It’s no surprise that many gay men (and much gay male pornography) is obsessed with straight men. There are many reasons, both historic and cultural, for this long-standing erotic attraction for, as David Halperin has eloquently argued in his book How to Be Gay, part of what constitutes contemporary gay male identity and sexual desire is precisely an erotic attraction for the masculine, and in our culture nothing represents masculinity better than the machismo-enshrouded figure of the straight man. Love or hate him, he remains a haunting presence in the American cultural and social imaginary, infusing even the gay community with a sometimes-noxious and toxic infatuation with masculinity and a concomitant rejection of the feminine.
This emerges quite clearly in the world of so-called amateur gay pornography, of the sort produced by such much-vaunted and celebrated studios as Corbin Fisher and Sean Cody, as well as some of the lesser luminaries such as Broke Straight Boys. What makes the latter studio so compelling is the way in which it manages to encapsulate and draw upon so many different strands of gay erotic desire (including the rough trade figure that has long been a staple of gay pornography and erotica of various kinds) as part of its brand identity. What emerges from this gay pornography studio is a compelling, and slightly disturbing voyeurism of the vexed figure of the straight male willing (and able) to do anything for the right amount of money.
Of course, the website’s agenda is spelled out in its very title, which draws explicit attention to the indigent status of its stars. This attention to the financial vulnerability of its performers–many of whom are both explicitly and implicitly coded as traditionally masculine–seems to undermine the very stability of the masculine attributes that it otherwise fetishizes. Appearances can be deceiving, however, and I would argue that it is precisely the confluence of gender, class, and sexual desire that comprises the visual and fantasy pleasure to be gained from this particular website. Though its models are not as uniformly muscular or gay-clone-esque as those of some of the higher end studios (such as the aforementioned Sean Cody and Corbin Fisher), that actually works to make BSB’s models both more “realistic” and, perhaps surprisingly, more desirable. To paraphrase a clutch of comments on various message boards, most of the models look like actual boys that you might pick up at your local gay bar.
Due perhaps in no small part to its own branding efforts–and in spite of its own claims to being the web’s #1 gay porn site–Broke Straight Boys has gained something of a reputation for producing and featuring pornography that, to paraphrase commentators at the WayBig Blog, looks like it came out of a trailer park. The comment threads attached to the website’s updates frequently contain derogatory remarks about the studio and the quality of its products, and yet, it has clearly managed to gain a substantial enough following to warrant the forthcoming TV series that purports to offer a reality-TV perspective on the internal workings of the studio and its stable of stars. I would argue that this can at least partially be explained by the particular niche that BSB seeks to fill, one that is studiously underserved by both Sean Cody, Corbin Fisher, and other more self-consciously high-level studios.
This niche is one in which Broke Straight Boys provides the pleasure of the attainable and the everyday, while also drawing upon those things that gay pornography has always attempted to provide for its ever-diversifying consumers. In an era in which what constitutes gay culture and gay identity is, like many other categories of social identity, increasingly fractured and in flux, BSB also highlights how unstable even gay desire can be. What’s more, it also illuminates the ways in which studio branding in the gay porn industry can have a significant and potent effect on the types of erotic pleasures being mobilized by these purveyors of visual erotica. Not all gay pornography, it would seem, is made equal.
At the same time, however, there is a darker side of this branding identity that needs to be acknowledged. While there is something seemingly perpetually appealing about the straight-to-gay transformation (commonly referred to as gay for pay within the industry), it also caters to a slumming mentality among gay male audiences that is worthy of sustained attention and critique. What the comments sections on discussion boards call attention to (among many other things) is the unfortunate appeal to a masculinity made vulnerable to the vicissitudes of economic privation. While this may be appealing as fantasy (and we can fervently hope that it is, though the unfortunate statistics regarding porn stars, economic instability, and suicide paint a different picture), we should also be aware of the disturbing contours and drives that undergird those fantasies. Is it really so appealing to see financially strapped straight men paid to perform sex acts? How is this any different than the economic exploitation that occurs when women are engaged in pornographic exploitation?
What emerges from this website, therefore, is an uncomfortable reminder of the contradictions and strains that continue to operate at the heart of gay male pornography and gay male sexual desire more generally. In order to gain a more complete understanding of the complexities involved in the pleasures offered up by different pornography studios, we need to also understand the intertwining of class, gender, and sex that constitute those pleasures. While many such entertainments attempt to make us forget what goes into their production, BSB is often forthright, actually making a point of mentioning the amount of money being offered. In addition to seeing this as part of the fantasy scenario being constructed by the studio, as audiences and spectators we should also use this as a valuable opportunity to think about our own complacency in the exploitation of male sexual labour, as well as the consequences such exploitation has for an understanding of gay male culture’s contradictory relationship with hegemonic masculinity.