Sunday, October 17th 4pm. Book Launch. Occidental Center for the Arts auditorium. Generation Occupy: Reawakening American Democracy by Michael Levitin. Free event, donations welcome.Proof of vaccination/ID required at the door, masking while indoors. Selected readings, book sales and author signing. Refreshments available for sale. OCA: 3850 Doris Murphy Court, corner of Bohemian and Graton Rds. Go to occidentalcenterforthearts.org or (707) 874-9392 for more info. OCA is accessible to people with disabilities.
DC Comics has celebrated National Coming Out Day by confirming a long-rumored development: Superman has officially come out as bisexual.
To be clear: this is not the well-known Clark Kent/Kal-El Superman; rather, his son, Jon Kent. GayTimesreports that DC has confirmed the character will officially come out in the pages of Superman: Son of Kal-El on October 9.
“I’ve always said everyone needs heroes and everyone deserves to see themselves in their heroes and I’m very grateful DC and Warner Bros. share this idea,” Tom Taylor, writer of the book, said in a statement. “Superman’s symbol has always stood for hope, for truth and for justice. Today, that symbol represents something more. Today, more people can see themselves in the most powerful superhero in comics.”
DC has also confirmed that in the comics, Jon Kent will fall for his close friend, reporter Jay Nakamura. As Jon faces exhaustion from saving the world from constant threats, the emotional bond between he and Jay will deepen.
Jon Kent joins the ranks of popular, queer DC heroes and villains, including Batwoman, The Question, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn. Earlier this year, former Robin Tim Drake (of Batman & Robin fame) also came out as queer.
Now, what do we have to do to get a movie about this Superman?
And here they are: the queer poems of intimacy we’ve all needed—even if we didn’t realize we needed them.
Rosie Stockton’s collection, Permanent Volta (Nightboat Books, May 2021) is equal parts lamentation and psalms: “[W]here I grind the language / out of myself,” they write, and “everyone is invited / to my / biggest storm.” The poems contained in Permanent Volta take on many forms (sestinas, bent sonnets, fragments, prose, etc.) in which readers can find themselves as individuals: “look at how my worlds / want your worlds / look at our worlds / wanting other worlds / porous the mist we / love by.” Readers will further find themselves in Stockton’s syntax, in which the language of poetry is artfully and self-consciously considered. The poems are intentional in their grammar and refuse to bend to the will of the workshop. The effect of Stockton’s language—fragmented and lovely and conscious of construction—invites us to consider poetry as an industry itself. If we, as readers and poets, decide to create our own grammar, what does this say about language as a tool of conquest? What does this say about our own unwillingness to be conquered?
Permanent Volta is not only a meditation on poetry. It is in its meditations on queerness, on body, and on the very throughline of emotionality—a manifestation of the collection’s namesake. As a concept, “permanent volta” implies a perpetual moment of shifting, suspended in time. In a sonnet, this occurs when the tone changes—when the lover leaves, when morning comes, when the plate falls from the hand and shatters. In Stockton’s collection, as in the title, Permanent Volta is the very way of writing.
This is perhaps one of the many blessings of Stockton’s words: the insistence on poetry as a place for recreation. They write, “is my boundary exquisite to you? / is it / knowable? / isn’t this having?” And, “that’s a metaphor for my anguish. / Can you see my head against the window? / I’ve never believed in the forever of anything / except the wretched present.” The very nature of this insistence is in and of itself a queer thing. Even when we sit still, we are scrutinized.
What could be more clever than conflating the form and stuff of poems with the form and stuff of eternal volta? In Stockton’s words, “I’m ending this poem now, yes it’s over / a hungry ghost, / nothing has changed.”
Shoreditch, the title of Miguel Murphy’s newest collection of poetry, is a brilliant if not challenging intellectual tour de force. Named after an area of London that became the center of Elizabethan theater, Shoreditch flourished as a fertile creative neighborhood while the puritanical city authorities of London proper banned the building of raunchy and low-class playhouses. With its breeding ground for minds unlawful and disorderly, and, with Shakespeare, that most sexually ambivalent young genius who introduced a new kind of theater peopled with dramatic historical personas, Murphy has found his objective correlative for his own historical identity.
