Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Problem with Gay Male Pornography

This essay is the next part of my research on g.m.p. Please watch the video posted previously before reading this essay!

The Problem with Gay Male Pornography
            For decades anti-pornography feminist theorists have been articulating how pornography is problematic. A plethora of books, journals, and popular articles have been written concerning pornography and the harm that it causes in regards to women and men. These writings often analyze pornography through the lens of the heterosexual hominid being. Little is discussed when it comes to pornography that is produced for a gay audience; because of this one may believe that, unlike heterosexual pornography, gay pornography is unproblematic.
            Identifying as a feminist and student of women’s studies, I have been involved in many conversations on the topic of pornography. During these discussions it seems that gay pornography is never brought up for conversation. It almost appears that gay pornography receives a free pass when it comes to feminist analysis and there is an unspoken agreement that gay community is oppressed enough so just let them have their pornography. This train of thought is problematic because it stems from the socially constructed idea that members of the gay community are hyper sexualized—as if for some reason they need the pornography more than heterosexuals—as if it liberates them in some way. Pointing out problems in gay pornography seems taboo.
The focus of my personal research is to examine, reform, and redefine masculinity. My research has allowed me to discover not only how pornography is harmful to women but to men as well. When the subject of gay pornography comes to mind, I must ask the question: Is gay male pornography problematic and if so, how?
Understanding that there are many genres and types of gay pornography, I have decided to focus on the most popular form—mainstream gay male pornography. I chose to narrow my research to one genre and type because it is the most popular and financially successful, therefore affecting the most people. I also found that it would be difficult to examine lesbian pornography and its effect on lesbians because most lesbian pornography is made by men for men, with lesbian pornography made by lesbians for lesbians remaining at the bottom of the porn hierarchy.
I propose that gay male pornography is problematic. Gay male pornography provides a false portrayal of gay male sexuality, going as far as using straight actors in the majority of gay pornographic films. Gay male pornography provides a stereotypical image of what a man should look like while simultaneously enforcing heteronormative masculine behaviors and actions. Although women are absent, gay male pornography succeeds in enacting and enforcing a misogynistic view of all things feminine. Gay male pornography creates conflict in gay male relationships and may be responsible for the destruction of a gay male’s sexual selfhood. When you wrap all these “little” problems up and present them in one big package of gay male pornography, you end up with a big problem that needs to be addressed. Gay male pornography is problematic and its time that we lift the taboo of discussing and pointing out these problems.
The False Depiction
            Two rugged yet well groomed, perfectly chiseled, and stereotypically handsome men catch each other’s eyes. The camera pans up and the scenery changes from the bar to the bedroom. Suddenly the rugged yet well groomed, perfectly chiseled, and stereotypically handsome men are wildly making out. Abruptly they are engaged in sexual intercourse. Their penises are abnormally large—that’s all you can see. The sex ends, the scene ends, and that’s a wrap. Does this scene accurately portray gay male sexuality? Do the actors accurately portray all gay men? Do all gay men have abnormally large penises?
            Gay male pornography provides and supports the idea that gay male sex is spontaneous, with no strings attached, with always two strangers “hooking up”. Radical feminist John Stoltenberg in his book Refusing to be a Man states:
Like almost all sex films, gay male sex films represent sex that has no past (the couplings are histroyless), no future (the relationships are commitmentless), and virtually no present (it is physically functional but emotionally alienated). In a real sense, gay male sex films cross over the “sexual orientation” line because they epitomize those qualities of voyeurism and self-involvement in sex that straight men also aspire to. (Stoltenberg 94)
The stereotype that gay men are never committed to one another and only interested in historyless and emotionless sex is strongly enforced in gay male pornography. Only ignorance allows one to believe that gay men do not form romantic sexual relationships. Gay male pornography therefore does not portray gay male sexual encounters accurately. Of course in life there are times when gay male sex is casual and random, but in gay male pornography there is no representation of anything other than that.  The presentation of gay men in gay male pornography is very similar to the presentation of homosexual subjects as exemplified by Nan Alamilla Boyd who illustrates that early science fiction novels relied exclusively on stereotypes (Boyd 163). An example is—just as hetero pornography displays all men as having abnormally large penises, this pattern is the same in gay male pornography.
