For a long time, the gay romance genre remained consigned to the closet of literature, in a manner echoing many of its readers’ lives. The field was small, and obscure. While readers could sate their appetites for titillation in the lurid pages of the pulps, or indulge their higher-minded desires amid a neverending glut of gay coming-of-age stories (including the far-too-common tragic underpinnings), it was a long time before wide-release Harlequin-style romance novels told stories of same-sex attraction and love, and gave gay readers their own happily ever after. But as with many such micro-genres, its fans, though few in number, maintained fervent devotion. For those early keepers of the faith, some names stick out: pioneering luminaries such as Burton David, Rick Donovan, Rick David, David Richards, Donovan Burton, and Sexton Goode. But almost any aficionado of M/M romance lit will likely have read, and loved, works published under the indelible name of Chad Raymond.
As part of Commuter Rainbownacle, a series highlighting obscure corners of the LGBTQIA+osphere, which is pronounced luh guh buh tuh cuey ay plus-o-sphere, we delve into the strange story of Chad Raymond, at once the most well-known name in early M/M literature, and yet its least known. And as it turns out, a name with a curious secret.
“Oh, Raymond,” says Dirk Clifton, one-time owner and editor-in-chief of Lakehouse Publishing. “Well, you know, at first it was just me and some friends of mine and we had access to a printing press. We put an ad in Men’s Spendings, a newsletter at the time, saying what we were looking for. Even then, there were a couple specialty shops, places you could get these books if you were in the know. And of course, the mail-order business. Well, we got a few submissions from Chad Raymond and we were just blown away. Chad’s writing spoke to something, you know? Christ, I re-read it now and it’s just as timely.”
Meet You by the Bandstand was Raymond’s first book for Lakehouse. “We couldn’t keep up with orders,” says Clifton. “God, the chapter at the fairground?”
Here, away from the scrabble and the yelling, away from the furious-looking parents and red-faced kids and sweaty sallow carnies and away from all the people who seemed like they never wanted to be here, Henry sat with Tom and calmly, quietly, took the other man’s hand in his own. He half-expected Tom to jump, half-expected the man’s look of placid reverie to turn into a snarl, a growl, a sharpness piercing this soft place. Tom’s eyes flitted up, then back down to the grass, and he let out a contented sigh, and Henry knew this was the only place he ever wanted to be.
“It just had that vibe,” says Merv Herman, Professor of Media Studies at Ripton College. “It let the reader imagine a world where things could be okay but it didn’t back away from that longing. I mean, you’re a gay man in the fifties, the sixties, that’s a feeling you probably know pretty well.”
Raymond’s prose captured the swelling hearts of a generation of readers, and according to Clifton, the second novel couldn’t come fast enough. And come it did, wrapped in plain brown paper and titled In Old Cape Cod. But Clifton also noticed some peculiarities about the author.
“Well, he wouldn’t meet in person or speak on the phone,” says Clifton. “Everything was done through the mail. I understood, though. A lot of the guys were discreet like that. As long as he kept writing, I didn’t care. But he also seemed, I don’t know. You gotta understand, the writing was good enough that he could get away with not having much actual sex in his stories at first. But we were already starting to get letters from readers who wanted to see more action. So I asked him, you know, in your next book can you please put a love scene.”
“Well, I’ve had a fantastic night,” said Fran. Then he half-frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Jordy cracked up laughing, unable to hold it in. He grinned wide. “You’re going to have some hard-to-explain tan lines, is all.”
Fran blushed, looked down, put his hands in his pockets. Wind jostled his hair, just so, and here was another thing Jordy could hold back no longer. The way the other man’s cheeks flushed made Jordy’s own face feel hot and urgent. He pressed his lips to Fran’s, felt the soft reverberation of a little whisper of a moan passing from one mouth to another. He pulled away, flustered, wide-eyed, a million words crashing in a bottleneck inside him, everything he wanted to say. And Fran leaned forward, chasing his kiss, showing him he didn’t have to say anything at all.
The next morning, Fran lounged under the big pillowy comforter, hair adorably tousled, watching Jordy, who in turn was sneaking glances over at Fran but mostly watching his own self, his own hands buttoning up a shirt, looping a tie around, tying a half windsor. Now and again their eyes met in the mirror and either man looked away, abashed despite their newfound familiarity.
“You know,” said Jordy, “we had someone drop out, with the cabin. So…are you free next weekend? And do you own any swim trunks?” There was that grin again.
“It was just strange,” says Carlinia Orphidisquerbh, author of Sliterature: A History of North American Dirty Books, “and it’s pronounced ‘Orphidisquerve,’ by the way. Anyway it was strange, because apparently Raymond’s publisher had tried asking him a couple times to put in sex scenes and he just wasn’t getting it.”
