Fifty Shades of Matte Gray: Gay Porn and the Straight Look
by Alexander Joseph
(originally published on Vestoj.com)
SEAN CODY IS A fifteen-year-old porn site for gay men fascinated by what’s been called dude sex or bro sex.1 The videographers strive to convince us we’re watching two or more all-American heterosexual college-jock types go at it. Gays have always borrowed straight style tropes – tattoos, camouflage, denim – but by trading in straight looks, straight attitude, Sean Cody might be the ultimate cultural appropriation. A careful, informed reading of the clothes opens up possibilities for various kinds of engagement.
The typical Sean Cody video begins with low-key flirtation, often involving a sport – tossing a football, hitting a punching bag. ‘Arnie and Dean: Bareback’ opens on a pair of shirtless young men sitting atop a picnic table on a golden fall day. Arnie, a good six inches taller, has a chin-curtain beard, broad shoulders and the sort of scars you might get from steroids. Clean-cut Dean, from Portland, Oregon, has a correspondingly softer look; he could be a Hollister model. Dean’s shorts are wide-gauge cotton jersey, Arnie’s a jolting red microfiber with a blue stripe along the side seam.
An off-camera voice says, ‘Dean, I want you to tell Arnie about yourself.’
‘What’s there to say about me?’ Dean says.
‘This is Arnie’s first film…’ the voice prods.
‘So, uh, Arnie was it? Where are you from?’
Arnie’s first line is, ‘Montana.’
‘Been doin’ this a while myself,’ Dean tells Arnie. ‘Lookin’ forward to workin’ with ya.’ They might be any two laconic dudes, downing brewskies, getting ready to go shoot some hoops.
Sean Cody is just one gay porn site among many. (Corbin Fisher and Randy Blue truck in a similar look for their models.) Their stats are impressive, however: One of over 2,200 videos, ‘Arnie and Dean’ has been viewed almost 22,000 times since it was posted December 22 2016. The most popular scene, ‘Brandon Bottoms: Bareback’ (November 28, 2015), has over 127,000 views. ‘Brandon’ also appeared in the site’s first bareback vid, released Christmas Day, 2011. In 2014, designer Riccardo Tisci used an image of Brandon on a T-shirt for Givenchy.2
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‘Devon Hunter’ is the pseudonym of a man who describes himself as a ‘professional gay courtesan.’ He’s performed in more than thirty porn videos, including some for Sean Cody. The filmmakers told him how to act straight: lower your voice, don’t talk with your hands and don’t use big words. Don’t say you’re an exotic dancer – which he was – say ‘gymnast.’ The clothes might look like an afterthought, but au contraire: At the anonymous San Diego warehouse where they filmed, ‘They had a huge wardrobe – shoes, shorts, even hemp necklaces,’ Hunter says. ‘They liked cargo shorts a lot – I mean, a lot.’ Models could wear their own outfits if they fit well: Sean Cody ‘wanted a balance of baggy and tight. Too baggy doesn’t show your physique, but too tight looks gay.’3
Cut to Arnie and Dean indoors, now wearing shirts. Dean’s is a light grey ringer T you might find at Abercrombie & Fitch, while Arnie’s super tight, dark-gray microfiber looks to have been sourced at a sporting goods place like Modell’s. In 1998, sex columnist Dan Savage tried to find out whether the Calvin Klein underwear that often appeared in gay porn was a deliberate product placement; the company wouldn’t say.4 Times have changed. Now, Hunter says, although A&F styles are favoured on Sean Cody, porn makers avoid visible brand labels because they can get sued. (Underwear isn’t an issue here, since these boys all go commando.) Suggesting sexual orientation is only one costume consideration. Muted colours might signify ‘straight,’ but overly bright or dark colours can also throw off the colour balance. ‘White is out, black is out,’ Hunter says. Earth tones and semi-bold hues look good against skin. Jewel tones, not so much.
Hunter appeared as ‘Ryan’ (models’ onscreen names are chosen at random, he says) in ‘Ryan and Fuller’ (September 7, 2009). Their scene opens with the pair cuddling, supine, on a bed with a brown comforter. Ryan, the designated bottom, wears tastefully distressed denim, while top Fuller sports straight-cut jeans. An off-camera voice says to Fuller, ‘Girl update?’ ‘It’s a little confusing,’ Fuller admits, with a deep chuckle. ‘It was good until today.’ ‘Oh no! Let’s not talk about that!’ the voice says. Both men onscreen wear shirts featuring the kind of splattered, double-exposure graphics that are less prevalent now than they were eight years ago, when these mass styles could be spotted on Michael Sorrentino (‘The Situation’) on MTV’s Jersey Shore.
