Dirk Vanden Republished
A Pioneer of Gay Erotica
Gay Pioneer Dirk Vanden has begun his own press and his reprinting several of his books through his own Gay New World company. Vanden is a pioneer of gay erotica. He originally wrote hi books between 1969 and 1973 and they were widely received and read. Now at 77, Vanden who survived the tumultuous periods of GLBT history tells me that some of his books are available on the web and through major booksellers.
“All Together” or “The All Trilogy” contains three novels: “I Want it All”, “All the Way” and “All is Well”. All three began as pulp novels and reading them shows just how far we have come. Some of you probably remember how difficult it was once was to find gay stories and many books were hidden behind the cash register and had to be requested. The way gays were treated back then made it even more difficult to get them because to request a title was, in essence, the same as outing oneself to get something to read but as if that was not enough. The stories were depressing and there few happy gay books back then. Vanden did away with depressing stories and he wrote about gay men who had friends and/or were in relationships with other men. His characters accepted themselves and while they have conflict, they ended up happy and this was revolutionary when we consider what he wrote.
While many consider these books to be pornographic in nature, they are actually so much more than that. In essence the stories are coming out stories which are complex in nature. If we look at them sociologically, we get a look at gay culture in the 1960s on the West coast. It was a time of “hippiedom” and before the AIDS epidemic changed sex habits.
Each story is told in first person and characters from all three stories appear in each and comment events is the thread that holds them together although each stands on its own. Because these stories are about that period in our history when free love ruled and drug use was popular, these two themes are found in the stories. It was a time when we felt we knew it all.
“We were illegal, immoral perverts in those days and anything we could do to our heads to keep from thinking how terrible we were just to have sex with each other and how even more terrible we were to write about it. As a result, I tried marijuana, mescaline and LSD and discovered that they “opened doors in my mind.”" He assured me that: Drug use in Gay bars in the 60s and 70s was as common as beer and cigarettes, and, of course, like nicotine, and alcohol, the drugs were addictive.” Sex was rampant yet homosexuality was illegal in most of the country.
In each story, a guy who considered himself to be straight sees that he is much happier being gay and this was during a time when it was dangerous to be out. Those who were gay had to deal with police raids, rejected by friends and family and defamed by organized religion. Vanden tells us that gay men were both bewildered and pleasant. It was a time when we had two faces—one for family and employment and another for meeting possible sex partners. Cruising was almost a full time profession and moods changed in the process.
It was a time of change and no one really understood what that change would be. We sensed that we were on a journey and even though we knew from where we set out but had no idea of where we were going. There is a lot of sex in the books but there is also romance.
The first book, “I Want it All” I about Warren Miller who sees his friend Bill and several other men planning to castrate a man who put the moves on him. Warren suggests rape instead with everyone participating. When Warren sees the guy, Brad, he feels like he has discovered his twin. Warren, it seems, has repressed his sexuality and seeing that Brad was about to have serious trouble for revealing his, Warren comes out. It is the group of his own friends who want to take care of Brad and this alarms Warren. Then we find Warren and Brad together in a motel where they are trying to deal with what just happened. Brad then leaves Warren. Warren believes to learn about himself and he sets out to find Brad again but eventually winds up exploring gay life. He becomes involved in the pleasures of gay sex. We must remember here that sex is just that and this was a time of promiscuity and it was quite alright to have as much sex with as many partners as possible. Today we see what went on in this story as a bit extreme. It is interesting that there is a bit of romance and a happy ending. I love the beginning of the book:
“This book is about me – Warren Miller – and all of the things that happened to me after I discovered – one night in a dark back alley – after twenty-seven years of thinking that I was ‘normal’ – that I could get turned on by the sight of another man’s naked body! … – I didn’t get all hung-up with guilt and try to kill myself – I didn’t decide I’d been ‘born queer’ and had to make the best of it…. When it happened, I accepted it. Once I’d thought about it, I realized it was nowhere near as bad as I’d heard, and so I decided to find out as much as I could about this ‘new me’ I’d discovered. And that’s exactly what I did…. [I]f just one guy reads my story, about what happened to me when I found out about myself – and about people and the crazy things they think and do – if it helps just that one guy to understand himself better, if it helps him live with himself and the rest of the world, then it really doesn’t matter how many snobs and prudes and Puritans get upset by it, does it? I mean, that’s how I feel about it….