Clifton agrees. “We were getting a lot of letters. Sales started to drop off. I had to put my foot down. We told him they gotta have sex in the next book and it’s gotta happen in the narrative.”
That book was The Artist’s Model and it was Lakehouse’s most successful publication thus far.
“So where are you going after this?” asked Garvey.
“Well,” said Dennis, “you know, I didn’t have any plans, as it happens. Was going to just sort of be here in this hotel room. And, you know…I sure could use some company.”
“Well, that’s just fine by me,” said Garvey, “because I was feeling like I’d be pretty good company tonight.” He inched closer, and closer again, and now they were side by side together. Garvey felt the warmth of Dennis’s torso and the sturdiness of his arm pressed against Garvey’s own, and Dennis turned his head, and Garvey thought, yes, this is it. This is the moment I’ll look back on later and know this was when I fell in love with this man. The thought thrilled him, it sent delightful shivers all through him, and then the electricity would not be contained. Dennis’s kiss would barely be contained either – he was hungry, but intentional about it, just enough for his kisses to feel pleasingly obscene without feeling amateurish or sloppy. Then they had sex.
Raymond’s perfunctory approach seemed to satisfy Lakehouse’s readership for a while. But soon enough, changing times demanded changing material, and once again Clifton exchanged correspondences with Raymond.
“We wanted something explicit,” says Clifton. “I mean, I’d read what else the guy came up with, it was great, he clearly understood English. And he wrote these fantastic scenes with kissing and everything, really great stuff, but for some reason just wouldn’t write about men having sex. But again we told him, it’s time to fish or cut bait. I’m not sure I used that correctly. I don’t know a lot about fishing.”
“I don’t know a lot about fishing, either,” says Professor Herman. “Not sure why you’re asking me about that. Anyway, it was after that last book that the other shoe dropped. I guess Raymond had run out of excuses for why he wasn’t writing about men having sex. After I’d Bring You The Stars came out and it was Lakehouse’s biggest seller of all time, Raymond knew his time was up. There’d only be more pressure to show more action in the sex scenes and, as we now know, that wasn’t going to happen. It couldn’t.”
“Chad Raymond was actually a nun. Her name was Sister Rosa and she lived in Brooklyn,” says Orphidisquerbh. “She was already middle-aged when her first book as Chad Raymond came out. I guess she started doing it to help get money to repair the church roof. And I guess she’d figured out a lot of the mechanics of people kissing and stuff but she just had no idea what men having sex consisted of.”
Jay’s other hand played in Martin’s hair, tracing curls delicately. He whispered, “You know, if you’re not careful, you might give a fellow ideas.”
Martin looked down at his belly, at Jay’s hand on the flatness of it, where his shirt had ridden up. He looked up at Jay. “Well, what are you waiting for?” he teased. “Maybe you should go ahead and get some ideas.”
“Don’t mind if I do,” Jay said, and he swooped down for another kiss, and another, and another, and their hands met, then their hands were upon one another’s bodies. Jay peered down at Martin’s belly as well, at the faint hint of the curve of his hipbones, right where they began. He kissed Martin on the collarbone, and on his sternum right where his heart would be, and just above his bellybutton, and just below his bellybutton, and right above those hipbones. He looked up. His face was a question.
“Yes,” gasped Martin. Jay unbuckled the belt, unbuttoned the soft comfortable old jeans he had to admit looked so much better on Martin than himself, and almost absentmindedly reached down and undid his own belt, slid down the waistband of his own trousers.
“Yeah!” said Martin.
“YEEEEAAAHHHHHHHH!” said Jay.
“We’re having sex!” hollered Martin. “WE’RE HAVING SEX!”
“YEEEEEEEAAHHHHHHH! ALL RIGHT! YEAH!”
“Yeah, so she’d just never seen a man naked before. She didn’t have the foggiest idea what a man’s privates looked like. These were different times,” says Clifton. “Nowadays you figure someone maybe has a phone or whatever if they’re really curious, but, again, she was already well into middle age when she started. She was probably born in the 1910s, somewhere like that. Became a nun when she was like seventeen. But yeah, that’s when she quit. Knew the jig was up. She probably knew before she even sent the story over. She hung up the typewriter after that, as far as I know.”
Indeed, if Sister Rosa ever wrote anything for publication again, she did it without using either her more famous pen name, or her own name. To protect the church’s anonymity, we won’t print the name of the place, but Commuter Barnacle can verify there is a church somewhere in Brooklyn where every day, or I guess probably every Sunday because I don’t know if people go to church during the week or what, anyway every Sunday, congregation members unwittingly sit next to a piece of queer lit history: a back row of pews, bearing a plaque indicating the pews were made possible by the very generous gift of Chad Raymond.