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Culture

Every Bedroom Is a Porn Studio

Jason Weidemann

An analysis of how gay-porn site Amateur Straight Guys indulges fantasies not of indulgence or sexual abandon but of control and revenge.

The clip, from the website Amateur Straight Guys, features Tom and Ben sitting side by side on a hotel bed covered in paisleys, transfixed by a straight porno playing on the TV behind the cameraman's shoulders. The action on the TV gives them a reason not to look at each other. In fact, they're making a big deal of not looking at each other as the camera zooms in on Tom, wearing a wifebeater and jeans. "What's up, Tom?" Tom waves to the camera, barely taking his eyes off the TV screen.

The cameraman then swivels over to a shirtless Ben. With his military buzz cut and thick necklace of white puka beads, Ben could be any of the young men I've passed on the street this week on my way to work or the grocery store -- they're utterly unremarkable.

"What's up, Ben?" "Pretty good." "Yeah?" "Yeah." "Horny?" "Yeah." "You ever met Tom before?" "No."


An analysis of how gay-porn site Amateur Straight Guys indulges fantasies not of indulgence or sexual abandon but of control and revenge.

This isn't the first lie the porn has told. The coupling of the men about to unfold depends on a careful dramaturgy, a deft creation of a mood of anonymity. These opening shots mean to present the clip as authentic, homegrown porn rooted in the everyday domesticity of actors and crewmembers. The boys' back story is only hinted at and then only to establish their heterosexuality. They talk about girlfriends. All the details are calculated to allow viewers to draw the conclusions they want: This is a real hotel room off some interstate, these guys really aren't gay, Tom's wifebeater proves he's working class.

"You ever done it with a guy before?" "No, never".

The expansion of amateur pornography on the Internet has corresponded to the proliferation of home computers with high-speed connections and the increasing affordability of the tools needed to film, edit, and broadcast video content on the web. Just as one can watch pornography without leaving the house, so too can one make it, as digital cameras and desktop editing software inspire a fresh generation of amateur pornographers, just as it inspired DIY filmmaker Jonathan Caouette.

Unlike the high production values of commercial gay porn, where the lighting is perfect, the film stock top notch, and the bodies otherworldly, amateur porn takes a lot of minor signifiers to create a canvas on which to paint desires. The men who orchestrate these scenes -- the website says their names are Doug and Jay - say the right things ("Hey Ben, why don't you take off that shirt?", "Why don't you move on up here so we can see?") and pose the boys the right way. Their hands snake into the scene now and then to give the boys a quick wank or otherwise tweak the tableau. A successful clip relies as much on a convincing outfit as it does on a beautiful cock.

Commercial porn offers a fantasy, a scripted and fluffed-up break from reality, disconnected from the actors who perform on set and from the viewers who consume the images. But amateur porn seeks to deliver the opposite, camouflaging itself in the everyday and therefore allowing spectators to form a closer identification with the men performing. To be successful, it must imply a connection beyond the beginning and end of the clip. It must be as banal as life. On the Amateur Straight Guys website, it doesn't matter whether these boys are truly amateur or not. The only way to convey a sense of the amateur is to perform it.

The cameraman tells a joke, and the boys laugh and throw cautious looks at each other for the first time since the camera started rolling. Caution and anxiety are key to the erotic encounter about to unfold. The scene slows, each movement agonized over before execution. No smiles or any indication of enjoyment are permitted to pass over the faces of these "straight" guys having gay sex. The scene cuts ahead to Ben and Tom lying side by side. Ben lifts his head up off the pillow to continue watching the straight porn, a self-conscious half-crunch that ripples his abs. The camera floats across the bed as the boys hover over each other's bodies without purpose or desire. Occasionally the cameraman asks them to do something, and the boys silently try, though they appear narcotized, lacking in fine motor skills. The scene goes on and on, so we have time to take in the generic hotel prints hanging on the walls and the furniture cluttering the background and listen to the voices of the women moaning on the straight porno out of view, continually drawing attention to the cluster of signifiers that make this scene convincing.

Whether it's a hotel room off the interstate or a living room, the settings -- composed with Ikea furniture or the hostile polyester of a hotel bed duvet -- are as blank as a dream in a David Lynch film. The blinds are always drawn, the setting cleansed of natural light. It's impossible to pinpoint the geographic location or time of day. Could this be my city? My street? Every darkened window I pass becomes suspect. The anonymity of the clip disperses images of gay sex across suburbia. Every condo or apartment has the potential to house an amateur-porn company that's casting, right this minute, at the Chipotle down the street.