            The majority of actors in the gay male pornography industry are heterosexual men that only have sex on camera for pay. This is known as “gay for pay”. Upon realizing the previously portrayed inaccuracies of gay male pornography, how can straight men accurately portray gay male sexuality? Gay for pay actors receive higher compensation for gay male pornography. Many heterosexual pornography actors are willing to have sex with women on camera for little to no pay. Gay for pay actors often prepare for gay sex scenes by taking Viagra and watching heterosexual pornography in order to maintain erections. This cannot be an accurate portrayal of gay male sexuality since real gay males are actually sexually attracted to one another before engaging in sexual intercourse. In our society it is not acceptable by many to be a gay male. The pornographers, who subscribe to the “patriarchal code”, use straight actors to support and enforce the message that gay male sex is more acceptable if it is done by “real” men for pay. It is also worth addressing that gay for pay actors more accurately reflect the straight male and female voyeurs of gay male pornography who have been conditioned to be disgusted by what should be an accurate portrayal of gay male sexuality. This argument is obviously present when examining lesbian pornography made by men for men, which almost always features two or more women who are “gay for pay”. Portraying an accurate picture of gay male sexuality using men with a gay identity could decrease sales by making the straight voyeurs uncomfortable—forcing them to confront their own internalized homophobic thoughts.
            Another reason why straight men and masculinity are involved with gay pornography is because in our society like most, men who are feminine are simply unacceptable. In reference to gay male pornography, Stoltenberg states, “As artifacts of a heterosexist culture that is rigidly polarized by gender, gay male sex films exhibit the apotheosis of male sexual functioning as imagined by men who, not unlike straight men, dread the taint of feminization” (Stoltenberg 96).
Don’t Lose that Manhood
            In addition to falsely portraying gay men is the enforcement of heteronormative patriarchal masculinity. When the average straight person is asked to think of a gay man, they picture the stereotypical feminine male or perhaps even a drag queen. The feminized male is present in our minds and in reality, although the feminine male does not describe all gay men. Feminization in men is not acceptable, so gay male pornography attempts to erase it from existence. By using straight and stereotypically masculine looking and acting men, gay male pornography is telling gay men that they need to look and act like a stereotypical straight and masculine male. Gay male pornography tells gay men that if they are going to be gay, they need to still be a “man” and assimilate. This provides the message that one’s effeminate gay male identity is wrong. This is problematic because gay men are expected to assimilate into being gay men who look and act like straight men, providing the message that it’s ok to be gay as long as no one can tell you are gay. As Nikki Sullivan “gestures” in her book A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory, instead of assimilation we should move towards increasing emphasis on differences that pervade sexual and gender based utopian visions (Sullivan 35). Gay male pornography does not make this same gesture.
            To understand how this sexually based assimilation into heteronormative masculinity is problematic, one must examine how straight men are being conditioned to act and be. What does it mean to be a “man” in our society and culture? Men are conditioned to be stoic, aggressive, competitive, and most importantly not female. This conditioning of masculinity is thriving in gay male pornography. When gay men and straight men have the same values, then patriarchy is alive and present in all men, allowing the continued oppression of all those not “male”. Stoltenberg explains this concept impeccably by arguing:
The values in the sex that is depicted in gay male sex films are very much the values in the sex that gay men tend to have; they are very much the values in the sex that straight men tend to have; they are very much the values that male supremacists tend to have: taking, using, estranging, dominating—essentially, sexual powermongering. (Stoltenberg 97)
Simultaneously gay male pornography reinforces our society’s obsession with phallic importance. The films focus on what the penis is doing to something else. Stoltenberg comments on this phallic obsession by explaining that all you see is “the action”, progress, and status of the penis (Stoltenberg 95.) Gay male pornography enforces upon gay men that if you do not have, want, or identify with the penis not only are you not a man, but that you are not a gay man. In regards to this issue Stoltenberg also explains, “It’s as if men don’t really feel their male identity unless they’re experiencing their own body in a way that is explicitly, culturally, sexually phallic” (Stoltenberg 97). This type of conditioning is evident when gay male Dick Leitsch of the Mattachine society is quoted saying in an interview, “We have sex as often as possible to prove to ourselves that we’re men because men are supposed to have a lot of sex” (Interview).
            Gay male pornography problematically enforces heteronormative masculinity, the importance of having a penis, and misogyny.
In gay male pornography there are no women present—so how can it be misogynistic? In order to answer this question one must examine the lack of femininity and treatment of femininity found in gay male pornography.
In the majority of gay male pornography there are no signs of femininity. As discussed earlier, the hiring of straight male actors helps to ensure that no feminine males will be displayed in any positive light, which sends gay males the message that being female is not acceptable. Simultaneously, eliminating femininity from the screen also instills the patriarchal idea that women are bad and that men should hate women. In gay male pornography this message is more evident because femininity is not allowed, unlike in hetero pornography—which tells it’s viewers that femininity is at least good for objectifying and sexualizing. Stoltenberg explains it best when he states:
The picture pornography exposes is not a pretty one; pornography reveals in the sexuality of the men for whom it is made an addiction to force and coercion for arousal, eroticized racial hatred, a despisal of the female, a fetishizing of erection and devotion to penetration, an obsession with interpersonal power differentials, an eroticized commitment to violence- and through it all an ugly striving to assert masculinity over and against women. (Stoltenberg 106)
            During my research, on the rare occasion that I encountered a feminine male present in gay male pornography, he was often the victim of a gang rape enacted by heteronormative masculine “gay” males. This assault and attack towards feminine men says that femininity must be destroyed and dominated by whatever means necessary—a message of true misogyny. Stoltenberg states, “Pornography tells lies about women. But pornography tells the truth about men” (Stoltenberg 107). Pornography tells lies about people of the LGBTQ community as well.
