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Actors in Gay Pornography Organization (AGPO): Helping to Create One Porn Star at a Time

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The manufacture and distribution of pornography is a multi-billion dollar industry. Everyday, thousands of people (mostly male) purchase some type of material that features the subject(s) in various moments of undressing and evocative posing. But those individuals who are just starting in the business (and even those who have been performing for years) are unaware of the situations they find themselves in. Very little attention is paid to an actor’s health. AIDS screenings are expected, but few tests are administered for other sexually transmitted diseases. There are very few true “porn stars.” An actor should expect his career to be no more than three years and few jobs are available after that. Unless the person has carefully calculated his or her career and has made sure he or she has saved some money for life after porn, they will find themselves in serious trouble.

A non-profit organization set up to stop the unfair business practices in the pornography business, specifically within the gay male porn industry would be very beneficial to all members involved. It would also educate performers about STDs and contracts for the adult industry. This is necessary because actors in gay pornography have needs separate from those in other forms of porn. This is not to say that those other actors have no needs. Mainly because of the target audience, performers in gay porn’s needs must be met differently. For example, the typical industry model is expected to be at the top of his physical form, white, and shaved. Unfortunately, not every man who wishes to perform can fit to this standard. Those who do face rigorous diet and workout regimens and very high beauty standards, not to mention difficulties that all gay men face at some point in their life (internalized homophobia, desire to impress those within a social clique, etc.). Even heterosexual performers challenge their sexuality, and it can be frustrating to be typecast as gay (but then again, this is sometimes the appeal of gay porn).

Before we move on, though, boundaries as to who wold be covered by this program must be set. In contemporary society, advertisers use sexuality to sell many different commodities, from underwear to cologne to television sets. Something some consider pornographic could be used to entice a person to watch a movie, but the film itself is not pornography. Actually giving definitions to these terms such as pornographic, pornography, erotica, and the like has always been problematic, especially when dealing with relationships between men. What is considered indecent to the residents of a small town in Iowa could be pasted on large billboards in New York City. Since government officials have attempted to legislate the sale and manufacture of pornography, many people have tried to legally define it. Few people have agreed on a simple, single definition. The United States as a whole is very far from coming to an agreement that applies to all states and neighborhoods.

Since a definition is not the purpose of this organization, I will try to keep the definition simple. In most cases, pornographic material is that which uses sexuality (not necessarily nudity) in order to elicit some type of response from an individual. Queer as Folk, for example, is a weekly one-hour drama on the pay cable station Showtime. Most of the main characters are gay men who regularly engage in sexual acts with other men. It is very common to see buttocks, vaginas, and penises in an episode. But these images are used to encourage cable subscribers to pay for Showtime, and to compete with HBO. The current Versace advertising campaign takes place on a nude beach. Women and men are sunbathing naked while one individual is proudly wearing a Versace bathing suit. Breasts and butts are on full display, but it is done only to accentuate those who are dressed, in the hopes that a magazine reader will run out and purchase an article of clothing immediately. Neither example uses nudity to sexually stimulate a man. It may in fact and probably does but that is not the objective of the item.

Gay pornography, on the other hand, is any material featuring fully naked men, designed to produce sexual arousal in males, usually for profit. This definition can include both materials with and without visual images and that which is found on the Internet and in the real world. But the organization outlined in this proposal is being created for the men who have sex with men, are photographed or videotaped while engaging in such acts, and the material produced is being sold to other individuals, and this material is used by the purchaser solely for sexual stimulation. The actors in Queer as Folk and models in the Versace ads, therefore, would probably not seek out the aid of this organization. This is not to say that they are unwelcome (a person would never be turned away, no matter what gender identity, sexual orientation, race, class, etc., they may be); it’s just that due to the low risk these actors put themselves at during filming and photo shoots, they would not need the benefits offered by this group. With these parameters in mind, we shall now discuss what benefits this organization will provide.

When one first hears about the pornography industry, they usually hear how lucrative it is. Getting involved as an actor in a “billion dollar” business seems like a place where a person can make large profits very quickly. But, most money raised does not go directly to the performers. There are many strata of who gets paid the most, with the distributors and directors on top. They are the ones who may believe they have the greatest investment in their product, and therefore receive the most when returns start to come in, but without performers, there would be no product to sell.
Unfortunately, much of this wealth is not passed on to those who have a major part in what most people are seeing in pornography: its models and actors. At the moment, there are few ways for actors to get a fair share of their performance. Charles Isherwood (1996) noted:

[f]or a one-time fee of $500 to $1,500 on average, a model signs over to the video producer all rights to his performance; there are no royalties granted and no additional payments, even if scenes are used in more than one movie, as they often are. And there is certainly no health plan (107).

This is the major reason for the formation of AGPO: for actors to be fairly compensated for their work. In order to make ends meet, most men turn elsewhere for more cash. It is not uncommon to see adult films stars making appearances at popular gay establishments (lounges, bars, etc.) or stripping at clubs. Also, some individuals sell their sexual service through escorting or hustling. While this organization believes every person has the right to sell sex for money, some routes taken to make cash are still illegal (e.g.: prostitution). If the porn industry placed more interest in the rights of it employees, they would not have to work in fields which place them at risk of incarceration.

