This weekend, Joan Los Angeles presents an online conversation with CIRCUS OF BOOKS director Rachel Mason and producers Cynthia Childs, Kathryn Robson, and Rhianon Jones, moderated by Evan Moffitt.
For over thirty-five years, the gay porn shop Circus of Books served as an epicenter for LGBT life and culture in Los Angeles. Unbeknownst to many in the community it served, the store was cultivated and cared for by its owners, Karen and Barry Mason—a straight couple with three children. The documentary CIRCUS OF BOOKS is an intimate portrait of the Masons and their journey to become one of the biggest distributors of hardcore gay porn in the United States. Their story unfolds through the lens of their daughter, filmmaker and artist, Rachel Mason.
“Growing up, I always assumed every store had an over-18 section. It was only when I got older that I realized my parents were in the business of hardcore gay porn. This was a completely strange thing for me, because this was not the world I knew to be of my parents: straight-laced, boring, and in my mom’s case, religious. The world of sexual deviants, gender nonconforming transgressives and weirdos, that was my world, not theirs…
“And yet, it took me leaving Los Angeles for over a decade to fully comprehend what a massive role their two Circus of Books stores served for the community. It took making a documentary film to realize that they had nurtured a second family to the family they had at home. They had carved out their own special place as trusted shop owners who never judged anyone who showed up in their surreptitious aisles, even as the rest of the world cast down condemnation, to say nothing of other parents at our school. As the store was closing last week, a Vietnam veteran walked through the doors and stood, unmoving in front of the register. My mom had protested against Vietnam, and she proceeded to tell him how terrible the Vietnam War was, and he looked at her and said, ‘Thank you. This store is part of my history, and some of the best years of my life happened here.’ ” — Rachel Mason, producer and director,Circus of Books*
The original Circus of Books—called “Book Circus”—opened in West Hollywood in 1967, followed by the Silver Lake location at Sunset Junction. An exhibition celebrating the communal culture and backrooms of Karen and Barry Mason‘s adults-only emporiums—fifty years of getting off—is now on view in Manhattan.
The show—curated by David Fierman with Rachel Mason—features artwork by Wilder Alison, Ron Athey, Adam Baran, Bengala, Erik Bergrin, Michael Bilsborough, RaynesBirkbeck, Seth Bogart, Chris Bogia, Kathe Burkhart, Deric Carner, Chivas Clem, Scott Covert, Vaginal Davis, Anne Doran, Thomas Dozol, Zackary Drucker, Ruben Esparza, Tom of Finland, Karen Finley, Benjamin Fredrickson, ektor garcia, Mariah Garnett, Mark Golamco, Jeff Grant, Michelle Handelman, Charles Hovland, Scott Hug, David Hurles, Stephen Irwin, William E. Jones, Wayne Koestenbaum, Mike Kuchar, Bruce LaBruce, Dawn Mellor, Lucas Michael, Billy Miller, Bob Mizer, David Mramor, Narcissister, Dominic Nurre, Mel Ottenberg, Jack Pierson, Breyer P-Orridge, Pre-Echo Press, Fay Ray, Mariah Robertson, Dean Sameshima, Stuart Sandford, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Margie Schnibbe, Michael Stipe, Chris E. Vargas, Mark Verabioff, Jan Wandrag, Karlheinz Weinberger, Jimmy Wright, and Dorian Wood.
From top: Vaginal Davis, Ascyltos of the Satyricon, 2016, ink on paper; Dominic Nurre, ValeofCashmereHead, 2017–19, coconut shell, coconut oil, salt lick, and acrylic; David Mramor, PinkStar, 2019, oil, acrylic, and inkjet on canvas; Wayne Koestenbaum, David at Leisure, 2019, oil and graphite on canvas paper; Lucas Michael, G5CR, 2017, neon; Dawn Mellor, Southend Beach, 2013, oil, Tipp-ex, and marker pen on linen; Jimmy Wright, Griffith Park, LA, 1973, graphite and charcoal on graph paper; Seth Bogart, Faggots, 2019, ceramic; Mike Kuchar, Liquid Dreams, circa 1980s–1990s, pencil, pens, felt pens, and ink on paper; Scott Hug, Untitled (STH_PW_003), 2018, collage; Jeff Grant, Snow and Holes, 2018, archival inkjet print, staples, and clearlay; Karen Finley, dickless, 2018, ink on paper. Images courtesy the artists and Fierman gallery. Special thanks to David Fierman and Rachel Mason.