Wednesday, April 05, 2006


by Max Gordon
Sapience Magazine
April 2006

Porn is in my life again.

Sometimes when I look at porn, I can’t stop. I walk away eventually – but usually hours, or most of an entire day, have gone by. On occasion, I’ve forgotten what time or what day of the week it was, missed appointments or gone to bed at dawn because of porn. I always tell myself that I’m only going to watch it for a few minutes - as I’m leaving for work, after I finish dinner, right before bed. Three hours later, four or five or six hours later, I’m still sitting there, staring at the screen, wondering where the time went. I’ve lost years like that.

I’d had several months away from porn this last time. Then I just got up one morning last week, walked over to the computer and went to a porn site. I was disappointed in myself for failing yet again, but I felt excited too. I’d missed my porn. When I downloaded the first image and felt the familiar rush, the release of tension was like I hadn’t been away at all. All my favorite sites were still there, beckoning. No matter how much porn had been added to the site since I’d last visited, the experience was exactly the same. It’s like porn knows I’ll always come back eventually, and waits for me.

I’m always trying to “stop looking at porn.” Perhaps a little porn never hurt anybody, but I’ve never looked at a little porn in my life. If I am honest, I will admit that sometimes I want to look at porn all day and do nothing else. You can never run out of porn. No matter how much you look at, there is always more porn.

I’ve spent a lot of money on porn. The thing about porn is that pornographic images get old fast and you constantly crave fresh ones. I’d buy tapes and get bored with those and buy new ones to replaces the old. After the tapes started stacking up, I decided one day, I could no longer keep porn in the house. I went to the booths in porno theaters where I dropped token after token, and watched people having sex for a few seconds before the screen went blank. All the money I spent! Amounts of money I would never have squandered anywhere else; but with porn it is possible to spend thousands without even realizing it - one dollar at a time.

Then there was my phone-sex phase - 3.99 per minute. I was lured by advertising that told me I was getting a great deal because the first minute of phone sex was free (of course, it took most of my free minute to get past the automated prompt and reach an actual human being). I learned that year how fast minutes go by. When the phone bill came and my lover saw it, I was ashamed, then outraged that I had to pay all that money. I vowed never to call those lines again. And then I discovered porn on the internet.

This morning I got up early, to give myself a little extra porn time. Since I am only recently back to looking at porn after a break, I am encouraged by the fact that I am able to walk away after fifteen minutes. I feel like a regular person, someone who can take porn or leave it. But when my partner gets in the shower, I want to go back on the computer again. It’s starting – the secretive behavior, the nervousness of being caught or interrupted before I can find the exact porn I want to download this morning. When he leaves the house, I shut the door, close the blinds.

I’m familiar with secrets. Porn is perfect for gay people like me. Having grown up with shame, we are already use to hiding. Straight people get to have romantic movies, Hallmark cards, fantasies that aren’t pornographic, but often for gay people there is nothing else. It’s a porn reflection or nothing at all. Some people would prefer it if homosexuals expressed themselves only in porn’s moldy and private crevices where no one can see us and we can’t see each other. Evidently, I agree with them, which is why I’m sitting in the dark holding my penis and staring at a computer screen. I will not tell anyone close to me that I’ve started looking at porn again because I’m too ashamed.

(what I can’t talk about is the lady whose house my father and I used to visit, the one with the nice cookies, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone we went there, I was supposed to sit there and play quietly, I was four, it got dark outside, I couldn’t reach the door handle so I knocked and said isn’t it time to go home daddy mommy is waiting)

Porn is like candy. One day as a kid when my mother denied me a candy bar in a store, I remember thinking: I’m going to be rich when I grow up and buy all the candy in the world, and I’ll eat candy all day and nobody is going to stop me. I’m a man now, so I buy my own candy and my own porn. I don’t hide porn under the mattress or in the back of the closet, as I did when I was fifteen, praying that it wouldn’t be discovered. Now, I have as much porn as I want, whenever I want.

(what I can’t tell anyone about is being ten years old, sneaking downstairs to watch TV with the sound turned down until I found a movie with nudity. Or trying to watch the Playboy channel through the wavy lines used to block out non-subscribers. A couple was having sex. I could only just make out their bodies, so I pressed my face against the television and licked the screen where the lady’s breasts were. I pretended to French kiss the man and felt red and blue prickly dots on my tongue, a tangy, electric feeling. I went to bed humiliated because there was no one to talk about what I was feeling, to ask where my desire to kiss another man had come from.)