In Shoreditch, Murphy freely populates his poetry with gay artists from the past. He fills his book with details and annotations that both enrich and parallel Murphy’s own creative life as a gay poet. His previous book Detainee showed his talent for richly imaginative invention, commanding a knowledge of art and literary history. Shoreditch continues and extends that love of gay artifice and dramatic history. Held together by short enjambed lines and tight stanzas, Murphy’s poems are voiced with breathless speed and first-person immediacy. These poems act more as notes, list poems of once secret histories. Murphy juggles fact and biography in such a way that readers will find themselves running exhaustive online searches to feed their curiosity and verify the arcane trivia that the poet has uncovered.
While a reader will often find themselves trying to decipher which figure is speaking and when, Murphy melds himself effortlessly into this maelstrom of voices. The echo of similar gay themes and overlapping histories throughout serve Murphy’s own poetic impulses. Attracted toward the dark and mordant, these gay historical prose poems are full of addiction, masochism, cruelty, and obsessiveness that leave us spellbound and exhausted by the sheer wreckage of it all.
At times Murphy dishes some queer artist’s past behavior, throwing in moments from his own life story, playing both outer and inner narrator. He tosses in campy quips or bittersweet asides. He delights in ironic pronouncements. Both curator and DJ, patient and analyst, Murphy has skillfully created this meta-contextual “playlist” using a tight self-disciplined verse format. As a result, I never lost my interest nor found it too fragmented or elliptical.
Vis-a-vis the great gay provocateur and towering artist, Oscar Wilde, the opening of Murphy’s “The Ballad of Gaol” reads:
“Homosexual” wasn’t even used
in print until 1892. LAD was 21;
Wilde, 37. Ex-boyfriends, Robbie
Ross and Turner, turned against them—
testifying: too brazen. An adjective.
To Carlos Blacker, another
good friend eventually advised:
“The best thing he can do is
drink himself to death, or better yet, shoot”—
The Blackmailer’s Charter of 1885; indecent
letters in the hands of Alfred Wood, a rentboy;
LAD’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry
(These antique names, so faerie!)
Murphy’s book, which is essentially an extended prose poem, favors short biographical entries, quick notations, fragments, and marginalia throughout. This style of commentary with holes, lapses, and sudden shifts of facts might suggest as well the epigrammatic way that gay men and their love relationships throughout history have been left often incomplete—leaving one to read between the lines. Gay male desire and artistic life have often become puzzles, provocations for solving obscure clues, personal innuendo, and coded secrets.
Before I close I must point out one thing further about Murphy’s masterful collection. In his poems, Murphy picks gay figures primarily from his own gay Latinx heritage: men such as Greg Louganis, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Manuel Puig, Caravaggio, and Lorca. Dazzling in his erudition, Murphy’s poems in Shoreditch cannot be unraveled in one or even two sittings. They must be studied in their brokenness yet taken finally as a whole, restored to a more fuller appreciation of gay literary culture and history.
Reading poet (and Lambda Literary Award finalist) K-Ming Chang’s debut novel, Bestiary (One World, 2020), is a visceral experience. Its prose is relentlessly, ruthlessly corporeal, and it is fearlessly beautiful. Told from the point of view of Daughter, a Taiwanese American early-adolescence girl, the book deftly threads together three generations of women with each other, land, water, trauma, violence, and love.
Growing up in California, Daughter one day discovers holes in the yard. They multiply in number and depth, and are somehow breathing. They periodically spit out letters from her grandmother, who grew up in Taiwan but lives in another California town.“I, too, was a direct descendant of gravity, born from women who belonged inside their countries the way blades belonged inside a body,” Chang writes. The physical force of inherited violence, loyalty, survival, love, and queerness that Daughter embodies shows up in small and large ways. As Daughter falls in love with her classmate, a girl named Ben, she begins to translate the holes’ letters into English. She shares them with Ben, who helps Daughter translate the meaning of the letters further – to make sense of her past, her inheritance, and her own queer body. “Language is not what’s said but what’s silenced,” Chang writes.
