The (Gay Male) Pornographic Imagination

Recently I have been thinking about how to proceed with an analysis of gay male pornography. Animating this desire are, in the main, two reasons, the first being my own interaction and consumption of gay male porn, and the second being my constant amusement, amazement and shock at the medium itself. I take gay male porn very, very seriously; it is a way to release libidinal urges that would otherwise turn me into a raging sexual maniac (and/or leave me hospitalized). As an interjection against criticism, I do not consider sexual manias to be morally bad, but rather, the promiscuous intercourse needed to render my sexual urges satisfied, especially at times when I am confused, lacking guidance, bored or just existentially tired, would be, for a person with severe OCD, a problem of sheer practicality (the cleaning up for the arrival, the cleaning up after departure, the washing of the bed linens, towels and routine, monthly STI testing, etc.). And so I turn to the digital, the sanitized, the comic, flat and disturbing spectacle of gay male pornography.

As I have no experience whatsoever with heterosexual pornography, trans pornography, and so on, I will keep my analysis to what I use, cis gender gay male pornography. I say, “what I use,” because “what I know” would be a ridiculous statement to make about pornography, which is a veritable system and reason destroyer. Yet there are forms in these largely murky libidinal symbolic bodyscapes; pornography is not entirely outside of the realm of systematic cogitation. However, one must avoid both overly mystifying or overly simplifying porn. The gay male porn I will discuss is varied, yet it cannot take into account the infinitely expanding set of images, moving and still, that continually come out of taking two (or more) cis gender men, placing them in a room, or in a forest, or on beach, and submitting their combined (almost always complete, but not necessarily so) nakedness to the gaze of cameras.

Acting as a sort of a guardrail on this vertiginous mental journey will be Susan Sontag’s 1967 essay The Pornographic Imagination. In this essay, Sontag argues that written pornographic literature can and should have a place among Western intellectual, academic and discursive reflections. In short, “pornographic literature” is not an oxymoron for Sontag. There are many pieces of written trash that don’t meet the threshold of literature in every genre, including sexually explicit writing designed to arouse a sexually excited response in the reader. I will take her analysis of pornographic literature to illuminate my own experiences and thoughts about audio-visual (mainly visual), gay male pornography. This raises the question, can gay sex porn be considered an art?  A high art? A low art? Certainly the homoerotic images of Mapplethorpe are immediately imagined here, yet I am not talking about accepted or received canonical materials, especially when they are not dramatically explicit. A hyper-myriad of sexual fantasies, just around gay male porn, permeate today’s Internet; cum-shots accumulate, orgiastic images expand exponentially, and every fetish is recreated anew. Gay sex porn is being made that tailors itself to very particular desires of individuals, at the same time it has become widely available to the public.

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Masculine Man in “Tattoo twinks anal sex facial cum” Courtesy: https://www.yeswegays.com/videos/604326/tattoo-twinks-anal-sex-with-facial-cum/

Examining one gay male pornographic video, Tattoo Twinks anal sex with facial cum, certainly cannot provide a systematic analysis of the genre. However, it will act as an anchor in the “real world” of gay sex porn, a sort of vanilla introduction for beginners and adepts alike. One muscular, tattooed, masculine and bearded man, sits to eat pizza and asks for a “pop.” He directs his question towards a slightly effeminate, lithe, dark haired twink. The masculine/feminine spectrum here is quite narrow. Neither character represents a gendered caricature; although there is a definite experienced/inexperienced dynamic at play, with the older, hairy man leading the way (“so you’ve never […] why don’t you come over here and touch my cock”). All of this takes place while they both watch a gay sex porn video. The meta-pornographic, guys-watching-porn mise en scene is a somewhat frequently used device in gay sex porn (quantitative data lacking, I am going by anecdotes from others, and experience as a consumer). What’s interesting about this video is there is no attempt to heterosexualize the two; the gay porn was already in the DVD player before the masculine visitor arrived. And our Big Boy enjoys it first, then encourages the twink to “take it out.” Interestingly, the younger man keeps saying, repeatedly, that his father was the one who was watching the video, who was smoking (there is a reference to the smell of cigarettes, which the masculine, muscled man finds displeasing, a reference to gay gym culture, perhaps partly a response to mass death and disease from HIV [1] [2]?).