I’ve looked at so much porn over the years, I’ve done myself permanent harm; I believe I’ve changed my brain chemistry. And the internet has only made it worse; now it is no longer required to go the porn store late at night to get your porn; no more pacing the aisles under fluorescent lights, waiting until that moment of truth when you slide your purchase across the counter, avoiding eye-contact with the man who has the same practiced dispassionate look as a pharmacist or priest, who has also learned to make his face bland and pretends not to care that you like porn with grannies, bondage, enemas, feet, midgets, fisting, men in military gear, cops, firefighters, piss, people having sex with food, people having sex outdoors, people who don’t know they are being watched as they undress in locker-rooms and department stores, people who are fucked by machines, people in prison, women who are menstruating, women dressed as schoolgirls, pregnant women, women who are lactating, women with shaved vaginas, piercing, transsexuals, obesity, nuns, incest, anal sex, shit, slaves, torture, “twinks” and “barely legal” (children), fratboys, simulated rape, “crack whores” and “trailer trash”, wrestlers, orgies, celebrities, sex with animals or with people who look dead. Now, no one has to know what you are “into” anymore, no one sees your face on the other side of the magazine, the videotape, DVD, the download. And the images on the screen come so quickly these days, anyone who owns a cell-phone camera can make porn, so there are thousands, tens of thousands, perhaps millions of images, catalogued by fetish for your convenience. I sit there, clicking away, knowing that if even it were possible to look at them at all, within minutes there would be hundreds, thousands more. I am absolutely powerless over porn.

It is only a few hours before I have to wake up for work and in the morning I’ll have a porn hangover. A porn hangover is like a regular hangover only it’s harder to detect because it is psychological. It’s a curmudgeonly, foul mood that clouds everything and is usually relieved only by looking at more porn. Last night I said I was going to bed at one o’clock, then it was one-thirty, then two. It was two-thirty and I was still looking at porn - just one last movie preview, one last “profile” of someone else cruising online for sex, one last advertisement for hustlers, one more naked “bear” or “daddy”.

When I have a porn hangover, I’m edgy and close to raging or tears at any moment. Yesterday, I could have torn a desk apart with my bare hands because the computer froze, and I lost an amazing site with free porn. I feel like jumping out of the window when something goes wrong with my wireless service, which means I have to use dial-up to get my porn. With dial-up, every image takes five times as long as usual to download, unfolding gradually before me at a snail’s pace as I sit there, grinding my teeth, rocking back and forth waiting, waiting. Actually, wireless and cable aren’t fast enough either. I want the image to be there the second I click on it, the second before I clicked on it. When one image doesn’t satisfy or is spent, it’s only seconds before I’m searching for the next.

On my lunch break at work, I might go into a porn store, or even a “regular” bookstore and go to the adult magazine section. I don’t look for too long, and the magazines there aren’t really satisfying. I just need a little porn snack to get me through the day and ease the pressure: an ass here, a cock there, something to nibble on until I can indulge fully later on tonight. I’m superstitious about porn, now that I’ve been looking at it again for a few days, I have to have it in the morning to start my day right, like coffee. Sometimes I think I love it more than anything else, even food. If I get up late, and there’s only a little time to eat, I’ll have porn for breakfast. When I come home from work, I turn on the computer before I take off my suit or check for phone messages because there is another site I found last night that is showing free clips and I don’t want to miss anything good.

(I remember the temp job I had in 1995; the woman I replaced had been caught downloading porn at her desk - a co-worker told me everything. It was only soft porn, she pleaded, as they escorted her out of there crying and clutching her purse, a joke her friend sent her, and she maintained to the bitter end that she always minimized her screen whenever anyone was coming. I tried to imagine this woman’s surprise, when the boss who needed a correction on a letter, came up to her desk, and this woman, while looking for the letter, accidentally maximized the wrong window. They both stood there, mouths agape, staring at an image of a man’s ass with a dildo in it.)

Things begin to unravel in my life when I look at too much porn. I don’t know exactly how it happens, but it has started already after only a few days: little things. I can’t find my keys. I go into a room and can’t remember why I went in there in the first place. I show up late for work. I drop things. I feel fogged in. I don’t want to leave the house unless I absolutely have to. I have to drag myself to the shower. I may not shave on the weekend or I’ll stay in the same robe or pajamas. If someone I live with starts to confront me about how much time I’m on the computer, I’m instantly savage. “I’ll be off in just a second,” I say, my voice friendly-sweet, but with a “mind your own fucking business” edge underneath. That’s why it’s better just to look at porn when everyone has gone to bed or behind a locked door.

My friend Will describes his porn habit as a process where he gets smaller and smaller until no one understands him anymore but his porn, and he feels tiny enough to crawl into the screen. “I never open the blinds or windows when I’m watching porn. Usually you can tell if I’m watching too much because all my plants start dying.”