True to the title of the book, the characters are steeped in their animalistic needs and desires, which feels like revealing a truth about human nature. Bestiary is chock full of body, and all the ugly parts, or the parts we’re taught are ugly, are revered on the page. Early in the book, Chang writes, “We prefer salt and sour and bitter, the active ingredients in blood and semen and bile. Flavours from the body.” So often bodies are written with softness, sweetness, especially when it comes to love stories and family stories. But Chang goes all in on the sharp. She artfully, and with precision, breaks the reader open by taking the ideas of intergenerational inheritance and memory and literally grounding them. There’s nothing wistful about it. The holes in the book are not imagined; they are real. Holes in the ground, holes in bodies, holes in language, holes that are hungry and holes as sources of something else – they exist simultaneously as metaphor, character, and setting. In this way, and in many others, Bestiary rejects binary categorization like poetry or prose, or magical realism. Instead, it creates its own landscape.
Much of this landscape is rooted in memory and myth, both of which exist in the bodies of the characters. “Memory is contagious,” Chang writes. “You’re my mother, I said, and you’re supposed to prepare me for any future. But who, she said, can prepare you for the past?” As the narrative approaches what could be called its most roiling moment, the reader finds themselves within the body of the book, as if it had its own lungs and muscles. As Chang herself writes, “To give something new shape, you have to break it.” Bestiary does just that, and it is wonderful.
Have you ever read a short story that could be a book? The hook in the first line is compelling, immediately drawing you in. The characters are fleshed out and well-written within their limited storylines. The plot is unexpected and keeps you guessing, unsure how it could wrap up in the few remaining pages. It’s so finely done that it could go on for a couple hundred more pages, and you would still be satisfied.
That is how every story left me in Ryan Vance’s debut collection, One Man’s Trash.
The uncanny defines these short stories. Each story provides a gripping, disconcerting narrative. From a teenager with an innate power that makes everyone hand all of their belongings over to him, to a seemingly post-apocalyptic world where housemates have to supply a large hermit crab with cowry shells as rent, this collection has a compendium of fantastical short stories that are unsettling and incredibly queer.
Vance has the ability to write about the “odd” in a manner that is simultaneously unnerving, mystifying, and immersive. Generally, short stories do not give a lot of time for the reader to become adjusted to the world of the tale. With fantastical realms, such as Vance’s, this is all the more difficult. Yet, in One Man’s Trash, you cannot help but become immersed in the outlandish domain the author has created.
Take “When All We’ve Lost is Found Again,” where Rob, the story’s neurotic protagonist, copes with recently being ghosted by his longtime boyfriend by obsessing over a newly discovered area in space, where lost items mysteriously turn up. Rob’s infatuation with what has been labeled “Lost Space” slowly takes his boyfriend’s place within his life. As Rob’s boyfriend increasingly distances himself from their relationship, Rob spends more time cataloging the random items floating in space. This is until Rob stumbles upon a cephalopod creature that seems to have slightly moved every time he looks at it. By the end of the story, Rob has let all of his material items go. He leaves them outside his house to either end up in someone else’s home, or in Lost Space, handed over to the cephalopod.
Throughout the story, Vance maintains an eerie yet conversational tone. Rob’s passiveness about everything occurring in his life leads you to just accept it, despite the abnormalities. It is easy to understand how Rob can be so utterly fascinated by the cephalopod because you, as the reader, are itching to know more about it; the reader’s experience parallels Rob’s in this way. Stuck at the same level of comprehension as Rob and learning about Lost Space at the same pace as him, you’re limited to a certain level of understanding. The reader is being kept at a distance from total insight, heightening the disturbing presence of the cephalopod, and rationalizing Rob’s infatuation.
In “Dead Skin” the protagonist, Bruce, keeps the reader at a distance and incapable of knowing every detail. After a complete body transplant in which his head was connected to a new body, Bruce is prohibited from sharing any information regarding the surgery, and thus closes himself off to all people, including the reader, who is treated with the same apprehensiveness. Naturally, Bruce is not comfortable in this new body. Everyone knows who he is, being labeled “The Modern Frankenstein” at the center of documentaries and clickbait articles. Bruce essentially lives his life in isolation, refusing to allow anyone to get close to him. He even works as a bouncer for an LGBT nightclub, literally standing guard in all aspects of his life. Bruce wants to be alone until he meets Gale (using ne/nir/nem pronouns) at the gym.
