by Paul Morris
presented at the World Pornography Conference
Los Angeles, CA
I’m a pornographer. Part of the job is trying to stay in touch with what’s going on in sex. One of the things I do regularly is to interview men who define their lives according to sexual practices. Recently I’ve been focusing on men who self-identity as “bottoms” who submit to the dominance of other men. Here’s a fragment from an interview with a 35 year-old man who calls himself a total bottom, who is exclusively submissive. He’s connected with “Gainers and Encouragers”, a national group of men exploring the sexual connections between submission and obesity. I asked how large he hopes to become. He currently weighs around 200 pounds. “Frankly,” he responded,
I’m considering five-hundred to six-hundred pounds. There’s something very sensual about being fed by another man. Something very nurturing and sexual. And there’s something incredibly erotic for me about the idea of eating a lot, eating with the idea that I am getting fatter. And I like on occasion to eat very large amounts of food. Enough for five or six meals. Getting myself stuffed to the point that literally I cannot eat another bite: there is simply no more room left. Being force-fed is very tender, very slow love-making. In the end I can’t move. I can’t respond. I’m absolutely immobilized. A point of negotiation with a top is whether to move into and beyond that weight where the bottom literally can’t move on his own, where he’s absolutely and permanently dependent on the top to take care of him. He becomes an extravagant possession, not a man but a thing to be owned.”
Another man I interviewed is a successful businessman, remarkably intelligent and well-educated. Also a “total bottom”, he talked about diminishing his mental capacity for sexual reasons:
“If I could seriously diminish my intelligence I would do it. I’ve had very serious conversations about this in the past several weeks. By letting someone reduce your mental capacity–through drugs or surgery or brainwashing–you’re giving over a tremendous amount of responsibility to someone else. And he is willing to take it. This is love, I think. That’s what this is all about: I’m searching for a new type of love. It would involve my mental incapacitation. And physical mutilation. The grafting of a ten-inch cow tongue flap of flesh into my mouth. Having my nose modified so it’s a snout. I would be unacceptable in public, except that I wouldn’t know that I’m unacceptable in public. I’ve found a place where they actually do tongue-grafts.”
Later, the same man continued:
“We had just been going at it for hours, my mouth and his sloppy butt-hole so connected that they made up one perfect sexual organ, one connected thing, this big wet sloppy organ. It was continual orgasm, for over an hour at one point. A little machine, one organ coming together there. A pleasure level far above what I had always thought of as orgasm. So that I thought my body or my mind would just blow up. And he [the top] turns around in the middle of it and leans down over me and pukes all over me. We’d never talked about it. And I threw myself back on the floor, threw my arms back on the floor and collapsed and cried out “Thank you! Thank you! I love you!” And he looked down at me and said “I did it because I love you.”
These two examples may seem extreme. And in some ways they are. But I’ve been conducting interviews steadily over the last four years and find that while these men are somewhat extreme, they and the things they are exploring are not exceptional or isolated. They represent two particular points on a very broad spectrum of an exploration of possible ways to interconnect serious sexual practice and everyday life.
In order to consider the meaning and the role of pornography in this context of sexual experimentation, I think it’s helpful to hold in mind several generalizable characteristics of the American character. It’s important to recognize that sex and porn are immutably informed by the basic behavioral rules that determine how we, as Americans, perform in every other aspect of our lives. There are traditional and unchanging elements in the American character that impact directly on the development of porn and our sexual culture.
One such element is a love of adventure, of danger and of violence. This probably needs no elaboration: it’s celebrated nightly on the evening news, and in every movie theater in the country.
Secondly, we distrust the intellectual overview and the logical conclusions that derive from it. Ours is a “hands-on” culture: “hands-on know-how” is more believable and real to us than elegant and coherent theory. We are pragmatic, first-person, step-by-step experimentalists by whom academic analyses are distrusted. Unless, of course, they’re seen on Jerry Springer.
Third, we have a nearly religious trust that we will triumph, that we as Americans are “chosen” and that in the end some lucky stroke will rescue us. The Cavalry, constantly morphing to suit the times, lives deep in our hearts.