Recently, the trend on Sean Cody is flat-fronted shorts and soft, monochrome shirts. There’s also plenty of breathable microfiber. The clothes match the sets, which are full of sand, taupe and grey in what a friend of mine refers to as the ‘Starbucks regency’ look – bulky, plain furniture you’d find in your local coffee shop. Far from the scuzzy, sweaty-jockstrap, sling-in-a-basement aesthetic of much gay porn, Sean Cody’s look is more timeshare promotion video. Lighting is unobtrusive, but allows for detail in shots. Props include a Rothko-esque canvas and cute glass-ball plant holders. Dean ejaculates on a gunmetal grey rug with a white, interlocking diamond pattern, possibly from West Elm or CB2. (In another scene, a model shoots on a deep-pile oatmeal carpet.) ‘Nothing with a sheen – no hairspray, nothing gloss,’ Hunter says of the strategy. Walls are painted with matte or satin finish, since reflective surfaces affect the quality of the tape.
Once Arnie and Dean disrobe, a paradox in the portrayal of masculinity becomes apparent: Arnie has not only sculpted his pubes, but shaved his asshole – a pretty fussy touch. Via the bear aesthetic, hairiness has made a comeback in gay porn since the 1990s, when it seemed like every guy was smooth and skinny; but the denuded look is still big on Sean Cody. Hunter says the site conforms to trends in body hair: ‘They leave the belly, thighs and taint [perineum] alone, but shave the balls. For a while there was this trend where they’d shave the tops of the abs but leave hair in the grooves.’ Until recently, when the fashion became undeniable, tattoos were also rare. Sean Cody doesn’t want the models to evoke anything too specific, Hunter says, and that includes everything from their build to their body language: ‘You should be as blank a slate as possible, so you can be an everyman.’ What’s there to say about me?
Somehow, it’s not a surprise that the worlds of fashion and Sean Cody overlap: these videos look like a logical extension of fashion photographer Bruce Weber’s homoerotic work for Abercrombie & Fitch. Aside from the rare African-American guy (who usually tops), Sean Cody, like the A&F catalogue, is mostly white. (Michael Jeffries, A&F’s once-closeted CEO, commissioned Weber; Jeffries was forced out in December 2014, and the brand has since dialled back the homoeroticism and made gestures toward diversity.5 ) The clean, sans-serif masculinity apparently appealed to Mr. American Modernism himself: In 2010, Calvin Klein fell in love with a Sean Cody model, Nick Gruber, who was forty-eight years younger. They were together, sort of, for a couple of years.6 Simon Dexter went from modelling for the site to starting his own underwear line, and Colby Keller appeared in a 2016 print ad for Vivienne Westwood.
Porn is like fashion in that it is such a huge phenomenon that it threatens to negate individual reactions to it. According to a 2014 Pew study, only twelve percent of Americans watch porn, a figure that strikes Shira Tarrant, author of The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know as decidedly low.7 (Hunter laughed when I mentioned the number: ‘More like twelve percent don’t watch it.’) Perhaps because it gives rise to embarrassment and shame, it’s hard to find much even-handed analysis. The phrase, ‘the Golden Age of porn’ (roughly 1968-1980, after which porn became more widely available for the VCR), usually refers to the quality of the product – shot on film, with actual production values. But for that brief period, porn was also social. In 1972, Wakefield Poole’s hardcore gay movie Boys in the Sand grossed $400,000 in New York’s 55th Street Playhouse, supported with ads in The New York Times.8 Even my suburban parents went to see Deep Throat (also 1972) with their next-door neighbours. ‘By the mid-80s, gay porn had once again retreated behind closed doors…’ writes Jack Stevenson in A History of Gay Sex Cinema. ‘[It] had passed through its most interesting phases as an agent of gay liberation. It was spent as a (sub)cultural force and reverted once again to a mere consumer commodity.’
Just as the average person has no idea who knitted their sweater or where, that same person has little idea of how the porn they watch was made, who made it, or at what human cost. Hunter says the eighteen-minute scene with Fuller took eight hours to shoot. Fuller really is straight – though it would be hard to know for sure, Hunter claims about ninety percent of actors in porn are hetero; in his experience, they’re more in demand, and better paid – and could only keep it up for about a minute at a time. When it was time to film his climax, Fuller told Hunter, ‘Don’t look at me, or you’ll fuck me up.’
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There is a real Sean Cody, by the way. It’s not clear whether he’s still affiliated with the site, which did not return requests for comment. In 2014, the company was purchased by the global IT firm Mindgeek, which owns the majority of the world’s porn tube sites as well as the celebrity gossip site celebs.com.9 According to an apparently deleted interview, Cody, who grew up Mormon, likes ‘men who are clean cut and in shape, with good builds, handsome faces and nice dicks.’ In a scene that now also seems to have been deleted, a man who has been identified as Sean Cody wears an unremarkable gray polo shirt and white, baggy khakis. He looks like a nice, ordinary guy.
