Sheppard, Simon. “Homosex: Sixty Years of Gay Erotica”, Carroll & Graff, 2007
A Blue Look at Us
In the last few weeks I have reviewed several books dealing with our history. “Homosex” is an erotic look at the past sixty years of American gay life and this is a novel way to look backwards. Dealing with 60 years of gay erotic writing, this is one of those books that give us a different look at history.
History as seen in erotic writing is something new. Going back to the Second World War, we learn that the gay erotica that existed was usually on mimeographed paper and smuggled in form Mexico. Today it is relatively easy to read porn just by logging onto the internet.
Famous authors are represented here as well as those that wrote pulp paperback novels. Phil Andros who wrote about “rough trade” has a story from 1953 in this book in which a biker takes a farm boy to the barn. Richard Armory’s 1966 classic “The Song of the Loon” is excerpted and it tells of a frontiersman who lives with Native Americans and finds a way to love them. Leather master, John Preston, famous “Mr. Benson” from 1979 in which a submissive guy finds the master e yearns for is also represented. Moving forward there are several stories from the 60’s including an orgy at Berkeley, a war story about Vietnam and a story set in Texas.
Sheppard has done well with his selections that spans the 40’s, 50’s and up to today.
So what can be learned by reading gay erotica? It tells us how we behaved and with whom as well as shows us the changing faces of both gay life and America.
The book contains many approaches and voices but porn itself has been looked at over the ages as a subversive activity—both reading it and writing it. Sheppard states that what he includes is not a definitive look at gay porn and he has used authors who identify themselves as gay or bisexual and male. Because a selection is included does not mean it is necessarily great but what it is, is representative.
In his introduction Sheppard gives his views on the purpose of porn and his essay very much illuminates the subject. It is meant to arouse and this is, in reality, the purpose of all literature. Literature arouses emotions—perhaps not the same emotions that porn does. Erotica is also a means of education, especially in gay life. Those who are curious and have never experience gay sex can learn from porn what it is expected. Porn also carries a message of community. As silly as it may sound, in the early days of our movement, porn brought us and kept us together.
And porn has changed greatly beginning in the 1970’s when glossy magazines brought hard core photography out of the closet and onto newsstands and when video became part of almost every household. By the 80’s porn had truly found its place and gay authors actually made the bestseller list—David Leavitt, Armistead Maupin and Edmund White. Porn began to reach a larger audience and began to serve a growing gay community as a way to define itself, provide information and as a substitute for sex during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
It seems that porn is here to stay and what better way to understand the new than to look at the old. Simon Sheppard provides us with a way to do just that.