Partners Divided and the Loss of One’s Sexual Selfhood
Aside from promoting misogynistic actions and thoughts, there are problems derived from pornography that may affect gay men on a more personal level. In an article for New York Magazine entitled The Porn Myth, Naomi Wolf argues that pornography turns men off from having real sexual intercourse. She explains that mass exposure to women in pornography makes it difficult to find a woman in real life who is “porn-worthy” (Wolf). I believe that this can be applied to gay male relationships as well, conditioning the voyeur to be aroused by “perfect” muscular men. On top of  being incapable of being aroused by a real gay male, the gay male who achieves orgasm via voyeurism is now suddenly in a position where his brain does not associate having an erection—the position of the person who is actually practicing intercourse. This leads to erectile dysfunction.
            When two people are involved in an intimate relationship, pornography can be quite problematic. In my personal life I could not tell you how many times I have seen couples torn apart by pornography. Most people do not feel comfortable with the fact that their partner is masturbating secretly to other men, instead of just having sexual intercourse with them. For obvious reasons that strike at people’s insecurities, physically and emotionally, this always causes conflict in a relationship. Often these men become incapable of being aroused by their partners and begin to see intercourse with them as a chore. When men look at pornography they destroy what they could be experiencing sexually with another person. Stoltenberg explains this type of situation when he states that:
What a camera can see is not remotely equivalent to what a person can express and perceive with another person during sex. But if what a camera can see becomes a man’s operational standard for “good sex”—If a man models his sexual behavior after that which is displayable on a screen and if, in addition, he becomes like a camera in relation to the person he is with –then a crucial potential for erotic communication has been occluded. (Stoltenberg  98)
What the camera sees is what the viewer sees. No emotions, just a chemical surge than you can turn off and on at will, a version of sex that you can turn off and file away, and therefore not deal with any aftermath. It’s the equivalent of having sex with someone and then throwing them out and locking the door.
            Gay male pornography continues to teach us how to “appropriately” have sex while providing conflict in romantic partnerships by playing off insecurities and destroying erotic communication. Gay male pornography causes erectile dysfunction in men and the inability to be attracted to real and natural gay men. These are just some of the problems with gay male pornography that can destroy what could be a healthy relationship along with one’s sexual selfhood.
Waking Up
Gay male pornography is not only problematic for gay males but for all men and women. Gay male pornography portrays gay male sexuality inaccurately and enforces heteronormativity. Pornography destroys gay male relationships by dismantling communication and creating a false sense of what a man perceives as sex. Pornography is instilled into our brains as a normal part of society and we are conditioned by the media to accept it. Gay male pornography like all pornography is truly problematic. Simply calling for a ban of pornography could only make the matter worse, with bootlegging and underground snuff films. As the research by Larry Baron in his scholarly article Pornography and Gender Equality: An Empirical Analysis states, regulation of pornography is not a solution to oppression. I would suggest better education for our future generations. Perhaps implementing gender and queer studies into our public education could help future generations begin to understand concepts and ideas that children of today are simply not exposed to.  In a world where members of our society are actually equipped with educations on gender equality, pornography may fade away; I would like to believe that when most people are well informed they make the right decisions. But before we can truly make any changes, we must realize whose world we are living in and what we must do to take it back. In his book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, Robert Jenson leaves us with this thought:
At the moment, it’s the pornographers’ world. They are the ones telling the most influential stories about gender and power and sex. But that victory is just for the moment, if we can face ourselves and then build a movement that challenges them. We have a lot of work to do. So, before we debate the meaning of the First Amendment, let’s discuss the meaning of a double penetration. Before we look at the law, let’s look in the mirror.

                                                                  Works Cited
Barron, Larry. "Pornography and Gender Equality: An Empirical Analysis." The Journal of Sex Research. Part 2 27.3 (1990): 363-80. JSTOR. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.
Boyd, Nan Alamilla. "A Queer Ladder of Social Mobility." Wide-open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Berkeley: University of California, 2003. Print.
"Interview with a Homosexual Spokeman." Interview. Print.
Jensen, Robert. Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. Cambridge MA: South End, 2007. Print.
Stoltenberg, John. Refusing to Be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice. Portland, Or.: Breitenbush, 1989. Print.
Sullivan, Nikki. A Critical Introduction to Queer Theory. New York: New York UP, 2003. Print.
Wolf, Naomi. "The Porn Myth." New York Magazine. New York Media LLC. Web. 24 Feb. 2012.

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