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Twink from “Tattoo twinks anal sex facial cum” Courtesy: https://www.yeswegays.com/videos/604326/tattoo-twinks-anal-sex-with-facial-cum/

Both the actors are white. There aren’t any noticeable class divisions. The piece is rather trite excepting for a watcher-watching-watcher parallax view (the object here is the act of sex itself).  I have written before about more extreme forms of gay sex porn, based on “white trash” and rape fantasies, so this is by far on the vanilla side of the spectrum. Yet, transgression is still present, the twink is reticent, says he’s a virgin, and is titillatingly trustful. The older man guides the plot. The muscled man inserts his dick into the twink’s anus in multiple positions; this plays out in usual routine: first in doggy-style with a side-view, then with the twink on top facing the camera (his back to Mr Muscle’s head), then finally, the twink “gets tired” and lays on the ottoman: we end in the missionary position. Contra Adorno’s argument that porn doesn’t have a beginning-middle-end structure, a decipherable narrative emerges from absurdity; Adorno never saw a cum-shot, apparently. Of course the entire video, arguably the entire project of making pornography, is absurd. And yet it has a kind of inner logic, an internal coherence. The porn-in-porn meta-narrative mentioned above is intensified with incestuous voyeurism, as near the (happy) ending the father of the twink is seen watching the two have sex. The muscled 30s-something with lithe early 20s twink (the son). So we are watching the father, watching his son, who was watching porn, who is being watched by a camera, and by us; a sort of trashy, gay sex derivation of Las Meninas (Velázquez).  Furthermore, the father, masturbates and ends the video, ejaculating onto the glass divider that separates his body from the fantasy scene being played and laid out for us.

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Voyeuristic Father in “Tattoo twinks anal sex facial cum” Courtesy: https://www.yeswegays.com/videos/604326/tattoo-twinks-anal-sex-with-facial-cum/

Lastly, even this pulpy, kitsch gay porn video, found in the backwaters of the Internet, has something that makes it art. But what? Let’s return to Sontag, “What makes a work of pornography part of the history of art rather than [mere] trash is not distance, the superimposition of a consciousness more comfortable to that of ordinary reality upon the ‘deranged consciousness’ of the erotically obsessed. Rather it is the originality, thoroughness, authenticity, and power of that deranged consciousness itself, as incarnated in a work. From that point of view, the exclusivity of the consciousness embodied in pornographic books is in itself neither anomalous nor anti-literary.” Here what elevates this simple eroticism into art is the surprise figure of the father. He is first simply alluded to, then actuated as a figure-creeping behind the curtain, wanting to see his son’s virginity lost. Something that is far less creepy or violent than Kyle MacLachlan’s character in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet witnessing the rape of a woman from a closet, and is not Lynch celebrated as an artist? Why? Because he takes that rape-scene-seen and wraps it into surrealistic, sliding images? Because he has cultural capital? I am not arguing that Blue Velvet isn’t in the realm of the visual arts. It is. But if cultural and artistic cognoscenti are to take up the work of vivifying their disciplines, gay sex porn must be taken seriously. “Everyone has felt,” writes Sontag, “(at least in fantasy) the erotic glamor of physical cruelty and an erotic lure in things that are vile and repulsive. These phenomena form part of the genuine spectrum of sexuality, and if they are not to be written off as mere neurotic aberrations, the picture looks different from the one promoted by enlightened public opinion […] That few people regularly, or perhaps ever, experience their sexual capacities at this unsettling pitch doesn’t mean that the extreme is not authentic, or that the possibility of it doesn’t haunt it anyway.” The spectrum of the possible uses of the rectum haunts everyone who has one, and it is important we all explore our own cavernous selves, even the extreme manifestations, in a way that neither falls into psychiatric or religious dead-ends. Also, we must avoid the dangers of romanticizing these extremes; viewing them as within the realm of art, because they have X, Y and Z aspects, does not negate the suffering behind them; in fact, recognizing them, analyzing them, scrutinizing them, removing the intellectual taboo that commands we elide these images, allows us a greater kinship with the extreme parts of ourselves and others.  Perhaps taking what we can from gay sex porn as art is the way out of internalized hatred? Certainly, each piece of porn must be elevated on its own merit. I have eviscerated works of gay sex porn that are explicitly racist, classist and based in rape fantasies. However, even these works often inhabit the space of art, for why are they there? What, beyond historicizing every phenomena, creates the conditions for these fantasies-turned-audio/visual “realities?”

What can the gay male pornographic imagination teach us about the homo sapien condition? About consciousness and its extremities? What do these binary pairings, young/old, muscled/twink, black/white, top/bottom, rich/poor, fat/skinny/ etc. tell us about desire? How is desire contoured by history, by biology, by theology and epistemology? What does it mean that these father/son genres permeate gay male sexual fantasies? Where in the libidinal economy do these disparate bodies, as entities representative of real, “everyday” performers (who are, in fact, the audience themselves), enter into intercourse, and why do they produce excess, profit, and consumption?

. . .

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