Gale is an awkward stagehand at a local theater. Ne celebrates nir year anniversary on T and dons costumes from the theater for a date with Bruce. Gale does not understand Bruce’s reluctance to share himself, and Bruce thinks ne is only observing him like “a specimen,” because that’s what everyone else does. Still, Bruce slowly opens himself up to Gale by showing Gale track marks from his procedure and even attempting to dance with nir. When Bruce claims he was “‘not made for dancing,’” Gale comforts him, saying that “‘nobody’s made for anything,’” reminding Bruce of his humanity despite how unnatural he feels.
The nature of humanity is reflected in Vance’s stories. In many of the stories, humans are capable of persevering, despite being physically altered, or living in a world that has changed drastically. We learn Bruce had the transplant procedure performed as a solution to some unspoken terminal illness. Despite the public eye treating Bruce as nothing more than a bizarre experiment, Bruce continues to live his life, albeit a lonely one. Even before Gale, Bruce recognizes he was not ready to die, and if the price to continue living was to have the surgery, he was ready to pay it. Bruce’s nature to persevere and live is relatable and undeniably human, no matter how unusual his situation is.
If you are a fan of the weird fiction genre (think Octavia Butler, Neil Gaiman, or Stephen King), One Man’s Trash is for you. Vance’s debut is a dynamic piece of speculative fiction that artfully jumps from science fiction, telling a tale in which all straight people inexplicably die, to fantasy, with a story in which a Minotaur living in present-day sells ice cream to kids at a skatepark, and even a horror story about a man who creates a rat king out of vengeance. Do not let these peculiar plots scare you away. Underneath the uncanny, Vance’s true understanding of humanity is revealed, through strange situations that ultimately make each story within One Man’s Trash addicting and compelling.
Kayleb Rae Candrilli’s second book of poetry All The Gay Saints, winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, is a stunningly sentient collection of ekphrastic love poems inspired by Herman Baspaintings that unpack the intersections and intricacies of rural America, masculinity, queerness, and the body.
In “My Body is Constantly Conjuring a Tempest (Or, Weighing the Pros and Cons of Attending My High School Reunion),” “On Trespassing,” and “I Wish All Children Could Touch the Sky At Least Once,” Candrilli creates portals to an “unsafe house” of a “past life,” teeming with toxic masculinity–“raised fists, those/ holes in drywall”–and the generational violence and destruction it breeds, the “boys that threatened to rape me in high school.”
Body and land, boyhood and Appalachia–where “beware of dog signs are security systems” and “the warning is to draw blood first”–are inextricably and excruciatingly linked. Yet as much as Candrilli’s narrator is entrenched in their homeland, they are just as hyper-aware of its patriarchal mannerisms, its influences and after-effects:
Everything has its doppelganger and nowadays I plagiarize men’s
bodies indiscriminately. I have a right to take what’s not mine;
this is what both men and the earth have taught me.
Although they were taught by their “father and the land” to be “small and quiet,” they overcome these repressive lessons by “opening [their] mouth” and “[using] it” to reclaim and rename their narrative and body, to detach the body from the aforementioned version of earth. They will, as asserted in “On Wanting Top Surgery in the Fascist Regime,” “rip myself apart,” but “drink/the body to solar power and…make a beautiful mother.” In this way, Candrilli’s poetry is the raw pink of (re)birth and beginning, each poem a root or tendon trusting it’s own vitality and resilience, finding cohesion within transness.
Nowhere is this resiliency more palpable and deeply resonant than in “Our Root System is a Tangle of Pipecleaners (Or, Being Your Man Has Made Me One)” where Candrilli’s narrator and their “future-husband wife,” a transcendent and healing refuge of a human, “lick my wounds/ and yours”and “[together]…have no time/ to be anything less than large.”
In “There is a Point at Which I Tire From My Own Fear,” the dangerous realities and descriminatory histories of being LGBTQ are acknowledged:
Queers are killed
and have always been killed in any number
But my partner tells me again and again
how they love me, and I know one day I’ll try to die
in their arms. I know this is how we will win.
