Gay Pulp Fiction

Jesse's Journal

The Stonewall National Museum in Wilton Manors is a valuable resource for anyone interested in LGBTQ history and culture. Until Nov. 8, Stonewall features an exhibit, “PULP: Erotic Paperbacks in Gay Male Culture,” researched by Skip Moskey and organized by Joe Madura. “From the late 1950s, a robust gay publishing industry produced a steady stream of cheap paperback books exploring homosexuality as a practice and a burgeoning culture. Pulp fiction prompted men to navigate imaginatively their own sexual impulses and curiosities, many for the first time. Gay male pulp fiction, as it is now known, was a key element in the evolution of a diverse gay male identity and self-expression in the U.S. Using Stonewall National Museum America’s extensive archival collection, this exhibition highlights several late 20th-century authors and contextualizes their books as cultural artifacts within the rise and fall of pulp fiction.” Like physique magazines, gay pulps played an important part in LGBTQ culture of the 20th Century.

The rise and fall of gay pulp fiction is the topic of “The Golden Age of Gay Fiction” and “1960s Gay Pulp Fiction,” both edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn. In his introduction to the first book, Gunn wrote about the historical importance of fiction that was “for, by, about and out” gay men. Contrary to popular belief, the gays who populated pre-Stonewall pulps were not always doomed “to suicide, institutionalization or (assumed) celibacy.” Rather, gay pulp heroes “never practiced celibacy (quite the contrary!), did not kill themselves and were institutionalized, if at all, only in prisons (in order to have lots of sex with guards and fellow convicts). Even more extraordinary, they often fell in love, and though monogamy was seldom part of their vows, they fully intended to live lives committed to others unto death.” Critic David Seubert described the world of gay pulps as a “homotopia … where everything is imbued with sexual content, no one is straight and characters stumble into one sexual encounter after another without danger, fear, or for that matter, without even really trying.”

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But gay pulp fiction did more than make gay sex writing possible. According to Gunn, “it is among the pulps that such distinctive genres as gay horror, the gay gothic, the gay mystery, the gay spy story, the gay cop story and the gay western developed.” “The Golden Age of Gay Fiction” includes examples of gay science fiction, gay mystery, gay horror, gay western and gay military fiction, genres that were already well-established by the time the militants faced the cops at the Stonewall Inn. The Stonewall Museum exhibit honors such pulp greats as Vin Packer (Marijane Meaker), Samuel Steward and John Preston. Other writers who were prolific in the genre include Victor J. Banis, who wrote pulps using various pen names — Don Holliday, Victor Jay and J. X. Williams, among others — and Larry Townsend, who specialized in SM and leatherfiction.

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One of the most important gay books of the 20th century, which set the tone for all gay pulp novels, was Richard Amory’s “Song of the Loon: A Gay Pastoral in Five Books and an Interlude” (Greenleaf Classics). While of doubtful literary value, “Song of the Loon” made gay literary history with its explicit depictions of gay male sex, its positive portrayal of male love and its poetic, almost mystical vision of a gay brotherhood that transcends racial and cultural barriers. For this gay western, Amory took characters from the novels of Jorge de Montemayor and Gaspar Gil Polo, painted them gay, and transplanted them to the American wilderness. Angelo d’Arcangelo compared “Song of the Loon” to James Fenimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans” and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Hiawatha,” while this humble critic described the book’s protagonist, Ephraim MacIver, as “Natty Bumppo after Stonewall.” “Song of the Loon” was so popular that it inspired a soft-core porn movie of the same title, two sequels — “Song of Aaron” and “Listen, The Loon Sings” — and even a parody, “Fruit of the Loon” by “Ricardo Armory.” Long out of print “Song of the Loon” returned to print a few years ago, in a handsome edition published by Vancouver’s Arsenal Pulp Press as part of its Little Sister’s line of LGBTQ classics.

This article owes its existence to the late Drewey Wayne Gunn, to ‘American Gay Erotic Paperbacks: A Bibliography’ by Tom Norman, and to the author’s collection of pulps.

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