Oh, hello! Didn’t see you come in. Please, come, sit down. Help yourself to a glass of hot pumpkin punch on the way. They’re in season, you know! What’s that? What am I reading? Oh, I’m glad you asked. It’s a copy of Skid Row Sweetie, the latest find in my collection of trashy queer pulp fiction. It’s about a young man who went awry and has to hit the streets to quench his unnatural thirst. Eventually, he starts shacking up with a very sleazy bunch. But see it for yourself. Just read the tagline–it’s the best part: “Rod was every wino’s SKID ROW SWEETIE…He was hungry. Not starving, but soul hungry. He would do ANYTHING to satisfy his need for sexual gratification…” There goes my afternoon!
We here at Filthy Dreams have made it our mission to collect vintage queer pulp fiction, mostly for the covers and taglines. And why not? Whereas others see these novels as reminders of “outdated stereotypes” and use them to congratulate themselves for how “far we’ve come,” we long for the days when we could come across a copy of Lesbians A-Go-Go or Hot Pants Homo by a subway book rack–or better yet, behind the curtain in the back room of a sleazy book store or sex shop. Oh sure, it was a dangerous time for any queen to be caught with pornographic material; but, honestly, wouldn’t you rather get caught with a copy of Perverts Lust Pad than a muscle mag?
Queer pulp fiction has an entertaining history: coming of age during the height of homosexual panic in the 1950s, these novels served as a way to fulfill growing demand for pornographic material while simultaneously tapping into the booming paperback market. That wasn’t enough, though: publishers decided to also tap into the youth counterculture movements of this time, including the drug-fueled Beat movement and Rock ‘n Roll. Sexuality and censorship was at the fore of these movements, and it felt very good to be against the grain in increasingly shocking and hilarious ways. Because homosexuality was considered unnatural, sleazy, and corruptive, publishers used those fears to sell their novels, using such taglines as “fear drove him into the Third-Sex shadow world” for Born to Be Gay and “they lived their art in depraved orgies” for Art Colony Perverts. Over time, the actual content of these novels moved from suggestive wink-wink homoeroticism to more outlandish pornographic writing thanks to the weakening of censorship laws from trials for Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Naked Lunch. Thanks to our Decadent queer daddies D.H. Lawrence and William Burroughs, the world was allowed to consume so much sleaze.
Not only was queer pulp fiction notable for lurid and exploitative subjects ranging from women’s prisons to lesbian motorcycle gangs, but queer pulp fiction also acted as a sleazy validation for queer desires. Despite the usually moralizing ending as the femme finds love with a real man or the flaming queen meets his untimely end, the erotic same-sex cover art and the hidden, coded language provided a link between sometimes isolated communities of queers. As pulp author Ann Bannon remembers in Art & Queer Culture, “If there were two women on the cover, and they were touching each other,…even if they were just looking at each other, even if they were simply in proximity to one another, even if they were merely on the same cover together, it was reason to hope you had found a lesbian book…the covers provided links among members of a wide-flung and incohesive community; a community that did not even think of itself as one and that, therefore, valued all the more any connection with others whose experiences paralleled their own” (24).
Queer pulp fiction had its day and then fell to the wayside as pornographic films, then VHS, then internet took over. I like to think that some of the better storylines of today’s porn draw upon the content of queer pulp fiction. Of course, these days, people have traded their copies of queer pulp for tacky marriage videos and flash mobs, all in the name of progress. Yeeuch! Count us out. We’ll take your battered old novels and make wallpaper out of them. Wrapping paper, too! Can you imagine receiving a gift wrapped in Dykes on Bikes? I’d never open that gift.
As a tribute, then, we are taking our personal favorite queer pulp fiction covers and we’re matching them with appropriate song choices because we feel that every reading experience should become a party. Sure we probably picked too many (you try narrowing it down!) but Filthy Dreams is nothing if not an exercise in excess and endurance.
1. The Devil is Gay/Satan Was A Lesbian
We decided to pair these two covers to celebrate the Satanic nature of alternative sexuality. I don’t know about you but I get kinda turned on looking at these covers. I’ve always been a sucker for red, though. One burning question that I have though: is Satan Vincent Price? Perhaps I’m hoping for too much.
Suggested song pairing: Jody Reynolds, “The Fire of Love”
Gyms have always been a breeding ground for bad behavior and this queen here has discovered the secret that only his kind knows: getting oiled up to work out gets you everywhere. Just ask his new friend leaning behind him. Oh, sure, he’ll gladly spot him!
Someone out there decided to make a parody of this cover (probably after a few glasses of pumpkin punch). Instead of Midtown Queen, it’s aptly titled Am I Ready for Chest Hair? The tagline: “For every homosexual, there comes a time when he must face one of the most important questions of his life.” Oh, Mary, it’s better than the original!
Suggested song pairing: Shudder to Think, “Hot One”
Move over, Blanche! There’s a new pussycat in town, and she is on the prowl. While Blanche is busy fighting off her passions for Stanley, though, this little kitten is entranced by visions of women being reflected by her hidden desires. The heat is becoming too much for her to take, though, and sooner or later, something’s gotta give!
Suggested song pairing: Percy Sledge, “You Really Got A Hold on Me”
Looking at this cover, I finally appreciate Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.” I had no idea she meant being born into a “third-sex shadow world.” How alluring! Well, it looks like this bottle-blond queen got himself in some trouble. Come on inside, Mary, we’ve got pumpkin punch.
Aside: Doesn’t the guy on the right look like Mitt Romney? I always knew he chased after those twinks.