All The Gay Saints is a book of vital reminders that a distinguishing quality of our love is it’s protectiveness – loving for survival and both self and communal preservation. That the dichotmous, conflicting truths of “glitter, glitter, glitter, and guns” musn’t deter or demoralize us from loving ourselves and our queer/trans siblings, but instead fortify and fiercen our queer love. And that:
At the end of the day
all we have is this ritual
of love, and that, I think,
will be enough
to live forever.
With their suggestive titles and gorgeous, pink-suffused covers, P. J. Vernon’s Bath Haus and Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s Yes, Daddy seem like frothy beach reads—and, to a certain degree, they are. But woven into twisting plots, shocking scenarios, and lush settings lies a deeper, more disturbing concern: how trauma experienced by young gay men can propel them into unhealthy, even dangerous, adult romantic relationships.
In Bath Haus, recovering addict Oliver Park from rural Indiana has everything that should make him happy: his partner, Nathan, a handsome, attentive, and wealthy trauma surgeon; a sprawling townhouse in Washington, DC; and, most importantly, his sobriety. Why, then, in the opening pages, is he going to a local gay bathhouse for anonymous sex? When he follows a stranger into a private room, everything goes horribly wrong, and he barely escapes with his life. He has crossed a forbidden line and cheated on Nathan. His choices have nightmarish consequences, and his desire to keep his transgression from his partner leads him deeper into dangers both from outside and, due to his slowly crumbling sobriety, from within. The questions linger: Why risk destroying a good thing? Is it a good thing after all?
What makes Bath Haus so engaging is that Vernon gives Oliver many layers. He’s not superficial or hedonistic or merely foolish. You can’t write him off. Trauma clouds his past, including a “bad boy” ex-boyfriend and an abusive father, and confusion fills his present—does Nathan love him or want to control him? Does he need that stability, or is it suffocating? As the screws continue to turn in the story, Oliver journeys through hell, navigating a vicious psychopath, Nathan’s manipulative mother, rampant snobbery from family and friends, and his own self-destructive impulses. Vernon knows how to grab you from the first line and not let go; he also knows that plot means nothing without a character we can root for, even when he’s making terrifyingly dangerous choices.
Like Bath Haus, Yes, Daddy is the story of another twenty-something gay man seeking financial security and, in this case, career advancement. Jonah Keller moved to New York City to ignite his playwriting career but has ended up waiting tables at a dead-end job. In the mode of Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, Jonah ingratiates himself with an older Pulitzer-prize winning playwright, Richard Shriver, and manipulates himself into the older man’s bedroom, but the power dynamic quickly turns. When Richard takes Jonah out to his vast and austere compound in the Hamptons, Jonah is confronted with Richard’s staff of zombie-like young men—all buff and beautiful, like something from a gay Stepford Wives. In addition, Richard’s high-toned social group smirk and leer at Jonah, reminding him of his place, testing him, and gradually hinting at their much darker intentions.
Parks-Ramage suffuses his narrative with a rich atmosphere, somewhere between the Gothic and The Great Gatsby, all while horrors await Jonah just under the surface of his lover’s lavish estate. Early on, you sense that this book may be a morality tale, a Faustian bargain about trading freedom (artistic and otherwise) for wealth. But what it becomes is more disturbing and difficult to parse. It takes its main character through a nightmare of controlling personalities, drugs, and sexual violence. Unlike Tom Ripley, whose cleverness causes us to align with him despite his amorality, we sympathize with Jonah because horrible things happen to him far beyond anything he may deserve for his earlier manipulations. Also, unlike with Ripley, we are given a layered backstory about Jonah’s homophobic religious parents and brutal experience with conversion therapy, eventually helping us to understand why he was drawn into danger and what he must do to heal from his experience.
The glossy “summer-read” marketing for these books tells only part of the story. As you read, the pages fly by—the writing is very good—but these writers have more on their minds than sheer entertainment. In each, we have an indictment of the wealth and status-obsessed circles of some urbanite gay men. This culture’s drug-infused superficiality belies a darker truth that gay men can—and do—prey on each other as a means of establishing and maintaining control; this particularly applies to the young men in these novels whose traumas have made them vulnerable. Gay culture isn’t immune from the damaging patriarchal systems that all too often govern straight culture.
