Frederick Colson – The Devil is Gay (1965)

Review by Justin Tate

Happy Pride 2024. You know, not long ago in the early days of post-Obergefell v. Hodges, I believed Pride would become obsolete. Soon enough, I thought, we’d just be living our ordinary, twice-married, twice-divorced lives like everybody else. Nobody would care. It would be glorious.

Clearly I’m no prophet! Conservative fury over queer happiness is as vicious as ever and in a world where Roe v. Wade can be overturned, no freedom is safe. Every time I hear someone call a trans person mentally ill, which is every day online and by officials in high offices, I’m reminded that being LGBT+ was once reason enough to be institutionalized.

Gay pulp fiction from the 1960s and ’70s often tackled such dark topics. Being disowned by your family, blackmailed, fired from work, expelled from school, bullied to death, near-death or suicide, internalized homophobia, religious crisis, and extreme poverty due to any of the above circumstances. These were the matters of everyday queer life also portrayed in fiction. For some, particularly those in rural areas, the Sexual Revolution made things even more depressing. Progress was happening—you could see it!—but happiness remained just out of reach. Like dying of thirst in the desert with an oasis seen in the distance.

Now, nearly sixty years since The Devil is Gay was published, perhaps the most painful thing about the novel is that it remains exceedingly relevant. That’s a testament to our unfortunate current affairs, but also to Colson’s mastery of storytelling. What great art isn’t painful?

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Vincent Virga – Gaywyck (1980)

Review by Justin Tate

Gaywyck was a sensation when it appeared in 1980. Critics across the US and Canada heralded its excellent prose and landmark existence as the “first gay Gothic.” Though the peer-reviewed journal Gothic Studies recently debunked this claim, having unearthed an earlier (and better) Gothic novel with unambiguous queer characters from the Stonewall era, there are still these forty years where Gaywyck held onto the title.

More important than Gaywyck’s claim of being first, however, was its mainstream appeal. It was popular in the gay community, but also a favorite among women and straight men who enjoyed the genre. The first edition ran 45,000 copies and sold out quickly, as did the second printing of 55,000.

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James Barr – Quatrefoil (1950)

Review by Justin Tate

From an historical perspective, Quatrefoil is immensely significant. It is known for being the first American novel to depict gay relationships in a positive way. In the 1950s, Quatrefoil (pronounced cat-er-foil) became the bible for battling suicidal thoughts and embracing monogamous love, while simultaneously masquerading as straight to avoid blackmail and social ruin. Often the plot functions more as self-help than fiction. Tim and Phillip, one more experienced with his identity as a homosexual, the other still coming to grips, serve as stand-ins for readers going through their own journey.

Given this historical context, it’s no wonder the book became such a classic—and deemed so “obscene” that Greenberg, its publisher, was indicted on a federal charge of “sending obscene material through the mail.” After five years of legal woes, they eventually settled on a $3,500 fine and promised to keep the novel out of print. All this hullabaloo, mind you, for a book with absolutely zero sex scenes—not even a kiss! The only “problem” was its depiction of gay love in a positive light.

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William J. Lambert, III – Adonis Trilogy (1969-1970)

Review by Justin Tate

It doesn’t get any more 1969 than Adonis. This novel is as trippy as an extended foot and more surreal than Salvador Dali’s wet dreams. Though billed as “adult only” gay entertainment, much of the sex oozes with a slime of horror and supernatural mystery. You don’t know whether to be repulsed, turned on or terrified. Perhaps it’s the combination of all three which make it so unique.

Back in the day Adonis was popular enough to warrant two sequels. Today it’s an extremely rare find that might cost three figures for a tattered used copy.

California Scene, one of the more literary-minded gay presses, reviewed the novel in their May 1971 issue. They described it as “quite an exciting detective story” and praised Lambert’s “great skill in handling” a “number of good ideas.” In the same breath, however, there was concern that the “extremely involved” plot was peopled with “too many characters” and consequently difficult to follow.

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George Sylvester Viereck – Men Into Beasts (1952)

Review by Justin Tate

A fascinating memoir of the American prison system in the 1940s, amid peak WWII fervor. Extremely problematic given its author, but well-composed and surprisingly gripping. The “story” spans the 4.5 years that Viereck was imprisoned and examines everything from the court system to wormy food to prison politics to character studies of murderers and thieves. The most shocking details—at least for its 1952 audience—involve semi-explicit accounts of “situational homosexuality.” Or, in other words, when “straight” men bang each other because there’s no women around.

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Julian Francis – Bunny Bitch (1969)

Review by Justin Tate

This 1969 gay pulp novel got labeled as “Adult Only” entertainment when it was published, but it’s much more about true love than naughty exploits.

Steve Saville is the “head of computer division” for a big corporation. He’s 34, lonely, socially awkward, self-conscious, and carries baggage from painful past relationships. Thinking that he’s not meant for happiness, he is just confident enough to dance with attractive Ben “Bunny” Farrow at a party only because he’s rumored to be a hustler.

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Frederick Raborg – Gay Vigilante (1972)

Review by Justin Tate

Circa 1972, this western-themed pulp delivers all the gay cowboy imagery a boy could want, but also explores intriguing literary topics such as the disconnect between external and internal masculinity, the basic human need for love, and what amounts to a critique of polyamory.

Set in Sacramento Valley during the 1849 gold rush, we learn that Holt Dykes is on the run. He’s a blue-eyed desperado who’s more sensitive than his rough exterior reveals. He’s thirsty, dirty, and trying to outpace the man who wants him dead.

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