While I generally attempt to approach light topics, usually of a sexual nature, from a rather humorous, albeit acerbic and often cynical manner, the fact remains that I am capable of recognizing issues of a nature more profound than the proper pairing of condom and lube for a particular day.
This is my tribute to the late Barbara Grier, co-founder of Naiad Press, the nation’s first publishing company devoted solely to the publication of works by, for and about Lesbians. Ms. Grier and her life partner Ms. McBride along with their business partners broke through barriers and opened doors that have helped to form who we are as LGBT people today.
I’m well aware that there are issues more pertinent and relative to the LGBT experience than my hedonistic need to see how many men I can have casual sex with either before I die, the arrival of Armageddon or I have my penis bit off as the result of an unfortunate high-speed confrontation with a speed bump or dip in the road.
Regardless of how urbane, worldly or sophisticated I am ever apt to become, there is one small town habit from which I will most likely never be able to overcome and that is the reading of obituaries.
It was during my perusal of the obits in the Sunday edition of the Miami Herald that I read of the passing of Barbara Grier, who along with her partner Donna McBride co-founded Naiad Press, quite surely the first publishing house solely devoted to the publication and distribution of Lesbian authors and their work.
This may seem to be a rather mundane fact today but keep in mind that these two women accomplished this feat in 1973 with a $2,000 loan that they received from a retired lesbian attorney and her partner. The attorney went on to be the author of their first published work, a lesbian romance novel that she had written under a pseudonym.
Naiad Press went on to be a very successful and prominent presence in the world of LGBT publishing. I can recall hearing of it even prior to my own coming out in 1978.
Keep in mind that this was accomplished prior to there even being a concept of the internet or “desk top” publishing. The fact that these two couples were not even in the same city, state or time zone when they launched this venture is a matter of logistics inconceivably fraught with complications by the standards of today. This was a good 10 years before the existence of calling plans, long distance calls were paid by the minute and still a considerable expense for any business and the cell phone was still little more than a fetal idea if that.
OK, even though I’ve been online for ten years now thanks to my extremely tech savvy and patient partner, I only about five years ago realized that when he was referring to my “desk top” that he was not referring to a surface in need of an occasional polishing with Pledge. I would get so frustrated when he would tell me that he had put something on my desk top for me and for the life of me I couldn’t locate it. I was too afraid to say anything and incur his frustration thinking for fear that I was developing either dementia or blindness.
Certainly there had always been gay and lesbian authors and some had had their works published but references to their characted sexuality tended to tended to be rather chaste and often as obscure as the availability of the work themselves.
The material was doubtlessly out there, it was a matter of finding a publisher that would take the risk to publish it and yet another hurdle to find a bookseller that would stock it on their shelves. Even Naiad in its early days depended largely on mail order in order to sell its titles.
While there is still a certain amount of oppression and stigma encountered by an LGBT person in today’s society, it is hard for many people in our current climate of tolerance to even fathom what it was like even up into the late 70’s when I came out, particularly if you were in a small town or rural are.
As gay men I think it’s safe to say that a lot of us relied on some of the more explicit men’s magazines like Penthouse and Hustler to fulfill our libidinous callings, the ones that occasionally showed a naked man next to the busty blonde babe. Larry Flynt shall always remain a hero in my myopic eyes. The write-in Q&A or advice columns about the men’s experiences with their lady were masturbation fodder for many men of my era. Penthouse went so far as to publish little digest forms of these stories in a very convenient size that was easily held in one hand and could be concealed near commode or in a bedside drawer, even Playboy had sexual advice columns that one could read with dick in hand.
As there was no internet, no AOL, no concept of online or desk-top publishing, then suffice it to say that even the term E-zine was unheard of, in fact “zine” was a word not yet coined, we still relied on mags or rags.
In my small home town there were two old fashioned news-stands. They sold newspapers, magazines, pulp porn novels, cigars, cigarettes and later on lottery tickets. One rarely saw a lady even enter one of these establishments.
Of course it was often thought that the place was little more than a front for making book, not that the owner himself was a bookie but any number of the men that hung out there talking about sports and knockers were apt to be. How much of this was true is hard to say, small towns are the breeding grounds of rumors and conspiracy theories. Anybody that has time to hang around a news stand certainly must be up to no good and most likely a part of organized crime. Keeping in mind that organization is very important to small town mentality this was not necessarily seen as a bad thing. Many of my friends’ fathers fancied themselves members of the mob by mere virtue of possessing an Italian surname.
I remember being in the news stand one day looking at some of the men’s magazines and seeing a copy of Blue Boy which was probably the leading gay men’s porn magazine of its day, I say porn loosely, by today’s standards it all seems so innocent, photos of naked men kissing and caressing.
Of course by this time they had already launched Playgirl to appease the prurient interests of the ladies who had been set free by liberation. One may have been able to furtively secure a copy of Playgirl by purchasing it in conjunction with several other men’s magazines and offer up an unsolicited explanation that it might serve to get the wife or girlfriend a bit excited, randy and willing to try something new.
But who in our small town would have the audacity, the balls, the chutzpa to purchase a copy of Blue Boy? Not that there was a whole lot of chutzpa to be had in my hometown, even though we had both a conservative and a reformed synagogue I don’t think that any of us knew more than one or two actual Jewish People, they were damn near as closeted as the homosexuals.
I drove 50 miles to Pittsburgh in order to purchase my first copy of Blue Boy magazine and even then I circled the magazine stand several times before finally parking and then it took me several walks around the block and walk bys to bolster up the courage to actually enter. I was in a cold sweat, anticipating sirens and bells to go off as I even took the magazine from the rack. Keep in mind we didn’t even have surveillance cameras or video back then but I had studied history, I knew about HUAC, and the likes of Misters Hoover and McCarthy from my 7th grade Problems Of Democracy class. I was well aware that people like me were being watched.
I hurriedly paid for it, rolled it up so as to obscure the front cover and hid it post haste under one of the floor mats in the back seat of my father’s station wagon. I sped home praying that I arrive safely without suffering a catastrophic auto accident that would reveal my secret shame, expose me for the pathetic pervert that I was, my dirty secret with its penis filled pages torn and strewn about the wreckage and my corpse.
Here we are nearly forty years later, I have lived to see countless open and out LGBT authors, celebrated by communities of all sexual orientations, the establishment and successful operation of not only LGBT publishers to publish and distribute their works, but also brightly lit, well-appointed and comfortable stores to sell their wares and that for a few decades served as a type of community meeting place in some cities.
Alas, I have also lived long enough to see many of these stores close their doors and cease doing business, much like Naiad itself did back in 2003. Of course bookstores in general are rapidly disappearing, possibly victims of the economy itself but most likely a combination of factors, the internet, online and desk-top publishing, broad assimilation of the LGBT community as a people, the fact that as LGBT people we possess a level of monetary clout that mainstream corporations can no longer ignore, E-books, E-zines, Email, texting and sexting?
Our manner of communication and getting the word out today are many and staggering in their capacity to connect us. But it is my hope that no young LGFBT person today has to feels such shame, such self-loathing, such fear of being discovered by the world at large before they can even discover themselves, that they find it necessary to drive fifty miles in order to purchase a magazine or book that allows them to realize that they are not alone.
This Big Time Homo owes you BIG TIME Ms. Grier. R.I.P. and to your partner Ms. McBride I extend my heartfelt condolences and thanks for her part in securing my freedom to read what I wish today.
BTW, should you wish to do any further research regarding Ms. Grier, Ms. McBride, the others couple crucial to the founding and establishment of Naiad Press or the history of Naiad Press itself, just go to your desk top and Google it.