If you don’t live alone, you may have to hide your stash under your mattress or in a special place in the closet where your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife doesn’t look. Porn sometimes means keeping secret files on your computer, delete your links to websites so no one can find them. For some, porn can mean having your computer confiscated at work and handed over to the police, being on the local news, being lowered into the back of a squad car, going to jail or prison. Everybody looks at porn these days – doctors, nurses, church people, teachers, politicians, daddies, mommies, grandparents, even young kids.

I try to shame myself into stopping by imagining how pathetic I would look if anyone I knew saw me, or if my porn could see me from the other side of the screen. Here he is, this poor desperate guy, sitting in the dark in front of a box of wires, images illuminated from the screen onto his concentrating face, sitting with his pants around his ankles, again. He thinks he’s having some kind of experience with the people he’s watching but there is really no one here but him; the people in the movie he’s watching will never know he’s there; he was never really touched or included. Then he has the audacity to be jealous of them, angry that they are having better sex than he is. How could they not be? They are fucking twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, every time he pays for it, every time he presses a button, available, dependable. People sometimes leave you, but porn is always right there.

(once during a porn binge which lasted for weeks, I stayed home from work because I had the “flu”. I was in the house alone, my partner was traveling. I opened e-mails, checked voice messages on the answering machine, but I didn’t call or talk to anyone. I watched porn, “real” movies, and more porn. With the exception of the delivery guys who brought my Chinese food and pizza, the only faces I’d seen were the hundreds and thousands on my computer and TV screen. After one exhausting porn session after another, I realized finally that I hadn’t had an actual conversation with a living human being in more than three days.)

Friends call but I let the machine pick it up. I’ll get it later. When later comes and I’m still looking at porn, I decide to call them tomorrow. When tomorrow comes and another evening is spent indulging porn, I decide I’ll get in touch with them this weekend. My partner kisses me goodnight and with my eyes closed, I see porn highlights from the day: the four greasy mechanics having sex on top of the racecar; the shemale who put a lit candle inside a man’s anus and then tilted the wax onto his testicles; a woman masturbating with one hand while holding her false leg with the other; the three men and one woman rolling around in mud with plastic pig snouts on their faces. The internet has made it possible, with a click of a button, to see things I’ve never dreamed human beings could do to each other. In fact, I’ve probably seen almost everything except two people who are genuinely affectionate with each other, a couple who don’t mind if the man loses his erection, or if the woman orgasms first. Two men who caress each others’ faces and hold each other before one goes down on the other. People who look as if they want love, like me.

My partner and I are making love now and I’m a little bored. I’ve had a steady diet of porn for two weeks now, and I feel like I need “something else” to spice up our sex. When I get like this, I’m antsy, itchy, unsatisfied - so I blame him. I feel I have the right to turn him into porn because he’s naked, he’s in bed and he’s my partner. I break him down into parts, a foot here, a nose there, the sex becomes Picasso-scrambled, I’m grabbing handfuls and giving orders: turn this way, no, that way, yeah, I said that way, yes, let me see your ass. Sometimes I listen to myself and I sound like I’m in a porn movie, “Yeah, man, that’s it, yeah, suck it man, yeah, you bitch.” When I talk to him like this, after I orgasm I usually don’t want to look at his face.

I probably owe a debt to porn. What else in our culture has the power to cut through our puritanical ideas about sex, the silence that prevents meaningful sexual conversation? For those who would have us ban all sexual images, play on our sexual fear and put sex back in the closet, give me some raunchy porn any day. Besides, what harm did they really do, the Playboy magazines I discovered in our basement? One can’t say I was exposed to them, exactly; I was the one who surreptitiously opened the boxes of papers kept there and dug them free; by then they were pretty much covered with mildew and rot. There wasn’t much to see; a heavy magazine, fat with too many pages of text and ads for cars or liquor, with the occasional interruption of a honey-glowed woman, her round breasts reflecting light like shiny Christmas bulbs near a crackling fire, a gift for any man under the tree - kitten-playful and naughty, as white sheets tumbled down her body and collected near her vagina like fresh milk poured into her lap.