Suggested song pairing: Lady Gaga, “Born This Way”
Even though the song goes “We are the Hellcats nobody likes,” who doesn’t love a good lesbian motorcycle gang full of leather, road grime and rage. Of all the sleazy queers tropes, dykes on bikes might just be the best and the most terrifying. Imagine how people scatter as they zoom into town with their knee-high boots and giant tits flapping in the breeze!
Suggested Song Pairing: R. Lewis Band, “Get Off The Road”
While the title of “Lesbians A-Go-Go” is certainly stunning, as we, here at Filthy Dreams love everything that ends with A-Go-Go, somehow the tag line drives this book of twisting and gyrating nymphos right towards the top of our list. Maybe its the alliteration, but “disco-dykes dance in a den of depravity” deserves some sort of filthy writing award. Also, where is this disco den? I wanna go!
Suggested song pairing: The Sonics, “Psycho”
The queer pulp fiction novel for the tired old queens in the group, Gay But Not Happy’s Rodney Manlove (what a last name!) has loved, lived and seen it all. You’ll probably find him driving that hot convertible straight to the nearly empty piano bar as he sucks down Bloody Mary after Bloody Mary, sighing and rolling his bloodshot eyes at the younger queens, masculine clones and hipster queers. After awhile, he finally gets plastered enough to caterwaul Judy for old times sake. Will there ever be a rainbow for Rodney Manlove?
Suggested song pairing: Judy Garland, “The Man Who Got Away”
Forget that garbage, Good Night Moon, I would much rather read Lights Out, Little Hustler to my child at bedtime. Move away, Child Protective Services, I’m trying to teach the little one about sleaze. These are important life lessons for us believers in trash.
Suggested song pairing: Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Over At The Frankenstein’s Place”
Since some of us at Filthy Dreams have the distinct displeasure of having to deal with the art world in our day-to-day lives, Art Colony Perverts allows us to fantasize of an art world filled with artistic perverts rather than careerist blowhards. Screw tired performance art–I want to see these artists living their art in “depraved orgies”! Sounds better than another coma-inducing gallery show to me!
Suggested song pairing: The Velvet Underground, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”
10. Lesbians In White/Lesbians in Black Lace
Mirror, mirror on the wall, what is the trashiest color of them all? We paired these two pulp classics together because the writers just can’t make up their minds on which outfit is the best for their sordid stories. As for me, I’d vote for the “black nylon lovers” since nylon is next to polyester as the uniform of depravity. No matter what color, these ladies know that sometimes you have to suffer for FASHION.
Suggested song pairing: Dirty Beaches, “Black Nylon”
Orange is the New Black? Please. Been there, done that. While we certainly adore the peeing poetic antics of our hero Suzanne (aka Crazy Eyes), nothing in OITNB comes close to the yearning decadent pleasures of lesbian pulp fiction women’s prisons. Imagine reading this in public–on the train, in the airport or even better, in a courtroom. Surely they’ll arrest you and finally you’ll be able to experience for yourself “the most vicious web of carnality ever imagined.”
Suggested song pairing: Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, “I’m Not A Juvenile Delinquent”
Actually, this is a cautionary tale: never deny a man his hot pants, otherwise he’ll devour you! Oh, we’ve seen this situation before: boy falls in love with girl, boy learns sewing tips, boy dumps girl and hits the club. What is it about those hot pants that drive boys over the edge? Is it the tight fit? The material? (personally, I love a man in liquid vinyl) We may never know.
Suggested song pairing: James Brown, “Hot Pants”
Oh, sure, I know what you’re thinking: what is this Mary doing peeking into girls’ windows? Well, have you seen drag shows these days? *sigh* They’re growing stale. Same old song and dance, same old outfits. Even the makeup jobs are beginning to look sluggish. Why wouldn’t you start looking elsewhere? Just look at these girls: I haven’t seen drag queens put in this much effort since Darienne Lake floored everyone with her CD dress! Don’t blame the Gay Peeper: blame the nightclub owners who set the bar so low for their performers!
Suggested song pairing: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, “Watching Alice”
Why, that’s no space alien, that’s Cake Boy in a killer suit. Before hipsters made horribly dirty skinny jeans a stinky faux pas, this queen was struttin’ his skin tight pleather goods all the way downtown with Bon Bon by her side. Oh, please, can you show them where the Meat Rack is? They’re in such a hurry: Bon Bon has a grooming appointment at 4!
Suggested Song Pairing: B52s, “Quiche Lorraine”
This is our go-to book whenever we look for new roommates. Pleasure parties can be fun but they’re hardly satisfying because it’s so short-lived. People only stay for awhile before going home. Talk about disappointment–I made all these brownies and no one wants any! Take it from these girls, why bother going somewhere else when you can have it all right at home. All that’s left to do is to think about decorating and color schemes. Hmm, I’m thinking red velvet curtains and a tasteful plush sofa arrangement.
Suggested song pairing: Angelo Badalamenti, “The Pink Room”
I always heard that bad things happen to boys who become too swishy for their own good but I never imagined being sent to a whip dance party! Well, you don’t have to tell this boy twice: crank up the Martha and the Vandellas and count me in! Did anyone bring microdots?
Suggested song pairing: Martha and the Vandellas, “Nowhere to Run”
And finally, we reach our last choice of favorite pulp fiction novels and its an symbolic one. Read the tagline doesn’t it make you think of something? Something like Filthy Dreams? Well if we didn’t already have a stunningly off-putting name, we would undoubtedly need to name our blog and imaginary nightclub Abnormals Anonymous. I wonder what they confess? Hopefully their undying love for sleazy queer pulp fiction novels.
Suggested song pairing: Divine, “I’m So Beautiful”
Most of the covers are from Strange Sisters and Gay on the Range, which has an insanely, huge and sordid collection of these wonderful covers.