You Can Be Queen for a Day

[27 July 2009]

By Michael Abernethy

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.

Just Don’t Call Me a ‘Fag’

Just Don’t Call Me a ‘Fag’

Straight immigrants will claim to be homosexual and in need of political asylum to avoid persecution in their home countries

And it is about money. Gay for pay performers in films note that they can make up to ten times more money for shooting a gay scene than a straight scene, since the focus in straight porn is on the woman. Likewise, straight bartenders in gay bars report making significantly larger tips than if they worked in straight bars.

Still, not every straight man who engages in gay activities does so for financial gain. For some, it is a matter of convenience, while others have loftier goals. The article in Qualitative Sociology distinguishes between those who are “gay for pay” and those who engage in “situational homosexuality”, which is best described as the propensity to engage in gay sex when no other options are available. Soldiers, prisoners, and students at all boy or girl’s schools would fall into this category. 

To be considered situational homosexuality, the sex must be consensual. As one can imagine, homosexual rape is common in prisons, and has occurred in other one-gender settings. This is distinct from those individuals who willingly engage in same-sex activities, often for the duration of the situation that has excluded heterosexual interaction.

Usually, these individuals return to straight sex when that option becomes available, and some struggle to justify their previous gay behavior. Like their gay for pay counterparts, these men—and in some cases, women—create a mental script which rationalizes the same sex behavior. 

In an article for the January 2008 edition of Sex Roles, Eric Anderson concludes that heterosexual men (in this case, athletes) use one of two scripts to explain their same sex activities. The first of these is the belief that the gay behavior is “sharing ‘conquests’ with ‘brothers’, mutually reassuring each other of their heterosexual desirability”.

Second is the idea that the gay sex is merely “sexual recreation” in which limits are in place as to what activities are involved; in other words, it’s not really “gay sex” if anal intercourse doesn’t occur. The stigmas associated with homosexuality exist in both cases, yet the homosexual acts are not viewed as indicative of a homosexual leaning, but as a male-bonding ritual that does not admit homosexuality and encourages “normal” heterosexual intercourse. (“‘Being Masculine is not About who you Sleep with…’ Heterosexual Athletes Contesting Masculinity and the One-time Rule of Homosexuality”)

A third category of men and women who play gay exists beyond those who do so for money or convenience. For them, pretending to be gay has other rewards, ala the film I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, in which two men pretend to be lovers in order to collect domestic partner benefits. This duplicity goes beyond the situation of someone falsely “confessing” to homosexual feelings to get out of an undesirable heterosexual relationship. It requires that one make a public profession that he or she is gay and integrate him or herself into the gay community. As in the film, this may be done to acquire financial benefits, or it may be done to make an individual more appealing to potential gay customers or clients, to fit into the dominant culture (i.e., living in a city’s “gay mecca”), or to create a more sympathetic persona than the true heterosexual self may be.

In January of this year, Steven and Helen Mahoney were arrested and charged with fraud for allegedly encouraging new immigrants to “play gay”. The idea behind the scheme was that the straight immigrants would claim to be homosexual and in need of political asylum to avoid persecution in their home countries. Undoubtedly, the Mahoneys are not the only ones to think of this ploy, but there is no way to determine how many immigrants claiming to be gay actually are.

So what are all of us honest-to-goodness, queer-to-the-core homosexuals to make of these wannabes? Only those who fall into the last group truly gain an understanding of what it is like to be gay, as they must endure the social judgments and stigmas that accompany living as an out gay man or woman. Still, their scams and lies ultimately damage the fight for equality by the gay and lesbian community, as it casts fundamental rights as “special rights” worthy of lying and committing criminal offenses to obtain.

Those who dally in a gay lifestyle, either for professional gain or sexual relief, walk away and don’t endure the thousand plus discriminations built into law affecting LGBT individuals. A high percentage of gay and lesbian persons have heterosexual sexual experiences in their past, so adopting a “stay on your side of the fence” position seems hypocritical and unrealistic. One can only hope that the “gay experience” these men and women engage in will enlighten them, allowing them to be more empathetic towards the LGBT community.

Although some gays disapprove of “gay for pay” actors, escorts and bartenders, such trade is merely a reflection of the capitalistic principle of supply and demand. So long as bartenders are tipped on their appearance and not the quality of their service, we shouldn’t be surprised to find attractive straight people working in our clubs. Likewise, gay for pay porn stars find work because they have fans. It is all about creating illusion, and porn succeeds financially when it is able to create a fantasy that seems like reality.

The same is true with an actor in porn—be he straight or gay, his performance requires we ignore his true self to buy into the idea that he is a pizza delivery boy who gets laid at each stop (thus insuring that the last pizza to be delivered is cold and inedible—which helps explain why these studs never deliver my pizza. It’s probably difficult to keep your job when it takes you two hours to deliver three pizzas.). 

I was surprised when a handsome jock in one of my classes identified himself as bisexual. Similarly, a student in another class was stunned when he made an anti-gay comment to another student, a huge bodybuilder who happened to be gay himself. The line between gay and straight is blurred, as gender roles change and stereotypes are shattered. So long as straight individuals aren’t working to impede our march towards full equality, does it really hurt anything if they come play in our sandbox?

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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