To Be Gay
Frederick W. LaCava (as John Ironstone), Blueboy Library, 1977
If you remember the ‘70s or just appreciate the ‘70s, you have to love the cover of 1977’s To Be Gay, which announces the book’s political bent in the form of a “Save Our Children” poster and a storefront “Drink Orange Juice” display — pointed allusions to then-popular singer and citrus-industry shill Anita Bryant, who used her white-bread popularity and good-Christian bonafides to declare war on gay people, specifically gay men, whom she painted as a clear and present danger to America’s most precious children. Before the many and myriad doing so today, the still-living Bryant’s cynically named Save Our Children campaign spewed the blood libel of homophobes.
But the foreground is dominated by hand-drawn banners proclaiming: “I AM PROUD TO BE GAY NOW I WANT TO BE FREE” and “GAY PRIDE WEEK.” The Gay Pride movement was spawned by the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, when gay men and women — led by fierce drag queens, it should not be forgotten — stood up to the local cops in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The NYPD, when they had nothing more constructive to do, regularly raided The Stonewall Inn, a now-iconic gay hangout, for whatever petty infraction they could contrive. Today there are Gay Pride celebrations in cities ranging from Nashville to Nantucket, from Gulfport, Florida, to Salt Lake City, Utah. Not saying that homophobia is done and dusted — far from it — but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Or, if you prefer, the oft-quoted Chinese proverb attributed to Lao Tzu, that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
And to the book’s credit, the introduction to To Be Gay continues the drumbeat: Along with Blueboy Press’s boilerplate reminder that “the love of man for man is as old as man himself,” author John Ironside calls out Nazis, racists, bible thumpers and anti-feminists (the latter not always being the case in gay male circles), and quotes Walter Rinder, who in the 1960s and ‘70s was a well-known humanist artist and poet. FYI, the 78-year-old Rinder is still alive and on Facebook. And honestly, I love his commitment to not only gay rights, but those of war protesters (a big thing in the ‘70s), the differently abled and people of color.
Before To Be Gay gets down to the adult-novel nitty gritty, it’s a pretty tough little book whose protagonists include a straight Episcopal minister of four decades and his wife, Vincent and Martha Citrone, who just can’t reconcile the actions of the so-called faithful who channel their energy into demonizing others. “He shied away from people with well-thumbed bibles and underlined passages who were eager show him their neighbors’ sins... He often told them that the Bible should be read as a mirror, not as a pair of binoculars, but those kind of people didn’t get what he meant.” Yes, that sounds about right. The story includes author Ironstone’s recurring character, crusading gay cop Gary Brannon, who’s subordinated to the background of this drama of a bigoted Human Rights Commission that declares a bar not guilty of discriminating against gays, leading to reactions on both sides of the issue: a newly energized local gay community on the one hand, and anti-gay violence on the other.
Many gay adult novels of the time had sociopolitical underpinnings. While the authors knew they were penning smutty books, they were also aware that gay-adult publishers were willing to extend them a latitude hard to come by in mainstream publishing. It was tough for the more ambitious ones to ignore the larger context within which they were writing. Some authors didn’t care and simply hacked out books, while the more literary-minded took advantage of the formula: As long as they delivered one sex scene per chapter, they could fill the rest of the pages with whatever they wanted to say. The characters in To Be Gay are activists who see themselves as aligned with all the social-justice movements of the time and they’ve accepted the fact that some are going to get hurt by heeding Bob Marley’s 1973 admonition to “get up/stand-up/stand up for your rights/get up/stand up/don’t forget the fight.” And in 2022, their descendants are still there on the barricades, putting their bodies on the line for what they believe.
Pseudonymous author John Ironstone is credited with other gay adult novels including 1976’s Undercover, 1977’s Orphan and In Search of Gold and 1978’s Gay Rights, Gay Rights 2 and the so of-a-time Disco Danger. Drewey Wayne Gunn’s The Gay Male Sleuth in Print and Film: A History and Annotated Bibliography (Scarecrow Press, 2013) identifies Ironstone as the pen name of Frederick W. LaCava, who also wrote as Martin Moore (The Price of Pride, 1977) and F.W. Love (Cop Coming Out, 1980). A contemporaneous review of To Be Gay in the December 1977/January 1978 issue of the Canadian gay-liberation journal The Body Politic further describes LaCava as “a former college English professor currently studying law … [who] serves on the Human Rights Commission in Bloomington, Indiana. In the last year he published over twenty pornographic books under various pseudonyms, including ‘Martin Moore.’” Genealogical and biographical sources cite his October 23, 1945, birth in Morgantown, West Virginia; he went on to a B.A. from Emory University in 1967, a Ph.D. in English from the University of North Carolina in 1971 and a summa cum laude law degree from Indiana University in 1979. He died May 7, 2015, in Indiana, by which time he was the married and divorced adoptive father of five children — with two of those sons filing a civil lawsuit against him in 2005 for alleged molestation when they were youths. I couldn’t find an outcome for the case, which continued as of at least 2009.
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