The New Pornographers

A hot young man, we’ll call him Justin, is standing on a dried-out patch of grass in the back yard of a home near the ferry docks in Edmonds. He is wearing nothing but tight red shorts, and he is trying to start a lawnmower.
The shorts show off Justin’s package, his thighs, his taut stomach, his exhibitionist streak. They are the only bit of color on his pale frame, aside from a mess of cherubic blond curls atop his head. Nearby, an older man, we’ll call him Martin, is lying on the grass, sweating, using a digital video camera to capture Justin’s every movement in the most suggestive way possible. The lawnmower starts with a growl, Justin pushes it across the grass, and Lawnboy enters its second day of filming.
Inside the home, another young man, we’ll call him John, is blocking out a scene. John is short, slender, 21 years old, and has a cock that is 9 inches long with a 6.5-inch circumference. These are not rough estimates. He has measured, others have measured, jaws have dropped.
“I knew I had something special,” John says, explaining how he got the impulse to act in porn movies. “I knew I had something to show off. And I just wanted to. It’s hot to think of people watching me having sex.”
The cameraman who is working with John, we’ll call him Zach, nods vigorously, and then attempts to universalize the sentiment, saying: “It’s a vein that runs through all of humanity—’Watch me fuck!'”
Indeed. And never before have so many people had so many ways to allow others to watch them fuck—or suck, or finger, or jerk off, or strain against ropes, or have three-ways, or act out fantasies involving stern nurses, and on, and on. You get the picture. And if you don’t, you can, quite easily, on the internet—perhaps even free of charge. (And if pictures don’t do it for you, there’s plenty of video out there now, too.)
Pornography, at the vanguard of every communications revolution from the printing press onward, has embraced the age of instant digital communications and ubiquitous cameras. Like most other staples of our culture, it is now in the process of transforming—and being transformed—into a much more bottom-up, if you will pardon the pun, social institution.
Take, for example, the way that Justin and John came to be involved in Lawnboy, an eight-minute porn film produced for HUMP! 2, The Stranger’s second annual amateur-porn contest. For both Justin and John, the trip into the world of porn moviemaking began with the internet rather than, as it most likely would have in years past, an audition in Southern California.
Justin, a junior at a state university in Eastern Washington, had, like many of his classmates, a MySpace page, a girlfriend, and an ambition to become a doctor. Owing to his mother’s illness, a debilitating condition that consumed much of his family’s savings, Justin juggled a night job with his studies in order to pay tuition. “I always just worked my ass off,” he said. During the school year, it was $9 an hour working as a nurse’s aide. In the summer, it was about the same pay working at a Nextel call center, fielding complaints. “It just burned me out,” he said.
One day, a man contacted Justin through his MySpace page. As Justin recalled: “He didn’t throw it at me right away—’Do you want to get fucked in the ass for some money?'”
When the man did throw it at him, Justin at first was not interested. But then the age of collapsing communication barriers mixed with the age of collapsing sexual taboos, and what emerged was an outcome that would have been much less probable in Justin’s father’s generation. First, Justin took a moment to weigh the costs and benefits of a gay-porn career: There was getting to travel, which he had never done, and getting $2,000 per video, which seemed fantastic. Justin set those things on the scales across from getting fucked in the ass by a guy, which he’d never really desired. Next, and in rather short order, Justin reached his decision. He picked travel and money—decided, in other words, to become “gay for pay.”
“I’m not real masculine,” he says, with the pride of someone who is now making good money because of his effeminacy. “I don’t have a deep voice, I don’t shave. I guess I come across as a girly boy.”
Justin flew down to California, got fucked in the ass on camera, and came home thousands of dollars richer. The ass fucking was bearable, the money was great, and soon a whole new world opened up to him. His girlfriend, who found his gay-for-pay work hot, suggested he also try being an escort, and now Justin has a small stable of married men, gay men, and bisexual men who call on him via Craigslist. “I usually meet up with them, ask them how their week was, jack them off, maybe let them suck my dick,” he said. The net result: “Now I have tons of free time, I can go home to see my family, I have food to eat, and I don’t really have to worry like I used to.”
It was through his Craigslist escort ad that the directors of Lawnboy found Justin. The other actor, John, they also found through Craigslist, via an ad the directors had placed themselves, announcing they were looking for people who wanted to be in a low-budget porn film intended for submission to a contest sponsored by a certain alt-weekly in Seattle.
