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Jeff Baker, Boogieman in Lavender: The Groovy Gay World of Victor Banis

    The Groovy Gay World of Victor J. Banis

                                         By Jeff Baker

            It was the Swinging Sixties.

            Spies were everywhere. Fictional ones, anyway. James Bond was all over the place. The Man (and the Girl) from U.N.C.L.E. were plying their trade. And there were spoofs; Maxwell Smart klutzed his way through five years of television misadventures. The British movie “Carry On Spying” pre-dated Smart by about a year.

            And the coolest, grooviest, most flamboyant superspy of them all wore outrageous outfits, used super-gadgetry as well as his good looks, charm and a fair amount of sex to snare evildoers. And no, he wasn’t Austin Powers!

            Some three decades before the shagadelic Austin, Jackie Holmes, agent for C.A.M.P., was making the world safe for homosexuals in a series of quickly-written novels during the brief “Golden Age of the Gay Paperback,” in the last half of the decade before Stonewall. Starting with “The Man from C.A.M.P.” (1966), an openly-gay writer named Victor J. Banis wrote nearly a dozen adventures of the gay superspy which were sold discreetly, read in secret and now fetch high prices for crumbling copies. Fortunately, the books have been released in omnibus editions with an intro by the author.

            The first novel, “The Man From C.A.M.P.” (as by Don Holliday) follows Spencer, a straight government agent from another agency who is teamed with Jackie on a case involving counterfeit diamonds. The James Bond formula is quickly flipped on its head with a secret entrance to C.A.M.P.’s headquarters being in a men’s room stall in a gay bar!

            These novels were written quickly and are not literary masterpieces, but they are fun. They are also period pieces in their attitudes towards gays in the pre-Stonewall days. “Homosexual” is the accepted term, and slurs like “fairy” get thrown about. But Jackie Holmes is nobody’s doormat. Openly, proudly out before that was cool; he takes no guff on his mission. He collects, and works on, vintage, powerful cars and is armed with a killer poodle with razor sharp teeth among other weapons. Of course, he has no problem bedding men, be they friend or foe and uses sex the way James Bond does; as a tool for information and conquest. Still, it feels a bit old-fashioned: the language of the sex scenes in “Man from C.A.M.P.” could have played on an episode of “N.Y.P.D.Blue.”

            Victor Banis was the first gay author to write about gays as something other than self-loathing sub-humans, saying he wanted to depict the positive side of Gay life. This includes his other novels, including an early (maybe the first) gay-themed fantasy novel “Three On A Broomstick.” But the era of the Gay paperback was soon eclipsed by the out-and-out pornographic Gay novels of the 70s, and Banis began writing other things including a heterosexual series of detective novels.

            Banis seems to have lived that positive side of Gay life; in addition to a writing career he was happily partnered with Sam Dodson, with whom he co-wrote several books. Banis’ career included being taken to court on charges of sending obscene material through the mail; (he was acquitted.) He also wrote a memoir: “Spine Intact, Some Creases.”  Banis passed away in 2019.

            In the early 2000s, several of the Jackie Holmes novels were re-released, minus the editorial additions which included several straight sex scenes and actual chapters from earlier books to pad the novels’ length. The “Man From C.A.M.P.” omnibus includes three novels and an introduction by and an interview with Banis. And the stories, which are still fun.

            In other words; Groovy!

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Here’s a link to an Out Magazine article with Banis where he discusses the court case among other things:https://www.out.com/entertainment/art-books/2013/09/26/victor-banis-grandfather-gay?fbclid=IwAR2rjSwbpxovDPFyvfN9EArSMxFXJXxqzeFZqOFGueGXJTb6AJXoqFfuInY

Jeff Baker blogs about reading and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror on or about the thirteenth of every month. He has been published in “The Necronomicon of Solar Pons,” Queer SciFi’s “Innovation” and “Amazing Stories,” among other places. He wishes he had known about Mr. Banis earlier so he could have connected with him online. He lives with his husband Darryl and posts fiction on his blog  https://authorjeffbaker.com/    and can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Jeff-Baker-Author-176267409096907

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