In the next 15 minutes or so, Tom and Ben will rub themselves through their jeans, then strip and jerk off, eventually fellating each other to the constant accompaniment of a woman moaning loudly on TV. Apart from a few furtive glances at the other's genitals, they behave throughout as if they're embarrassed, feigning indifference to the erections that give them away. They never smile. Even when Tom is blowing Ben, Ben's eyes focus on the porn on the TV. It's only after they both have ejaculated that they acknowledge the spectacle they're a part of.

The trajectory of their penises mirrors the trajectory of the narrative: It begins soft, becomes harder, and ends with an inevitable shower scene, in which the boys are relaxed, laughing, and soft. But whatever compelled them to enter this hotel room, the streets they followed to partake in these arguably un-erotic, un-enjoyed acts, the particulars of their landscapes, the diets that feed those pectorals, the genes that have drawn the lines of those torsos, all of this is omitted. I am intrigued by the kern between the rough cuts that link these decontextualized images, the ends left on the (virtual) cutting room floor, the parts that cannot be filmed, the unscripted interior monologues unspooling in their heads.

The young men who perform for the camera are all American. With their Abercrombie & Fitch clothes and penchant for straight porn, they fit definitively into the category of "masculine," the classification we assign to them before they prove us wrong. Sometimes their speech is inflected with rural and Southern hints, but for the most part they are archetypes, neither exurban nor inner city, North or South. At most, their wardrobes and accents suggest they are unenlightened, podunk, homophobic. As carefully as these clips are constructed, it still takes active spectatorship to read the collection of signifiers and turn Amateur Straight Guys into more than a collection of sub-par wildlife film.

One man who appears in several clips has a tattoo of the word ASHLEY tattooed across his right pec. But in later episodes, the tattoo has changed: ASHLEY has morphed into a plain black stripe that forms part of an amorphous design. The story behind this change fascinates me. I wonder about Ashley, about whether that was once his lover and about the naiveté that compels one to tattoo a lover's name on one's body. I imagine the conversation he might have had with a tattoo artist, discussing how best to reformulate her name into an innocuous shape, how to efface her from the surface of his skin and thus eradicate her from his interior.

For a spectator eager to identify with the unambiguously gay cameramen (Doug and Jay) and their control over the mise-en-scène, this ambiguous narrative, this Ashley, makes the man's sex with the cameramen seem sexier. He accepts a penis inside his most private place with a look of boredom. He must do this often. With whom? Is he rent? How much does he charge? Does Ashley know? Is that why they broke up?

After watching Amateur Straight Guys videos for an entire weekend and for the first few days of the workweek, I start to see traces of them everywhere. Men laying cable in the street, selling packs of cigarettes, making sandwiches, coming to fix the copier. If, as Leo Bersani suggests in "Is the Rectum a Grave?", homosexual desire "includes the potential for a loving identification with the gay man's enemies," this is because men such as Tom and Ben are at once male bodies and socially determined specimens of what it means to be a man. On the street we would assume them to be straight, which makes their seductions, erections, and ejaculations that much more dramatic and potentially dangerous. It is almost as though these videos record a kind of sexual evangelism -- they imply that gay men are everywhere, and they are trying to seduce your children. All it takes is a couple of hundred bucks and a temporary recording studio in the Country Inn on the edge of town.

This constellation of particular bodies and markers creates a convincing sense of "the amateur" but also opens up a space of potential for a spectator who may desire men he thinks he can never have. Because he can't, his secondary desire is to control, direct, corral them in a frame. A close-up of Tom and Ben stokes the desire to be a part of the action: the point of view from Doug and Jay's handheld cameras, where the man holding the camera is also participating in the scene, further underscore this identification.

When Doug and Jay emerge from behind the camera to suck or fuck these young men, the resulting mise-en-scène -- a hairy, slightly overweight older gay man fellating a straight-acting young man -- makes visible the fantasies of the gay-porn auteurs. But for the spectator it suggests power, the power of homosexuality to touch even those who aren't gay. The presence of these unabashed gay men on screen raises the question of what viewers really want from these straight men. Do we want to form lasting relationships with them? Do we only want to take a few minutes' pleasure from their bodies? Or do we want to eviscerate their sexuality under the glare of the camera, mocking their masculinity, sending tapes to their Ashleys and indoctrinating them into our world?

These scenes prove a radical theorem: Homosexual sex is not tied to a gay identity. Cocksucking can be a part of a heterosexual male's masculine identity.

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