‘Circus of Books’ directed by Rachel Mason delves deep into the history of a once iconic bookstore named Circus of Books. The director traces the history of their family business that, for the most part, was kept under wraps for the children of the family. The bookstore, which sold gay porn and sex toys, was legendary for its contribution to the gay community. Even though it dwindled in fame with the onset of electronic media with apps like Grindr, it holds a place in history for its classic contribution.
Now, almost a year after the closing of the store, its fame and importance continue to be told through this documentary, which is nothing short of interesting. The irony of a practicing Jew couple that ran a gay porn store is perhaps as extraordinary as reality can get.
Who Are Karen Mason and Barry Mason?
The couple once owned a store named ‘Circus of Books’ that was quite sensational for the products they sold, which was gay porn. Barry Mason, who was once a special effects engineer, saw a break in his career when a medical device he built didn’t get through certain insurance. Karen Mason, on the other hand, worked as a journalist with various publishers. The two who were looking to find a substantial means of income ended buying and distributing gay porn that paid well. Eventually, they bought a store that was initially called Book Circus. The couple renamed it to Circus of Books.
The store was divided into two. The entrance was like any other bookstore, filled with regular novels, magazines, and newspapers. However, a special section of the store sold everything ranging from gay porn, sex toys, and novels by LGBT writers. The store soon became a popular cruising spot for gay men. So much so that it served as an entertainment store that not only sold gay porn but also became a pickup site for many gay men to hook up. Soaring through the peak of its success, they also started making their own gay porn videos with Matt Sterling. However, several years later, Barry was arrested as a result of a sting operation by the FBI. He eventually managed to get away with his lawyer stating first amendment rights.
The couple also extended their help and support during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Currently, they are major contributors to a non-profit named PFLAG. Their involvement was a result of their own son coming out as gay. The family, though invested in the gay porn business, is actually far removed from its subject in reality. In fact, Karen Mason struggled to initially accept the sexual orientation of her son. As a result of free online porn and apps like Tinder and Grindr, the stores’ business trickled down. They closed both their stores in Silver Lake and West Hollywood in 2016 and 2019, respectively.
Where Are Karen and Barry Mason Now?
The couple is predominately busy with their work in PFLAG at the moment. The non-profit that aims to create awareness for the parents, family, and friends of the LGBT community, is on a rising streak. Karen and Barry actively head sessions where they share their own experiences with those who struggle with accepting the sexual orientations of their children. The couple, after closing their shop, has attended LGBT rallies and parades to spread the message.
Since the debut of the film in 2019, Karen Mason has been more vocal in interviews and such often appearing with her daughter Rachel. In a recent video on Instagram, Karen compares the Coronavirus outbreak at present to the AIDS outbreak in the 1980s. She spoke about how there are much aid and understanding in today’s situation, wherein, during the AIDS epidemic, there was hardly any help or recognition.
Even now, Karen Mason continues to be the one in charge, as one of their former employees colorfully puts it. She has been incredibly vocal about her experiences, even in the aftermath of the documentary. Barry Mason, a relatively laid back happy individual, continues to pitch in his share of contribution at the PFLAG, attending their children’s’ birthday parties and so on.
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