So: American men are fond of adventure and are reckless. American men privilege experience over intellect. American men will be rescued or will rescue themselves. American men are lucky, chosen, correct in their gutlevel impulses.
These character elements are instrumental in determining our day-to-day behavior. Whether or not the beliefs they embody are true isn’t important in this context: they are believed at a level where national character finds individual expression. And they inform the current surge of experimentalism and risk-taking vitality in sexual practice.
Because we are living in a cultural and historical moment in which such basic concepts as identity and subjectivity are necessarily undergoing reconceptualizing, there is a concomitantly even greater need for and dependence on inventiveness and choice. We are creating ourselves, as Americans, with the attitudes I listed above, in a context of post-modern refraction, a time of de-centeredness and destabilized subjectivity.
In part due to alienation from the larger processes of the politicization of gay life in America, unapologetically specific and often “extreme” sexual behaviors in the gay or queer male world are becoming more important as elements in the building of personal identity. That is, as homosexual men become alienated from the political program of the movement, as one mode of experiencing personal meaning and engagement evanesces, they enter into a more fundamental, individualistic and physical relationship with the social and sexual spheres.
But what does porn have to do with this? And what about the dangers of life today? I think it’s a job of porn to reflect the experience and the character of the people who watch it. Since danger and risk are so much a part of the sexual experience, it’s necessary that dangerous activities be represented, and that the danger be at least occasionally real and shocking. Danger and death, not surprisingly, have always been themes in male porn: rituals or rites of passage that threaten one’s identity, sanity or life are found in Wakefield Poole’s “Bijou” or Michael Zen’s “Falconhead”. Mutual suicide, vampirism and necrophilia in the work of Brad Braverman. Snuff, bashings, drugs and radical submission in Christopher Rage’s work. Through the last several decades of male porn, the models are often escaping from the law, falling in love while hiding out or in jail, getting caught while committing burglary and getting lavishly fucked as a “punishment”. Christopher Rage, in his unpublished autobiography, wrote that at the heart of his experience of sex from the age of nine on was the fact that “it threatens everything. Cruising, letting a stranger know you want him, is hot because you know you can lose, you can get arrested, injured, killed.” This knowledge informed his work.
But in the last ten to fifteen years, representation of dangerous or even just unusual practices have all but disappeared and porn has been dominated by a nearly universal acceptance of broad strictures that allow not only for very little danger, but also set stringent limits on the types of acts that can be depicted and the types of people who will be allowed to perform. And today, while gay sex is in the midst of a second 1970s, porn is mired in the strict conformity and conservativism of a new 1950s.
In his paper “Pornography, Ethnography, and the Discourse of Power” Bill Nichols, a professor of film studies at S.F. State, has written about the documentary or ethnographic function of porn. He writes that “If truth stands as a cultural ideal or myth within a larger ideological system that attaches it to matters of power and control, it also stands in close proximity to documentary.” He also states that “Both (ethnography and pornography] rely on a documentary impulse, a guarantee that we will behold ‘the thing itself,’ caught in the indexical grain of sound and image.” This “documentary impulse” is the basis for a representational meeting point for the recognition of truth and the utilization of depicted truth in the functioning of power and the control of desire. Porn depicts sexual practice, and a uniformity of sex in porn is indicative of submission of the subculture to larger power. The careful porn of the gay mainstream allows a strictly policed repertory of acts and styles that represent not who we are but what we seem to believe we should be. Among other things, this can’t make for a productive relationship with power. Danger, accident and specificity in porn insofar as they are honestly depicted (i.e. documentary), enhance the possibility of a more complex, demanding and therefore productive relationship with power.
“Documentary truth” stands as a central element not only, as Nichols points out, in the representation and recognition of reality, but also in the constitution of social and individual identity. We not only see ourselves in ethnographic or pornographic documentation, we also build ourselves from what we see and believe. It is our sexual self represented for us. At issue, then, is whether these images constitute a valuable rendering or a restraining caricature. And this depends in part on whether we link porn to the function of directed education (i.e. control) or accurate representation.