John, raised by lesbians in a wholesome small town in the south Puget Sound area, saw the movie and the contest as another chance to show off his special feature, and as another opportunity to make a start in porn after two earlier experiences with “extremely unprofessional” companies. “The first company, the owner wanted to sleep with me before they would do anything,” he recalled. “And the second one, the cameraman started sucking my toes.”
Martin and Zach, the directors of Lawnboy, promised no such advances.
The plot of Lawnboy, as with most porn movies, is fantastical and largely irrelevant. What is more interesting, at least for the purposes of this story, is the film’s genesis: It comes into being simply because of a call for amateur-porn submissions to a competition. This is remarkable, because only when the technological barriers to making porn are very low, as they have recently become, could such a call for submissions have any chance of succeeding. These days, anyone who can buy or borrow a digital camera and a computer—which is to say, most any enterprising person—can make a porn movie. Paris Hilton knows all about this development, as do the hordes of horny average people posting videos of their sex lives on PornoTube.com, the XXX version of YouTube.
But even as making and distributing a porno has become as easy as sharing an online photo album, and even as the social taboos against certain sex acts have disintegrated, the taboo against acting in a porn film—amateur or otherwise—remains. Yet it is a taboo in transition, as celebrities from Pamela Anderson to Paris Hilton to Colin Farrell have shown. Hilton parlayed her sex tape “scandal” into even more celebrity, and Farrell’s career hasn’t been damaged by the release of a sex tape he made with a one-time girlfriend. However, for the non-heiresses and non-movie stars there can still be quite a bit of risk to appearing in a porn movie.
I had this reconfirmed recently when, using my new MacBook laptop, which comes with a video camera built into the top of the screen, I ventured onto IChatGay, where men go to watch each other jerk off across what in the past would have been prohibitively long distances (cross-town distances, cross-continental distances, even intercontinental distances) using the magic of live video chat. A friend told me about the phenomenon, and it seemed to me to be yet another venue for a type of amateur pornmaking—albeit a somewhat unique type of pornmaking, in which the assumption is that the video ceases to exist immediately after it is made. Chatting with “HotAZDesertGuy,” whom I assumed was in Arizona, I learned that some people go to great lengths to keep themselves from being unwittingly made into internet porn stars while video chatting.
“Someone just told me that they never show their face, because they are afraid of being recorded and posted on the internet,” he said. Then I had a very pleasant—and fully clothed—conversation with him about the ins and outs, so to speak, of video-chat pleasure.
Similarly, John, the actor with the giant cock in Lawnboy, goes to some lengths to hide the nature of his porn work from certain people, telling his parents that he is a photographer, not an actor, on porn sets. And Justin, the other Lawnboy actor, tells his mother that his new financial security comes not from escorting and porn acting, but from working as a houseboy for a married man whose wife is dying.
The two aspiring porn stars aren’t ashamed of what they’re doing. They’re clearly quite proud, in fact, and are willing to take the risk of their identities being uncovered someday—most likely later in life, by someone who happens upon a lingering internet video or photo of their current work. But in the present, they’d like to limit the blowback from certain people who they know wouldn’t see porn work the way they do.
John and Justin are on one end of the spectrum. Unlike most of the entrants to HUMP!, they probably wouldn’t care if Lawnboy remained in circulation long after the contest was over, so long as it helped their porn careers. Most other entrants, however, are willing to participate in HUMP! only because of the promise that their movie will be destroyed as soon as the competition ends and the winner is chosen. In other words, they want to indulge their exhibitionist streak without having to commit to a career in porn and without too much risk that nude images will pop up if they ever run for Congress.
“Barlos Blopez,” a 27-year-old photographer who submitted a straight porn video to the competition (title: Getting a Leg Up in Porn) described the different varieties of anxiety that are alleviated by maintaining anonymity. “Remaining somewhat incognito helps prevent my boss, or mom, or old pastor from finding out,” he told me. “I don’t care if my friends know, but I just don’t want to take the chance of having to sit down with a potential employer down the line and him saying, ‘Hey you made that porn!'”