“Old man,” he said, for he did not know his name, but the old man did not stir, so he remained in the old man’s bed, waiting for daybreak, watching him sleep, thinking about, if he had to choose, would he choose Pepa or the ship, wondering whether love was just an excuse for cowardice. When dawn came, the old man was still sleeping, so he left him to his dreams and found his way back to the river.” (98)
And here we have Anne Raeff’s newest novel, a celebration of time, space, and woven narrative. The novel traces the stories of a half dozen people all intertwined, over the span of about fifty years. Throughout the passage of time and the history of the world (wars, guerrilla movements, the spread of yellow fever, the coming and going of queer tourists, and love lost and found) the central crux of the story is the celebration of connection—however fleeting.
Fleeing to Nicaragua from Vienna during a worn-torn era, Pepa and her family settle in the jungle town of El Castillo. While there, Pepa’s parents contract yellow fever, leaving her to wander, learn about, and fall in love with both Nicaragua’s lush landscape, and its inhabitants. In particular, Pepa finds herself thrown into a love story with a local named Guillermo, who shows her how to find home in a new place, and a new way.
Pepa’s world comes further into chaos and heartbreak when her family abruptly decides to move to New York. Straddling the boundaries and borders of love, passion, and geography, Only the River shows two things simultaneously: what parallel universes can look like, writ large, and also the fragmentation that happens due to war, fleeing, and settlement. The idea of home, in people and places.
It is wonderful to see multi-generational narratives that involve queerness as fluidly as queerness happens—that is to say, queerness as normalized. Guillermo and his foray into blurred spaces with the two German lovers, Liliana, left by her wife and pining. In this novel, queerness is not a static land that one enters or leaves—it is as running and evolving and changing as the river around which this story revolves.
In our modern world, we need more depictions of love like this, more depictions of landscape like this, more depictions of what love can look like when it is told from many angles—with both the light and the dark. As in her novel about WWII (Winter Kept Us Warm), Raeff has a remarkable ability to be able to take us to new places—fantastical new places—on often well-trot soil. What’s more, the stories Raeff tells, and the fluency with which they are told, earn their place in a canon that is timeless, classic, and necessary. This is a triumph of a novel and a must-read for our times.
This book about pornography—with 28 pages of endnotes, a colon in the title, and a $173 price tag on the hardcover edition—unapologetically identifies itself as an academic tome. Flipping through its charts and statistics, we might hear our own inner voice grumbling, Even queer fuckfilms have succumbed to the graphs of social scientists.
But, as with pornography itself, first impressions can be misleading. Sex, Society, and the Making of Pornography, at $28 for the eBook, is enlightening and even affordable. Its author, Jeffrey Escoffier, a founder of OutLook and director of Out/Write, a professor who has taught at Berkeley, Rutgers, and The New School and is now a researcher at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, avoids pedantry. His graphs, viewed in close focus, give us a rich view of the upheaval in global culture that has taken place since the nudist and bodybuilding magazines like Physique Pictorial, passed furtively from hand-to-hand among closeted men in the 1950s, giving way to Tom of Finland and the abundantly stuffed crotches of his models, and all that has followed since.
“Perversions” and “Scripts”
Escoffier’s book recounts an engaging history that culminates, after millennia, in the mainstreaming of modern hard-core porn—meaning, in his very specific definition, sexual imagery, particularly in videos, of explicit depictions of intercourse, including oral copulation. Escoffier notes that sex researchers of the 1920s, whose focus was primarily on married heterosexual couples, broke ground that later was deeply plowed by Alfred Kinsey, who began in the 1940s publishing the results of surveys that included homosexual feelings, fantasies, and behavior. He doesn’t mention Magnus “Max” Hirschfeld, the German doctor whose Institute for Sex Research, founded in 1919 in Berlin, was the first association in the modern world to promote homosexual and transgender rights.
