Scared Stiff: Vintage Gay Pulp Novels Come Out Of The Closet

The queen of queer genre fiction, Maitland McDonagh, schools us on gay pulp.

In the age of XTube, it’s easy to forget that gay adult content wasn’t always readily available: In the 1970s, those seeking steamy same-sex interludes turned to pulp novels by authors like “Don Kedong,” “Carl Creamum,” and “Richard Ballsville.”

The books themselves were as colorful as the pseudonyms, presenting graphic sex scenes in genres ranging from horror and westerns to science fiction.

Culture critic Maitland McDonagh's work has appeared in Entertainment Weekly,TV Guide, and her book Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento.

She's so devoted to this forgotten erotica that she founded 120 Days Books, a small press that reprints title like Night of the Sadist and Demon’s Coronation.

Hidden history

Though uncelebrated in their own time, some of these authors are now held in high esteem, like Dirk Vanden, “the godfather of gay erotic fiction.”

Many, sadly, fell victim to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s.

“This was the generation of gay men who were absolutely wiped out by AIDS,” says McDonagh. “All of the writers of this generation that I’ve been in contact with have said, in one form or another, ‘I’m kind of amazed that I’m not dead.’”

Through their work, we're given a glimpse into the halcyon days of gay meccas like San Francisco and Greenwich Village, as well as the slang of the era.

"I began collecting them, not for the colorful covers but because they were windows onto a world of familiar stories with a twist, like the European exploitation movies I sought out in Times Square," McDonagh explains on her blog.

"I gravitated towards horror and thrillers... that produced tales of gay vampires, psycho killers, demonic possession and restless spirits no closet can contain."

Bait and switch

Sometimes the titles were chosen more to titillate than to convey the book's plot: The unforgettably named Satanic Suck, for example, is actually a coming-of-age story about a young gay man who flees his rural hometown for the freedom of New York City.

“There is absolutely nothing that justifies that [title],” McDonagh says with a laugh. “I don’t know if people bought some book called Growing Up on Dad’s Farm and ended up with Satanic Suck.”

Those covers

Pulp novels are notorious for their striking cover art, and the gay genre books are no exception.

“I really love the cover of Vampire’s Kiss,” McDonagh says, “in part because I actually didn’t immediately see how graphic that cover was... And then one day I was looking at it and was like, ‘Oh my God, that really is lewd.’”

Changing mores

McDonagh concedes titles like Satan’s Stud “were certainly stroke books, no two ways about it,” but insists many were well-written, especially for pulp fiction.

"They’re far from unsophisticated: The teaser for Vampire’s Kiss, in which a tediously ordinary, suburban wage slave chronicles his induction into the world the queer undead, wonders disingenuously whether he’s 'a vampire?—Or... merely rationalizing his homosexuality?'”

She adds that, "Free of the scrutiny afforded gay literary novels, gay pulps dared to be cheeky, to riff on pop culture and flirt with subversiveness."

If they were published now, they definitely wouldn't be relegated to dirty bookstores as "smut."

"You could publish any of these books today and you wouldn’t have to do it through a porn house," she adds. "You could sell these as mainstream, because narrative fiction with thoroughly graphic sex scenes is no longer an unusual thing.”

As anyone who's read 50 Shades of Grey can attest.

McDonagh will present the talk “Monsters in the Closet,” on November 17 at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn.

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