10 Lessons Learned From 60s-Era Gay Skin Mags


By Andrew Belonsky

Who says porn is just empty calories?


Above you see a small part of a questionnaire 60s-era readers would fill out and send to a company called "Computer Compatibles." That company would then run your answers through a then-high-tech IBM Computer and send you back the results. It's worth noting this advert references "men and women," so wasn't specifically catering toward the gays, but definitely knew it should speak to them, anyway.

8. THE PLIGHT OF THE 'SINGLE MALE NUDIST:' Publications like Mr. Sun, M.A.N., Male Athletic Nudist, and Sun Trek, all mid-late 60s magazines put out by LA-based publisher Wyngate & Bevins, led the "male nudist magazines" in which penises put forth as a symbol of protest over unjust discrimination against single male nudists. They were protesting ostracization from the nudist community, they said:

"One of the more disturbing attitudes that plague the nudist scene is the 'problem' of male singles. For a long time, too long and in some places even now, the male single was about as welcome in a nudist group as a patch of poison ivy. No one ever gave a very clear reason for this prejudice." One magazine then went on to debate the pros and cons of creating a men-only nudist camp. The pros won.

These magazines were meant to be read as liberation texts, not gay rags. But like magazines that peddled eroticized images of sailors or bikers, this too was a masquerade. "[It's] a masquerade of non-homoerotic intent: they are steadfastly about nudism and naturalism, and the philosophies and lifestyles that are part of those subcultures," writes Jeremiah Smith at the cultural criticism magazine Reconstruction.

Despite Mr. Sun's protests of heterosexuality, the rambling essays that accompany artsy shots of men in athletic poses are brimming with gay imagery. One essay, called "Nude for Sensory Understanding," proclaimed, "Stepping out of our clothing is more than just getting naked; it can be a new revelation about ourselves." Getting naked with other men unleashes "a new insight into the unused senses."

Of course, even today we can't really show pictures of penises without risking corporate backlash.

(An image from Mr. Sun, which we ironically had to censor due to penis-phobic corporate overlords.)

9. GOD, CENSORSHIP AND THE PENIS: These magazines were published in a swirl of censorship and battles for the freedom of speech. It was around this time that Ralph Ginzburg, publisher of the gay magazine Eros, was convicted of violating federal "obscene mail laws."

References to this and similar cases pepper most of the gay skin mags of this era, and in some scenarios, such as Drum's, led to their demise. Two magazines I found, Hombre and Tiger, waded into the debate by writing complete proclamation on the topic. Or was it a self-defense a la Mr. Sun? Either way, their words are enough to bring a tear to the most anti-gay of conservative patriots.

"[The publishers] hold that all of us, every citizen, have a common ground to defend… Those concerned with freedom have a responsibility of seeing to it that [all publications are] given the freedom of expression granted to it by the First Amendment of the Constitution…" You get the idea.

But even before this creed, both magazines include a message like the one pictured above. In it, they describe their publications as "naturalist" magazines -- we know what that means -- and defend their nude stance as a celebration of "God's handiwork." Again, one wonders what the modern right-winger would say to this: "It is our belief that the ability of man to be at one with himself, to have a high opinion of the portions of his body so long rejected and degraded, will make him strong, not weaker; more moral instead of less moral."

Penises for morality!

10. WE OWE THANKS TO CLARK POLAK: In case you don't know, Clark Polak, maligned in a hateful troll letter above, ran the Philadelphia-based Janus Society, an early homophile movement, and edited its magazine, the oft-referenced Drum, which took its name from the Henry David Thoreau quote, "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears the beat of a different drummer." It also declared, unabashedly, "Drum is published by male homosexuals for the information and entertainment of other male homosexuals."

Founded in 1964, Drum was one of the few pre-Stonewall magazines to blend both sex and politics. News notices on blackmail trials or police raids were accompanied by romantic poems, pictorials lampooning "gay moments in sports" and the magazine even published the first gay comic strip, "Harry Chess: The Man from A.U.N.T.I.E"

Drum charted the changing times, chronicling activist wins and working with medical professionals to help declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.

Drum and its contemporaries "were a way of getting [movement activity] information to people who wouldn't bother to read it otherwise," said Barbara Gittings, editor of the early lesbian and then gay magazine the Ladder.

But Drum was also the first gay magazine to publish a full frontal picture of a naked man, in December of 1965, a decision that led to Polak being charged with 18 counts of distributing obscene materials. He eventually escaped imprisonment by agreeing to shutdown the magazine, which he did in 1967.

Three years later, in 1970, Polak left his hometown of Philadelphia and headed to Los Angeles, where he dabbled in real estate and art collecting and continued his activism. In addition to helping found the Stonewall Democratic Club, he created a gay chapter for the local ACLU. Unfortunately, Polak took his own life in 1980. His impact on gay culture, and American democracy, remains unparalleled and woefully under appreciated.

Tags: Art & Books