The Spartacus International Gay Guide is a bestselling international gay travel guidebook published annually since 1970, originally by John D. Stamford in the United Kingdom, later the Netherlands and currently by Bruno Gmünder Verlag in Berlin, Germany. It has chalked up 60,000 printed copies over 40 years.
- 1 Content
- 2 History
- 2.1 John Stamford publishes first edition, 1970
- 2.2 Flight to Amsterdam, 1972
- 2.3 New motto, 1975
- 2.4 Sources of information
- 2.5 Rating system
- 2.6 Problems in translation
- 2.7 Geographical contraints
- 2.8 Different cultural paradigms
- 2.9 Piracy
- 2.10 Article in EVENT magazine, 1982
- 2.11 AIDS information, 1983
- 2.12 Growth and takeover
- 3 Photo shoot of Spartacus 2013 cover
- 4 Photo shoot of Spartacus 2017 cover
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Acknowledgements
The guide is arranged alphabetically by country and offers short texts in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. Cities that are major gay travel destinations are described in greater depth. Each country section includes a summary of the current laws about homosexuality that are applicable to that country. The majority of the book's contents are listings for businesses that either specifically cater to gay tourists or that may be of interest to gay travellers, such as bars, hotels, gay saunas, beaches, support groups and AIDS hotlines. Listings are arranged by city within each country. Recent editions of the guide have counted more than 1200 pages with information for approximately 22,000 businesses in 160 countries.
The criteria that determine which businesses are included in the listings differ from country to country. In countries or cities with a large number of businesses catering to gay customers, only businesses that are specifically gay – and possibly even only the most noteworthy amongst these – are included; in countries where such businesses are uncommon, those that cater to a general clientele but are "gay friendly" are also included.
In January 2012, Bruno Gmünder Media released the Spartacus International Gay Guide App for iPhone. This allows access to the entirety of the Spartacus International Gay Guide while on the road. Bars, clubs, hotels, saunas, beaches and cruising spots are indicated on the city map via GPS without expensive roaming fees since almost all of these functions are available offline. Photos, additional information and links to addresses assist in the choice of the nearest meeting places. In addition, there are tips on current activities, events and specials (such as happy hours in the bar around the corner, for example). The app will list suitable locations, regardless of whether one is seeking a drinking establishment, accommodation, a dance floor or some other fun. The regularly-updated app is now available both in German and English. There are three versions available on the Apple App Store (iOS): "Europe", "The World excluding Europe" and "Worldwide". A free trial version is available as well.
The app uses the same list of abbreviations, although some of the letters have changed from those formerly used in the print version, for example, “F” now means "fetish". While rather clunky and full of in-app purchases, it nevertheless raises the question of how or even if digital review platforms like Spartacus or Yelp have changed the way in which local knowledge of spaces of same-sex sexual contact are disseminated and translated for a mass market.
In 2013, Bruno Gmünder released a completely revised Spartacus iPhone app with a worldwide free version onto the market. With the new app, it is possible to access around 24,000 addresses from over 140 countries worldwide in a user-friendly and elegant application. The app features a complete makeover including free selected worldwide content, additional premium content packages, new and elegant look, intuitive design, faster installation and search functions, improved worldwide events calendar, and an integrated route planner.
GPS technology finds and displays bars, beaches, clubs, hotels, saunas and even cruising places - all of this without expensive roaming costs, as most functions work offline. With the help of information, photos as well as precise addresses, users can select their desired meeting points. Places of interest can also be searched using the unique Enjoy function which finds them based on desires such as Eat, Drink, Dance, Shopping, Sex or Accommodation. The free version includes selected worldwide content right upon installation. Additional premium packages ‘World’, ‘Europe’, ‘North America’ as well as ‘Latin America, Asia, Africa and Oceania’ are available starting at US$6.99. All content is updated regularly in English and German. For more information, users are directed to the iTunes Store or SpartacusWorld.com/iphone-app. It was also announced that the Spartacus International Gay Guide App version for Android would be coming out soon.
John Stamford publishes first edition, 1970
The Spartacus International Gay Guide was first printed as a set of magazines from 1968 onwards. It was converted into a book by John D. Stamford, a former Catholic priest and Sunday school teacher, who produced the first edition in March 1970 in Brighton. The latter town had a relatively large gay community and was where Stamford's publishing company, also named Spartacus, was headquartered. The seminal reference work contained 109 pages and listed a total of 3,000 homophilic meeting places. Of these, 60 were in London and more than 200 locations were in the United Kingdom. Stamford appeared to have come from districts that pursued justice for the sake of their own homosexual interests and those of others.
Spartacus sought to provide addresses and recommendations of all gay spaces, not just in Western Europe but in every country of the world from Castro’s Cuba to war-torn Vietnam. Notable exceptions were the US and Canada, which were deemed too large to handle accurately. In addition, Spartacus included information about the legal situation in each country with helpful caveats like "beware the secret police in Argentina". But in Egypt, "the police would likely side with a tourist over his Egyptian partner)". It also provided listings for legal help and gay groups.
Only the first (1970) and second (1971) editions of Spartacus were published in Brighton. Subsequent editions were produced in Amsterdam where Stamford emigrated to in 1972.
Flight to Amsterdam, 1972
In 1972, Stamford moved to Amsterdam, allegedly because he and his publications in the UK got into trouble. At the time, there was heated public debate about British laws and homosexuality. According to The Sunday Times, Stamford fled England because the British were "too stubborn" and could not "understand the quality of sexual partnership between men and boys." Actually, the probable reason for his flight was much more serious, as one can read about in gay publications. A 1986 issue of The Gay Journal reported that he moved in 1972 to the Netherlands after he was convicted under London child pornography laws. Stamford boasted that he produced the first gay porn magazines in the UK.
In December 1973, the 3rd Edition of Spartacus was published for the first time in Amsterdam by Stamford and his partner Gerald Mettam. This occurred under the liberal climate of the Netherlands. During that time, many Dutch gay publications contained numerous illustrations of boys within their pages. Until this issue came out, Stamford's name did not appear in the guide, only his company's address - Euro Spartacus, Post Office Box 3496, NL 1001 AG Amsterdam.
New motto, 1975
In 1975, Spartacus declared its new motto and goal of working “towards a better world for gays,” which, after 1979, no longer included lesbians as “Spartacus is a male organization and has problems in seeing the needs and difficulties of lesbians from a sufficiently sympathetic viewpoint.” For the editors of Spartacus, building this better world primarily meant fighting endemic loneliness by providing points of contact and bringing together same-sex desiring men from around the world, as well as helping to build an international network of cooperating organisations.
Sources of information
The guide primarily relied on tips from gay travelers and local men, which were to be mailed to its offices in Brighton and, from 1972 onwards, its new offices in Amsterdam. By 1977, Spartacus was receiving over 12,000 of these letters yearly, and, because it published annually, begged its readers to submit letters in a timely manner so that it could provide the most up-to-date information. In addition, Spartacus sent out teams of researchers to visit places to see if recommendations were really worthwhile. In 1973 alone, Stamford claimed to have visited over 2,000 of the listed addresses, primarily in the UK, the Netherlands, and West Germany. In 1978, Stamford upped his game and departed on a 3-month tour of East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands for research.
To efficiently communicate both whether a place was worth visiting and what sort of clientele it attracted, Spartacus developed a system of stars, stripes, and abbreviations. Stars, ranging from one star (“hearsay recommendation”) to five stars (“reserved only for a small handful of the very best places”) were placed next to recommended locales while stripes, ranging from one stripe (“not recommended”) to three stripes (“DEFINITELY NOT RECOMMENDED”) were placed next to entries that the reader should avoid. To quickly describe whom or what could be found in each place, Spartacus placed a letter or sequence of letters next to each entry. Each letter corresponded to a different term listed in the introduction such as L (leather), R (rent/sex workers), or F (food available).
Problems in translation
The knowledge of international gay scenes that Spartacus presented to its readership was therefore distorted in three primary ways. The first difficulty had to do with translation. Spartacus attempted to be as international as possible by offering translations (all included in the same guide) from English into German, French, and, starting in 1977, Spanish and attempting to find translators to read all submitted recommendations. Nevertheless, given that its readership was limited to speakers of three or four European languages, so too likely were its submissions, because why would a speaker of exclusively Mandarin or Arabic submit a tip to a guide that they couldn’t read?
The second problem came from geographical constraints. The most detailed descriptions and numerous entries appear for countries that the Spartacus team most frequently visited. This meant that in 1978, for example, West Germany, an easy train ride from the Netherlands, had 830 listings, with West Berlin boasting 94, while India, given its greater inaccessibility and anti-sodomy laws, had only 27 listings with Mumbai (listed as Bombay) topping out at a mere 13, with no listing receiving stars or stripes.
Distance however was not absolute. Personal preference played a significant role too. After Stamford’s 1975 trip to the Philippines during which he “had 30 to 40 boys calling me every day to offer themselves,” the entry for the Philippines contained highly detailed descriptions and always remained very current.
Different cultural paradigms
The third problem was a result of translating very local knowledge about sexual practices and identity into a universal code, such that the same system of letters could be applied to a dance club in Nottingham and a brothel in Kenya. This difficulty becomes perhaps most visible in the caveats attached to listings for places where one could find male sex workers. While a simple “R” might do the trick for cruising grounds in Berlin, the same letter did not seem to capture the full situation in contexts outside of Western Europe.
In its description of the pleasures of Tunisia, Spartacus warned readers in 1978 that most boys expect to be paid in large tourist resorts. However, Spartacus stumbled somewhat in its description of southern Tunisia, writing that the boys there may expect a gift, like old t-shirts or socks, and begged its readers “not to offer money . . . as this is one of the few areas in the world where money is not expected—let us try to keep it that way.”
It is in these descriptions that we also see how the translation of local knowledge into a universalizing, Western frame was deeply entangled in the (re)production of racial knowledge, often stemming from centuries-old orientalist fantasies. In 1978, Spartacus elaborated on its description of Tunisia, writing that, “Tunisians take little trouble to disguise their basic bisexuality.” Inherent bisexuality, however, was understood as being in no way limited to Tunisians. In its 1976 description of Cyprus, Spartacus wrote that, “although homosexuality is technically illegal, in common with a lot of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, the Cypriots accept it as part of life and bisexuality is a common and integrated part of life, as in Greece and Turkey.” In case the reader didn’t fully get the picture, Spartacus added that the men there “are hot and highly sexed up!”
Next to many of the entries were drawings meant to be both comical and enticing, often depending on old orientalist tropes. One wonders how the young Moroccan depicted above was supposed to experience a “better world for gays.” (Source: Spartacus International Gay Guide, 6th edition, page 109.)
The connection between Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries and “basic bisexuality” was by no means new and, in fact, constituted little more than an eroticised reproduction of Richard Burton’s 1886 “Sotadic Zone,” which itself was a “scientific” categorization of older stereotypes. The Sotadic Zone, encompassing the Mediterranean and stretching east to Japan, the South Pacific and on to the Americas, was theorised as a region in which homosexual activity, particularly between men and boys, was prevalent and accepted as normal and was dependent on environmental theories of race.
In the pages of Spartacus, one sees this theory being rearticluated through the lens of late-twentieth century geopolitics and Western European gay desires to create an understanding—not quite a fantasy—of certain Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and East Asian countries as being veritable paradises for the gay traveler. Just as in Turkey, homosexuality “abounds,” and “the Philippines is the gay paradise of Asia.” In Iran, “being gay is normal for the young”; however, should a tourist wish to find an older partner, then he should expect to take the passive role.
Spartacus elaborates that this expectation should not be limited to Iran, but that in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean most men “will put you in a woman’s traditional role, i.e. you are there to be penetrated and provide their sexual satisfaction.” This interpretation further points to the limitations of interpreting local sex practices through Western frameworks. As Afsaneh Najmabadi points out, the Iranian “traditional” ordering of sexuality, to which Spartacus is referring, had less to do with a gender-based hierarchy and more with a hierarchy along the lines of penetrated orifice.
Perpetuation of Orientalism
Spartacus‘s attempts to build “a better world for gays” by making local knowledge accessible to a mass market went hand-in-hand with the perpetuation of Orientalism, particularly what the literary theorist Joseph Boone calls “Orientalism’s homoerotic subtexts.” Because of the limitations of translation, as well as the mere fact that Spartacus was ultimately an English, Dutch, and, after 1986, German company, the guide’s attempt to develop a universal gay code rested on prefabricated Western European understandings of race, gender, and sexual identity. Nevertheless, the Spartacus team’s attempts to navigate their desires for non-white bodies were consistently challenged by local sex practices that could not be easily understood through the Western frameworks at their disposal.
In 1977, Stamford already complained about piracy. The 10th edition of the guide was published in 1980 and was a hefty volume of 608 pages with information from over 250 countries. Its cover was designed by the famous porn producer Jean Daniel Cadinot. The editors received 12,000 letters a year offering updated information.
In 1981, Spartacus fell into severe turmoil. The August 1986 copy of The Gay Journal on page 20 claimed, “He was responsible for the exploitation of children in Thailand, Sri Lanka and the Philippines."
Article in EVENT magazine, 1982
In 1982, Stamford was featured in an article in the 29 April issue of London’s EVENT magazine, a non-gay city guide. It painted an interesting and comprehensive picture of the man and his publication:
"Good Man Guide. David Roper on the Spartacus Gay Guide.
He started his adult life as a Catholic priest in Brighton. Now he’s head of what must be the largest gay business empire in the world. He is the only man who knows the exact circulation figures for the world’s most comprehensive homosexual information guide, which this year alone may sell as many a quarter of a million copies at £7.50 for 750 densely printed pages. Such is its reputation that it is now sold by ‘Foyles and Collets’, though thousands more copies are consulted and furtively memorised in bars and clubs from Bangor to Bankok.
What began as a gay listing guide in Brighton is now in position whose power enables the owner to offer advertising space by invitation only to those establishments of ‘quality’ that have been awarded at least two stars in the guide. And there are enough advertisers who are willing to pay £600 for a full page without knowing the print run - safe with the assurance that each year’s guide sells out entirely by September.
There can’t be many people who can afford to replace their ‘Spartacus’ annually, though the listings do change constantly thanks to reports sent in by readers and constant updatings by their own assessors. And with a seven workstation computer digesting those facts and well-established international contacts, it’s unlikely that anyone will be able to suspersede their information easily. And in any case, John D. Stamford is not a man who would tolerate any meddling with the heavily protected set-up he runs from a box number in Amsterdam (in the early, less permissive days they anticipated police problems if they remained in Britain).
Since the first ‘Spartacus’ appeared in 1970, the company has diversified and grown to include a holiday club offering discount at various establishments, specific reports on areas such as the Far East or California, and a contact service of around 200 couriers to help members find their way round foreign parts. Every two month they publish a rather tawdry travel guide that consits of John Stamford’s diaries and visits about the globe: happier doing field research than supervising his empire, Stamford spends most of the year on the road in an impressive mobile home (number plate BOY1) - well in keeping his flamboyant lifestyle of meeting with government officials and club owners.
In his editorial in the latest ‘Spartacus’ guide, Stamford hits out at those governments that try to be ‘virtue vendors’ - preferring local exploitation to cash-flush tourists from the West - and begins to refer to them as Nazi repressives. What he objects to is the practice of those third world countries that have chosen to discourage the gay (and often pederast) tourist lavishes boys with money in exchange for sexual favours: is this any more reprehensible than making the boys work in shops and small factories for little or no wages ... and then screwing them away?
‘Spartacus’ appears to be in two minds over this one, and Peter Glencross, the company’s business manager, is ready to admit that their promotion of parts of the third world was mistake which is now being rectified. Stamford himself is against loud, flashy faggots, and Sri Lanka has been dropped from the listings at the demand of the country’s government; any places that the guide might have included would have suffered local police trouble. Until two or three yaers ago, Sri Lanka was being offered as the paedophile’s paradise - an honour that has now developed on the Philippines.
A number of countries that have previously been omitted due to a lack of accurate information are included this year. Burma has come in (‘the Burmese is a true friend’) and Swaziland (no laws, no one in prison) is on the way. China and Russia are always a problem since so few people of ‘that persuasion’ bother to holiday there, but even more surprising are the listings for Albania, Rwanda, St. Barthelemy and Micronesia (eight out of ten guys available in exchange for a case of beer!).
Unanimously voted Europe’s gay Mekka once again, West Berlin is awarded plenty of four star entries, though it’s only London that gets a of five star accolades (Heaven, Subway, Napoleon, Bolts, the Tent); John D. Stamford, sole proprietor, has final word on all these tributes, but for UK listings, at least, the guide depends on report and recommandations offered by Gay Switchboard.
Perhaps the most unusual entries in each section are headed ‘Facilities’, which may be dropped for the next issue. The reason? ‘Spartacus’ thinks most correspondents find these details unimportant, though, for all they know, there could be a silent ‘majority’ which finds them indispensable; needless to say, inspectors do not check the local shithouses, and apart from the legal complications of inciting lawlessness, it is the one area of the information spectrum that threatens to lower the whole tone of Stamford’s Good Man Guide.
He comes across as strangely moral for someone who can claim to have produced male porn mags before anyone else, and the former guest-house owner’s most recent targets are the users of poppers (amyl nitrate), anyone who smokes in bars, un-airconditioned clubs and uncircumcised men (they should wash several times a day).
If any premises fall below his standards ‘Spartacus’ takes up the complaint with the owner, whose unwillingness to make improvements leads to a quick snip in the next edition. At the same time as he offers grants for research into VD and other health hazards, Stamford now publishes and distributes the ‘Pan’ magazine which ‘deals honestly with boy-love’ by printing interviews with international youth an ‘recent research by psychologists on the realities of untraumatised man/boy relations’. For the first time, they have just launched ‘Panthology I’, a collection of rather tame stories about nephews visiting during their public-school hols or willing slaves in ancient Rome.
What we do not know is just how much money this 43 year old Geminian from Lancashire has made from his enterprises, none of which have that cleanly acceptable air of self-help that characterises the ‘San Francisco Pink Pages’ (a Yellow Pages for anyone looking for gay plumbers, poodle-trimmers or typists), which may be soon to be seen in England.
Those who have met John Stamford do not find him easy to get on with, and his liability to bear a grudge for decades has led some unkind foes to spread rumour that his next project is likely to be a walk on water. The belief that his arrival in a foreign country amounts to: ‘I am John Stamford, send me up a guy in exchange for a T-shirt and an English cigarette’ does not prevent anyone from recognising that this year’s guide is far more accurate than any previously published. The rest of his literary output has a distastefully pornographic flavour, typically disguised as ‘scientific’ or serious articles. Mr. Super Morality has this to say in his defence: ‘One is justified in suspecting some sort of international conspiracy against us by many of those grey men who execute the laws of the world. And in this dark crusade a new breed of virtue-vendors are appearing in the press with more regularity - men and women who are making themselves nicely rich and powerful out of ‘cleaning up’ (that is, desexualising) the world. It is not difficult to draw a parallel between the Britain of 1981, for example, and Germany on the eve of the Nazi take-over. What can we do about it? First, we should not let the Nazi types and virtue-vendors hang a guilt trip on us. We must confront them and expose their distortions and reveal their real purposes in mounting these attacks: to wipe out homosexuals and homosexuality and to grab publicity and all the power and the money that goes with it.’ Now, really, what does he mean?"
AIDS information, 1983
That year, an injunction was issued against Spartacus. In its 1983 issue, Stamford, writing in the ‘Munich’ section, criticised two local nightclubs which railed against him. Homosexuals were regarded with disdain, but the clubs took as much money as possible from them, with nothing being reinvested in the homosexual scene. Neither of the two establishments carried Stamford's Spartacus. Observers regarded these legal warning shots against John Stamford as ‘long overdue’. The Spartacus publishers distributed according to their preferences and experienced autocratic gay establishments ‘around the world’.
Growth and takeover
Spartacus continued to grow throughout the 1980s and, in 1986, was purchased by West Germany’s largest gay publishing house, Bruno Gmünder Verlag. Although immersed through the late 1980s and early 1990s in accusations of promoting sex with underage boys (the vagueness of the term “young crowd” abbreviated “YC” led some to call Spartacus the “bible of pedophiles”), Spartacus continued to be published.
Photo shoot of Spartacus 2013 cover
Photo shoot of Spartacus 2017 cover
- Spartacus International Gay Guide: Singapore section
- Bruno Gmünder Verlag
- Gay tourism
- International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association
- "Spartacus", theneedleblog by Gojam, 14 January 2013:.
- The entire history of the Spartacus International Gay Guide from its founder John D. Stamford on Brunoleaks:.
- 42nd Edition The German National Library, February 2013
- Spartacus International Gay Guide EDGE New York, April 2012
- Die MÄRZ-AUSGABE ist da! MANNER Magazine, February 2012
- Spartacus International Gay Guide bald auch als iPhone-App gayboy.at, March 2011
- "The Spartacus International Gay Guide", Gay History, Wordpress, 29 June 2014.
- "Spartacus Gay Guide 1983", Houston LGBT History.
- RickyG553, "Spartacus International Gay Guide (1985)", Imgur, 2 June 2017.
- Christopher Ewing, "Translating Sex: ‘Spartacus’ and the Gay Traveler in the 1970s", History of Knowledge, 10 April 2017.
- "Bruno Gmuender Publishing: New and exciting products", Hotspots Magazine, 17 July 2013.
- Spartacus' official website:.
- Spartacus International Gay Guide App:.
- Bruno Gmünder Verlag GmbH:.
This article was compiled by Roy Tan.