The National Geographic magazines I found were not erotic in the same way. Naked black women are taken for granted (I don’t recall any naked white women in National Geographic. Maybe it was too cold where they were). Dust-covered brown mammaries, or black men holding spears and wearing nothing but ceremonial face paint and a smile were still sexy to me because they were pictures of “naked people”, but those breasts weren’t being served up for the reader’s delectation like the ones in Playboy. Besides, you didn’t get that charge that comes from looking at something forbidden and wrong. National Geographic sits on the coffee table and the doctor’s office; nothing makes prurient sex more boring than the absence of shame, thus eliminating the need to peek. Those people didn’t look as if they felt they had anything to hide, and if you aren’t hiding something then it isn’t sex. (I’ve always believed that if the Religious Right really wanted to kill the rebellious curiosity that they think attracts some young people to homosexuality, all they would need to do is fiercely encourage gay acceptance everywhere, endorse same-sex marriages and invite gay couples to join their churches, their bridge games, their Rotary clubs, encourage us to wear sensible shoes, attend all-you-can-eat buffets on Sundays and be in bed by ten o’clock reading Reader’s Digest to each other: homosexuality would become just as boring and mundane as most everything else, so that young people, except the incurably afflicted, would run from it in droves.)

Even though I did have some conscious parenting around sexuality as a child, if I hadn’t rented the bisexual movie from my local video store my last year in high school, how would I have known what two men did in bed? No one was actually in bed in that movie – a female coach walks into the male locker room and discovers two jocks whipping each other with their towels, having just emerged from the shower. Enraged at their lack of discipline, she decides to humiliate them by forcing one jock to sodomize the other while she stands there fully dressed with her clipboard and supervises. It wasn’t exactly Romeo and Juliet, but I got the idea.

Sometimes porn confused me: if two men had their penis in a woman’s vagina at the same time, didn’t that mean that their penises were technically touching? The box the porn came in (which belonged to Robbie’s older brother and that we watched at his house when his parents weren’t home) made it clear the tape was for “straight” people but didn’t the penis to penis contact make them gay, or at least bisexual? Our school nurse definitely wasn’t going to answer that question.

Porn taught me what gay men looked like (not me), which men were attractive (not me), as I flipped through page after page of men with handlebar mustaches, men with toolbelts around their waists, men with blonde hair, blue eyes, men with athletic grins and masculine grips around their penises, macho daddies with perfect bodies whose inviting smiles and hard jaws hinted at violence and promises of nights of sweet brutality as they violated you until dawn, and then gently kissed away the hurt they’d caused. Black men gleamed off the page as if drenched in a sugar glaze; sweating, sexual gorillas with erect penises so fat they promised internal damage if you dared to straddle one. A man with red hair, boyish, glanced over his shoulder with a manic look of desire and need – his buttocks were open and his anus suggested a portal – like the “point of no return” entrance to an amusement park ride. The caption read, “I need someone to fill this hole.” I looked for these fantasy men when I went to the bars and never found them, but instead noticed a very friendly man staring at me from the other side of the bar who looked like my drivers’ ed teacher in 11th grade. On the dance floor, two gay men pranced from one corner of the bar to the other, giggling, slapping at each other with drunken sassiness, enjoying the freedom that the bar provided for two men to be “girls” together, to sissy-out. I definitely didn’t see sissies in porn. The disappointment that nobody looked like the porn I had at home (at least nobody I was ever going to get my hands on without having to pay first), made me only want to go back home to my movies, made me crave more porn. There was one guy I did want to speak with but I didn’t have the courage, so I left. My fantasies, as precarious as they may have been, were at least familiar and didn’t have the power to reject me.

Porn also encouraged fantasies of exotic far-away lands where gay men ruled (San Francisco) and engaged in non-stop sex as they genuflected before glory holes, navigating their way through parks and steamed-up bathhouses. When I finally went to San Francisco for the first time and arrived at Castro Street in 1992, I was devastated - it wasn’t what I’d envisioned at all. How could it have been? I’d imagined a place where disco classics played until morning, men dressed in leather or feather boas greeted you like personal tour guides, and drag queens moved through the streets on floats basking in the adulation of roaring crowds – a 24-hour gay high school pep rally.

It feels scary to criticize porn; like betraying a friend. There is always the danger of sounding sexophobic, reactionary, and worst of all, unhip. I’m not against people making love or even having sex on screen, I’m not against raunchy talk, and I’ve even been spanked once or twice – problematic given my history, but to each his or her own. It’s not the random sex, or anonymous sex either, or the stranger sex. But maybe if there were a way to regulate porn, to protect the people who appear in it, to have stricter guidelines for who has access to it. I don’t know how to describe this pain around porn, the frenzy that porn creates for me. I’ve lived with it for so long in one way or another, I don’t even know what it is like to live without it, to envision sex without it. Sometimes I feel trapped, as if I’ll never be able to shake the pornographic gaze, or see anyone, including myself, outside it. I am addicted to porn.

