‘Godfather Of Modern Popular Gay Fiction’ Graduated From My Local, Rural High School

If you walk into Eaton High School in Preble County you will not find any quotes from our most prolific author. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard of Victor J. Banis — a 1955 EHS graduate.

I stumbled across his name on the Preble County Wikipedia page — and then I read his 2008, 400+ page memoir, Spine Intact, Some Creases.

I found him to be a very interesting individual.

His book should appeal to at least three categories of readers:

  • those interested in First Amendment rights,
  • the gay community, and
  • locals interested in Preble County’s 1940s-1950s history.

First Amendments Battles

Victor is listed as a juvenile living at home in his father’s 1954 obituary. In the book, Banis details his last conversation with his father.

Banis moved out of Preble County after high school and within a decade found himself indicted in Sioux City, Iowa for ‘conspiracy to distribute obscene material’. Banis was indicted for his novel The Affairs of Gloria. As Banis writes in the foreword of the re-release of The Why Not Gloria,

…had one ‘damn’ in it and one ‘go to hell.’ It did, however, significantly have some — again tepid — lesbian scenes.

The federal government and the U.S. Postal Service found the lesbian scenes morally offensive.

Banis would eventually be dropped from the case (the other defendants were not), but he still spent the first decade of his writing career with a suitcase packed and an open offer to move overseas should another indictment be handed down.

A conviction in these obscenity cases could yield a 20-year or longer prison sentence.

But, instead of prison, for more than a decade Banis was at the forefront of the popular gay fiction scene. And, in true capitalism form, it proved quite profitable because he had found an unmet need. In the early 1970s, Banis was earning about $200,000 a year — the equivalent of $1.2 million today.

Not bad for a former Preble County resident.

Eventually, Banis would write in several genres, including straight romance, but it is his 1960s gay C.A.M.P. series that collectors seek out. Those interested in his work will find a bibliography of about 150 titles in Spine Intact.

Being Gay In Small Town America

Although I found his First Amendment battles intriguing, and his personal life interesting, another appeal was the local history. Included in the 27-chapter book are roughly four chapters worth of local history. Some of it is a little salacious for this region — his cross-dressing Halloween adventure at the Armory at the age of 12, the first time a male classmate expressed a romantic interest in him, and his romantic liaison at 17 with his 26-year-old Boy Scout leader. He writes,

When I began a relationship with my friend I was lonely to a suicidal degree. I knew only one other gay youth in Eaton, Ohio. There were gay adult males in town but, mindful of their own safety, they avoided involvement with someone so young…In retrospect I suppose that the folks in Eaton, Ohio, who guessed what was going on with my friend and me thought it none of their business.

Banis’ parents are buried in Preble County.

The relationship would lead to a nonfiction work, Men and their Boys: the homosexual relationship between adult and adolescent (1966), in which Banis interviews homosexuals males that had relationships with older men.

Crimes Against Humanity

Early in this memoir, Banis states that Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is about Preble County (Anderson was born here, but moved by age two to Clyde, Ohio). If Banis’ assertion is accurate, Anderson’s work paints our dark side.

And when you read some of the incidents in Banis’ life, his assertion may be true.

In his book, Banis describes how his family ‘saw’ his oldest brother on a back country road in Preble County the night he was killed in Italy. Banis’ brother died in WWII shortly after his 23rd birthday.

As a Preble County resident, Banis grew up poor in the 1940s and 1950s. It was an era where being gay was a crime and it was a region, then as now, where homosexuality, by and large, is not accepted as natural. But, indirectly, this book challenges what we say we believe by showing us who we are. Banis mentions the gay local politicians, the homosexual book he found at a Preble County drug store in his youth, and the regional gay bars and hangouts that he frequented in his late teens/early 20s.

And he also exposes the crimes committed against gays by those in authority. Banis admits being gang raped by three officers (he does not offer location) and reports how, in Indianapolis, police officers abused gays at a party he attended. As you read the story of his youth and early 20s, the man has a right to be bitter, but he is not. Instead what flows through his words is a kind man filled with understanding, forgiveness and humor. He is witty. He occasionally ‘name drops’ (Hugh Hefner comes to mind). He jokes about his sexual liaisons with military personnel and, in general, he upholds his journey as one he was blessed to have travelled.

He also acknowledges the challenge his mother faced — being a Christian with a gay son. But, I feel his mother may have had a mischievous side when it came to the whispers that she almost certainly heard from the righteous.

While visiting him in California, Banis’ mom asked for a copy of some of his work (probably C.A.M.P., the gay male series, based on the vignette). And, as Banis notes, he presumed the books would go into a drawer somewhere so she could say she had a copy of them. Instead, mom decides to let her minister (Church of the Brethren), an aspiring writer who had expressed interested in her son’s writing career, read one. Banis writes,

The Reverend never expressed to her or to me any opinion on the books’ literary merits. Indeed, he never mentioned them to me at all, but he did look at me rather differently on my subsequent visits.

He never asked again about my writing either, and the next time I visited church with my mother the sermon was on ‘the Unintentional Sinner.’ I kept my gaze straight forward and sang the hymns with gusto, although I got through ‘He knows me as I am’ with some difficulty.

A Little Long

My only criticism of the book is it could have ended a little sooner. By his own admission, he meanders. By the end of the book, you will read several chapters offering would-be writers advice and some self-esteem tips. It’s all solid writing, it just feels somewhat out of place for this book.