The author employs the words “perverse” and “perversion” in a way that might be off-putting to an LGBTQ audience. But he is openly gay himself, and no prude, and uses these words in context as a social scientist and historian. Escoffier is known, among many other things, for his earlier studies of “gay for pay” film actors wh6ose heterosexual orientation does not impede their sexual performance with men. He has examined with particular interest what he calls “the social conditions that enable heterosexually-identified men to turn in credible sexual performances in gay pornographic videos.”
Like “perversion,” the word “script” has a special meaning for Escoffier, who devotes most of the book’s attention to films featuring sex between men, and treats pornography as a vast screen on which all of our fantasies are projected. He writes boldly, “Sexual scripts are necessary at every stage of production and are the reason that people watch porn.”
Such a broad assertion concerning people’s interest in porn risks neglecting the developments we see in amateur, do-it-yourself fuckbuddy videos, in which guys who obviously like and are attracted to each other are having fun—not posing or “performing” together. Amateur videos may prove to be a more reliable measure of what people want than statistical analyses of commercial video sales. Joe Gage, creator of rough-trade classics beginning with Kansas City Trucking Co. in 1976, commented in a 2007 Butt Magazine interview, when asked if he liked the work of other directors, “I like amateur porn the best, because it’s real. It’s real sex.”
As is so often the case, LGBTQ people were at the forefront of a social upheaval that soon paid benefits to the entire world. Remember “Chat Rooms”? Maybe you don’t, but if you use any form of social media you are an heir to the slow, noisy, dial-up services that began in the early 1980s, patronized by gay men eager to hook up in a new, virtual way. Personal use of the Internet exploded as men learned to cruise without having to look their best—and, as the technology evolved and allowed them to share photos and videos, to create a new species of pornography. This new generation of do-it-yourself porn embraces various body types, ages, and racial groupings—not as fetish categories for commercial-porn keyword clicks, but as real-life guys doing what comes naturally.
Escoffier refers to the video audience as “spectators,” reinforcing the understanding of porn as a creation tightly controlled by producers who believe they know what the porn-consuming public wants. He nods to Pornhub as the world’s largest distributor of porn and notes that “video pornography on the Internet is not only a hugely popular form of entertainment, but also a body of knowledge about sex that is both a form of sex education as well as a self-help guide”—the modern pillow book. What he doesn’t mention is that the early growth of Pornhub was driven largely by non-commercial, amateur, DIY videos making Pornhub and other amateur sites like XHamster and @ment4us wildly profitable.
From the 1970s through the end of the last century, commercial studios refined and professionalized their product, catering to increasing numbers of fetishes, “perversions,” and interests, in slickly produced, high-quality, keyword-driven commodities. Long gone are the original black-and-white “Old Reliable” films of the early 1970s, which featured snarly, rough-trade types masturbating on camera, often on a familiar worn-out couch, chewing cigars and, occasionally, flipping off the viewer. Meanwhile, technology has allowed fuckbuddies to make quality video recordings of themselves and to post their videos online for anyone to enjoy. The production values are not as impressive, but the intimacy more than compensates.
The Object of Knowledge
But even this erudite observation is subject to reexamination: In a section near the end of Escoffier’s book, perhaps to atone for the statistics and graphs in earlier chapters, he quotes from reviews written by film critics who have had the opportunity to hire their favorite porn actors for live, in-the-room-together, sex. A film scholar studying PornHub and OnlyFans is likely to be able to find his favorites on RentMen. An enterprising performer/escort uses his recognized profile name everywhere, and posts his travel schedule months in advance.
These explicit reviews end the book on a good-humored note: “He was not Rick Gonzales the porn star… he was Rick Gonzales my LOVER for two hours and he just made love to me.”
Andrew Holleran, in his 2015 essay “Notes on Porn,” commented that the occasional moment “when two men do make contact is more powerful than all the anonymous pistonlike fucking of ordinary porn films.” The three-page essay was one of the most often cited items ever to appear in the Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide. Concerning the illusion furthered by porn that the viewer is, in Plato’s terms, experiencing “the object of knowledge,” Holleran wrote, “…you are as alone after sex with someone in a porn film as you were when you began. Depending on your age or temperament or circumstances, this may be a good or a bad thing.”