Porn is the only thing that can fully distract me and help me forget what happened last week. I had a very painful fight with a close friend and we are not speaking to each other at the moment. Something also happened in my immediate family and I’m angry about that, and work, is, well, work. I’m feeling cynical about the world at the moment, (fuck “people who need people”) and I don’t want to deal with any human being at the moment that I can’t download, erase, slide over with my mouse, rewind, fast forward or turn off their sound when I want them to shut the hell up; people I can make disappear with the click of a button when I am exhausted and want to be left alone. I can’t really afford to lose any friendships at the moment (who can?), and it feels horrible to think I failed at a relationship again. Sometimes I think that if I ever started to deal with the grief I feel, I’d start crying and not be able to stop. Whenever life feels intolerable, I know I can masturbate and look at porn.

(what I can’t talk about is how disconnected I feel so much of the time, how enraged I feel at work, at life, how I paid almost five dollars for a cup of coffee the other day and the man behind the counter, who probably doesn’t care about his job, as I often don’t care about mine, who knows he’s just another worker in this stupid coffee chain that’s devouring the city, didn’t fill the cup to the top, and I wanted the rest of my coffee because nobody asks for less money when they don’t fill your coffee up to the top, people just snatch your money and then look at you like you are crazy when you say, I’d like you to put more coffee in this please because I paid for it. You’re just supposed to take whatever it is that you get and not complain, but I’m swallowing so much shit I can hardly breathe these days. I just want to go home and look at some porn because I know it will relax me. I don’t how it works, but it does, and then I won’t to have to feel any of this)

It’s an old pattern, porn and masturbation. And it has happened again; I’ve masturbated so much this week that my penis is starting to scab over slightly. Now I’m masturbating in the shower, before bed, several times throughout the day. As a teenager, I taught myself a little trick to cope with emotional trauma - I could masturbate pain away and a few minutes later leave for school or a party as if nothing had happened.

I wish I could go back sometimes and masturbate the way I did when I first discovered it, when it felt like really making love with myself, when there was at least a sense of discovery. I would turn myself around in the mirror at twelve, thirteen, fourteen and marvel at my developing body, curious about the man I was becoming. But over the years, masturbation, and most specifically masturbation to porn, has become something else: my own built in drug fix – my heroin, only I don’t even need a dealer, I just reach down below my waist. I’ve masturbated until I’ve bled, or at least until my penis was sore enough that when I put on my underwear in the morning I winced. I’ve masturbated like autistic kids who slam their heads against walls, or compulsives who get a feeling of safety from repeated hand washing or saying the same word over and over again. Porn is like a lullaby, a patting, a gentle goodnight kiss on the forehead. Porn is magical-thinking. Somewhere in my mind exists the thought that perhaps if I find and look at the right porn I rewrite my history. If I can watch the right couple having sex maybe my parents didn’t fight all that much, or if, mirror, mirror on the wall, I can find the most perfect penis of them all, I won’t have to deal with the shame I felt as a gay child being attracted to other boys, of thinking I was flawed and not good enough - the isolation and terror of feeling so alone.

I stand looking in the mirror now, a man in my thirties, still comparing myself to porn. I’ve compared myself to porn from every angle, and felt too fat, too black, too hairy, or too whatever. I’ve stared at my penis, my buttocks, and wondered if I am big enough, bubble enough to be attractive? I’ve smelled under my armpits, fogged up the mirror to check my breath. I’m the perfect consumer, constantly insecure about the way I look, ashamed, always willing to buy the new cologne, face cream, sunglasses, diet product to improve it, whatever it is that needs improving, or when it can’t be improved, for God’s sake, covering it up so that no one sees it.

That’s why I like porn so much. No one stinks in porn, you don’t have to smell anyone’s shit, or unwashed body, or sweat or bad breath. There’s no lube that gets all over the sheets, no messy condoms. No one accidentally farts in porn, unless you’re specifically “into” farts. Nobody cries after an orgasm in porn. No one finds he can’t perform halfway through and loses his erection, no is missing a breast because of cancer, no one is ever exhausted. Porn is perfect - there are no awkward moments during sex, and you don’t have to wait for the “good part”, it’s all good parts! That’s what film editors and fast forward buttons are for.

Race is important in porn. Asian women squeal in porn; they make little squeaking noises and yelps like a puppy having its claws pulled out or fingers scraped against the side of a wet balloon. On screen it looks like rape because of the grimaces on their faces, the pleading wails of lost innocence and the almost regal, ceremonial “baring it.” Asian women don’t cry for help in porn, they don’t moan with pleasure, and their black marble eyes don’t reflect anything. They weep and endure; their degradation hovers just outside their bodies where male imagination and fantasy exists; Japanese samurai honeymoon, Saigon brothel, Chinese open-market baby girl slave; mouth open, clown eyes bugged wide, painted on blush, red smile, vibrating devouring lips. Asian women are plastic sex dolls come alive in porn, Pygmalion grunge fantasies, and in porn white, black, and Asian men tear them to pieces.