Rated: 4 stars out of 5.


Local Trivia

Residents of Eaton, Ohio should know at least one of Banis’ sisters, Fanny. She was mayor of Eaton from 1993-1998.

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Categories: Americans Who Got It Right, Books I have read, My America, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties | Leave a comment

‘Full House’ Actress Shares Addiction, Recovery Journey And Inspires Hope

Jodie Sweetin: After Full House — Acting, Addiction and Recovery.

I’m too old to have ‘been raised on’ Full House so I have not watched Fuller House either, but after listening to actress Jodie Sweetin’s speech at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio Monday evening, Oct 30, I was impressed with her humanity.

Sweetin played Stephanie (the middle child) in Full House — and plays the older version of Stephanie in Fuller House on Netflix, but Monday night she discussed ‘real life.’ Sweetin is a recovering addict and, by her own admission, her life’s path has not been perfect.

I went because I live in a section of the country, and in a county, that struggles with drug addiction.

At 35, Sweetin is six and a half years sober. In her speech, Sweetin detailed the various drugs she consumed, noting that she began abusing alcohol as a teenager, shortly after Full House ended (at age 13). This is the part of her journey I found most interesting — because she describes what was driving her behavior. From an early age, she said she did not feel comfortable in her own skin. Her fame added to that especially since she attended grade school and middle school during those years.

She felt out of place among her classmates.

This alienation plagued her for more than a decade. She admitted that during her teen years being drunk and/or high brought a sense of relief.

The lifestyle of her biological parents also impacted her. Both biological parents were addicts (her biological father died in a prison riot).

After a ‘series of rock bottoms’ events, Sweetin ultimately finds joy and satisfaction counseling other addicts.

She even admitted that if her acting career ends she would consider becoming a full-time counselor. This empathy, for those struggling with addiction, could also be felt in her responses during the Q&A session when Sweetin reiterated that is no ‘right path’ to recovery.

Everyone must find their own way, she said.

And, when asked if she felt child actors were more susceptible to drug and/or alcohol abuse, Sweetin responded that child actors simply get more of the media’s attention.

In the upper-middle class neighborhood she grew up in there were 15 or so children — six of them suffered from drug addiction issues (including death), she noted. But since they were not as well known as Sweetin their stories are largely unknown outside that community.

If you have a chance to hear Sweetin speak — do — Sweetin is an engaging speaker and her message is important. Also stick around for the question and answer session. She is brave enough to answer any, and all, questions — and she may even bring you onstage for an autograph — like she did Monday for two young fans.

Sweetin is also author of UnSweetined. Published in 2009, the book has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.

Categories: drug addiction, My America | Tags:

What I Learned From A 1910 History Book About The Virginia Colony

When it comes to vintage books, Goodwill is my go-to source. I recently purchased a handful of early 20th century books and will be posting excerpts, from time to time, from them.

Today’s excerpts are from a 1910 textbook and its interpretation of the Virginia Colony.

My primary interest in the Virginia Colony is genealogical — the Claywells lived in the Colony and most likely passed through Jamestown in the 1650s. But my other interest is a better understanding of my country’s inception. (Two great books on this subject are Albion’s Seed and American Nations)

As this 1910 high school textbook, used by the board of education in Beavercreek Township, Ohio points out, most of the residents of the Virginia Colony were not living in the ‘land of the free.’

Here are excerpts from the book.

The Leading Facts of American History by D.H. Montgomery:

Under the topic heading: Government of the Virginia Colonies

“Many additional instructions were given, among them were four which required:

  1. That the colonists should establish the Church of England as the only form of worship.
  2. That for five years no land should be granted to any settler, but all were to deposit the products of their labor in the Company’s warehouses, from which they would receive necessary supplies of provisions and clothing.
  3. The colonists were expected to carefully explore all the rivers near them to see if they could find a short and easy way by which vessels might get to the Pacific Ocean.
  4. The colonists were ordered to take pickaxes with them to dig for precious metals.”

Under the topic heading: Conditions of the Colony

At home (England) many of them (colonists) had the power to vote and to take part in making the laws by which they were governed; in the Virginia forests they could do neither…. Next, they owned no land, and the work of their hands did not belong to them. In this last respect they were worse off than the poorest day laborer they had left behind.

Under the topic heading: White Apprentices or Servants.

This subject is of interest to me since Peter Clavell, my direct lineage, was an indentured servant. In 1619, black slaves were introduced to the Virginia Colony, but along side the slaves were white servants, like Peter. Servants like Peter enjoyed considerably more freedom than slaves, and were able to ‘purchase’ their freedom through work (usually seven years). Who were these indentured servants? According to the textbook:

“These apprentices came from different classes:

  1. Some of them were enterprising young men who wanted to get a start in America, but, having no money to pay their passage, bound themselves to work for the London Company, provided they could bring them over.
  2. Some were poor children, picked up in the streets of London and sent over to Virginia to get homes.
  3. Others were young men who were kidnapped at night by gangs of scoundrels who shipped them off as ‘servants’ to America.
  4. At a later day, when wars and insurrections broke out in England, many prisoners taken in battle were sent over here and sold to planters.
  5. Finally, the King sent some convicts to Virginia. Again, England judges opened the jails from time to time and sent over batches of criminals, some of who had done nothing worse, perhaps, than steal a loaf of bread to keep from starving.”
Categories: My America