This is a central element in the social contract that enables and sustains porn. It must excite, yes. And it must be commercially viable. But in addition to the necessity of commercial viability, it must also accurately point toward–be indexical to–“the thing itself.” But who defines the nature of “the thing itself”? What is our sexual nature? In this case, the thing itself is the range of complex and specific knowledge and communion that is available for experience between or among men through sexual connection, a broad territory that is being created and explored by men such as those I quoted earlier. The representation not only of the truth but also of the complexity of the truth–the tangled and individual realities of practice and identity–is a responsibility of porn, the sexually indexical documentary genre.
While all porn participates in and benefits from the accepted sense that there’s an element of the “documentary impulse” at work in it, not all porn producers are equally concerned with the issues this brings up. I’m reminded of the recent non-porn movie “Krippendorf’s Tribe” in which an unethical academic, in danger of losing his funding, fakes documentary videos of a bogus tribe. Because the tribe–the invented faux-culture–is created by a single man it becomes a meaningless but fascinating caricature, a conglomerate of rituals, costumes and signs that are indexical not to anthropological truth but to Krippendorf’s hyperreal fantasy.
This hyperreality, while entertaining and exciting is dangerous when taken as representative of anything other than disconnected fantasy. If Krippendorf were “real”, an actual academic at an actual University, his work would be seen as scandalous and irresponsible. In porn, when the same sort of duplicity occurs, there is no censuring.
In a Titan or a Falcon fantasy there is very little truth-content, very little that can be associated even distantly with documenting anything other than an unreal world. These videos, for the most part, are about sex in exactly the way that Krippendorf’s studies are about serious Anthro, or Bruce Webber’s photographs are about male sensuality. All three (Titan, Krippendorf, Webber) are primarily about exclusion, inaccessibility, the delineation not of true or real worlds but in each case of a single man’s manufactured fantasy of a world that has many of the signs of reality but is in fact able to function because it is perfectly unattainable yet terribly attractive. In these cases, the erotic connection is primarily masochistic and teaches the observer that eros is something only those in the inaccessible worlds can experience fully.
This is an odd and unfortunate dovetailing of the nearly universal gay confusion of masochism with eros on the one hand and on the other hand the response of a new generation of porn makers to the safe-sex imperative. The positing of sex and eros as things that occur in hyperreal worlds removes them from the mess of viruses, germs, test-results, imperfections and real intimacy (physical or emotional). Sexworlds like those of Falcon and Titan are arid paradises that are inhabited by unexcited actors who move through tableaux that call for replications of sex. The “safety” that is enabled through the creation of other worlds for perfect sex is a safety of relative lifelessness for the viewer. I don’t know how a video that enhances disconnection and a masochistic relationship to eros can be called safe.
Let me talk about barebacking. As you know, barebacking is fucking without a rubber. The term itself, with its horsey allusion, links to the same American mythic construct that, say, the Marlboro man is meant to connect with and exploit. The difference is that it wasn’t an advertising agency that made the link but the general population of gay men. Gay men who bareback are called “bug chasers” or “bug-friendly”. They are also called “gift givers”, with a virus being the “gift”.
In interviewing gay men, I have found that barebacking is far more generally practiced (and tacitly accepted) than I had suspected. It is in a sense an element of a new closet: it is one of those things that gay men don’t usually discuss even among themselves. Yet I would estimate that more than fifty percent of the men I have spoken with engage in bareback sex with strangers regularly. Some perhaps once a month. Many on a weekly or daily basis. Some love it because it is raunchy. Some love it because it is a sign of unlimited intimacy. Some men who fuck without a condom are wild and compulsive. Others are balanced, healthy.
In San Francisco there are weekly parties in homes and rented play spaces; bars, clubs and organizations enable and support barebacking among large numbers of men. There are on-line encouragement groups for barebackers around the world–including groups specifically for those most trusting and optimistic of men, HIV-negative barebackers. There are at least three porn production companies that specialize in barebacking scenes, mine being one of them.