A white man and a black woman are having sex in porn. I try to provide a subtext for who they are, how these two people have found each other for sex. I imagine they are colleagues on a business trip, I decide that she is his boss. In his room to discuss an important business presentation, she spills wine on her blouse. When she has to take it off to remove the stain, their lovemaking begins.

I know, of course, that given the people I am actually watching on the screen, a more believable porn scenario might take place in the land of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. The “reality” of the exchange between this black woman and white man is so impenetrable, dictated as it is by American race relations, I can’t even free-associate with it; my fantasy is a little too fantastic. The black woman I’m watching is wearing a skewed blonde wig with enormous bangs, it hangs over her head like an umbrella as she trembles underneath it. I think she is a teenager. The implication of her costume and the way she licks her lips is clear: she is a sex worker, drugged or on drugs, a woman that nobody will miss if she happens to disappear, no family, no community, a woman who exists solely for his sexual enticement, as he slides his American Express card through her various slots. He could be “John” or “Tom” or “Mike”, he could be married or not, have kids or not; his whiteness gives him a context and make him vivid; we can only envision her through his pornographic view. In another scene, a white man and black woman have sex in the cabana of a ritzy house. Porn makes it clear she doesn’t own this house. This black woman is the maid or nanny and that white man’s wife has gone out shopping and he is having a little afternoon poontang by the pool.

Black gay men in porn have often been a source of derision – friends of mine have laughed as we have compared in an intimate moment the porn we’ve watched and the black gay men we see there, tacky, lanky with straightened hair, do-ragged, jerry-curl dripping (almost two decades after the Eighties!), corny, country brothers – and the ones we never see in porn: us. It’s not that black men like this don’t exist, it’s that they seem to be the only ones who exist in gay porn. A friend exclaims, “Where do they get these men?” Is it that for those who want to see black gay men in porn, they are only interested in the “street hustler” look? Where is the”professional” black gay porn, Wall Street executives, college professors, doctors? Working class men who load trucks or drive cabs, men with an air of aloof honor? The black men in gay porn often look emaciated, hungry, desperate, as if they have been promised their porn fees in drugs or sandwiches. It feels deliberate somehow, this attempt to focus only on black men who look, regardless of their off-screen reality, as if they are broke and broke down, like a racist fantasy of busted field-hands who, having picked all the cotton by sundown, are now picking at each other for the camera. The focus on black male and female wretchedness, to the exclusion of any other kinds of images, feels sinister and deliberate in these films and keeps us enslaved in sexual representations of victimization. Even our fantasy selves are sanctioned. Interracial gay sex between black and white men in porn usually falls into two categories; Master Harold and the Boys, or the sole “white boy” who, having stepped into the wrong locker-room minutes after winning the away-game against the high school from the wrong side of the tracks, finds himself gang-raped by their all-black basketball team and loves it. (Porn for masochist white men who think that being beaten up by a black man is some kind of reparation for slavery, or a tribute to the power of black masculinity. The black man may be holding the whip this time, but he’s just as enslaved as ever; still defined by his flesh, weighed by the ounce, having traveled in the racist imagination only from savage monster to glorious beast). There are few images of white and black men together suggesting a relationship of balanced power or social equality.

Black men and white women have an abundance of sex in porn; African slaves raping Miss Anns. Sometimes a white man watches them in the background. There is something so shocking about this, it rocks the foundation of every American institution, challenges the purity of white womanhood and the constant threat to it of black male menace. The porn makers know this and also how to exploit this fear deliciously. (Don’t think I haven’t fantasized about tying a raging white supremacist to a chair and forcing him to watch one interracial couple having sex after another as he froths and squirms; but in the end I have dismissed the thought when it occurred to me that he was probably already watching this porn in the privacy of his own home.)
Bob Jones University may still frown on miscegenation, but online you can visit porn sites where white women and black men are greedily getting it on, sometimes even four black men to one white woman. A site I discovered was even named for what might have been inspired by at least one white mother’s consternation at the news of her daughter’s sexual exploits: (Oh My God) “My Daughter’s Fuckin’ a Nigga!” To mitigate the offensiveness of it all, one might decide these white women are just trash anyway and therefore who they sleep with doesn’t matter; they are “ugly”, poor, addicted, pockmarked, ravaged, and turned out, and really can’t get anyone else, so technically it is not really their fault. But then all of a sudden a “real” white woman pops up on the screen, a true-blue Sally Sue with natural blonde hair (no black roots), Teutonic and blue eyed, a white woman who might have come from a “good home” once - not plucked from the pornographers’ discard pile, a woman who looks as if she might have had some money in her life or have come from money once. To the white supremacist, she may be, in fact, the most offensive of all women in porn; a white woman who, at least within the film’s imaginary context, isn’t being raped by a nigger, or craving black dick because of temporary insanity, but who chooses black men because she is genuinely attracted to them, prefers them to white men, and because she believes they are superior, or, far worse, her equal.

