Mars: The First Gay Leather Magazine



Chuck Renslow

Chuck Renslow, gay activist and a pioneering figure of the gay leather community, founded Mars magazine in May of 1963. Renslow definitely pushed the homoerotic envelope of his time with this cutting-edge vintage gay physique publication that was instrumental in both creating and disseminating the image of the gay leatherman. 

The magazine combines the classic smooth muscle jock physiques of the physique magazines with what became the iconic image of the gay leatherman: a super- or hypermasculine look emphasizing a well-developed physique, oftentimes facial hair, a generous endowment, and motorcycle gear: heavy boots and jacket. 

It featured art by Tom of Finland and Dom Orejudos aka the artist Etienne and Renslow’s partner, among others. Several of the models hailed from Renslow’s photography or “physique house,” Kris Studio. 

Renslow discovered many of his models, such as Ralph Kleiner and Paul Ferguson (one of the murderers of silent film legend Ramon Navarro) at bodybuilding circuit competitions such as Mr. Chicago. 

Ralph Kleiner wrestling

Contents of one of the last issues, Issue 21, September 1966: 

Mars magazine, September 1966


This issue still offers an article on physical culture entitled “Exercising the Abdomen,” focusing on leg raises: short on text, larger on pics of a naked guy doing them (no posing strap in site, the genitalia deftly covered by the camera angle and the position of the legs; note the hint of pubic hair). Pretty desultory compared to the much more detailed articles that appeared in the more conventional physique magazines of the period. But the point is the picture, really, by this stage of the game! 

The editorial on page three and on pages 42-47 shows the still difficult issues with censorship, despite the MANual vs. O'Day decision in 1962. The text reports that Ralph Ginzburg, producer of the erotic magazines Eros and Liason (the text reads “artistically produced”) another covering term for these types of publications), was convicted on a charge of mailing obscene materials in 1963. The prosecutor was the late great Robert Kennedy; wow! 

The above tidbit shows how one is continually uncovering parts of history that change one's view of a famous personage around which certain myths develop. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction by a 5 to 4 decision. The text also gives detailed analysis of the different judges' reasonings for their decision. The argument's thrust here is the ruling's unconstitutionality, despite the nuances of the judge's interpretation of this First Amendment issue 

Guild Book Services, one of the few openly gay companies during this time period, offers their usual insert in this magazine. The review of the book Homosexual: Personal Case Histories of Homosexuals is most interesting, as it seems to offer, for the reviewer, a really wild gamut of deviations (including BDSM), distasteful but without an overtly moralistic commentary. Though the comments of the psychiatrists that accompany these stories probably endorse the gay equals sick hypothesis prevalent during this period, which one could definitely claim is supported by the unusual evidence here! 

This issue, focusing on a motorcycle theme, contains stunning homoerotic leather/fetish art by Luger, Orsen, and Tom of Finland. On pages 10-11, there is a classic Etienne,which he painted for a local bistro in Chicago (the legendary Gold Coast Bar?). 

Gold Coast Bar mural - Etienne


Pictures from the movie Motorcycle Hero (take of more of the clothes and one would have a gay porn movie, but then, in this case, the leather gear would stay on). A young man dons his sleeping friend's (what a woofy hunk) leather gear ... and ... much is left to the imagination. 

The magazine ceased publication in 1966 or 1967. 

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The Infamous Kitty Genovese Murder: Not What It Seemed!

The Infamous Kitty Genovese Murder:  Not What It Seemed!


If you ever took Psychology 101, you may have learned about the“bystander effect,” a psychosocial dynamic that often occurs when multiple witnesses view a traumatic (but not always) event happening to an individual. 

Essentially, because of social inhibitions, The more witnesses to an event, the less people are willing to become involved. 


Bystander effect cartoon

Why the inhibition? There's many factors that feed into it, but think if it this way as a diffusion of responsibility: how many times you were in situations where you assume others are either more able or just automatically will take care of a problem? Oh, I thought so and so should do it, because it is his job. Or, I just assumed someone else called the police. 

Now, much of the effect does depend on the context, especially if the environment is different or the the group isn't cohesive, but it's not just apathy, as many still believe, based on the supposed reaction of supposed to witnesses to the now infamous Kitty Genovese murder. 


The usual story, based on the New York Times story we have heard is that 37 or 38 people saw Kitty Genovese's brutal stabbing outside her apartment building on March 13, 1964, and did nothing, that is, no one called the police. The apathy of the world. The urban jungle. Being lonely in a crowd. People don't know their neighbors anymore in the big city. It all fits, all those social changes are destroying our sense of community. 