I had coffee a few days ago with a young man who calmly and cheerfully told me about his Wednesday night: he had snorted a bump of crystal, gone to a sex-bar South of Market, and been fucked by so many men that, as he put it, “I lost count at 20 of the hot loads that I took up my ass.” He fucked there until the bar closed, at which point he walked to a nearby sex club, Mack, with cum dripping down his pants legs. At the sex club he was fucked by a half-dozen other men. I asked him why he was doing this. He responded, “My diagnosis was a wake-up call. My life is limited. I want to be happy.”
In no sense does this young man feel unusual when you speak with him. He is not rabid, not crazed, not stupid. He is level-headed, quite brilliant and works at a high level in the Gap organization, making a great deal more than I do. Yet in the context of the larger culture–and certainly in the context of the medical/epidemiological culture–this is irresponsible behavior, a fact argued with intelligent futility by Gabriel Rotello.
In the context of a sexually-based American male sub-culture, however, “unsafe sex” is not only insane, it is also essential. For a subculture to be sustained, there must be those who engage in central and defining activities with little regard for anything else, including life itself. In a sense, not only the nature but also the coherence of the subculture is determined and maintained by passionate devotees who serve a contextually heroic purpose in their relationship with danger, death and communion.
At the heart of every culture is a set of experiences which members hold not only to be worth practicing, but also necessary to maintain and transmit to those who follow. In the case of a sexual subculture, one often has only one way to do this: by embodying the traditions. Within the complex system of beliefs and practices of an American male sexual subculture, there can be little that is more defining than the communion and connections that are made possible through these central practices. The everyday identity evanesces and the individual becomes an agent through which a darker and more fragile tradition is enabled to continue. Irresponsibility to the everyday persona and to the general culture is necessary for allegiance to the sexual subculture, and this allegiance takes the gay male directly to the hot and central point where what is at stake isn’t the survival of the individual, but the survival of the practices and patterns which are the discoveries and properties of the subculture. In this context, danger is allegiance to hard-won knowledge.
This is a nexus, a heart of our problem: the subculture and the virus require the same processes for transmission. In such a situation, how does one balance the struggle between the needs of the survival of the body and the needs within the body for the survival of traditions, truths and practices? This is a problem that pornography not only documents but also defines.
One way this manifests is in the equation today of spunk with truth and death. The viscous fluid jetting from all the cocks on screen is at once the documentary proof that Bill Nichols speaks of, the documentary evidence that we are watching “the thing itself”; and at the same time it is a lethal agent, the sign of being in harm’s way. In a sense, all other elements of porn today have become ancillary to this central factor: the moment of greatest excitement and commitment, the moment of communion, is also the moment of greatest physical jeopardy.
In the 80s, porn culture turned to straight men and bisexual scenes in order to move away from this vertiginous point–the ejaculatory consummation–while still maintaining the rote and perfunctory porn genre mechanics. We watched beautiful straight men, shaved to look more innocent and healthy (i.e. too young and too straight to have been infected) engaging in the mechanics of sex with none of the damning heat of passion that might lead one to slip up and either ingest semen or take it up the ass. These men didn’t like semen, didn’t live for it. Medieval European alchemists believed that it was the passionate heat of the mutual orgasm that was as responsible for fertilization as the semen. It was the passing into the womb of the quinta essentia. Straight–“gay for pay”–porn actors were in no danger of losing their essence in their porn sex, no matter how much sperm they squandered safely on the backs or bellies of their passive partners. There was no passion involved. And the lack of passion in itself seemed to remove the action one step away from danger. This quality of industrial dispassion acted then and continues to act as a behavioral condom: if one fucks with dispassion, there is little point in taking the risk that fluid exchange entails. This has become an implicit message in much porn, again equating gay sex with disconnection.
In the 90s, maverick video producers reintroduced semen worship and the lust for ingestion as an element in their sex scenes. In “Diamond Stud”(1992), for instance, young men keep their mouths wide open as their partners ejaculate onto their faces. These videos were remarkable for the fact that the viewer was sure that he was watching gay men having sex not only for money, but also for the passion and hunger of it. For the most part, however, the style of the late 80’s had become too successfully commodified for most companies to risk change. Although efforts were also made to code saliva as a substitute for semen, using it to denote passion, spit has associations of its own. Spitting into another man’s mouth isn’t the same as coming in his mouth.