The woman who has her hands tied behind her back is an actress. Someone has placed clothpins on her breasts and vagina and she writhes as an off screen hand holds her neck on the preview for a bondage site. But those are fake tears, that is fake rope, those clothes pins don’t really hurt, and if they do, she is enjoying it, and if she isn’t, then at least she agreed to it and if she didn’t completely agree to it then at least she’s getting paid. She tilts her face or has it tilted for her when someone ejaculates on her face, but something is wrong with her eyes; her head nods when it isn’t lifted. Because porn is created in an imaginary out-there land, I don’t know who these people are that I’m watching or where they come from. Am I looking at someone who will die of an overdose, or is already dead? As there is an increasing number of internet sites devoted to finding missing children, women and men around the country, people who were on their way to work, or were supposed to meet friends or family and just didn’t show up, people of all races, sexes and ages who just “disappear” in America every year, I wonder if the person I’m looking at is also someone being looked for by someone else.

If you listen carefully enough, their psychic screams can be heard through the screen, between the moans of pleasure, but I’m numb at this point, high on porn, and I can’t hear them. My porn hangover will be particularly intense this morning and I’ve probably ruined my day. I will walk away and I do not feel any responsibility for their horror, because I’m not a porn-maker. But porn-makers make porn for porn-watchers.

A friend and I discuss the number of crime shows on television – as she clicked from channel to channel in her hotel the other night, she watched women in body bags, on autopsy tables, outlined in chalk, running from killers, being felled by killers, screaming for help, begging for their lives. Some shows were based on real cases, others were dramas, and some were dramas based on real cases. “I counted and watched five women in a half-hour period being murdered in sadistic ways. If you just came here from another planet,” she observed, “and watched television in this country, you would think that our favorite pastime was the killing of women.”

Mothers, sisters and daughters don’t exist in porn. Men don’t imagine their girlfriends or wives raped by intruders on their favorite simulated rape sites. The man raping the woman in porn is never the man who raped your mother in college, the boy getting spanked for just $19.99 a month is not the boy you were who got his ass whipped by his dad for being suspended from school in the fifth grade. The woman who brings the drinks to the table in the topless club or the stripper on stage, whom businessmen pay thousands of dollars for a lap dance, is never your daughter trying to earn some fast money to stay in college. The boy getting fucked without a condom on our favorite barebacking site isn’t the kid we were at nineteen, infected by the man who didn’t bother to tell us he was HIV-positive because hey, we didn’t ask.

Sometimes just as you are sitting down to enjoy a nice funky little porn session, you click the window to browse and a pop-up appears on the screen, a link to something you didn’t invite or bargain for. There in front of you is a small child. Not a boy or girl of eighteen (because the sites disclaimer says all the models are of legal age) who happens to looks young for her age, but a child of six or nine or twelve. And it’s not enough just to say, well, she’s Indian, or Russian, or Asian, so it’s not the same as an American boy or girl being exploited; their cultural standards are different “over there” or “they are more liberated about sex than we are.” If you have any sensitivity, if you care at all, even if your care emerges only after you climax, then you might try to imagine a reality for that child. Is he in Idaho or Chechnya? Was it a neighbor who led him into a basement under false pretenses to have his picture taken, was it a trusted aunt, father, teacher, babysitter, cleric, or coach? Is this a child sold somewhere in the world, or kidnapped? Or is it a child forced out of their home because of family and sexual violence, homophobia, or addiction, a child who may be in porn because she needs money for a fix, who feels she has been doing “porn” for years anyway after having been objectified and incested by brothers, uncles, step-fathers and guardians meant to protect her? Is this child still alive? And if images like this come up so easily when you weren’t even searching for child porn, what could you find if you were?

Last month on the subway platform there was a poster advertising a new horror film that came out in March. The poster had an image of a woman lying down in terror, while a mummified hand pressed down on her head as if eventually to crush it. A lady passed by it with her kids, one was in a stroller, the other clutching her hand. The film is rated R, so I knew these kids would be unable to go to see this film without her, but evidently they were old enough to see this poster. As the train left the station, I saw the image repeated over and over again, plastered at nearly every stop, the same woman’s face, the same mummified hand.

