How A Straight, Middle-Class Couple Became The Biggest Distributors Of Gay Porn

(screen capture via Netflix/Circus of Books)

For more than 35 years, the Circus of Books bookstore was a place where Los Angeles LGBTQ people could socialize and celebrate themselves without judgment.

Not just ‘a book store,’ the retail venue was a gay porn emporium run by a straight, mainstream Jewish couple – Barry and Karen Mason – whose three children attended religious schools and were unaware for a long time about the nature of their parents’ business.

Executive produced by Ryan Murphy for Netflix, Circus of Books is now a new documentary set to drop on April 22. The project is the debut film from Rachel Mason, one of the children of the owners.

In the newly-released trailer, which alternates between interview soundbites and clips from vintage gay porn, one of the Mason children shares, “We were just kept completely in the dark.”

“If anyone asked what our parents did, the official answer was ‘We own a book store,’” added another.

(screen capture)

“In the 1980s, we were probably the biggest distributors of hard-core gay films in the United States, but I never felt free to let anybody know what we did,” says Karen in the trailer.

The conflict was due to the family’s attendance at a “stuffy, conservative synagogue” and having a business that sold gay porn and sex paraphernalia to the LGBTQ community.

According to press materials, the Masons didn’t set out to be gay activists, just “everyday entrepreneurs.” 

But then came the AIDS crisis and the Masons found they were losing employees to the epidemic. Phoning the parents of those employees, they realized how marginalized so many LGBTQ people were as many responded to the news with “I never want to see them again.”

And so, the Masons became accidental activists recognizing the humanity in their customers.

Karen and Barry Mason (via Netflix)

One former patron shares to the camera, “Circus of Books was my first glimpse into the fact that I wasn’t alone as a gay person.”

Another: “This book store, it kept me out of harm’s way.”

“I think what we did was small, human kindnesses in a very small way,” says Karen Mason in an interview clip.

Check out the trailer below, and mark your calendar for the April 22 release of Circus of Books on Netflix.

What do you think?