Help! Mom and Dad Run a Gay Porn Shop!

The unspoken rule in the Mason household was that you never talked about the family business.

It would all seem very mafia-like, at least until you meet the Masons, Karen and Bill. Shes wearing a dressy red shirt, with her graying hair cut into a practical bob, all framing a sweet smile and sensible outlook on life. His bright blue Hawaiian shirt befits the zanier personality of the couple, who have spent the lions share of their marriage operating this business-that-would-not-be-named together.

Everything seems on the up-and-up. Their daughter, Rachel, is a documentary filmmaker. Her brother, Josh, says, Were a normal, tight-knit family that was striving for the perfect family look. The third Mason child, Micah, marvels about his father: Dad is one of the few people whose default state is happiness.


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    That they spent most of their childhood in the dark about what their parents did for a living was purposeful. We didnt want them to know what we did at all, Karen says. We thought maybe people wouldnt want to play with them. On the rare occasions theyd have to go to work with their parents, the kids were under strict instructions to stare at the floor and not look up.

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    For more than 30 years, Karen and Barry Mason owned and operated Circus of Books, a bookstore and Los Angeles LGBT landmark that happened to also be a hardcore gay porn shop and adult film business.

    Their story is now being told in Circus of Books, a riotous and surprisingly emotional documentary that premiered Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival.

    Rachel Mason directs the film, using her parents unexpected careers to explore myriad topics, weaving them all together with cheeky, though heartfelt aplomb: the struggles of operating a small business; the history of the LGBT community in West Hollywood, where Circus of Books was located and became a sanctuary for decades; the curios of an unusual career; and the evolving relationship between parents and their children.

    On the latter note specifically, the film explores how something we blush and giggle aboutgay pornbecame the barrier to and eventually the catalyst for the deepest connections the Mason family would eventually forge.

    Circus of Books starts as a gonzo movie about a wacky way of living, but follows that thread as it reveals how that lark of a profession became a lifes work, and then a spiritual and human calling. Its quite beautiful, catching the eye of Ryan Murphy, who executive produces, and Netflix, which scooped up the film earlier this week ahead of its premiere for streaming on its service.


     

    Karen and Barry Mason, as we see them chronicled in Circus of Books, are the kind of hardworking, doddering older couple that millennials would pretentiously call adorable. Theyre just like your grandma and grandpathat is until they start talking about which cockrings will sell better at the register and remarking about the publishing of Handjobs magazine with the rote boredom of an office worker discussing spreadsheets and memos.

    You would never expect these people famous 80s porn star Jeff Stryker, who would spark a friendship with the Masons, laughs.

    Karen began her career as a journalist at the Cincinnati Enquirer, where she specialized in criminal justice and over the course of her time there covered plane crashes, murders, smut raids, and, perhaps in a bit of foreshadowing, interviewed Larry Flynt.

    The film explores how something we blush and giggle aboutgay pornbecame the barrier to and eventually the catalyst for the deepest connections the Mason family would eventually forge.

    During a trip to Los Angeles to visit her parents, she met Barry at a Jewish singles party. He had a motorcycle, she said. They got married seven months later. She wore a blue dress. He wore a striped jacket that cost $7.

    Barry at the time was at the UCLA Motion Pictures Department, getting a job working on the special effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek. He was also an inventor, applying his special effects skills to medical devices. He made a modest living as an inventor of new dialysis equipment, until malpractice insurance skyrocketed and made the career untenable.


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    Starting a family and strapped for cash, they responded to a full-page ad Larry Flynt had taken out looking for independent distributors for his racy magazines that mainstream clients wouldnt touch. The Masons would become one of the first distributors of Hustler, eventually broadening their inventory as Flynts output diversified, also peddling gay magazines Blueboy, Honcho, Mandate, Woodworking, and more.

    New York Review of Books never sold very well, Karen laments. What sold was Hustler.

    One of their biggest buyers of the gay titles was the West Hollywood shop Book Circus. When Barry noticed that they stopped paying their bills, he saw an opportunity and called the landlord to take over the space. They had to rename the store, so they just decided to cut the sign in half, flip the words around, and just pay for the word of.

    Thats like our whole philosophy of retail, Karen laughs. How could we do this cheap, because it may not work?

    Rachel follows her parents with an endearing curiosity. She had been denied a window into this part of their lives as a child, and wanted to learn more about itand more, why the secrecy?

    She looks through an inventory spreadsheet with names of videos like Damn Your Hairy #2, Got It Bad for Step-Dad, and Gangland Super Gangbang #5. Karen tells her, These are the videos that sent you to college.

    She follows Karen to a sextoy expo, filming as her mother shops for anal lube and dildos and discerns which will sell well at her shop. Karen walks to a wall of dildos and talks through the different models, shapes, and sizes, exhibiting her extremely specific business acumen. But I dont like looking at it, she says. Shes pragmatic about it all, but doesnt feel comfortable in the world.

    We learn how Circus of Books three-decade existence backdropped the most tragic, triumphant, and crucial moments and movements in the fight for gay rights and survival.

    She looks through an inventory spreadsheet with names of videos like Got It Bad for Step-Dad and Gangland Super Gangbang #5. Karen tells her, These are the videos that sent you to college.

    Alexei Romanoff, a LGBT activist and one of the last people still alive from the crucial demonstrations at the Black Cat bar in 1966, recounts how, on New Years Eve of that year, literally as people sang Auld Lang Syne, police raided two Los Angeles gay bars and started to arrest people who were kissing. Demonstrators took a stand against police brutality, two-and-a-half years before Stonewall. New Faces, one of the bars where the demonstration took place, became Circus of Books.

    Former customers and employees, including RuPauls Drag Race superstar Alaska Thunderfuck, recount the liberation gay men in the community felt at the store, especially back in its heyday. They fondly remember Vaseline Alley behind the store, where cruising and sex happened.

    For some employees who were battling AIDS, Karen and Barry would become the only visitors at the hospital to say goodbye. As conservative politicians waged a war against obscenity, the FBI would even make examples of them and the book store.

    In stark contrast to this progressiveness was a traditional upbringing for the Mason children, underlining how, even for peddlers of a gay porn shop, the shame that underscores the matter was inescapable.

    Karen was never comfortable telling people about the business. When people found out, they would often say, I dont have any problem with that, but that felt like judgment to her. No one says that to a person who says theyre a teacher or a lawyer. They probably did have a problem with that. I had a problem with that.

    That shame made a lasting impact, especially as Josh Mason struggled with coming out to his parents as gay himself. What surfaces from the film is a tender spotlight on the complexities of sexuality and understanding. Karen and Barry Mason made gay porn, yet they had to work to accept the fact that their own son was gay.

    It becomes clear especially then that this is more than just a documentary about a funny job. Its a case study exposing our ever-conflicted feelings about gay sex as a society. Its a story about the survival of the gay community. With technology, online stores, and apps negating the need for gay bookstores, gay bars, and other watering holes, what will happen to the culture? At its heart, too, its about love and family, two ever-timely issues for the community.


     

    To paraphrase a favorite mantra about porn magazines: come for the pictures, stay for the story.

    Original Article : HERE ; The Ultimate Survival Food: The Lost Ways

     


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