Back in the 50’s and 60’s, there was an abundance of pulp fiction – trashy novels which were cheap and infamous for their lurid and exploitative stories and their sensational cover art. The artwork was designed solely to tempt the reader into buying the book and actively encouraged the potential buyer to quite literally judge a book by its cover.
What was noticeable was the amount of pulp fiction which was either aimed at or about gay men and women. Without having the opportunity to read the books themselves, it not easy to accurately see how the lifestyle of gay men and women were portrayed. However, the covers illustrate and suggest a mixture of attitudes towards the gay lifestyle, ranging from titles that suggest how unfulfilling a gay lifestyle is (“His Sex, His Problem”) or suggesting that gay sex was a sin (“Satan Was A Lesbian”). But there are also a number of books which suggest a much happier and sexually indulgent side of life. You only have to look at the adoring glances of the muscular characters on the covers and the wry smiles on their faces to see that they are thoroughly enjoying themselves.
These books provide us with an interesting insight into the past, suggesting what attitudes people may have held towards gay men and women at the time and what perceptions people may have had of the gay community. They also show what common fantasies and stereotypes existed at that time and give us a clear picture of what people used to use for titillation in the days long before the internet provided such readily available stimulation. Oh, and they are also fun and a bit camp!
This article was inspired by http://www.gayontherange.com/index.html and http://www.strangesisters.com/ and the pictures of the covers below are credited to them. So sit back and have a flick through these pulp fiction classics.
In between visits to the theatre, watching films, photography, walking, scuba diving and singing (badly); Paul writes for TheGayUK.