Let me jump here, and bring in for comparison another American physically-based male subculture–skateboarding–and compare elements of their representative videos. The following are several simple points of similarity between the two:
1) Both skateboard videos and gay pornography emphasize the contextualization of the creative and erotic act in everyday life.
I experienced a nice coincidence that illustrated this. I interviewed a couple of young skateboarders several months ago. They told me that they came up with some of their best tricks on the way to the local 7-11 a few blocks away. That night I happened to watch a male porn video in which the central character met his first trick on the way to a convenience store. This is more than simply playing with the word “trick”. In both cases, the practices that are peculiar to the subculture occur in the context of everyday life and are given a heightened meaning through the contrasting uses of these public spaces. They take place within but apart from the mainstream world.
2) The videos in both cases connect isolated members to the subculture. They show the viewers what people are doing, how these things are done and what they mean.
3) Both focus on places or situations in which the denizens of the subculture predominate and the conditions for their optimal functioning are readily available. These are videos that tacitly imply that “We are everywhere”.
4) Both represent acts that are essential to the subculture because they are on the edge, because they are dangerous and illegal. Some skateboard and skateboard video company names I’ve encountered are Death, Danger, Watch Me Masturbate, Skull, Numbskull, Boner, Gloryhole.
In a remarkable skateboard video called “Radioactive Throwup”, boarders not only skate, they also juggle while they skate over and off the roofs of houses. In many skateboard videos, unpleasant encounters with cops are shown, and risks are taken that are exhilarating, beautiful and irresponsible.
Let me footnote this–taking myself further afield–with a story about surfing, a sport that is obviously related in many ways to skateboarding. I spend a good deal of time in Santa Cruz and around the Monterey Bay and have many friends who surf and skateboard. As you know, the Monterey Bay is a favored habitat for Great White sharks. A few years ago, a young surfer was killed by a Great White, literally bitten in half. The next day–the very next day–I watched young friends of mine surfing in the same spot. When I talked with them about this, about risk and fear, they said that this is what often makes it best. This was the point of surfing: to experience not only of the proximity of danger and death, but also to feel a kind of species humility in being shunted down to a low point in the food chain, animals again. It’s a practice of exploring the wilder animal self in the restrictive context of a neurotic society. That the price of admission includes the real possibility of death serves to point out the seriousness of their commitment as well as the ultimate expendableness of what they experience as self. Danger is the boundary that demarcates their cultural territory.
There was recently a controversy in the world of skateboarding videos. The controversy was due to the fact that larger companies such as Transworld had been making skateboarding videos that were slicker, more expensive and more polished than most. Many skateboard videos are made by the boarders themselves. The Transworld videos, in contrast, were designed not only to represent the practices of the culture and sport, but also to promote the sport to novices in order to encourage the purchase of merchandise being sold by sponsoring companies. In these videos, the “best” skateboarders (a term which rankles the sensibility of the street skater) performed extraordinarily difficult tricks. And they did them beautifully, perfectly.
I was fortunate enough to be “on set” for the shooting of one of the Transworld videos. The location was an outdoor staircase near the gym at UC Irvine. One boy was to ride down the banister of the staircase. He did the trick over and over. I counted fifteen tries. He got it right two or three times. He got it perfect once. By the end of the shoot he was bloody. The perfect take was the only one that made it into the video, with no blood in evidence.
This sanitizing of the performance of the trick epitomizes commercial duplicity and irresponsibility. These videos sell well across the country. Newbie boarders try incredibly difficult tricks and are seriously injured. Important information–information about desire and danger–is being excised. The problem wasn’t the dangerousness of the tricks. The problem was the way in which they were depicted, a basic dishonesty that is linked to the needs of merchandising.
