A funny thing happened on the way to the Texas Kos meet up: I stopped by Half Price Books. This was not what my diary today was going to cover instead that little trip turned into this dairy.
I am a book collector. While I have an E-reader (and use it often) I love BOOKS. I love shopping for them, love picking up random titles and exploring different avenues of thought or new worlds to explore. One of my collections is Gay Literature and a solid portion is gay erotica. Part of that colection is gay comic books and art works, but I digress.
The trip to Half Price put me in touch with vintage gay erotica from the late 60's and early 70's. Talk about a completely different world. From the vantage point of today it is hard to remember the entirely different realm of gay culture then compared to now.
The titles aren't important. Playboy has had stories in it for years. But gay erotica was rare and found at select places. Now, with the Internet, it is possible to find all kinds of stories, but in the 60's and 70's...not so much. One of the books I found is from Black Knight Classics...Classics of the homosexual underground. Those words seem foreign as I type them. I am old enough...and lucky enough...to have second hand knowledge of the pre-AIDS era of the gay sub culture. But I was not old enough to have experienced it directly.
Of course, now with marriage equality becoming the norm and gays more and more visible the idea of an underground seems like a relic of a bygone era. But let these three paragraphs from the foreword speak for itself:
In this collection of classic homosexual fiction, the purpose of this publication is quite obvious: this kind of erotica deserves to be published and read and appreciated. Those persons who believe in the validity of writing which expresses and causes sexual interest and arousal will applaud the publication of this volume. Those who do not or cannot believe in the freedom of the human mind to express its sexual life in writing, will condemn this collection.But this book and many others like it illustrate what a stark contrast then and now is. All the works I glimpsed at Half Price were all pocket sized - easy to place in a back pocket and making no more of an imprint in jeans than a wallet. Easy to conceal and easy to read - the perfect things for men afraid to get caught with these books.
For many years these stories could not be published in the Unites States without fear of imprisonment and harassment. Many of these stories have found their way into private hands and collectors. Many were smuggled from Paris and other underground sources. But the point is that these stories should have always been available precisely because there is nothing evil or wrong in them. The only thing these homosexual classics did is to express genuine human, inverted experience in terms of fantasy.
Is human fantasy to be outlawed by the state or by the individual? of course not. But this is a world in which the human mind and the works of literature that flow from the mind have always been harassed and persecuted.
That was then...the now? The Internet is full of images of human sexuality both in written and visual form. How the publishers of these early books would marvel at what is now available. These books were considered prizes for the publishers to get out there and sold to a very specific clientele. It is so easy from this modern perch to look back and judge.
One of my biggest beefs with modern America is how we deal with sexuality. The prudish nature of many when it comes to the human form. But that is mainly images, but here I am dealing with words. I have a dozen or so books from that era and consider them prizes. The story itself rarely are anything of great writing, but it is what they represent. They represent the freedom to explore sexuality and desire. They are freedom from repression. The outlet that so many young men didn't have and so the mind and words could provide some comfort.
Society has changed so much in such a short amount of time. The Internet is at the heart of this transformation. Knowledge is the key to change. The more we know the more we find our commonalities. But a mere forty years ago a simple thirty page book represented a lifeline that I cannot imagine now. My coming out was a little over twenty years ago and even then there was fear, but not to the extent that existed then.
Such a simple thing, a trip to a bookstore. And that trip to the Texas meetup was amazing and wonderful. You never know what you can find and I found some rare gems on that trip. At the moment I feel like a guardian of history. It isn't the words and what they evoke alone, it is what the books themselves represent. They were signs of freedom in a fading era. But as symbols they call to us that we can't forget the past. We cannot forget repression nor should we sanction it. Those small books, so easily hidden, meant so much and should continue to represent the freedom of the human mind to explore all aspects of the human experience.