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Hair: The Dawning of the Age of Gay Porn

Hair: The Dawning of the Age of Gay Porn
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“I know it when I see it.” That was former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, on his decidedly un-scientific approach to discerning what pornography might be, back in 1964. Gay porn on the other hand was not always so blatant during its years of gestation, ranging from beefcake fitness mags to steamy pulp novels, before hardbodies went finally went hardcore.

  Fag Stag: Gay Porn in the Underground

The earliest record of hardcore gay sex in a porn film is credited to a 1920 French movie called Le Menage Moderne du Madame Butterfly (a.k.a. The Surprise of a Knight). The twist? This film was not marketed to gay men. It was a straight porn film with bisexual and gay elements. Bernard Natan, producer, director, writer and star of the film, dared to present and participate in gay sex acts in the film, although he was sly enough to clarify that all the characters in the film are inherently heterosexual and that the gay and bisexual acts are deviant. Deviant or not, they are still exposing the porn-loving public to the acts, possibly connecting with a portion of the viewers and opening up the doors to all-gay porn. His was not the only gay film being circulated at the time, but most films were stag films—underground and kept secret from the general public because they defied homosexuality and sodomy laws of the time. Therefore, marketing peeks at male flesh took a more subtle approach….

  Beefcake: Cheesecake for the Lactose Intolerant

Sure, female flesh was being pinned up all over the place by the mid-1900s, thanks to ‘cheesecake’ photos. But those sexy images of women didn’t satisfy gay men, who had distinct needs of their own. It was not like a gay man could turn on a bad reality TV show to see a bunch of pretty boys prancing around in just their shorts like we can these days. The only way for a gay man to see men frolicking in the buff seemed to be to join the army.

Then along came some 20th century gay heroes who dared to bring erotic photos to the market—disguised as fitness magazines (aka: Beefcake!). Beginning in the 1930s, some very smart entrepreneurs took photos of muscular young men wearing nothing but ‘posing straps’, which we know as G-strings, because total nudity was considered illegal back then. Hard to believe, but yes, magazines like Young Physique, Grecian Guild Pictorial, and Vim (which features African-American men) were filled with practically naked men, yet were allowed to pass the censorship laws and be sold at your local newsstand because the men were photographed while demonstrating exercises. But believe, me, I have an anthology of reprints of many of these images, and they couldn’t look any gayer or overtly sexually suggestive, sometimes with more than one nearly naked man in a single photo. Personally, I don’t think much has changed for fitness magazines. I can’t help but scoff every time I see a “50 Ways to Push Your Woman Over the Edge” article in modern magazines filled with pretty male models showing off their assets.

  Gay Pulp: Another Way to Squeeze Out the Juice

Dare I say that gay pulp was an alternative for getting to the guts of fruits? It is amazing that trashy novels were not only being written for straights, but for and about gays as well in the 1950s and 1960s. But the stories weren’t always fabulous. The emergence of a sort of ‘gay power’ in the mid-1900s following the Second World War, due in part to the intimate bonds young men had created while in combat, created a sex panic, helped largely by the McCarthy Era witch hunts for ‘Communists,’ meaning, anyone the conservative public thought was a threat to American society. Mainstream America got scared as gay visibility became stronger, so it had to retaliate. In books and other media, gay characters were finally being portrayed—as total messes who only sought sex, couldn’t have healthy relationships, and always died a tragic death. Stereotypes presented in pulp titles like Strange Brother by Blair Niles and Butterfly Man by Law Levenson would perpetually be used in books and movies for decades that followed. However, at the time, closeted gays were actually given a glimmer of hope, proof that there were others out there like them, something to read that often reflected the miserable, secretive lives they were leading. It was a double-edged sword—giving gays characters with whom they could identify, but also reinforcing that they were fated to live awful existences. Interestingly, this shocking and offensive fiction could be eaten up by the heterosexual public thanks to its sensationalism, feeding into the paranoia about gays as deviants who prey on unsuspecting straights in even the seemingly safest and most masculine of places. This concept is reflected perfectly in the hugely popular Quentin Tarantino film Pulp Fiction. His movie is an ode to the entire genre, and in it, he honors gay pulp with that sinister gimp/rape scene. Believe me, it had the desired effect on the audience in the theater. Straight men were openly squealing in horror like girls, and gay men were silently grunting, “Yeah! Take it like a man, Ving!”