Austin Street photo

But I found out that what's really going on here is akin, but not completely, because something happened and there were witnesses, to those urban legends. In fact, my current “brain candy” television viewing (which, it turns out, in this case, ended up far from being that sweet), Investigation Discovery, basing their show on more recent research, pretty much establishes that the usual narrative we have grown up with is not an accurate depiction of what actually happened

Here's the rub: no one witnesses the actual stabbing. People heard screams but saw nothing. They saw nothing. Does hearing a scream make you a witness? 

One neighbor saw something and shouted out the window for Kitty's murderer, Winston Moseley, to leave her alone. He could not tell she was stabbed in the darkness. Moseley fled. The neighbor did see her stagger to the door of her apartment building across the street, but he assumed she was probably drunk and/or the victim of a domestic spat. 

It turns out another woman picked up the phone to call the police. She panicked and put the phone down. In those days, there was no 911 emergency service. You dialed the precinct directly. And in some cases, the person answering the phone might tell you to, basing his judgment (based on extensive experience) solely on your speech, to not get involved. Or, perhaps, the person at the precinct might even be led to believe that you were directly involved in the incident. Thus, calling the police during that period actually could be a risky venture. And also, because police departments had not developed the technologies of surveillance and tracking we now take for granted, you could expect to be questioned extensively and even be deemed a suspect just because you made a call. 

Someone else called the police: a female friend of Kitty's neighbor, Karl Ross. Kitty collapsed in the hallway of her apartment building and screamed Karl's name, crying out she had been stabbed. At first Karl did nothing. Winston by then had caught up with her in the hallway and finished killing his prey, inside. (There was no third attack, as the newspaper article claims). Karl by that point had opened the door and saw the attack, but shut the door in horror and fear. Moseley ran off, but soon after, Kitty's neighbor, and, it turns out, good friend, Sophie, had heard the commotion and ran toward the scene, yes, toward a murder (not exactly apathy). Sophie screamed for Karl to call the police. Karl was not there. He had fled the building via a window to his friend's house. 

But why did Karl do nothing, even after he saw the horror? 

Here's the rub, and it could show that the real issue is not apathy, but fear, and not a fear of “getting involved.” Karl Ross was gay. That night, he had also been drinking, alone. In 1964, gays were routinely harassed by the police, even in their own social spaces, which at that point were limited pretty much to gay bars. His fear about calling the police lost precious minutes. 

And Kitty Genovese was a closeted lesbian (well, pretty much anyone gay or lesbian during that period has to be closeted). Her roommate, Mary Ann, was questioned for six hours by the police after the murder, at one point focusing on why there was only one bed in the apartment for two women. Again, anyone considered to be sexually deviant was a target for police harassment. A grief-stricken Mary Ann moved out of the neighborhood soon after, understandably so. 


38 Witnessed Her Death, I Witnessed Her Love: The Lonely Secret of Mary Ann Zielonko (Kitty Genovese Story) by Lulu Lolo

Kitty herself, as far as we know at this point, was not persecuted for being a lesbian. In fact, she was popular with everyone. Her best friend, Sophie, a straight married woman, apparently knew Kitty was a lesbian, but respected Kitty's privacy in that matter. (Kitty also had dated men, not just because it was the norm, but because she worked as a bar manager, and dating men would be pretty much a required “social” dynamic of the job.) 

There's another issue going on here, and I think it could tie into sexism. One of the neighbors assumed the screams were the result of a domestic dispute, and they thus thought it best to not get involved. According to psychologist Frances Cherry, people during that time period were unlikely to intervene if they assumed a man was attacking his wife and girlfriend. 

And there's something else going on here. The values (or lack thereof) that the article was trying to read into the incident, that is, we live an urban jungle where neighbors don't know each other and everyone is a potential enemy, and this distrust and isolation results in apathy, don't really seem to apply on a literal level in this situation. Kitty knew many of her neighbors. She knew Karl, at least enough to call him by name while she was being murdered. And she died in the arms of her best friend, also a neighbor. In this day and age, how many people can even claim they know even the name of a neighbor? 

What's really a shame is that she had to keep the most basic part of her identity a secret. But that didn't prevent her from loving and being loved by her neighbors. And this loving person was brutally murdered by a psychopathic killer who to this day shows no remorse for his action



Article - Moseley Tells How He Killed 3

Kitty should be remembered for her love, not as a victim of apathy. You could say, though, if she's a victim of anything, it's of the sexism and homophobia of the culture at that time. But I don't think Kitty ever saw herself as a victim of anything while she lived, because she loved her neighbor as herself.

