The queer past is deleted on eBay


One day, nearly twenty years ago, historian Vi Johnson won an auction on eBay for a numbered first edition of “Sex Life in England Illustrated”, by Iwan Bloch, one of the first sexologists. (Among the true facts of Bloch: he located and published the manuscript of the “Marquis de Sade”The 120 days of Sodom“, thinking long lost.) Johnson recalled that, afterwards,” I was talking to the buyer I bid against, or technically sniped against, thinking I had a new friend to talk to about finding some money. eroticism. But he thought I was that he was — a buyer for the right. The rival bidder was paid to find and destroy erotic books on eBay. Johnson, who “turned out to be both a lesbian and a pervert in 1974,” was stunned, and after that she devoted herself to preserving stories of sexuality and making them accessible. “I swore if I could find it, grab it, steal it, buy it, borrow it, beg it, I was going to save it.”

Johnson and his wife, Jill Carter, now have some forty thousand books and artifacts in their Carter / Johnson Leather Library and Collection, located in Newburgh, a suburb of Evansville, Indiana. The first acquisitions came from friends and friends of friends within the BDSM scene, but for years Johnson has depended heavily on eBay for what is available and for acquisitions. The collection, filled with ashtrays and shot glasses from old-fashioned leather bars, kink talk shows and thousands of dirty books, overflowed from Johnson and Carter’s walk-in brick home in a second home. Johnson recently set up a “researcher’s room” in the new excavation, to accommodate researchers who wish to study the archives. “Indeed, you come to Grandma’s,” she said. “It’s just that your grandmother is as crooked as an old clothes hanger.” That afternoon, she told me, a visiting writer had just moved in to explore the intersections of architecture and lesbians.

Recently eBay has changed company policy in a way that will make it difficult to acquire erotic items. In May, the platform banned the sale of “sexual material” – including magazines, films and video games – and closed its “Adults Only” category to new listings in the United States. There are a few explicit exceptions, including Playboy; Penthouse; the gay fanzine End; the satirical erotic magazine run by women On our back; and something called Fantastic men, which appears to be a misspell of the PG-rated men’s style magazine Fantastic man. “Lists of nude art that do not contain suggestive sexual poses or acts are allowed,” the policy says. Materials conflicting with such distinctions – which could likely include anything from reproductions of Michelangelo’s “The Expulsion from Heaven” to back copies of black thumbs-are, apparently, now beyond pallor.

The ban appears to be linked to the House of Commons Anti-Online Trafficking Act and the Senate Prohibition of Sexual Trafficking Act, known together as FOSTASESTA, an effort by victims’ rights defenders and right-wing activists to crack down on sex work. One of the features of the legislative package was to make websites responsible for hosted content that could “promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person”. After the signing of Donald Trump FOSTASESTA in law, in 2018, Craigslist shut down its personal contact lists, Tumblr banned sexual content, Facebook banned the formation of groups organized around sexual encounters, and Instagram stepped up its monitoring of user content, especially that which includes any suspicion of human nudity. Also relevant: eBay recently started using Dutch fintech company Adyen for electronic payment services. Like many payment processing companies, Adyen refuses to participate in the sale of adult equipment. Similar concerns from payment providers were said to have been at the center of the recent move by OnlyFans, the content subscription platform, to ban sexual content – a move they overturned after considerable outcry. led by sex workers who, in large part, helped the company build a valuation of around $ 1 billion. In a written statement regarding eBay’s policy change, a spokesperson said, “eBay is committed to maintaining a safe, reliable and inclusive marketplace for our community of buyers and sellers and we are continually re-evaluating the categories. of products authorized on the platform. “

Brooklyn Museum curator Drew Sawyer said he had “often turned to eBay for prints, magazines, zines and photographic reproductions” when preparing for exhibitions. “Even if-if– they are archived in libraries, they are often easier to buy on eBay from a logistical and registrar point of view. And also the cost. For an upcoming retrospective, Sawyer won a copy of photographer Jimmy DeSana’s self-published 1979 monograph, “Submission: Selected Photographs.” It’s one of a few hundred copies ever made, and a crucial document of a time when queer sexuality and conceptual art intertwined. “DeSana is an artist whose work would fall under this new policy,” Sawyer said.

By researching his book “Bound Together: leather, sex, archives and contemporary artAndy Campbell, associate professor of critical studies at the Roski School of Art and Design, used both eBay and the Johnson / Carter Library, in addition to other archives across the country. “Bound Together” argues that queer archives are particularly precarious, as they often lack institutional support structures and their content contradicts community guidelines. Yet by making queer culture accessible, they also increase the likelihood of that more positive erasure: assimilation. The same kind of harness that once spanned a hairy chest at Tony DeBlase Dungeon master the magazine ends, some four decades later, with Taylor Swift in a paparazzi snapshot or Timothée Chalamet on the red carpet. Campbell can still draw these historic lines of sex, style, and commerce without eBay, but it’s harder. “When you look at an issue of the leather magazine Drummer, I think of all the coordinated efforts of so many writers, artists, readers and editors to represent, month after month, their experiences in this community ”, he told me by e-mail. . “With Dungeon Master, which was an almost solo labor of love for DeBlase, I think of the radical abilities of a highly motivated person to educate and titillate their community. That one or the other exists is a miracle. When it comes to finding them, “It’s a shame eBay is no longer that platform.”

About half of the source material for Evan Purchell’s 2019 collage film, “Ask Any Buddy” came from individual sellers on eBay: One hundred and twenty-six porn movies made in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Paris, between 1968 and 1986. In his eBay search for the film, Purchell also found an extremely rare copy of “Last Tango in Hollywood,” from 1974: A Wild Side Against the Vietnam War, billed as a blue film. “It was made by a native cheesecake model named Cathy Crowfoot,” Purchell told me, on Zoom from Austin, Texas. In an industry shamefully reluctant to employ women – and even less likely to offer a boost to Indigenous women – “Last Tango” remains one of a kind, a film according to Purchell is “certainly the first gay porn film directed by a woman. wife “.

On eBay, Purchell also found copies of leather magazines like Drummer; often he stumbled across multiple copies of the same issue, bought the lot, then re-entered them individually to help fund his collection and keep the issues in the hands of other connoisseurs. He learned about eBay’s new policy when his ads weren’t showing. “Reviews like American Bear, Bear, Daddy Bear– it was for a subculture that emerged in the 90s, and they provided a safety net and a social net, ”Purchell explained. “A problem of Drummer has cheesecake, but also advice and a correspondence section in prison. For example, the forty pages of Drummer Issue 3, October 1975, features a how-to guide and personal ads for men from Alabama and Australia. There’s a piss photo, but there’s also an article on police violence against members of Homophile Effort for Legal Protection and a sharp review of the bodybuilding book “Pumping Iron”. Page 38 features an advertisement for the neo-Nazi gay group the National Socialist League, including its slogan, which is a hijacking of the lyrics from the musical “Cabaret”: “Tomorrow is yours!” At drummer Page of letters to the editor “Malecall”, the magazine condemns the advertisement but defends its publication, using the same terms that a free speech radical could use around 2021: “By denying any group the right to a voice. . . we violate the very freedom we are trying to defend.

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