The corporate skateboard video producers are presenting an image of skateboarding that is more saleable to the general public because it is buffered from the dangers the sport actually entails. The producers carefully remove images of either physical mishap or conflict with the law. These videos lead to a misunderstanding by the viewer of the nature not only of the “sport”, but also of the culture that has developed about the sport. They also set the idea that only “special” or especially talented young men skate–young men such as those chosen for the videos, young men who seem able to perform the impossible trick perfectly in a single try. This allows the creation of a competitive elite among skateboarders which in turn enables the development of a lucrative system of sponsored competitions, sponsorship of marketable skaters and intracultural celebrity.
I think of male porn videos that are currently being made by companies like Falcon. There is a parallel elite world that has developed, that of the “porn stars”, and there is a parallel irresponsibility in not accurately representing the world that makes the porn videos possible. The viewer is never told, for instance, that Caverject is used by the models during production. Caverject is a drug that is injected directly into the cocks of the models, insuring perfect hard-ons for hours–with or without sexual excitement. Several studios include money in their video budgets for supplies of Caverject and/or Viagra (often for men in their late teens or early 20’s). Other companies place the responsibility on the models by stipulating in their contract that an erection must be maintained during the hours of the shoot or the model will not be paid in full.
The world of slick porn is a stylized and damaged representation of the drive men feel to experience physical communion. The connections among the men are represented as being so purely sexualized and hot that there is, in the simplicity of acts and images and in the directness of the drive to satisfaction, a sterility that has become in itself a trademark, if not a stigma, of several of the larger companies. The videos are constructs of pure and impossible sexual energy, carefully directed and edited, into which the director ultimately inserts a nearly invisible but definitely present nod to political responsibility: a condom. Never has an object been so physically actual yet so representational ly unreal. It is as if a surfing video might show a surfer catching a perfect wave in the Monterey Bay, but at various crucial moments would edit in close-up shots of a shot-gun in his hand for any possible sharks. It’s not only dishonest, but more importantly, it misses the point. And in both cases editing toward a commodifiable safety is a betrayal of the population that is supporting the making of the videos.
This style of porn is an irresponsible representation of crucial information about who we are, and why we do what we do. Condoms in this context–a context of stylized and commercially driven political correctness–actually say little about safe sex or personal responsibility. They become instead the final sign for the absolute unavailability to the viewer of the communion and connection that the entire well-practiced language of the video had promised. It’s as though we are being punished for our impunity in watching these “hot” men in their “hot” videos by the stupidly inevitable intrusion of the rubber which seems to remind the viewer that he is too spineless to be trusted to decide on his own what constitutes adequate responsibility for his own body. These beautiful men must be called upon–quashing their stylized passion–to act at the critical moment of their intimacy as teachers and good influences for us. The audiences are either trained to a docile acquiescence, or, if they are of a different dispositional cast, they are moved to anger at the duplicity. I have met more than one man who cited frustration with such nearly universal imagery as having been a factor in their decision to bareback.
In a recent issue of Adult Video News, a gay editor wrote that he feared that barebacking in gay porn was probably an inevitability. In an editorial entitled “The Bareback Nightmare Wakes Up in the Porn World”, Mickey Skee writes that he’s “had this nightmare before: what if they stopped using condoms in gay porn?”. He goes on to write “the porn world is a fragile ecosystem. It only takes one company, one video, one director to make it crumble.”
The entire editorial is wrong-headed and full of misinformation. Rather than an editorial called “The Bareback Nightmare Wakes Up in the Porn World”, I would have preferred one called “Barebacking May Wake Up the Porn World from a Nightmare of Dishonesty.” The porn world is far from a “fragile ecosystem”: it is a robust and flexible industry. And while Skee’s attitude toward barebacking in porn–wary and frightened yet wearily resigned–seems at first to be reasonable and responsible, it’s my sense that it’s focusing on the issue in a perfectly counterproductive way.