The first hundred times I see the image I’m offended and feel queasy, but I notice after a few weeks I barely pause when I look at it, engrossed in conversation with a friend. The graphic violence just doesn’t register anymore and the poster has become little more than wallpaper now. I’ll forget about it anyway when another just like it replaces it next month.

Days later, a man is selling music on the street and I see the cover of Britney Spears’ 1999 debut album Baby One More Time. Britney sits on the ground in a relaxed cutesy little-girl pose against a pink ground, smiling into the camera. The body position suggests that of a child having just shown us a cartwheel or somersault. Recorded when she was seventeen, Britney is made to look about twelve years old; this is definitely pre-teen, time-for-recess porn. Britney is so happy to see us that she is oblivious to the fact that her skirt is hiked up around her waist. The innocent tilt of her head, the placement on her hands beside her legs create the image of a girl relaxing on the school playground. The camera angle means that we as viewers have no other way to view her except towering above her. It is clear, we are not another child enjoying Britney or a parent who has come to protect her, we are someone who has caught her playing alone. The dark shadow near her crotch suggests she may not be wearing panties, and her smile reassures that she won’t tell if she is violated because although she doesn’t realize it yet, she wants and is ready for sex.

Maybe one day we will be able to see the violent porn in our culture as images that put women and children at risk, images that would never be tolerated if they were directed at any racial or religious group. As in the case of propagandist Julius Streicher. publisher of the anti-Jewish newspaper Der Stürmer and convicted for his depiction of Jews in Nazi Germany, or the media executives found guilty of genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for the hateful editorials and broadcasts on Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) that led to the murders of Tutsi and moderate Hutus, we will see a connection between an artist’s hate speech, the effect it has on his public and fans, and its fatal consequences. In 2005, Christopher Duncan, 21, battered law student Jagdip Najran, 26 to death with an iron baseball bat (he claimed, after an argument) and stuffed her in a suitcase while she was still alive. Duncan was an obsessive Eminem fan down to his tattoos, and murdered Najran in the way that recalled Eminem’s “Stan” video. While it is difficult to say that Eminem bears any direct responsibility for this man’s crime, the consistently misogynist message in his lyrics, the theme throughout his work that “pushy, demanding” women (mothers, girlfriends, wives) who constantly get on men’s nerves deserve to be killed, has at least to be questioned.

(there is a loop in my brain that I can’t shut off, an unresolved image of a woman or a child being violently murdered, abused or violated. The only thing that will interrupt this underlying disturbance in my mind is identification with the child I was, which means opening myself up to feelings of horror and powerlessness that I haven’t allowed myself to experience for years. It’s not the sex in porn that devastates; it’s the underlying contempt, for women, for children, for human life. And because most of us refuse to feel the grief for the children we were who had to live through those terrifying, confusing experiences, because human cruelty is mystifying and sometimes can’t be explained or resolved, and because healing trauma takes courage, a great deal of time and the willingness to live with uncertainty, we find it easier to watch a woman or child being objectified and treated violently over and over again. We identify with the aggressor, re-traumatize ourselves, look for closure and relief that we’ll never find in the violent, pornographic images, and call it “entertainment.”)

Gay men are sitting at computers - typing, downloading, dreaming, fantasizing, lying, bargaining, cruising, rejecting each other brutally and jacking off bucketloads of semen in tiny rooms that keep get smaller and smaller - while a country is making laws about us, denying us our rights. Someone is counting on us to stay in those tiny rooms which, if the right law is passed or changed, will become, in an eye blink, our private jail cells and mental wards. (Abortion laws in South Dakota, anyone?) When you are locked in private rooms of quiet isolation, you don’t invite the neighbors over for dinner, you don’t talk to your friends or your partner about what hurts and shames you in your life, and you certainly don’t get angry enough to start a revolution. I want to turn off my computer, close that image that keeps me mesmerized, engaged, enslaved, numb. I know my porn is only grown-up thumb-sucking, a constant shopping in unavailable places for love: “Excuse me, Sir, would you like your intimacy in paper or plastic?” It never really is about sex, or naked people, anyway, it’s about being treated with dignity, respect, and feeling as if you belong, which as a gay man I haven’t always known. But if I turn off this porn, I must ask this, my good friend: how do I deal with a past which sometimes feels intolerable, how do I deal with how alone I feel in this moment, how do I cope with all this pain I’m in right now? I will give up my porn addiction first thing tomorrow, I promise you. I just need one more download to get me through tonight.

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