“Society still largely frowns upon pornography,” Blopez continued, “though it is becoming more mainstream, and I’m just not ready to jump up on the pedestal quite yet. With things like the Paris Hilton fuck tape, it seems like this kind of thing is getting more out there, but it’s still got a way to go before the average schmuck like me will feel comfortable saying, ‘I made a porno!'”
“Kitty-Lynn Houston,” a 23-year-old graphic designer who participated in an entry called Cum on Luv, said she was motivated to be in a porn movie by the personal inside joke of it—by doing the movie, she’s secretly confounding the image that most people have of her, and this makes her laugh. But, like Blopez, she said the key to her comfort with the project is that her real identity will remain secret. “In the movie, I’m trashy trash,” Houston said. “I don’t want to give somebody the idea that I’m a ho.” Plus, she added, “My parents live in this city. I was raised in a pretty Catholic household. It would just be kind of embarrassing on that front.”
It’s good, in a way, that so many people are still so worried about the taboo against acting in a porno. Though the taboo tends to come from uptight or religious places, one of its effects is to preserve the mystery that surrounds porn actors, a mystery that helps make them great creators of illusion and perfect canvases for projection. And what would porn be if all mysteries and identities were revealed openly, if there was no opportunity for projection and illusion and if, instead, as in the 2001 movie The Fluffer, we all got to know our smut heroes? When the hero in that story comes to know everything about his porn idol, Johnny Rebel, he is severely disappointed.
As was I, in some senses, when I was let in on the sex scene between Justin and John during the filming of Lawnboy. Don’t get me wrong. Getting invited to a Belltown condo to watch two cute boys have sex under bright lights in a room draped in white sheets was the highlight of my weekend. I told all my friends. I dined out on it for weeks.
But watching from behind the scenes, the inescapable reality was that the sexiness of Lawnboy depended upon an illusion. The illusion is that Justin is actually gay, not “gay for pay.” It’s one thing to watch a movie in which Justin, quite an actor, appears as if he desperately wants to be sucking a nine-inch cock. It’s quite another to watch as Martin, one of the directors, ejects Brokeback Mountain from an off-camera DVD player and inserts, in its place, Asian Cream Pies Volume 1, starring Duan, Jenny, Pin, Nuch, Noon, and, most importantly, Muk. Justin, it turns out, prefers to look at Muk when he is trying to get a “semi-wood” or, depending on the scene’s requirements, a “full-fledged wood.” Once the Asian cream pie gets him hard, he’s ready to be with a man.
Similarly, it is one thing to watch a huge climactic come shot, and quite another to be shown a bottle of tribulus, a pungent-smelling herb that supposedly increases the volume and thickness of a man’s ejaculate. “If you jack off five times a day, it’s the same amount, same thickness,” John told me, extolling the virtues of the tribulus he had been popping before the shoot. Hedging his bets, John also confided: “I’ve been holding off for almost four days now. It’s killing me. So either way it’s going to be a huge come shot.” There is a reason that this kind of information is not included on the otherwise highly descriptive packaging in which porn videos come.
In the end, I didn’t stay for the come shot. I listened to Martin, one of the directors, issue his commands, including, memorably: “The glans has to be pointing in the correct direction!” I listened to the voice coaching (“I don’t want any of that, ‘Yeah, fuck that ass,’ stuff. I want more naturalistic—moaning, breathing.”). I watched the boys strip—eagerly, professionally—and listened to Justin exclaim about John’s cock, “It’s dinosauric!” I saw breath strips passed out, saw Justin run to the kitchen for some peanuts because his stomach was empty, saw semi-woods, full-fledged woods, and a lot of Asian cream pie fluffing in-between.
It was sexy, then clinical, sexy, then clinical, and the back-and-forth just hammered home how much the sexiness of the scene depended upon me forgetting what I already knew about Justin—that he really loves fucking girls, not guys, or, as he put it, “I really would like to stop the gay porn, but it pays so well…”
I left after the blowjobs, but before the fucking. I had a party to go to, but in truth, I could have been late to the party. What really pushed me out the door was that I had decided I would rather see the movie—would rather watch the illusion than experience the making of the illusion. As I left, Justin was lying on his back on the bed, naked. John was standing nearby, also naked, getting ready for the next scene, which I believe involved another blowjob. I figured everyone would be relieved to have the note-taking writer out of the room, but the boys, I heard later, were disappointed by my departure.
They’d wanted me to stay and watch them fuck.
from The Stranger

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