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Eric and Steven are face-to-face, bodies pressed together, staring into one another’s eyes. Slowly, Eric leans forward and their lips meet. Steven slides his hand down Eric’s chest and rests it strategically on the front of Eric’s jeans. In return, Eric reaches for Steven’s shirt and begins to unbutton it. All the while, the two young men remain kissing. It is only when Steven feels Eric’s tongue slide into his mouth that he backs off.


What’s missing from this description is the dozen drunken friends cheering them on, not to encourage the men’s budding love and first kiss, but to see who can last longest in a game of “Gay Chicken”. The objective of this infantile, alcohol-fueled game is to challenge two supposedly straight men to engage in some aspect of gay behavior, typically kissing; the first to back away loses. Fans of the game claim it isn’t insulting to gays, just like calling someone who is behaving stupidly a “fag” isn’t insulting, but the reactions of participants and observers make it clear that the gay behavior is considered repulsive.


Although hardly new, the game has caught on in popularity thanks to the internet, giving Generation YouTube yet another thing to explain to their kids. Gay porn sites have gotten in on the act as well, paying young straight men to engage in more X-rated versions of the game (“Just put his dick in your mouth.”).


This slight brush with homosexuality may pay dividends, either financial or bragging rights, but there are some who have more than a brief brush with homosexuality. Over the years, numerous straight actors have played gay, either explicitly or implicitly, without anyone questioning their sexuality, much like no one believes that Arnold Schwarzenegger is really a cyborg from the future—well, almost no one. However, in a time when homosexuality is under attack from various factions, an increasing number of straight men participate in a gay lifestyle for extended periods. For them, playing gay is a job, an escape, or a last hope for liberation.


The appeal of watching straight men engage in gay sexual acts has resulted in a number of specialty porn sites, such as Broke Straight Boys and Bait Bus, which lures men into a van with a promise of a sexual escapade with a buxomly woman only to find that the sexual partner is another man. The men who participate in the sexual acts on these sites are frequently labeled “gay for pay”, a term used to describe straight porn actors who appear in gay porn films.


“Gay for pay” actors have been around as long as gay porn, but recently gained greater attention. In part, the murder conviction of “gay for pay” porn star Timothy Boham, who worked as “Marcus Allen”, put the lifestyle in the news. Boham was convicted of killing his boss at a security company. He reportedly, had told a neighbor he hated gay men, but he still worked in the industry.


Consider, too, the January 2009 episode of The Tyra Banks Show, which featured three straight porn actors (two currently working and one retired) who do gay porn and three straight bartenders who work in gay bars. The most intriguing story was that of Kurt Wild, a father of three boys who himself looks to be no more than an All-American boy next door.


Seeking a less controversial line of work, Wild applied for and got a job at Subway, being honest with his prospective employers about his other line of work. However, customers recognized Wild and told the managers they would boycott the restaurant as long as Wild was employed. He was let go. (One can’t help but wonder about the sanctimonious customers who recognized Wild as a porn star but then objected to him working at a sandwich shop.) 


(It should be noted that female porn stars participate in lesbian for pay scenes. However, as girl on girl action is a dominant heterosexual male fantasy, such lesbian scenes are the norm in porn and most female performers participate in them.)


The six men featured on The Tyra Banks Show are just a small sample of the straight men making cash off gay clientele by playing gay. One could understand straight actors taking on gay roles in less controversial fare, such as Sean Penn’s Oscar-winning work in Milk, but porn requires a level of commitment that is, obviously, not necessary in other acting jobs. It is easy to spot a porn actor who is not totally “involved” in his work, shall we say. Wild typically bottoms in his films, or as Tyra put it for her G-rated audience, “It’s Christmas day. Are you giving presents or receiving presents?” Wild receives, and he is completely believable in the parts he plays. (Yes, I watched, all in the name of research, of course.) 


How do Kurt Wild and other performers do it? Acting! Along with Viagra, lots of straight porn playing off camera, and the help of fluffers. But what about others in the sex industry who are gay for pay, such as escorts? Consider Pat Bateman, a gay for pay porn star who also works as an escort. According to his escort profile, Bateman will service a male client for $1,000 while looking at a straight porn magazine laid out across the client’s back.


According to “Gay-for-Pay: Straight Men and the Making of Gay Pornography”, published in Qualitative Sociology in 2003, gay for pay performers establish a disconnect between their working sexual selves and their true sexual and emotional selves. This is done through the creation of a “persona”, a fictional being who is willing to engage in acts the true self wouldn’t consider or find appealing:


In part, the persona is the self-conscious construction of a “personal” sexual script that draws on the individual’s intrapsychic script as well as on grand cultural scenarios. The persona is a sort of sexual resume which the actor constructs around the kind of permission that he gives himself for entering the gay pornography business, but it is also based on the image that he wishes to project of who he is as a sexual performer. (Escoffier, Jeffrey.)


However, the longer a performer stays in the industry, the more he must revise this persona in order to stay fresh and keep fans coming back for more. Thus, a performer may eventually choose to bottom if he feels that his customers have grown tired of his one-sided perspective, or if he feels that there is greater financial reward in doing so.

Michael has been writing for PopMatters since 2000. His primary focus, aside from queer culture, is television reviews and commentary, and his article Male Bashing on TV has been reprinted in two college textbooks. He currently lives in Louisville, KY, and is a Lecturer of Communication Studies at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, IN. As a teacher, he has an interest in the study of contemporary political rhetoric and argumentation. He and his partner Jim have been living in un-wedded bliss since 1995.


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