Even so, there were also pulp favorites being published that were clearly written by and marketed for gays, ripe with plenty of explicit sexual scenes or implied sex, with obvious titles like Hangout for Queers by Lou Morgan and Hellbound in Leather by James J. Proferes. So how could these types of writings get past censors? You’re gonna love this. Often, the publishers would attach an MD or PhD to the end of the authors’ names to suggest that these were medical or sociological case studies. We gays are so crafty!!! Some of the most extreme pulp was extra juicy, with absolutely no heterosexual characters, only gays who were able to get into a sexual encounter before you could turn the page—a wonderfully positive fantasy for gays who, in real life, had to carefully look for subtle signs of a possible tryst, and even then, could still end up in a dangerous situation if signals were misinterpreted. In gay positive pulp titles like Kept Boy by Ed Culver and Quatrefoil by James Barr, the men were often much more masculine than the flamboyant queens represented in more negative, mainstream gay pulp.

In the meantime, there were some more realistic glimpses of gays in fiction and quality literature by the likes of Gore Vidal and James Baldwin, but these were the types of books that would get banned—and even led James Baldwin to flee America for the more progressive thinking France (where Bernard Natan made the first known porn featuring gay sex!), while the publisher of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch had to fight for years to get his book cleared of obscenity accusations in the states.

  Gay Porn: It’s an Art Form

Physique Pictorial, one of the most influential of the beefcake magazines, also featured ‘exercise art’ along with its photos, and one of the most influential artists to contribute to this magazine was Tom of Finland. Literally an artist from Finland, “Tom’s” work was ripe with detail, and while he was forced to abide by the same obscenity laws as the photos with his contributions, he would become famous as an explicit erotic artist after the obscenity laws were challenged in the 1960s—‘pornographic’ art he had been commissioned to create for private collectors for years. Even before his explicit art went public, Tom of Finland defied all stereotypes about homosexuals in his pieces. His men were always super buff and masculine and always happy, often with big smiles on their faces in the midst of hardcore sex acts. And every Tom of Finland man was illustrated with massive endowments, from cocks to asses to nipples. Despite being drawings and not actual photos, to this day these hypersexual images fuel the fantasies of gay men, depicting gorgeous hunks in sexual situations the beholder only hopes he will find himself in one day. It’s really not much different than the way women are drawn with watermelon busts and U-turn curves in the illustrations of superhero comics and sci-fi/fantasy novels, feeding the throbbing, unused libidos of young heterosexual, Star Trek-loving geeks.

  Sex: from Overrated to Triple X-Rated

By the end of the 1960s, after numerous successful court challenges to censorship, gay porn was free at last! Interestingly, for every Marilyn Monroe sexpot celebrity who got the gears of straight men going, there was a Marlon Brando springing up who set women and gay men on fire. One of the all-time sexiest images to burn the retinas of man-lovers, Brando’s shirtless still shot from A Streetcar Named Desire opened the door for objectifying gorgeous men using both photo and film. Presley’s pelvis may have paved the way, but Brando’s pecs pushed the point to new extremes in the mainstream. Whether females or gay men, there were people out there who wanted to see male flesh and were willing to pay for it. A dominant public (aka: straight male) reaction to hunks like James Dean and Marlon Brando was to flame the fires of gay rumors. Now that the general population knew what homosexuality was, why not combat every frightful appreciation of male beauty by trying to strip it of its masculinity? The plan kind of backfired, because even today, those types of rumors just peak peoples’ curiosity and thrust the male in question further into the limelight, causing even more scrutiny of the male form by the public.

All the credit really can’t go to gay men for objectifying other men in the media. At the same time as laws against gay porn (and gay sex) were being demolished, the sexual revolution of the 1960s was giving female sexuality a voice so strong that it demanded to see Burt Reynolds naked! Heck, when his spread in Playgirl magazine hit the stands in 1972, my mother even had to get her hands on it—so she sent my poor teenage brother up the block to pick her up a copy. And hairy beary Burt was just the start of the decade. The sexual revolution did things to society that it had never experienced before…and just like Mikey, society tried it and liked it. The days of the goodie-goodie were replaced by nights of feeling goodie-goodie. The 1970s had gays seeing in 3D—disco, drugs, and dick. Seedy porn movie theaters were…um…popping up all over the place. While straight porn theaters were loaded with heterosexual men whacking off by each other’s sides while watching the women on screen, at gay porn theaters, the very objects of movie goers’ lust were not only on the screen, they were also sitting right next to them. Cornhole, not popcorn, was the craving at these theaters, and the guy right next to you was more than willing to squirt the butter on for you. For closeted gay men, the downside to gay porn theaters was the risk of being seen stepping into or out of one by someone they knew, which could ruin their personal lives.

