The following is excerpted from the introduction to HOMOSEX: 60 YEARS OF GAY EROTICA, edited by Simon Sheppard and published by Carroll & Graf:
The rise of American gay erotica in the years since World War II has, in some respects, mirrored the greater history of the gay community itself. Queerly speaking, the war was a watershed event, bringing together masses of oft-horny homos who escaped their isolation, and then, demobbed, went on to form urban enclaves at just around the time that the Kinsey Report was unveiling the skeletons in the country's sexual closet.
The country's first gay political groups, notably the Mattachine Society, formed shortly thereafter, only to come up against the gay-baiting of the McCarthy blacklist era. Despite increasing openness in mainstream literature, where works such as The City and the Pillar and Giovanni's Room saw the light of day, outright gay porn was still very much underground. And then came the Supreme Court and the Stonewall riots.
A series of court obscenity decisions—most decisively, the 1966 judgment in the Fanny Hill case, Memoirs v. Massachusetts—greatly increased the scope of the freedom to publish. Nine years after he first came up with the "redeeming social importance" test for pornography, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan stated in his Memoirs decision that, "a book cannot be proscribed unless it is found to be utterly without redeeming social value." To all intents and purposes, censorship of the written word was dead in America. No longer would overzealous prosecutors target Allen Ginsberg's poetry; now those same inquisitors could pick up copies of Hot Pants Homo at their local newsstands.
A few years later, in 1969, New York's iconic Stonewall riots—queens fighting back against a police raid of a Greenwich Village bar—demonstrated a feisty new spirit of gay liberation, emboldened by other civil rights movements and reflecting a sea change in general sexual mores. Et voila, the golden age of paperback pulp porn novels was born. Publishers like Greenleaf Classics, Companion, and Blueboy churned out extensive lines of shoddily produced gay sex novels, some written by talented authors earning rent money, others by thoroughgoing hacks. The covers might have been inartistic, the titles delightfully cheesy, but no longer were queers on the printed page condemned to skulk around and meet unpleasant ends. Now they could stroke and suck and fuck each other up the ass, and still wind up living happily ever after. As author Lars Eighner recalls, "At one time if you were a gay writer and you wanted to say something to a gay audience, pulp porn was the main way to do it."
All along, queer smut had served multiple purposes. First, and most fundamentally, erotic writing has always been intended to arouse. ("Literature" is permitted, even encouraged, to provoke all sorts of physical responses—tears of grief, the flush of anger, the breathlessness of suspense. But if prose should cause an erection, an urge to jerk off, that places it outside the pale; it's no longer lit, it's porn.)
Gay erotica also served, however unreliably, as a mode of education. Men who'd never sucked dick or been fucked or even been tied up or spanked could find out how it was supposedly done, how it ostensibly felt—even if those descriptions had been cooked up in the imaginations of authors who'd never had a single same-sex session in their lives.
And gay porn also served up the message of "You are not alone." It was, in that sense, a discourse of solidarity. Unlikely as it may seem, picking up a copy of Tail Pipe Trucker carried a weight of social self-identification and political import. But from the late 1960s, queer smut no longer had to peek its tumescent head up from the underground. Now explicit homosex was damn near everywhere.
copyright 2006, Simon Sheppard