Three Ring Circus: man on man action in the center ring in an adults-only pulp delight
by Drew Rowsome- Photographs by Lyon Smith and Hannah Price
Anyone familiar with my blog, or who has met me in passing, will be well aware of my firm belief in the erotic appeal of the circus. So when I discovered that 120 Days Books - "Rediscovering unjustly forgotten gay adults-only novels of the 1960s and 1970s" - was publishing a long lost pulp/stroke book entitled Three Ring Circus, I had to read it.
Three Ring Circus tells the story of Mike, who is part of a circus family of high-wire artists and also studies trapeze as an honorary member of another family, and Jerry, a common roustabout with aspirations to become a motorcycle stunt rider, who fall into love and lust across the rigid hierarchy of the circus structure. And as the novel is set in what appears to be the '50s or '60s, love and sex between men is still taboo. But, it turns out, not so taboo when one runs away with the circus.
The plot has less to do with the drama and trauma of coming out or being closeted, and more about how to make a gay relationship work. Mike and Jerry are in love, they are smitten at first sight, but they also like threeways, sex with women, and incest. And when all the men in the circus are muscular, handsome, hugely hung and prone to wander around naked and shower a lot, monogamy or not is a more pressing issue than being gay-bashed or ostracized.
It is a bit of an idyllic world but then it is porn and the plot is supposed to merely be the links between the sexual acts. The author, the mysterious John Maggie, may have researched or been on the road with a circus, or he may just have made it up. The circus certainly gets more description, and is nicely sketched, than the sex acts and the main characters - Jerry is distinctive mainly because of the references to the very erotic-to-the-touch, hell to the mere sight of, hair on his chest and all the penises are simply large - but the setting provides a wonderful exoticism to the rather pedestrian couplings.
There were passages that stirred my groin, but it is hard to tell if that was the writing or the erotic circus memories (and the circus porn) that it evoked. There is a bizarre touch in that Mike and Jerry's relationship and sex acts are legitimized by contrasting them with the voracious snake charmer (who sleeps with every man in the circus as well as her python and, on special occasions, a donkey while her husband the lion tamer, who has the only small penis in the book, watches and masturbates) and the sideshow freaks and clowns whose feats are, unfortunately, too sordid to describe. In that context, to a '60s/'70s reader, gay was positively mainstream.
Here's hoping that 120 Days Books republishes Ward Hall's Gypsy Hot Bloods or better yet convinces him to write of the sexual adventures of his life in the sideshow. But in the meantime the campy erotic joy of Three Ring Circus is a good appetizer. And I have every intention of reading more of 120 Days Books back catalogue, the lurid titles are too enticing to resist. As the characters are wont to say, "I dig it."