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After their gay porn empire folded, this is the heartwarming way Circus of Book’s Karen and Barry Mason are spending their lives

Reiss Smith April 24, 2020
Karen and Barry Mason in Circus of Books

Karen and Barry Mason ran Circus of Books for almost 40 years. (Netflix)

Circus of Books is a new Netflix documentary about Karen and Barry Mason, the straight, conservative couple who ran a gay porn empire. Here’s what happened to them after they shut shop.

Karen and Barry Mason closed their gay porn shop, Circus of Books, in February 2019, about a year before their story was immortalised in a Netflix documentary of the same name.

Barry and Karen lived something of a double life for years, selling gay pornography at their store while providing a safe place for LA’s queer community, and even producing hardcore films of their own.

All the while they lived an otherwise uneventful existence with their three children Micah, Rachel – who directed Netflix’ Circus of Books, and Josh. All three grew up believing that their parents ran a simple book store.

Why did Circus of Books close? The internet.

Circus of Books closed in February 2019, 37 years after Barry and Karen Mason took it over.

Throughout the years the business survived the evolution of porn from magazines to video, an FBI sting which resulted in obscenity charges, and the AIDS crisis which took the lives of many of their customers and staff.

At one point Karen and Barry had three Circus of Books stores. A brief venture in Sherman Oaks closed in the 1990s after the couple were ordered to stop selling porn there because of its proximity to a school.

Falling profits caused a Silver Lake store to close in 2016, leaving just the original West Hollywood location standing for the final three years of the business.

In the end, it was the internet that finished Circus of Books off for good. With porn readily accessible on the internet and hook-up apps eroding the demand for queer meeting places, profits plunged and the final store closed in February 2019.

Karen and Barry Mason with two of their children
Karen and Barry Mason with two of their children. (Netflix)

LA queer community was sad to see Circus of Books go.

“When that store closed it was unbelievable, the kind of reaction,” Rachel Mason told the BBC in December 2019.

“People walked in and just burst into tears. I mean, people walked in through the front door, and we’re just crying.”

Karen Mason said that she “was fine with closing” the store, because by the end she wasn’t able to provide her staff with the benefits she had previously given them.

Before closing, she took time to make sure that they were set up for their next step.

“I had worked with these people just as long as I could, to see that they got enrolled into education programmes, or at least had another part-time job,” she told the BBC.

Alaska in Circus of Booksa
Before she was on Drag Race, Alaska worked at Circus of Books. (Netflix)

What Karen and Barry Mason did next.

As Circus of Books shows, Karen and Barry Mason have since devoted much of their lives to working with PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

“Now we’re big shots in PFLAG,” Barry explains in Circus of Books.

Karen joined the organisation after her son Josh came out as gay about 20 years ago.

Initially, she had suggested God was punishing her for her choice in career, but decided to work towards understanding LGBT+ identities and issues.

Karen Mason attending a Pride event with PFLAG.
Karen Mason attending a Pride event with PFLAG. (Netflix)

“I was not, not going to be his best mother that I could be,” she says in the Netflix documentary.

Josh said that his parent’s involvement with the LGBT+ parenting group “has been amazing”.

“I think at some point mom said that it’s the parent’s role to fight for change, and it’s the kid’s role to have as normal life as possible and to just get on with things.”

More: Barry Mason, circus of books, Karen Mason

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