Due to the transitory nature of employment in the pornography industry, a union similar to that of the Screen Actor’s Guild may not be the best option. Individuals who are only seeking fast money probably do not want to sign their real name to any legally binding document, for risk of another person finding out. A porn union is totally dependant upon its members. If people are not willing to risk their identity to join a union, it will never be stable. Membership and management would be in a state of constant flux, and the lack of stability would lead to its ineffectiveness when dealing with the studios.

Again, it is very difficult to remain a porn celebrity for very long. In most contracts, actors sign away all royalties to the images they are featured in. While the distributor or director can use these pictures ad infinitum, the actor is not employed for as long a time. This is usually explained by the fact that pornography viewers tire of seeing the same performer over and over. No market research is done by any agency to find what viewer’s tastes are at the moment. It is assumed that once videos featuring a certain actor have stopped selling, nobody wants to see them anymore. While this may be true for individuals who make too many movies, it is the responsibility of the distributor to make sure this does not happen.

But, there are many more reasons for the creation of this organization. For example, rates of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases amongst men who have sex with men have risen steadily in the past few years. Due to the nature of pornographic material, actors are putting themselves at an extremely high risk of contracting these infections. People involved with any type of performance need some type of health care, specifically targeted towards the prevention and treatment of any illness contracted while engaged in sexual activity on the set. Also, the use of condoms and other safer sex techniques must be used extensively (if not for the actor’s health, then at least to promote safer sex amongst the gay community).

Recently, the Adult Industry Medical Health Association (AIM) was formed to promote STD prevention. This organization has done much to increase awareness of the transmission of diseases and infections transmitted by sexual contact, and how to make safe sex enjoyable. But, they only service those individuals working in the Los Angeles and California areas. At the same time, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) provides similar service to those living in the New York City region. Although most filming is done in California, a decent amount is done in New York, such as Lucas Entertainment. Much of the information of these establishments is available on the Internet, but it is hard to help a person not living on the other coast. The organization proposed here would create offices in areas where filming does occur, and would use the internet heavily for those not living in these areas.
Performers in gay pornography also have problems seeking employment in other areas. In the industry as a whole, actors who work in gay pornography are stereotyped as homosexuals and diseased. While the money earned (when compared to straight male porn) is better, many actors have faced discrimination due to their past experience. A union would promote the idea that performing in gay pornography is a healthy and safe profession.

Many people of color are featured in gay pornography. But according to Fung (1999), “[p]orn can be an active agent in representing and reproducing a sex-race status quo” (524). Blacks and Latinos are typically seen as dominating, hypermasculine aggressors, while Asians are the passive participants in sex, waiting for white men to penetrate them. A recent study of Eastern European pornography claims that former Communists (e.g.: Czech star Johan Paulik) are also being conquered by Western Capitalists (e.g.: the American viewer). When one takes a look at the annual Gay Video Network awards (GayVN), most nominees for Best Actor or Gay Performer of the Year are caucasian. Men of color are segregated into their own category, Best Ethnic-Themed Video. This example is in no way condemning these awards. This just only one more symptom of the ethnocentricity the producers and directors of gay pornography. This union would fight to end the stereotyping of minorities by promoting performers to experiment in their field and pursue diversification of their activities on screen. We would also be very vocal towards companies that continue to stereotype men of different ethnic backgrounds.

Finally, many performers (Edmonson 1998; Groff 1998; Isherwood 1996) are caught in a web of depression, drugs, diseases, and sometimes death, usually caused by the reasons stated above. The gay porn actor’s union would have some type of support system for its members. This group would have counseling available, and promote safer sex and drug use amongst performers outside of filming. It would also use its resources to create a career network for actors seeking employment outside the pornography business. Again, the union would promote the principle that there is nothing wrong or immoral about working in the sex industry.

The best way to create change is to empower the individual that wishes to make that change. AGPO will hold seminars educated porn actors on how to improve their own life, while trying to attain the goals outlined above. These instructional courses will give them the background to gain a foothold in the pornography business, while also providing skills that will be invaluable outside this community.
Each and every benefit provided to the actors would also benefit the viewer of pornography. First, gay porn does create a sense of community for those individuals who do not have direct contact with other gay males. Watching pornography validates and approves of many emotions a man might be experiencing, which the society that he lives in condemns. For some, porn may be a person’s only doorway into gay society. This is also the reason why AGPO continues to support the pornography industry; we do not want to see it collapse—just restructured in a way in which every person involved benefits.

But, this is a double-edged sword. If the pornography industry continues to push images of white men who spend hours and hours a day working out in a gym trying to attain “perfection,” males in gay society will continue to have problems such as eating disorders and inferiority complexes. Also, Men of non-Western European descent may actually buy into the images they seen propagated in the media. If and when pornography companies challenge the stereotypes they have created, men across the country will be able to live more healthy, stable lives, and appreciate they body they were born with.

While males around the world enjoy gay pornography, the financial benefits are given mainly to the producers and directors, and the sexual ones given to the purchaser. The performers are unfortunately left by the wayside, and many find life outside their work difficult and disappointing. A union would help actors live a positive, active lifestyle, while also helping those who invest in pornography.

References

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