rights—as in the battle against aids-phobia in the workplace—are also central to America's civil rights legacy. He is currently working on his second book project, "Aerial Ambassadors: National Airlines and U.S. Power in the Jet Age," which explores diplomatic history (how, and for what purposes, such airlines were founded) as well as the gender and sexuality norms that held sway in the flight attendant corps at various national carriers founded after World War II. As this workplace has been heavily inflected with an American sense of modernity, it offers a unique lens to examine the globalization of feminism and gay rights, and their gradual adoption as universal human rights over the past several decades.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

While often a figure dismissed or even scorned in mass media for being a gender misfit, the male flight attendant has actually been an important advocate for various workplace civil rights struggles: combating gender discrimination on the job, battling AIDS-phobia, and fighting for domestic partner benefits. This talk highlights such contributions to queer civil rights, concentrating especially on male flight attendants' use of the "sex discrimination" clause of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to attain an important victory against gender discrimination. The information for this talk comes from Tiemeyer's book, "Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants."
So often, queer history overlooks important facets of a queer individual's life, including one's work. A historiography of queer history would highlight queer nightlife, queer activism, and queer clashes with the medical and scientific realm, while leaving issues like queer domesticity--or queer work--largely neglected. Pulling from his book "Plane Queer: Labor, Sexuality, and AIDS in the History of Male Flight Attendants," Tiemeyer's talk examines what can be gleaned about queers and work. It considers as well the latest work in a small but growing branch of queer history that examines the workplace and its importance to queer life.
This talk examines the founding of national airlines by postcolonial nations after World War II. Several such countries faced a tension between using the airline to assert local independence and acquiescing to the power of American aerial power and cultural norms during the Cold War. This talk particularly examines Air Jamaica's founding in the 1960s. It first covers the diplomatic history of the negotiations behind the airline's launch. Then, it examines the uniforms and comportment of the airline's first generation of stewardesses, who themselves embodied the tension between expressing a sense of Jamaican womanhood and catering to its American customers' gender expectations. The research behind this talk comes from Tiemeyer's book project, "Aerial Ambassadors: National Airlines and US Power in the Jet Age."