Before the internet, before gay people on TV, before gay people in the movies, there were only gay people in real life. Oh, and there were books. I was a very young gay person with a yearning for other gay persons, but with apparent access only to books. I was a bookish young gay person. I haunted second-hand bookshops rather than clubs and cottages, of which I knew nothing. I became a keen decoder of cover illustrations and back-cover blurbs.
Here is a ‘found poem’ made of quotations from the blurbs of paperback fiction, mainly from the 1950s and 1960s. These books, most of which I still possess, were my bookish young gay person’s introduction to gay life. Now that I am a bookish old gay person, I remember I was able to read between the lines for affirmative messages. But all that negativity, too, is still deeply inscribed in my DNA.
The novels were often far more upbeat than their covers would admit, but publishers clearly felt they had to pretend to be disgusted by their own merchandise. They made it look as if gay literature was for disapproving straight readers rather than bookish gay persons like me. Or you.
Mercifully, things have changed for the better. Bookish or not, young or not, gay or otherwise sexually dissenting, you are far more likely, now, to find the blurbs you need, to find the books you need to read. Twilight is just a time of day.
- A story of a forbidden relationship.
- An adult novel of a love between two men that defied society’s strongest taboo.
- A man’s struggle against the dark powers of moral disintegration.
- A frank novel of life and loves in a strange twilight world.
- The strange, twisted love that developed between them.
- A disturbingly frank novel of homosexuality in London.
- Evil influences and perverted desires.
- An adult novel that unmasks the stark reality of the twilight world.
- This difficult, painful theme.
- A novel of unusual interest.
- The loving and tragic relationship.
- A brilliant, tenderly written story of forbidden love.
- A group of well-meaning neurotics and perverts.
- The hidden depths of an abnormal relationship.
- He strove for other ways to satisfy his desires.
- A daring novel of two handsome young men and their strange passion for each other!
- The story of a passionate relationship between two men and its tragic and terrible consequences.
- It’s not so much his success that people hate, it’s just that he’s different. And they can’t forgive him that.
- It avoids any suggestion of melodrama or sensationalism.
- They’re a queer lot.
- Never before has a novel laid bare with such raw honesty the borderline world of normal and abnormal love!
- The fire of deviation smoldered within him.
- An unforgettable—deeply moral—adult novel that asks the question: Can two men of intelligence and integrity live as respected members of a society that would destroy them if their strange love were exposed?
- It is a near nightmare world.
- Can love here become a saving force, or is it condemned to be possessive and demonic?
- He knew that he had sinned in thought.
- His pitiful pursuit of the object of his abnormal affection and its inevitable and pathetic climax.
- Success in this quarter leads to revulsion and guilt.
- Diving deep into the waters of perversity.
- A frank novel of today’s most controversial subject.
- Society cannot understand their strange attraction.
- Never before has a novel treated the contentious subject of homosexuality with such honesty and insight.
- Their relationship is climaxed by a scene of unbelievable brutality.
- Set against the strange background of erotic, forbidden acts performed on moonlit beaches.
- The strange half-world of the homosexual.
- It is a serious and moving novel, with a compelling theme.
- It is a novel that will provoke controversy for a long time to come.
- A starkly realistic adult novel of men who satisfy their desire in the shadows.
- A powerful, revealing novel of the pressures and conflicts of abnormal love—with a shock ending no reader will ever forget!
- The secret life of a teenage idol. Millions of fans treasured his memory but only half a dozen knew the sordid truth.
- The twilight realm of sexual inversion is the scene of action.
- Three men and a strange and beautiful relationship that grows up between them.
- The murky, lucrative underworld of the professional homosexual.
- Confused by his socialist principles and his homosexual inclinations.
- A man incapable of returning her affection.
- The whole homosexual world into which the boy is plunged.
- It is also, implicitly, as powerful a denunciation of perversion in all its forms as has ever been made.
- The strange compulsive attractions of the twilight world of sex tempted until he surrendered.
- How long could he be faithful to his beautiful wife when he craved a different kind of love?
- The flaming heart rips the veil of secrecy from a strange marriage torn apart by abnormal desires.
Gregory Woods, NTU Emeritus Professor of Gay & Lesbian Studies and poet
This piece was first published in Nicci Robinson & Victoria Villaseñor (eds), Desire, Love, Identity: from the Nottinghamshire LGBTQ Community (Nottingham: Global Words Press, 2019), pp.125-128.