The editors of Adult Video News are misreading the structure of the current sexual world as badly as the makers of slick porn are misrepresenting it. They are both locked in to the merchandising of particular and formulaic representations of male connection as being somehow quintessential. These acts, portrayed by this type of man, shot in this setting with these camera angles: this is enough. This is Sex. Worse, the industry presents the porn world as being separate from rather than integrated with the everyday world. Just as Bruce Webber created a make-believe world inhabited by pretty look-but-don’t-touch models, porn makers populate their world with “pornstars” who are chosen and groomed to be caricatures of sexually driven men. By setting up an impossible discontinuity between the porn world and the world of the viewer, they create the possibility of commercially exploiting the basic hunger we all feel for connection with ones own sexual culture.
Unlike mainstream porn, the sexual renaissance I spoke of at the beginning of this paper is not organized in its development according to “safe” or “unsafe”. Nor is it organized according to the needs or dictates of the law or the market. It is organized by passion and need in the real world. Safety and risk are weighed and negotiated as an integral element of each individual’s path of personal exploration. Porn, however, continues to work along the lines of an erotic that is defined on the one hand by an abstracted concentration of barren sexual energy and on the other by frustration and fear, by the perceived political and commercial necessity of a denial of the nature of sexual experience and a privileging of medical and social terror over the deep necessities of the life-experience of the individual.
It’s perhaps sad but it’s true: we cannot be trained not to do things because they are unsafe. We smoke, we drink, we eat wrong, we drive faster than we should, we leap from airplanes, we bungee jump, we skateboard, we have sex. It isn’t that we must do these things, it’s just that they must be done.
This is one of Gabriel Rotello’s errors: in our world, safety cannot be mandated, particularly where the passions at the heart of our identities are concerned. As a people, we do believe in miracles. We are optimistic and irrational. We believe that we can be saved if we will just be ourselves. We smoke, drink, fuck and play because this is what we are and this is what we do. It is this depth, this complexity and this eloquent and tragic irrationality that porn has the responsibility to represent and represent accurately and honestly. That is its job. An avoidance of unsafeness doesn’t work as an anti-AlDS strategy, and it has been bastardized by the slicker elements of porn in ways that have only exacerbated the problem, promoting not a culture of sex and sexuality, but a perfectly tantalizing world of vapid heat and “sexiness”.
Let me close with three brief and tentative suggestions regarding porn today.
First, a conceptual reframing of the situation would be helpful. The problem must not be defined–particularly in porn-according to a posited need to restrain male sexuality and the male sexual impulse. This will never work, and has already caused terrific damage. By defining practices as “safe” or “unsafe,” we force the creation of a dichotomy that-again particularly in porn– inevitably magnifies the allure of danger. Disastrously, erotic specificity and creativity become the provenance of recklessness when everything is divided and categorized according to these two labels that derive from a context of terror. The process of developing and fulfilling one’s sexual and erotic individuality is seen too easily as a relinquishment of the bounds of good sense, an unequivocal lapse into “unsafeness”. What greater error could we be making than representing the totality of queer sexual experience through an equation that places all sexual acts on one side and “safe/unsafe” or “good/bad” on the other? This can only result in a representational semiotic of physical communion that derives not from strength, curiosity or exuberance but from fear, disconnection, prurience and ultimately greed.
Secondly, all acts of queer sex should be represented on screen with equal honesty. The entire spectrum of behavior from innocent to depraved, from life-affirming to death-enhancing should be available for the viewers.
And third, in order to develop porn toward a greater eloquence and inclusivity–and toward possibilities more creative than worn-out concepts like “safe” and “unsafe” have allowed–the practice of porn should veer away from the directed film and toward the more straightforward and generous practice of real documentation. Rather than fulfilling the career-based, industry-bound vision of porn directors who aspire to make “meaningful film,” pornmakers might turn with honest curiosity to the wider community of their queer peers, investigating with a less ambitious eye the explorations and inventions that are sprouting like wildflowers everywhere. As long as we have an industry dominated by porn directors who want to make “films”, directors who are intent on promulgating either a commercial or philosophical point, porn will continue to function in a crabbed and politicized discourse that disables the possibility of direct documentary honesty. How can those who work and prosper in the world of sex today have any job more important and timely than the accurate, detailed and truthful depiction of this creative world, a world of men who are risking life itself in pursuit of the possibility of cultural survival and personal happiness?