Finding himself drunk and alone on Long Island, he checked into a psychiatric hospital, sobered up, applied for welfare, and moved into a single-room-occupancy hotel on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He liked to tell the story of when he pawned all his business suits. The sex stories were apparently unsolicited; it turned out that men were itching to share.
Straight to Hell was a more ambitious expansion of Skinheads. McDonald had no proof of age on file for many of the young men who appeared naked in the pages of Straight to Hell , and readers sent in photos of former lovers who may not have known they were being featured in a pornographic magazine. In the beginning, Straight to Hell was scrappy, with handwritten titles, poorly copied photographs, and profane tirades against the establishment.
Over the years, the aesthetic and tone of the zine softened and became more professional: But the essential elements remained the same. Every issue featured explicit photos, sometimes in collage form. Other photos were sent in anonymously: McDonald also ran interviews with marines, strippers, smut photographers, hustlers, luminaries like Mapplethorpe, and regular joes.
His wit and attention to detail were such that even an interview with one particularly terse man was illuminating:. Letters composed the bulk of the magazine. Letters were edited for length, but never paraphrased or fictionalized. McDonald left intact their misspellings, unusual grammar, and digressions.
On the whole, they were candid, unrepentant, and detailed. Some letters were erudite. While taking Amtrak to a disarmament conference, a reader receives a hand job beneath an open copy of the New Yorker: His C was not too thick but sure was nice.
William E. Jones
McDonald was strict about adherence to the facts. For him, the truth was more valuable than an enhanced story. It was also more erotic; that these things had really happened and could happen again was what made them a turn-on. The letters I like are the ones that are pretty ragged.
A lot of fears and flaws, failures.
Some thought McDonald wrote all the letters himself. Once, the writer Stephen Greco interviewed McDonald at home and voiced doubts that the letters were real. Many letters began with compliments to a particular story or issue that the reader enjoyed, or overall praise for the magazine: The dialogue between readers and editor gave the magazine the feel of an intimate club. One early issue contained the notice: For Us Only.
McDonald maintained a sharp class-consciousness in his commentary and his choice of letters. Straight to Hell was made for a select group of people united by their desire, but at the same time, it was a rare example of sophisticated criticism and political commentary for the masses. McDonald saw himself as continuing the work of Kinsey.
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He viewed Straight to Hell as an important historical document: McDonald was not interested in theorizing or analyzing the stories he received. His interest was in description. His correspondence with his readers was nothing less than a massive collaborative endeavor to define homosexuality, in the sense not of fixing its limits, but of giving shape, texture, and detail to a thing so often addressed dishonestly, with condescension or euphemism. He said in his last interview, with the gay Boston magazine the Guide:.
My work is an alternative to the gay liberation movement and to the gay press.
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The gay press has to be sexless because they are public. And in order to be publicly gay they have to be closet homosexuals. My books are all about homosexuality rather than gayness. In other words, gay is what they are in public, and homosexual is what they are in private. My books are all about their private lives. It has nothing to do with gay liberation, gay rights, gays in the military, civil rights, fundraising, political candidates, and all that stuff.
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McDonald was not on the side of the gay-liberation movement, and it was not on his. Though he had many fans, McDonald was not and never would be a part of this scene. He turned his attention to editing book-length anthologies of Straight to Hell which actually brought in money, unlike the zine and to writing more of his own criticism.
From to , McDonald wrote a weekly column about movies for the gay literary journal Christopher Street. These films, broadcast at all hours of the day on many channels a person would need to be unemployed, and maybe an insomniac, to catch them all , were made in the era of the Motion Picture Production Code, which from to delineated what was appropriate to show in films. Just as one might cruise the street looking for hints about where to find sex, McDonald cruises the movies for their suggestive moments, the places where, either intentionally or accidentally, the stall door has been left ajar.
Often, the articles were based on film stills and promotional photos, many provided by the now-defunct MoMA Film Stills Archive: In Cruising the Movies , small details open up worlds of fantasy and playful speculation. Did he get a hard-on while dressing or undressing? Did anyone in the crew whistle when he walked onto the set in his tights?
Straight To Hell | EXILE
Given the bleak backdrop of the s, the humor in Cruising the Movies can feel both dark and necessary. Though less didactic in his militarism than Solanas was in hers, McDonald was, like Solanas, an embarrassment to leftist strivers and a comic genius who, by reading society on a slant, revealed truths too damning for respectable discourse to digest. Jones suggests that to call Straight to Hell the product of an obsessive crank is to dismiss the work, but the figure of the crank is a valuable one.
The crank lives on the margins and sacrifices respectability in order to tell his truth. Because the crank stays true to his own singular logic, contradictions become the texture of personality and thought, rather than signs of hypocrisy. Returning over and over to his obsessions, the crank intellectual approaches criticism as a work of art, bringing forth his own fully realized version of the world. He points to the fourth-century Greek philosopher Diogenes, who is considered one of the founders of Cynicism, and who showed utter contempt for authority, pretense, social climbing, and self-deception.
Like the Cynics, McDonald was against dogma and convention, and believed in a virtue found through practice rather than theory. Conceived and founded by cult writer Boyd McDonald in the early s, it quickly gained a large following and underground notoriety due to a combination of graphic sexual content, radical politics and stinging wit.
The unique concept of Straight To Hell remains unchanged until today: Box, readers are invited to send their accounts of true sexual experiences to the editor. Over the decades Straight To Hell has become an infamously comprehensive and uncensored library of homosexual practice and identity. The resulting series is a uniquely democratic and powerful collection of bizarre, funny, scary, and raunchy stories documenting the real and often embarrassing sex lives of a wide range of men — detailing a continuous chronology spanning nearly a century.
Exile is honored to inaugurate its new space with an exhibition curated by current editor Billy Miller.
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This particular exhibit is specifically not intended to be a historical overview over the complete story of the magazine, but rather a sample of the range of material featured on its pages. Along with an exhibit of photography from Straight to Hell contributors, the show includes rare editions and ephemera — plus samples from edited anthologies, which will be made available for research during opening hours. Exile will also present a very special limited-edition artwork in honor of the occasion. Participating Artists: Additional Events Sunday, October 19, Skip to content. Straight To Hell: