15 November 2010

Last Word

Withers: Gay porn performers and the changing media world

The media world, from news gathering to network television, is undergoing a seismic shift. From a fractured audience base to technological advances transforming how images and information can be consumed, what worked in a past age no longer applies.

These overall media currents have not left the gay porn world unscathed. Pornography is produced and sold in ways eons removed from the old days of grandpa’s red light districts. Times Square used to be a piece of real estate where porn reigned supreme. Now that iconic neighborhood is the epicenter for Disney (for a provocative take on this transformation read Samuel Delany’s Times Square Red, Times Square Blue).

With market challenges and the changes in production, porn performers can no longer make the same assumptions models in the past made. There used to be time where a porn star was attached to a particular company. Those type of exclusive contracts are still offered, but more and more porn actors are taking the freelance route, working for multiple studios and websites.

Devon Hunter. Photo by Julian Vankim

“Porn studios don’t really do many exclusive arrangements anymore,” said model Devon Hunter (NSFW). “It’s not practical. That model of doing business isn’t particularly common anymore, and most models are free to go from studio to studio. There’s not enough talent to hoard models, and the companies can’t generally pay enough, or offer consistent enough work to be in a position to make the demand.”

“A lot of performers enjoy being exclusive with one company because it (usually) means they get health insurance and benefits, a monthly, guaranteed salary, and a stable work schedule, Zach Sire, editor of Naked Sword (NSFW) offered in an email. “The downside though is once they come off their exclusive contract, there are some studios that are reluctant to work with someone who’s been so closely associated with a competitor. On the other hand, I’ve talked to numerous models who prefer to be free agents as it allows them the chance to sample a variety of men, and a variety of production environments.”

Zach Sire

As freelancers, porn actors have to be involved with more than their work in front of the camera. They are required to use media tools—Twitter, Facebbook, blogging—to give their screen work industry and fan buzz. According to publicist Angel Benton gay porn stars are no different from their mainstream peers because they “are part of an increasingly celebrity-driven culture with a growing openness toward sexuality and pornography in general.”

“The smart porn stars are the ones who strategically use these tools to build their personal brands,” Benton continued. “Yes there are porn agents, but with dozens of clients, it really is the responsibility of the porn star to control his own brand. So when you combine this you have a completely new generation of porn stars than you did in years previous.”

Angel Benton

Despite this brave new world, the past is never past. While porn performers are becoming increasingly media savvy, they still must grapple with the pluses, and minuses, of being involved in the sex industry. How will permanent images of choreographed coitus impact a performer once he returns to life as a civilian? For some it might mean a front page article in the New York Times.

“Models are always in need of answers to the tough questions,” said Howard Andrew of FabScout (NSFW), an agency that works with porn models. “My phone rings all the time from the old ones and the new ones. There is no change in expectations from models.”

The reasons people get naked for the camera matches the number of models in the business. Josh Slyman (NSFW) is relatively new to the industry, and most of his work has been for a site called Next Door Buddies (NSFW). He decided to do porn as a way to shatter his closet door.

Josh Slyman

“I’ve always been kind of a bit of a closeted gay guy, and I’m kind of using this as a way for me to have to get my butt out of the closet,” Slyman said via email. “This might seem strange, but it worked for me at least. By doing porn it kind of takes the whole coming out thing out of my hands. It’s been easy for me to fit into the straight world as a seemingly straight man, but by doing this I can’t really deny what I am; which in the long run will really help me out.”

Hunter chose porn after ruminating about it for a number of years. After he made the decision, he applied to companies that were similar to the image he wanted to advertise as an escort.

“I wanted to be associated with the company that I thought had the highest production values and the hottest models (since that would reflect on me personally),” Hunter noted. “I wanted to be presented as totally vanilla (since I am), and I wanted to be as quotidian as possible. I didn’t want to look anything like the drugged-out, broke down stereotype people associate with adult entertainer. Part of my whole quest is to undermine that misconception, so I looked at going to one of the amateur studios that looked as close to professional as possible. That’s the image I wanted: As close to”wholesome” as possible, because I didn’t want to attract people who wanted anything other than a boyfriend experience.”

For others, the reasons were a bit more primal. Drew Cutler (NSFW) and Diesel Washington (NSFW) admit their porn porn plunges are connected to being porn fans, with strong exhibitionist streaks.

“Since I was young I’ve always wanted to do porn,” Cutler said. “I remember watching a straight porn movie and really enjoyed what I saw. I was obsessed with the guy and thought I’d like to be in it with him.”

Washington adds a racial angle that has been a sore point for a business that markets desire.

“I wanted to come in and show my skills and just represent as a man of color in a business that worships the all-American white jock,” said Washington, who like Hunter was an escort before he started his video career. “I wanted to show that different races can also be marketable and popular as my white counterparts.”

While porn is not overtly political, the hard knuckles come out when the topic turns to models who appear in condom-less videos. Andrew refuses to represent actors with a bare back video past; Hunter, Slyman, Washington, and Cutler are adamant about working only for companies that have strict condom policies. Bare back actors know they are considered the pariahs of the industry. However, they point to the increasing market for condom free videos and argue their performances represent what gay men actually do.

Sean Storm started his career in porn in the late 1990s. His early work was in condom productions, but his private sex life didn’t match the screen.

Sean Storm

“I had pretty much been bare backing in my private life since I first started doing video work back around 1999 and 2000,” said Storm. “It was such a taboo for any performer to be in condom-less movies back then that I didn’t even entertain working in the bare back genre.”

Storm maintains he and his partners went no latex to prepare for their scenes.

“On almost every condom shoot, me and the top I was working with would sneak off and bare back in a corner to get in the mood. Then when the cameras rolled we had to put on the condoms. That seemed so fake to me, though I understand the reasoning behind it.”

In 2004 he decided if he was going to continue in the industry he would only perform bare. He owns his own company—Cre8tiveJuices.com (NSFW)—and only appears in his own productions.

Cory Koons (NSFW) also started his career in condom videos, but this past summer signed an exclusive contract with the infamous Treasure Island Media (NSFW). He crafted his video persona to be a “a tough, fearless, ethnically ambiguous, smart-ass slut bottom. I wanted to present something that didn’t fit into a category. Although my image is certainly cut from the same cloth as Joey Stefano, I wanted to expand the definition of what is considered sexy, or what is considered profitable enough to place on the cover of DVDs.”

His choice to bare back is a defiant response to an industry that quickly moves on once a performer is no longer seen as a “must have” commodity. It’s also a a reaction against what he sees as a gay cultural moment that is trying too hard for acceptance

“Let’s not forget this business chews up and spits out lots of beautiful guys. I am a huge believer in taking responsibility for your actions. I also believe in the freedom to express one’s sexuality, and Cory’s natural sexuality is much better expressed by Treasure Island.”

Cory Koons. Photo by Paul Sepuya

Responsibility is the mantra all the models repeated. Whether it was taking charge of their industry careers, or defending being involved in the marketing of fantasy.

“I know that there will be people out there that won’t hire me, or may fire me because of my past and I’m fine with that,” Slyman noted. ”The biggest thing for me was being able to live with myself, and as long as I’m okay with being me I know I’ll be fine.”

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