LGBT History Month: Straight to Hell with Boyd McDonald

Boyd McDonald (1925-1993) was an eccentric recluse who changed gay life and gay literature with his collections of “true homosexual experiences.” In 1973, already retired and living on welfare, McDonald founded Straight to Hell (STH), an underground publication with subtitles like the Manhattan Review of Unnatural Acts or the New York Review of Cocksucking.

At its peak, STH enjoyed a circulation of ten thousand, though McDonald never made much money out of it. Excerpts from STH later appeared in The Guide, the monthly journal of gay travel, entertainment, politics & sex. (I wrote adult film reviews for The Guide just before it sadly went out of business in 2010.) McDonald’s true homosexual experiences also appeared in a series of 13 book collections that he edited for Gay Sunshine Press, Gay Presses of New York, Bright Tyger Press or Fidelity Publishing (publishers of The Guide).

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McDonald also wrote about movies - not then-current blockbusters but oldies he saw at home on his black and white television set - for Christopher Street. These reviews were collected and published in “Cruising the Movies: A Sexual Guide to ‘Oldies’” on TV (Gay Presses of New York, 1985). “Straight to Hell” is still published by McDonald’s friend and successor, Billy Miller.

So much has changed in the decades since McDonald died that he is hardly remembered today except by smut collectors and a few aging survivors of McDonald’s “Golden Age of Cocksucking” (1940-1980). Fortunately, McDonald has been rescued from undeserved oblivion by author William E. Jones, author of “True Homosexual Experiences: Boyd McDonald and Straight to Hell.” Jones also wrote an introduction to a new edition of “Cruising the Movies.”

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“McDonald,” Jones wrote, “was the main creative force behind one of the most distinctive underground publications, in fact, the first queer zine... The unnamed men who contributed their stories came from all walks of life, barely literate to highly educated. They all had one thing in common: a need to write accounts of their sexual exploits and share them with their fellow men.”

As McDonald himself put it, “I consider this history, not pornography. It’s very serious work ... the true history of homosexual desire and experience. Any gay publications that do not deal with the elemental discussion of gay sexual desire are not serious - they are frivolous.” What McDonald would think of the current gay obsession with monogamous marriage and parenthood can only be imagined.

“The truth is the biggest turn-on,” McDonald once wrote. “The proper study of homosexuality is homosexuals.”

During his lifetime, McDonald’s Straight to Hell magazines influenced the likes of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and writers Gore Vidal, Larry Mitchell and John Mitzel. Mitzel, who knew McDonald, called him “a sex-revved Thoreau” who “became a hero to thousands of gay citizens.”

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“Boyd had a voice unique and inimitable,” scholar Charley Shively said, shortly after McDonald died. “He neither overstated nor understated the joys of gay sex. ... Sham and fraud of any kind appalled him. He ridiculed the hypocrisy of police, clerics, politicians, therapists, teachers, and others of the so-called ‘helping professions.’ He likewise disdained gay/lesbian spokespersons and leaders dedicated to cleaning up the filthy in us all.”

“Boyd was a true renegade and an iconoclast of the first order,” Tom Steele, editor of Christopher Street, told Jones. “Nothing was sacred to him. He particularly delighted in bringing down (in print) political and show business icons. Boyd was also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. His wit and intelligence were seemingly endless.” Jones’s “True Homosexual Experiences” is a fitting tribute to this late, great homoSEXual icon.

For more about STH, visit straight-to-hell.com.


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