Showing posts with label Grand Parents. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Grand Parents. Show all posts

February 9, 2019

After 37 Years and a Federal Sting on Obscene Materials Grand Pa/Ma are Retiring from Selling Gay Porno

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For over 35 years, the gay porn shop, Circus of Books, served as the 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.

 LOS ANGELES-By Hailey Branson-Potts Los Angeles Times (TNS)
 — Karen and Barry Mason swear they never planned to sell porn for long.
They were just really good at it.
For 37 years, the couple — now septuagenarian grandparents — have run Circus of Books, a West Hollywood bookstore that sold gay and straight nudie magazines, hardcore pornographic films and sex toys, as well as international newspapers and classic literary titles.
“I always assumed that we would end up doing something else,” Karen said. “We don’t know anything, really.”
The Santa Monica Boulevard store gained legendary status in Southern California’s LGBTQ community as a place where people could peruse gay erotica or meet other gay people, hanging out in a place free from homophobia.
Over the years, Circus of Books has survived an FBI raid, federal obscenity charges and complaints from law enforcement who said the store attracted prostitution and other criminal elements. It remained open during the AIDS crisis, when numerous employees died.
But it could not survive Amazon.
Strangled by the internet — where pornography and dating apps abound — Circus of Books will close for good Saturday.
“A lot of people are sorry to see it go, grateful it’s been there all this time,” Karen said. “And as we’re closing, people are saying, ‘You know, this store saved my life.’”
When the Masons started out in the early 1980s, “Circus of Books and the gay bars were places where people would go to meet, to find each other,” said West Hollywood Mayor John Duran, who is gay. “There was no Grindr or Scruff or Tinder. If you wanted to find community, you had to go out and seek it.”
For many customers, the gay erotica was revolutionary, he said.
“It’s not like any of us got this through sex ed or at home with Mom and Dad,” Duran said. “We had to learn.”
In the 1970s, Barry made a decent living selling accessories he’d invented for dialysis machines until the cost of medical malpractice insurance became too much.
After Karen, who had worked as a journalist, spotted a newspaper ad seeking magazine distributors for Larry Flynt — the publisher of Hustler and Chic — Barry started driving around to liquor stores and newsstands, taking orders.
Karen did deliveries. She was pregnant at the time, so she hired unemployed musicians — she preferred drummers, who always seemed the most reliable — to help with heavy lifting.
One West Hollywood store, Book Circus, ordered 600 gay titles, including Blueboy and Honcho, each month and instantly sold out. “I’d have to fill the whole truck up just to fill those titles,” Barry said. Customers were so glad when the magazines arrived, “they would come out front and help me unload it.”
The Masons eventually learned that the bookstore’s owner, who had fallen behind on magazine payments, was being evicted. Barry made a deal with the property manager: He’d pay half the man’s $1,400 monthly rent until he was evicted if the Masons could take over the lease afterward.
The couple kept the staff and changed the name to Circus of Books. Along with the pornography, they sold obscure novels from LGBTQ authors as well as science-fiction books, foreign newspapers, even Bibles.
Gay-themed magazines played an important role in assuring people they weren’t alone at a time when homosexuality was taboo, said Joseph Hawkins, director of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California.
For decades, gay magazines — including ONE, the nonpornographic magazine for which the archive is named — that were sold at newsstands in big cities were obscured behind a tarp or curtain and sold alongside bawdy straight magazines, even if the gay periodicals had no nude pictures.
A typical newsstand would have “just enough space to edge in and look, and there were porn magazines for the straight men and the gay men. Everybody was in there,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes the men in there looking at straight erotica would see you looking at a gay-oriented magazine and get upset.
“You never had a sense of safety. You’d worry there was a vice officer in there who would arrest you for looking at the magazines. … The place was selling the magazine, but you weren’t allowed to look at it.”
Rachel Mason said that when she was growing up, her parents were much more strict than her friends’. She and her two brothers had to get straight A’s. They weren’t allowed to watch TV. They had to go to synagogue with their mother.
“I was this little rebel, and what I didn’t know was that they were outlaws in their own way,” she said. “They were just so good at this balancing act that we had no clue about it. I was fighting with my mom about my hair color … and they were actually dealing in hardcore videos.”
Rachel, 40, an artist and musician, is making a documentary about her parents’ shop, which will debut on the film festival circuit this spring. It wasn’t until she started making the film that she realized how revered Karen and Barry were in the LGBTQ community.
“This store represents a time capsule of a different era … when being queer was really underground,” she said. “It was truly a hidden culture.”
Rachel and her brothers sometimes sneaked into the pornography section to giggle at the movie covers until their mom yelled at them to get out. In the 1980s, young Rachel noticed that her parents’ clerks kept disappearing.
They were dying of AIDS.
“Somebody I just met would be dead the next week, then another person and another person. … As a kid, I didn’t have any perception that that was unusual.
“They were extraordinary young guys who I looked up to.”
If employees felt well enough to work, the Masons encouraged them to come in so they could have some normality.
If they needed public assistance to pay for expensive medication, the couple would pay them off the books in cash so they could keep unemployment benefits. It was the only time, Karen said, she ever broke the rules.
“They were just so young,” Karen said, sighing. “It just — um — they shouldn’t have died.”
The Masons by that time had bought the building, which had several apartments upstairs, and their tenants were dying, too. Many were estranged from their families.
“A lot of parents wouldn’t come to get their things or come to their funerals,” Barry said.
“And sometimes,” Karen said, “I would get a call from a mother. ‘Tell me about my son.’ Where were you, lady? I had nothing to say to parents like that.”
At its peak, Circus of Books had three locations. A short-lived Sherman Oaks store closed in the late 1990s after the city ordered it to stop selling porn because it was too close to an elementary school. The Silver Lake shop closed in 2016 amid declining sales.
The West Hollywood store had its share of drama. The alleyway behind it was a well-known gay cruising spot, and residents and sheriff’s deputies said the 24-hour bookstore attracted prostitutes and drug dealers.
In 1989, the city ordered the store to close from 2 to 6 a.m. Karen told the Los Angeles Times then that they were being used as a scapegoat for a problem they didn’t create.
“The hustlers are around the building like roaches,” she said at the time, “and we’ve tried to get rid of them.”
In the early 1990s, an employee shipped several gay and straight pornographic VHS tapes — including “Licorice Twists,” “Latex Slaves Discipline” and “The Best of Bruce Seven, Vol. 1” — to a customer in Pennsylvania’s Lebanon County.
But it was a sting. The Masons were indicted on federal charges of interstate transportation of obscene materials, and the FBI raided their warehouse, carrying guns.
“They were looking for a copy of what was shipped,” Barry said, “a girly title, and all of them, every time they’d pull out a box they’d laugh at the titles.”
After years of litigation, the Masons avoided jail time by agreeing to a pretrial diversion program and a $20,000 fine.
For about a year, Barry had to report to federal court once a month to show he was still working and not committing any crimes.
Federal investigators, he said, later mailed back the tapes they’d taken as evidence.
Karen, who gets a bit embarrassed when talking about the pornography, said she’d never watched any of the films. It all seems kind of boring, she said with a shrug.
In her spare basement office, Karen still keeps contacts on a Rolodex. She also keeps two sketches done by her children hanging above her desk.
One is a portrait of Mother Teresa. The other is a drawing of a frail man with an oxygen tube in his nose. They’re a reminder, she said, that everything in life is finite.
©2019 Los Angeles Time

