Saturday, May 09, 2020

When Queer Life Was a 'Circus'

Warning: There's a spoiler of sorts ahead. Most people wouldn't even consider it one. But my fiance thinks knowing ANYTHING about a film in advance counts as a spoiler, so consider yourself warned.

Rachel Mason, who directed the film about her family, with porn legend Jeff Stryker

As I said last week when I watched "A Secret Love": Love him or hate him, we have Ryan Murphy's clout to thank for getting LGBTQ stories into living rooms around the world -- and this week it's the tale of West Hollywood's most legendary gay pornography peddlers. "Circus of Books" not only documents the bizarre dichotomy that a hardcore smut shop -- which in addition to selling magazines, videos and dildos later began producing Jeff Stryker-grade gay porn -- was run by an everyday middle-class couple with three children, but also that the matriarch was a bit of a nightmare. In addition to being an incredibly unpleasant woman who seems deeply bitter that life didn't hand her more, she's also an a la carte religious zealot, which made life incredibly difficult for her gay son, who quietly hides behind his “Best Little Boy in the World” facade. 

Here we have Josh Mason growing up in the gayest city in the country with two intellectual parents -- Mom started out as an investigative journalist who was drawn to First Amendment stories like that of Larry Flynt and Dad was a inventor who worked in movie special effects, among other things -- and two open-minded siblings, yet he might as well have been the son of preacher man in the Deep South. And I'm sure you know why. Sure, his mother very much a product of her time (not unlike Cher, she was incredibly supportive of gay people so long as they aren’t in her family). But the truth is before the later years of the Obama era -- and even now for many people -- life for LGBTQ people was extremely unpredictable and difficult, with families disowning and students bullying gay youth, and employers firing and landlords or neighbors harassing gay adults. (Next time you see me, be sure to ask me about my newsroom colleague who had to leave Ventura County because of death threats  ... in the late '90s.) 

Free Masons: Micah, Barry, Rachel, Karen and Joshua 

I truly hope young people will see this film so they can begin to understand that gay men and lesbians -- even white ones -- have been persecuted in the very recent past while also watching their friends die by the hundreds as the government did nothing. This lack of understanding has led me to coin the phrase "youth privilege," something I've started using on social media to combat the Gen Z activists who somehow can't quite seem to understand why Bill Clinton couldn't magically make his gays-in-the-military plan happen with the blink of an eye, don't get why a trans man wasn't cast as the lead in "Boys Don't Cry," 22 years ago, and who will probably not vote in November if Joe Biden doesn't pick a trans woman of color as his running mate.

Check out "Circus of Books." It'll really stir things up inside you, for better or worse.

Read my own Circus of Books story from 1990 HERE.

Read where all the family members are now HERE.


JimmyD said...

It's a bitter sweet film, but I enjoyed it. I have friends who lived around the corner of the WEHO store. I've been there!
I've seen a few people dismiss it as bad because it wasn't what they wanted (make your own!)... to be fair, the trailer and the poster tell you exactly what it's about.
When he appeared, with no screen stamp of his name, I did not recognize Jeff Stryker! He looks great and is well spoken. (SPOILER) He even plays with one of his dolls!

Jack said...

Thanks for the heads up. Huz and I will see this, tonight.