A book of vintage gay erotic drawings has been rejected by Apple. Ironically, Vancouver's Arsenal Pulp Press received the news during Freedom to Read Week.
The book in question is Lust Unearthed by university professor Thomas Waugh (first published in print in 2004). The 320-page book features over 200 images from the private collection of Hollywood costume and set designer Ambrose DuBek.
Arsenal Pulp Press associate publisher Robert Ballantyne said by phone that after inquiring why the title was delayed in being uploaded as an eBook, they received a response from Apple on March 1.
They received an email (via their U.S. digital distributor Constellation) that informed them that the rejection was based upon the following guidelines:
- Books must not contain prohibited explicit or objectionable content, which includes but is not limited to:
- Depiction (photo or drawing) of a child in a sexual situation, even without contact
- Photographs of penetrative sex, oral/genital contact, or genitals.
- Textual encouragement to commit a crime (e.g. books supporting, encouraging or defending rape, pedophilia, incest, or bestiality or books detailing how to commit a sexual crime).
- Photographic content intended for the sole purpose of sexual arousal.
- Excessively objectionable or crude content.
(Ballantyne pointed out that there aren't any pictures of children in the book.)
Ballantyne said this is the first time they have experienced this. The book is currently listed as available in digital or print versions from Chapters Indigo and Amazon, and in print at Barnes and Noble. He noted that they have sold 8,000 print copies of the book through bookstores without any complaints.
"It appears they have a very odd policy…about visuals that they are more or less completely opposed to visual nudity or sexuality of any sort in their eBooks, which is a very bizarre kind of model for a bookstore, if you consider what's been published in the last thousands of years, or printed," Ballantyne said. "All cultures have erotica, and all cultures have visual nudity, and books with them are available at almost any bookstore…."
Images in the book range from softcore to hardcore erotic images, including S&M. Ballantyne said it's "explicit and raunchy" but added that "it's drawings from an era…before photography became easily available, or gay magazines."
Accordingly, he noted that there is historical and social significance to the book.
"It's part of the living archive of gay history and of homophobia, that this particular book came out of an archive by a guy…who collected gay erotica in an era when this stuff was illegal, illegal for reasons that you could be jailed for drawings of gay men having sex, any kind of expression of visual erotica, of gay culture, and they were passed on to secret bookstores. So it's kind of a history of how we got here as a subculture….It has a real thoughtful approach to the subject of clandestine gay culture in an era before Stonewall when the battle for freedom to exist was more political and obvious."
Ballantyne said that there was an option for them to edit the book to meet the guidelines.
"We were offered the opportunity to fix the book so that it would not be objectionable to them, which would mean censoring the book's content and probably targeting quite a few of the images and having them removed, which is certainly not something we would do. We already went through an editorial process in the book whereby images were selected for their cultural value, what they added to an understanding of queer subculture at the time, and they're discussed with quite a bit of background and intelligence…in the text of the book. I think this title is an example of very responsible book publishing, and to have them dismiss it like this is not acceptable."
Ballantyne said that they are still figuring out how they will respond to this rejection.
"We'll probably do a press release and see how this develops, if it goes away or if it becomes a way of looking at what Apple's doing and…risks when you have these giant corporations who are not traditional booksellers making policy decisions that are quite arbitrary and put at risk freedom of expression profoundly."
The rejection arrives shortly after reports of a local developer Barry McDermott had his gay-humour application called Lil' Flamer rejected by Apple. The app features a pink flamed creature who spouts gay catchphrases. Xtra reported that the app was first rejected on February 8 because it contained “defamatory or offensive content that would be considered objectionable by many audiences.”
After appealing the decision, McDermott was informed the original reason for rejection was incorrect and given a new reason: "Apps containing references or commentary about a religious, cultural or ethnic group that are defamatory, offensive, mean-spirited or likely to expose the targeted group to harm or violence will be rejected.”
In 2010, Apple rejected a gay travel app, "Gay New York: 101 Can't-Miss Places" (which include a picture of a muscular man in a thong, and a caricature of Sarah Palin) on the grounds that it contained "material that may be considered obscene, pornographic, or defamatory".
Conversely, Apple has approved apps that were later yanked after they were deemed anti-gay and sparked public outcry.
Both apps were removed after petitions and complaints.
Meanwhile, Apple has rejected numerous apps featuring scantily clad women. On the other hand, they have also approved apps for Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue as well as Playboy.
Requests for interviews with Apple were not returned by the time of this posting.