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A Fun Visit to the Leather Archives & Museum


A couple of months ago, I took one of my dearest friends to the Leather Archives & Museum. She is unabashedly heterosexual (and not kinky, I'm pretty sure). She initiated the visit. And it wasn't because of puerile curiosity (my friend is much, much more sophisticated than that). She read about the museum in a mainstream website Chicagoist. She wanted to go with an expert (c'est moi). It also helped (I emphasized this fact in our conversations) that I know the wonderful couple who run the place. 


Leather Archives & Museum exterior

Housed in what used to a synagogue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and for a nonprofit, in an enviable position (they own their own building and their board is incredibly generous), the museum showcases the history and imagery of two previously taboo subcultures that are now in the vanguard of discovering and also interpreting what used to be their secret, hidden history: LGBT leather and BDSM (both gay and straight). 

The museum regularly exhibits recent work featuring BDSM/fetish-related themes by current artists, but its claim to fame, at least I think, is its stunning collection of original homoerotic art by the legendary artist Etienne, including the murals which once graced the walls of the Gold Coast leather bar. My friend, with her art history background, immediately saw these works as art, and worthy of deep analysis. 

Two Etienne murals on display in the museum


One can also learn about the history of and view artifacts from leather motorcycle, commonly known as “patch” clubs, some of which involved into the gay sex/BDSM clubs of today, and also study the diverse contributions of women and transgender persons to this subculture. There's even a room with dungeon equipment (I must admit, my friend was somewhat shocked at the violet wands on display and some of the more fierce-looking whips). 
Leather Archives & Museum dungeon display

What both of us found really enjoyable was the comfortable room where one can watch documentaries on gay and sexual history. I didn't get the title of what we were watching, as we got there in the middle of it, but the documentary seems to be about the sexual revolution of the 1960s and its influence on the stellar growth of the straight and gay porn industries in the 1970s. The documentary showed scenes from and analyzed that controversial film Censorship in Denmark, by Alex de Renzy. It was an explicit documentary that mixed footage of Copenhagen tourist attractions with on-the-street interviews and hardcore scenes from the city's live sex clubs and movies, one of the first of its type to be shown at an art house and reviewed in the mainstream press. 

So much of the way we live, especially our personal relationship dynamics (both healthy and unhealthy, I might add), depends on what happened in the 1960s and the 1970s. But this time of liberation sprung from a rich, hidden history of courageous people living in the shadows but also fighting for basic personal freedoms; the Leather Archives & Museum is now bringing this history to light. 

We didn't get a chance to visit the library, a formidable archive that includes vintage leather/BDSM magazines like Drummer and interviews with notable figures in the various kink cultures, but there's time for that. 

As Lisa White in the Chicagoist article says, “This isn’t the place to take Grandma when she comes up to visit (unless you have the most badass liberal Grandma around). But it is a wonderful look into two vibrant communities and a great resource. “ 

After we concluded our visit, my liberal badass friend and I topped off our visit with lunch in the Mariano's cafe, where I said the word “sex” quite loudly there (gasp!), shocking a tweenish boy who was emptying his tray into the garbage. Hey, after that visit, of course, the topic was on our minds. 

Check out the Leather Archives & Museum website for more information, and of course check out bijouworld's extensive fetish/BDSM product line of DVDs, books, magazines, and sexcessories. 

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“Poppular” Poppers: A Brief History and Photo Essay

“Poppular” Poppers: A Brief History and Photo Essay


Early ads for poppers in the late 1960s called them "aromas." At that time, aromatherapy was little known outside of France.


In 1969, outfits like JacMasters began to sell vials or "inhalers" containing isobutyl nitrite, and the first brand name was trademarked: Locker Room. Isobutyl nitrate, or amyl, is the original popper formula.


During the 1970s, poppers or "aromas" were marketed like a sexual incense to gay men. Rather than inhale the newly popular “aromas” of patchouli or sandalwood, gay men could inhale locker room or armpit scent, the smell of hot, rough, uninhibited sex. b2ap3_thumbnail_blacjackpoppersad.jpg


b2ap3_thumbnail_playgirlaugust1979.jpgPoppers had become so popular that, by 1977, The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine claimed that the use of isobutyl nitrite as a recreational drug had become a substantial $50 million a year business.


And even more brands such Bolt, Hardware, Thrust, Quicksilver (not thunderbolt) were first introduced around 1977-78.


The Bijou started selling them around that time because the company (Great Lakes Products) that was making these poppers was renting space from us to manufacture their poppers These name brands were owned by Rush (someone named Joe Miller).


By the late 70s, the popularity of the drug even extended to straight men and women.


