Netflix Documentary ‘Circus of Books’ Shares LGBTQ History

 In 1976, Karen and Barry Mason, a Jewish couple starting a family, were looking for a way to support their family when they found an ad in the Los Angeles Times to become a distributor. Soon, they take over an adult book store which quickly became the biggest distributor of gay porn in the United States.

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 In 1976, Karen and Barry Mason, a Jewish couple starting a family, were looking for a way to support their family when they found an ad in the Los Angeles Times to become a distributor. Soon, they take over an adult book store which quickly became the biggest distributor of gay porn in the United States. While this was a lucrative business, it could lead to jail during censorship battles that were happening in the U.S. 

Circus of Books was an adult bookstore that gave a safe space to the gay community during the 80s. This documentary explores the couple that ran the store, the store being a pillar for the gay community, and LGBTQ history during the 80s: when being gay could send you to jail.

 

 image via documentary.org

Not only was the business always at risk but the customers were as well. Police raids were a common occurrence in gay clubs and bars that resulted in arrests and abuse. “Back then if you were out, you were an outlaw,” Phil Tarley, an adult film director, states. We also learn from Alexei Romanoff, a LGBTQ rights activist, that getting arrested by the police was a real fear because  “if they got outed, they could lose their jobs, lose their homes.” 

 

 

Realizing the context of being gay in the 80s it becomes clear why places like Circus of Books turned into community centers for the LGBTQ community. Romanoff explains that the bookstore, “was really important because there was literature in them that had to do with our lives. I mean, we were the unspoken, hidden people that you never talked about because they were ‘disgusting’ ” This documentary touches on the history for the fight of human rights for the gay community. 

 

image via Netflix

While we learn about LGBTQ history throughout the documentary, we also learn the path to acceptance from Karen Mason. Starting and running the business as a deeply religious person the viewer can clearly see her cognitive dissonance towards the situation. As the business and her family grows, she is confronted with the reality that her two worlds, the business and her family, are one. 

This documentary is an intriguing look into what it was like to be gay in the L.A. during the 80s, the AIDS epidemic, finding a community where you can be yourself, and the family that found themselves in the center of it all.

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