January 28, 2019

LGBT Navajos Have Discovered a Powerful Ally and Surprisingly is Their Grandparents


When she was 5 years old, Michelle Sherman learned exactly what her mother thought of gay men.
"I remember seeing two guys holding hands, and then my mom's like, 'Oh, that's disgusting,' and so I was like, 'OK, maybe it is disgusting,' " Sherman says.
But then she realized she was attracted to girls and began to believe something was wrong with her too. At just 11 years old, Sherman attempted suicide.
Nationwide, the share of LGBT teens who attempt suicide is high — 23 percent. For Navajo LGBT youth, the rate is three times as high, according to the Navajo Nation's Diné Policy Institute.
Through her teens, Sherman tried to fit in on the northern edge of the Navajo Nation, but she was living a double life. When she was 19 years old, her sister walked in on Sherman and another female in her bedroom.
"She just barged in the door and, you know, yelled at me like, 'What the hell are you doing?' Like you shouldn't be doing this," Sherman says. "You know, [she] made me feel less human. Cuz she was like, 'What do you think Grandma's going to think about you?' "
That's when Sherman felt she had to leave the reservation and her family. She moved to Phoenix and began drinking heavily. It wasn't until she sought help from a Navajo medicine man to address her alcoholism that she reconnected with her grandmother.
It turns out that her grandmother embraced her as a lesbian.
Michelle Sherman found an unexpected LGBT ally when she came out — her 93-year-old grandmother, Alice Palmer.
Michelle Sherman/NPR
Alice Palmer, 93, and Sherman had always been close. And they are today again, now that Sherman has reconnected with her family. Even though Palmer is difficult to understand because of a stroke, she and her granddaughter spend a lot of time together. They watch wrestling, grind corn and go to flea markets.
A time before prejudice 
It's not unusual that Navajo grandparents are accepting of being LGBT while parents are not. Historians say federally run boarding schools and other assimilation tactics taught a generation of Navajos that same-sex relationships are wrong.
Navajo leadership also plays a role — in 2005 the tribal council passed the Diné Marriage Act, a law forbidding same-sex marriage.
"When I came out to my family, my mother of course took it the hardest. But my grandparents didn't," says Alray Nelson, a Navajo LGBT rights activist.
"We are seeing clearly the aftereffects of what colonialism can look like and how it really shifted our values as Navajo people," Nelson says. "Whereas at the time, if you were LGBTQ and growing up in Navajo traditional families, families celebrated that fact. They said that we were sacred. They said that we had sacred roles."
But returning to understandings that predate colonialism has helped the families of LGBT Navajos. Traditionalists believe that the "two spirited," as they're sometimes called, are powerful and that not all humans can be classified as male or female.
Navajo historian Jennifer Denetdale says the Diné creation story includes a nádleehí.
"Today we take the nádleehí as a being who was what we would call an intersex person today, meaning that this is a person who has sexual organs of the male and the female and is considered to be a third gender in Navajo society," Denetdale says.
When the first man and the first woman weren't getting along, it was the nádleehí who intervened.
Finding a purpose
In Michelle Sherman's family, her grandmother has persuaded other family members to open their minds. Even Michelle's mother, Virgie Sherman, agreed to go with her last June to the Diné Pride festival, where Michelle gave a speech.
"I was there for her," Virgie says. "She can talk to [the] audience. She wasn't even embarrassed about what she is. Yeah, so I'm proud of her."
Now 33, Michelle is working on her bachelor's degree at Haskell Indian Nations University. When she graduates, she plans to return to the Navajo Nation, where LGBT youth often don't have access to resources, let alone the Internet.
"If I want to keep inspiring, then why not do it at home?" Michelle says. "Just like my grandma, she's here. She still inspires people."
Michelle looks down at her forearm, where she has tattooed a black diamond, the same design her grandmother used to weave into rugs. On the other side of her arm are scars from her suicide attempt, reminding her every day that she is still here, that she has a purpose: to help Navajo youth like herself.

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