  There’s No Place Like Homo: Gay Porn as a Private Affair

And that’s where the most awesome decade of all comes in. The 1980s. When everyone’s slot was getting filled—their VCR slot, that is. The home video market took off as the prices of VCRs rapidly dropped. The porn industry took advantage, filming massive numbers of movies for quick distribution on VHS tape. The days of the porn theaters were over. Porn lovers could do it in the privacy of their own homes (after trying their best to sneak unnoticed behind that taboo curtain in the dark back corner of their local video store…). Ironically, at the same time as the porn industry hit pay dirt, it hit a road block. The AIDS crisis did not discriminate against adult film stars. But the industry didn’t take much time to remedy the epidemic. In gay porn, one of the biggest stars became the condom, a practice that was not so much adopted by the straight porn industry, even to this day.

During this explosion of porn video, there were some interesting contrasts between the use of men in gay and straight film. While the men were gorgeous and hunky in gay porn, very often in straight porn things were quite the opposite. Your average straight men didn’t want to see some mega stud fucking hot women—they couldn’t identify and might even feel emasculated by the competition. So for instance, Ron Jeremy, who was actually a hairy little Italian muscle hunk when he began in the business (I’m not even kidding), wasn’t getting any jobs…until he started to put on the weight and took on the persona of a dirty old man. This hunkaphobia in the straight industry had a curious effect on sexy straight male porn actors. It led quite a few of them to go gay-for-pay. At the time, gay audiences ate up the presence of projected straight men in gay porn. Problem was, once these sexy straight men had had enough of gay sex, it had usually tarnished their reputation and led to very modest careers in straight porn, if any at all, as was the case for gay porn superstar Jeff Stryker. Others slipped under the straight-from-gay porn radar, like hugely popular straight porn star Peter North, who many of we gays knew in a previous incarnation as Matt Ramsey, a persona Peter North would probably rather not admit ever existed.

By the 1990s, it was difficult to remain ‘anonymous’ as a gay-for-pay porn star, considering the gay porn video market had pretty much become like Gay Hollywood. Straight stars like Ken Ryker and Ryan Idol weren’t fully delivering to a proud gay audience who knew that a real (gay) man takes it up the bum, something these guys weren’t doing. This gave muscular and masculine gay porn stars an edge. They were basically celebrities and icons to the gay community on account of not only their looks, but their willingness to own and express their sexuality in a public forum. Gay performers like Jake Andrews, Tom Katt, and the late Joey Stefano made personal appearances to sign autographs, had cameos in music videos, appeared in small roles in popular gay cinema, and even started crossing over into the music industry as recording artists. Some porn stars, however, were overshadowed by the ‘bigger’ celebrity…their penises. The most famously endowed porn stars often had molds made of their endowment, which was then mass produced as a dildo baring the porn star’s name. Fans could experience not the real thing, but an incredible simulation of big boys like Tom Chase, Mike Branson, Aiden Shaw, Eric Hanson and Chad Hunt.

  Heading Into the Future

Porn in the new millennium is getting up close and personal. Blu-Ray porns are hitting the market, ensuring that you see every last detail down to the finest hair follicle. Gay porn stars are on MySpace and Facebook, garnering more fans and ‘friends’ than ever before. Porn DVDs can be ordered discreetly online and delivered right to your door. You can pay-per-view online to cut down on the amount of films you keep hidden around your home. Fans and like-minded fetishists are coming together on message boards and in chat rooms to express their pride in their pornographic tastes, and the porn industry is responding with subgenre films that push the envelope to satisfy every subculture’s fetish, from water sports to fisting and beyond. Porn stars are doing things to each other in films these days that were considered illegal in the privacy of your own home a century ago! We sure have come a long way.

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