Adult material is the most influential cultural output that affects the way we think about sex and the way we actually have sex. This is doubly true for men who have sex with men (MSM). Discreetly omitted from nearly all sex-ed material, most MSM learn nearly everything we know about sex from porn or from other men – men who learned most of what they know about sex from porn as well. Porn that is gendered from head to foot.
Beyond the very obvious gender roles grafted onto male adult material involving a penetrator and a penetrated, there are deeper issues concerning gender. One of the most prolific and successful gay porn directors and producers is the drag queen Chi Chi LaRue (a.k.a. Larry David Paciotti). While Paciotti does not direct in drag, he does conduct nearly all of his business as LaRue. Over the years LaRue has built a porn empire, encompassing prominent studios that produce gay, bisexual, and even straight material, including a large swath of the work featuring straight porn darling Jenna Jameson. In addition to work in the porn industry, LaRue is a frequent DJ at clubs such as Eastern Bloc in New York City, has appeared as a guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and directed Willam Belli’s “Trouble” music video.
LaRue’s success in the gay porn industry is due in large part to her experience in drag performance. In such a highly gendered space, having a deep understanding of the mechanics of gender within the semiotics of erotica is undoubtedly a huge advantage. When considering the variety of work LaRue is involved in, this becomes clear. Rascal Video, the main outlet for LaRue’s gay content, features either heavily masculinized men or these men paired with more ”twink,” or feminized, men. This plays directly into established modes of arousal for gay men, with the “butch” man taking on the top role.
However, LaRue also signed Brent Everett as an exclusive model for Rascal Video. This is significant because, while he is often billed as a twink, Everett’s performance is hyper-masculine, even if he is dwarfed by his scene partners. Making this work effectively requires an understanding of gender as a performance, even in a purely sexual context, and the ability to walk the fine line between a titillating blurring of these boundaries and an erection-crushing violation of them.
Another successful gay porn director who similarly raises questions about gender performativity and sexual arousal is mr.[sic] Pam, one of the most successful directors in the gay adult film industry. She has a myriad of films under her belt and is a favorite for Naked Sword and Lucas Entertainment, both large studios that focus on hyper-masculine portrayals of male-male sex. Beyond this, she is also known for her relaxed style and easy working relationship with talent. mr. Pam is also a cis woman. In fact, there are quite a few biological females working as directors and producers in the gay porn industry. mr. Pam is unique, therefore, not due to her sex but because of her prolific success. It is worth noting that mr. Pam has begun her own foray into drag as a faux queen – a biological woman creating drag performance and style like her cis male counterparts. Think Victor Victoria.
Like LaRue, mr. Pam works for studios that primarily emphasize the masculine aspects of the performance of sex between two men. In addition, Naked Sword often releases titles with mild kink and bondage. Because her work has garnered such positive attention from the industry and audiences tend to find it truly arousing, it begs the question of what she is doing beyond simply throwing two masculine performers at each other in masculine ways.
In fact mr. Pam’s success with kink and bondage perhaps reveals the true reason why she and LaRue have done so well in the adult film industry. In our society, gender roles imply a power dynamic. Kink, bondage, and to a certain extent all sexual interaction are also representative of power dynamics. As Oscar Wilde said, “Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.”
Despite how far we have come as a society – no pun intended – a man being penetrated by another man still carries intense implications of a feminizing act. This means the penetrator will always be seen as inherently having the power in any sexual interaction. However, these two directors are adept at playing with this line, complicating the power dynamic and making it unclear who is in control, and this uncertainty adds drama, excitement, and an element of the unknown that is missing from most of the formulaic adult material we see. As a commenter defending mr. Pam’s foray into the world of gay porn put it – “numerous scenes in the last few years that were filmed by gay men…are about as interesting as watching paint dry.” (link very much NSFW)
mr. Pam’s work has even garnered enough attention and praise that a film has been made chronicling her journey (NSFW).
Don’t get me wrong: I understand at the end of the day that all this is “just porn” and that studio-created content is very quickly being replaced by amateur performers recording material on their iPhones. But considering that we have almost no mandated sex education in this country and the little that does exist is almost completely devoid of information for LGBTQ people, for most of us porn is sex ed. Porn has a palpable effect on our society, our concept of how sexual and gender roles intersect, and how we personally construct our individual sexualities and arousal mechanisms. As LaRue says;
From the hairy-chested blue-collar style to the pumped-up gym bod, porn has helped promote every dominant look in gay culture. Positions, leather, sexual swagger, dirty talkporn [sic] teaches them all.
A woman and a drag queen as two of the most powerful players in both gay and straight adult media is very unexpected. Since the Stonewall riots gay men have fought to define our sexuality, masculinity, and gender outside the boundaries of the feminine-masculine binary that pervades straight sexual and gender roles. In what would seem to be an opposition to this effort, LaRue and mr. Pam appear and re-infuse the female element into our sexuality, even if only through their gaze and perspective. Can it be that we find sex acts between two men more believable, more arousing, when a woman, performed or biological, is orchestrating that arousal?
Perhaps at a certain level we are yearning for a female embrace that we cannot find within male-male sex. If humans create the framework by which arousal is dictated, what does it mean that this framework for gay men, and many straight men, in the West is heavily influenced by a cis woman and a drag queen? It certainly feels like a crack in the patriarchal male gaze. I am ecstatic for what that might mean.