Alex Joseph is an independent writer and curator.
- See Jane Ward’s Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men [NYU, 2015], Tony Silva’s similarly themed research in the November 2016 issue of Gender and Society and Brokeback Mountain. ↩
- https://blowyourmindaway.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/gay-porn-and-fashion “Gay Porn and Fashion,” Blow Your Mind Away [blog], June 30, 2014. ↩
- D. Hunter, author interview, December 23, 2016. See also Hunter’s blog for a detailed (and well-written) account of his experience with the site: http://www.devonhunter.info/archives/1625/ ↩
- D. Savage, “Savage Love,” The Stranger, June 25, 1998. ↩
- S. Berfield & L. Rupp, “The Aging of Abercrombie and Fitch,” Bloomberg Business Week, January 22, 2015. ↩
- C. Swanson, “How Nick Gruber Became Calvin Klein’s Ex-Lover,” New York, August 11, 2013. ↩
- S. Tarrant, The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, Oxford, Oxford University Press, March 29, 2016. ↩
- J. Stevenson, “From the Bedroom to the Bijou: A Secret History of American Gay Sex Cinema,” Film Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 1, Autumn, 1997. ↩
- K. Forrester, “Making Sense of Modern Pornography,” The New Yorker, September 26, 2016. ↩
January 27, 2017 No Comments
(Click to enlarge) I don’t know what the actual fuck is wrong with the universe, but 2016 can go right along with 2014 and 2015 and fuck themselves. I haven’t had so many crap years back to back since high school. 2017 WILL BE AMAZING: I DEMAND IT BE SO.
I was out of the country when Bowie returned to the stars in his spiritual space ship. I was too utterly fucked up for months to discuss Prince walking off suddenly into The Dawn… but George Michael too??? This is so crazy. These men, along with Michael Jackson, were the ones who helped me form my sense of masculinity and the way in which I wanted to present myself as a man in the world: Unapologetically artistic, fearlessly eccentric, proudly theatrical, brazenly vulnerable… All of it. FIERCE!
The amalgamation of “feminine” and “masculine” in these guys melded together into a form of gender performance that felt authentic, bold, relatable, and comfortable to me. Prince even used a symbol for androgyny as his stage name for a decade. These guys were everything: Successful, beautiful geniuses who inspired devotees across the world and through generations. They’re magic. They’re my Fab Four. They were the audacious, the glittering, the riveting, and the unique. I can’t think of any other men from my childhood who so readily straddled the yin-yang, and certainly no one else who made it so sexy and alluring. Whenever I have created costumes or conceptualized dances, whenever I have sought to express myself theatrically, underlying all of it (along with Janet Jackson’s social ideals and imperatives) was the very distinct need to include the queer glamour of androgyny. Before I even understood I was doing it, I was keeping one foot on each side of the line. I can’t stress enough how important these men were to my sense of identity, or how much they informed the way I move through the world.
Every time I wear guyliner; every time I put on something bold or daring; every time I affect an effete pose; every time I say something quippish; every time I perform on stage… All of it. Every bit of it is informed by these guys. How would George Michael do his facial hair? How would Bowie dress? What would Prince say? How would MJ add punch?
I could end bitterly with a cynical “Merry Fucking Christmas;” however, for me their lives were a gift. Their creativity was ferocious, their talent undeniable. Although Bowie attained a more reasonable span of years (and was a piercingly adept artist until his literal last moment), MJ, Prince, and George Michael all had their lives cut short. They all did the rounds with drugs. They lived like Rock Stars. That’s how I have wanted to live, and I did up until 2012. I lost my way for a few years, but I’m back to being creative, proactive, and engaged. My Fab Four did it big, and so will I.
I can’t help but remember the adage, “The brighter a flame burns, the quicker it puffs out.” Fitting: They all set the world on fire. To illustrate a little of what I mean about their influence, I’m going to repost some images of myself in which I emulated their transgressive gender performance as extensions of the characters they were. (Click to enlarge)
UPDATE: (12/27/2016) And now Princess Leia??? Could you please STOP 2016? 2016 is doing way too much… Where’s Janet Jackson? Has she safely this baby yet or what??
UPDATE: (12/28/2016) And now Princess Leia’s mother??? WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING???? Debbie Reynolds??? REALLY?