I’d learned something that night: It was dangerous business, getting too close to another man – because it might open some new doors in your head that you didn’t want opened. [That night] some doors had been opened for both Bill and me, but Bill was slamming his closed again…. As for my own doors, I wasn’t at all sure they could ever be closed again, even if I wanted them to be.”
“All the Way” (or book 2) is about Bill Thorne who reacts to a scream he hears outside his window and it stunned him. He went out looking for where it came from and he eventually found parts of a shirt. Bill was Warren’s best friend who was struggling to reconcile the feeling he had for other men. Because I spent so much time on describing the first story let me just say that this story continues with Warren and his relationship to Bill.
“All is Well” (book 3) is a bit different than the other two in that much of the action takes place in Bob’s head. (Bob is Robert Thorne, Bill’s older brother). Bob is a Mormon minister and therefore religion was always there as he grew. It is through this tie with religion that we get Vanden’s personal views and the sense of guilt and narrowness on the life of Bob (Vanden incidentally grew up a Mormon and therefore knows what he is talking about. Bob remains constantly depressed because of the constrictions of the Mormon church. He cannot reconcile his feelings for other men with the teachings of the church. We see this when a note comes in the male saying in very childish language which is full of misspellings:
YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. YOR A WIKID AND TERIBEL MAN. YOU HURT PEEPLE. YOR WIFE HATES YOR GUTS AND THE GIRLS AND YOR SUN ALSO. BUT I HATE YOR MORE. YOU DESERV TO DIE AND IF GOD DONT GIT YOU I WIL.
PS. YOR SUN IS A QUEER IF YOU DONT NO THAT ALL READY. IF YOU THING I AM FOOLING ASK JERRY ASHBY. SO HA HA. THE JOKE IS ON YOU.
SINED YOU NO WHO”.
Robert had met a guy named Chuck and something went down between them. Chuck is a kind of savior to Robert and introduces him to the wonders of nature and of being a friend. Bob had to look within himself to find out how to solve the situation that he is in while confronting his fears at the same time. He admits to having created his own problems. What he did not know was that his meeting Chuck would bring something new into his life which saves him. This is the story of a Mormon father dealing with his life as he faces new and repressed sexual desires. In it we see the changing culture of the time and is a wonderful look at father and son.
Looking at the trilogy as a whole, we see Dirk Vanden as a man who is not afraid to try something new. The prose is excellent and the stories pull the reader in from the start. We see the three worlds of the three different stories coming together to make a solid read although each story can stand on its own. We sense throughout that a world of change is coming and this I must credit to Vanden’s writing. What we really get is a look at the past as we discover who we are. These stories are very real and if you lived through the period you know exactly what I am saying here.
Another new reprint is “All of Me” (“Can You Take All of Me?”). This is a mystery/thriller about a guy names Rick Vernor, a real estate broker who gets a letter telling him that he is an abomination and that he is the next person to die for his sins—he once wrote “dirty books”. He learns that at least two others have received the same kinds of notes but no one knows who he is. When the police investigate a murder, they discover a page from Rick’s novel was attached to the dead man’s family jewels. This is a suspenseful, tense, powerful, provocative mystery. There are just a few characters and there are no leads to who might be doing this.
As the murderer gets closer, the plot expands to include two sexy police officers who find a connection between those who have been killed. As the story moves forward, we see Vanden speak of his own personal ideas and religion become a major issue. It seems that this is a well-disguised personal story about Vanden himself.
Sometimes we do not want to be reminded how it once was especially those who fathers would constantly harp on how they walked 15 miles with holes in tier shoes and terrible weather to get to school. We are reminded of how things once were and we are lucky to have Vanden lead us through the period.