In the August 1979 issue of Playgirl, a "cautious" user's guide to drugs and sex reports that amyl nitrate intensifies orgasms but also smells like glue. The article reports that amyl was banned by the FDA and replaced by butyl, "which smells like old tennis shoes and is sold as a 'room deodorizer.'"


Old tennis shoes? Could be quite stimulating in certain situations, depending on your fetish.  And that smell certainly does evoke the locker room, literally!


Some of the ads appealed to icons of masculinity: the traditional statue of David, harking back to pre-Stonewall gay bars, and the then-popular gay macho images of leathermen and cowboy.


The ubiquitous popper Rush was able to advertise in a plethora of gay publications; one famous add shows a giant bottle of “Rush” hovering over the “rush hour” of a city, which, in those days, didn't take place at the dusk of 5 p.m., but rather, in the late night and early morning hours (as implied in the image of the city) when the bathhouses and gay porn theaters were hopping.


b2ap3_thumbnail_rushpoppersad.jpgThe popper bottle and the potent aroma one inhaled from it essentially powerfully rules from above but also, because it it releases an enveloping aroma, binds together the collective gay sexual culture represented by the titles of  gay magazines (as well as straight, looking at some of the magazine titles in the ad) of that time together. It was more than a powerful tool or symbol of sexual liberation; it became sexual liberation itself.


As the seventies progressed, the popper ads in gay magazines became more creative and catered to a variety of sexual tastes in this era of sexual liberation. For example, the ad for JacMasters in a 1976 Drummer Magazine shown below seems both campy and erotic.




The bulging jockstrap on one of the action figures harks back to the physique magazines like Physique Pictorial. Yet the hand holding what vaguely looks like a bottle by the logo probably represents a handjob. Big bottle equals big cock. Inhaling the aroma will make your cock big and hard. Or even like a giant cock to the little men holding the big bottle of aroma!


And the imagery of fighting and bullets (in the ad above, the guys look like little G.I. Joes) often found in the ads featuring poppers was most telling; at one level, it fed into the archetypal sex-death trope, but it also could be read in hindsight as a frightening prefiguration of AIDS, when sex literally caused death. And now the gigantic brown bottle over the city in the Rush ad now becomes something a bomb or a missile.


b2ap3_thumbnail_milwaukeecalendarpopperads.jpgb2ap3_thumbnail_cowboypoppersad.jpg In the 80s, the AIDS epidemic swept away the sexually-charged gay culture of the 70s that created and responded to the popper ads, but poppers themselves went underground (unfortunately, in many cases, in fake, or non-amyl, formats). The mainstream gay press, because of the possible connection between HIV and the use of nitrate, eventually stopped running ads for poppers, but not after a struggle.


According to one source, “before the first official reports of AIDS in 1981, relatively few voices in the gay community had been raised to question what health problems poppers users might be causing themselves. A few attempts were made to curb sales, but the manufacturers always got around it by changing either the chemical formula or the product name. And the gay press, dependent on revenue from ads, did not care to blow the whistle on its own advertiser.”


Frighteningly, information linking popper use to karposi's sarcoma was apparently suppressed by both the gay media (because of the power of the advertisers) and by the right wing press, which of course saw AIDS as a deserved punishment for promiscuity.

b2ap3_thumbnail_statueofdavidpopperad.jpgThe FDA at first stood aside; as long as poppers were marketed as “room perfume for fags,” they would do nothing.


And one popper manufacturer even sent a letter to all the gay papers, reminding them just who was "the largest advertiser in the Gay press."


Then, upon the instigation of some activists and researchers in the mid-eighties, Congress passed a law outlawing the original amyl nitrate formulas; now the major ingredient is butyl.


There are numerous poppers being distributed under different names, and most people have their favorites: for example, Rush and Brown Bottle are old standbys for most people who first buy poppers (not taking away from long-time users that only like these brands); as time went on, people graduated to other brands.


Regarding false types of poppers,  for example, Can Opener, Private Stock, Platinum, and others, are truth are the same formula as Brown Bottle, but in different packaging, done to deceive people. Other current brands such D&E, Nitro, Zap, Man Scent, and Mr. Wonderful, will give people headaches; their manufacturers produce them to make money, not caring about quality and the intended purpose of the product.


About three years ago, the outfit that made the popper brand Rush was raised by the police. Supposedly, Joe Miller, the long-time manufacturer, committed suicide (this cause of death cannot be verified).


Six months ago, the story was circulating that someone had bought out the company. The outfit was back again selling its authentic product.


Will poppers ever become as “poppular” as they were in the 70s and 80s? As activities that were once part of the sexual underground become more mainstream in the 21st century, perhaps poppers in their true form will become once again become an exciting but now safe part of our diverse sexual culture.




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