December 25, 2016 1 Comment
September 22, 2016 1 Comment
Yesterday, a very dear friend from Scotland shared this with me when I told her that in lieu of seeing Janet Jackson in concert in NYC last weekend (it was cancelled, due to her pregnancy), I had decided to quietly renew my 2012 vows to myself in a private ceremony at 7:32 this morning:
“It would be highly symbolic and very meaningful to greet the dawn on the day of your birth and pledge your vows. Thousands and thousands of people still gather overnight at Stonehenge every year in order to greet the sunrise on the summer solstice. There’s a long standing tradition over here (though I’m not sure if anyone still does it) of women rising at dawn to wash their face in the May dew to be beautiful. Dawn has always heralded more than the coming day: it is a transition both real and symbolic, something we humans have always understood. So yes, I would absolutely get up early, acknowledge (perhaps even quietly celebrate) your personal transitions for there have been many. Youth to maturity, weakness to strength, darkness to light, knowledge to wisdom, fear to courage. If you consider your life carefully you will see that the list of transitions is endless. Becoming 40 simply means you have entered the prime of your life. A period where health, beauty and strength combine with a depth of wisdom and understanding, affording you a devastating potential to achieve your goals. So yes, rise, greet the dawn, lift your face to the sun, pledge your vows, smile, wish yourself a Happy Birthday and begin your newest transition.”
I just finished that renewal of vows. It took about an hour, on the floor in my bedroom with only the dawn for light, and I not only reread the actual script from the original ceremony, I also paid mind to the practices and habits that I had from 2011 until 2012 that had contributed so powerfully to my longest extended bout of true happiness to date. It occurred to me that I’ve been wandering aimlessly since January 2013. Part of what made 2011 and 2012 so happy was that I had a very, very distinct sense of purpose. So I have renewed my habit of beginning each day by smiling and thinking about what I’m going to accomplish each day and why that is good. And I will resume looking through my intentions at night before I go to bed, chanting my perfect mantra again each night, and explaining to myself why the day has been good and what there will be to look forward to tomorrow.
I have also gotten a bit more specific about what I want and why. And that has helped me to regain focus and direction. Suddenly it seems to me that turning 40 is a blessing. I still have all my physical and mental powers, but I don’t have any of the crippling debt, nor any Narcissists subtly controlling me or undermining everything I do. I spent my 30s fixing the mistakes of my 20s; however, my 40s is the first time I have really been totally free to be whatever I want. There are no limitations, except for the ones I create in my mind. Many people don’t make it this far (I almost didn’t a few weeks ago), so living to become Sporty 40 is not a moment to regret, dodge, fear, or ignore. It’s a time for gratitude, because I navigated to this point where I’m at a fresh start. I’m not just living, not just surviving, I’m choosing to recommence thriving.
June 29, 2016 2 Comments
I recently took a six-month hiatus for several reasons simultaneously. The RentBoy raid completely interrupted my practice (just when flights and hotels suddenly got more expensive again). I’m the executor of my grandmother’s estate (and none of the beneficiaries cooperate). I needed time away to recenter and recover from burnout. I thought I’d found an amazing situation (but even though he hired many male/female/transgender workers over the years and said he was fine with my career, he was not). I tried to change everything about myself in a futile effort to please him, had a nervous breakdown over his pressuring me constantly about money (even though he was the reason I wasn’t making any), attempted suicide out of fear of becoming homeless, had to be hospitalized, and spent the last few weeks recovering. I’m much better now, so please don’t fret. This is just sharing information, not crying out for help. xoxo
Yes, I’d been planning to transition GRADUALLY away from escorting as I maintained Anteros Media, built a fitness business, and looked at options for becoming a CNA. However, I never meant to suddenly abandon my career the shambolic way I did in December. That decision was made under pressure. Now I’m picking up where I’d originally intended to be in the first place: On a course toward multiple streams of income, while happily and casually feeling out which options to pursue. On my birthday this year, I’m going to renew my wedding vows to myself from 2012. I honored them faithfully for 3 1/2 years, so these last 6 months are utterly humiliating.
Also, I’ve been an adult entertainer for nearly 20 years, and it’s part of who I am when I’m happy and doing what I want to do. The selfies here represent where I was exactly a year ago. I’m hardly different physically from then, but I’d like to add a tiny bit of mass back on. It gives me a fitness goal to focus on. I’m doing the workout used by the actors in the movie 300.
I know this is a stark message, but this is the way I’ve always spoken on my blog, in interviews, on forums and social media, and in other places. I don’t like to keep secrets, because I don’t like people being able to hold my emotions ransom. Often, people tell me I make myself too vulnerable by sharing my weaknesses or faults; however, I find it liberating for its own reasons, despite the risk. Perhaps this post has been off-putting, but I just wanted to clarify that yes, I’ve reworked my previous blog post to reflect my current situation; yes, I’ve re-activated my Rent Men ad as of an hour ago; and, yes I’m again seeing clients (but minimizing the constant travel until I can figure out this post-RentBoy world, and to give myself time to develop my other ideas).
June 6, 2016 10 Comments