You've probably heard this once or twice before, but we've been freelancing at Fleshbot—one of the fine, Gawker online publications—for about a month. Granted, it's not our usual genre, but since our background is news we approach writing about sex in the same manner as we would a news report: Creative, flexible, meet deadlines and thoroughly investigate leads. So when researching a post last week, we came across photos and video of a porn star (well, they're all stars, right?) that we personally knew from the city. "Jason" immediately stood out for two reasons. The first, he's a stunning man to behold. The second: He's marketed exclusively as a "top" by NYC-based blatino videos and layouts ...
Is there an unspoken taboo against black men as passive partners in sexual relations with whites ... and are we mistakenly holding porn to that litmus test?
Certainly the perceptions of masculinity and sex-roles are much stronger among black and Latin gay men than their white counterparts. The machismo culture is firmly entrenched across Latin America and the Mediterranean ... from the traditional, patriarchal family unit to the long-standing practice of "strong-man", authoritarian, non-democratic leadership, which only now is beginning to change.
The trappings of masculinity are also highly valued within the black community. Many heterosexuals consider homosexuality a threat; anecdotal and statistical evidence show that this may be even more common within our community. Minorities tend to internalize the stigma practiced upon them—for instance, the African-American or Latin fascination with light skin and "good " hair, or calling each other the N-word—so the evolutionary trend among black gay/sgl men has been to gravitate toward hyper-masculinity. Keith Boykin in the current edition of Vibe Online:
Since the 90’s I’ve seen a lot more black men who are gay or bi-sexual who identify with hip hop variations of masculinity. It affects the way we see ourselves, and we’ve constructed narrow definitions of masculinity, which are fine for people who fit into it but not for people who don’t fit into it.
Those "narrow definitions" are most vividly expressed in perceived sex roles; from the historic fascination with the black "Mandingo" to our own history of oppression, black gay/sgl culture attaches an extreme premium to the active, "top" role because of its perceived connection to power. Within our community, attitudes appear to shift on inter-racial relationships and sex—specifically, with whites. But the unspoken agreement is that black men will assert the active role; black men who "bottom" for white men are frowned upon and are awarded a less prestigious role on the social ladder.
A few weeks ago, we were bar-hopping and clubbing with several friends. Here's the scene: First, take another look at us. Okay, we're at Crobar (not as fun as the Chicago or Miami versions, but still a hot party), it's prime time—seven or eight am—and we're loving the moment. Punking out to Victor Calderone, drenched, shirtless and wearing camouflage pants and combat boots. That's about it. (Hey, we gotta use it 'fore we lose it.) Someone feels on our back and rubs against our butt. No biggie, right? We're only partying with a few thousand other shirtless men. But it happens again, this time more direct. Turn around and there's an older, dark-haired, circuit-type with blonde highlights and green eyes, day glo stick and pastel Izod polo shirt. "I want to give you a compliment," he said. "Every time I see a big, tall muscular black man ... " Okay, we knew what was coming next. Here it was: "I just want to bend you over and ..."
STOP. REWIND. Say what? True, it was just a club and just a comment—and who knows which alphabet cocktail (E, G, X, etc) he was enjoying that evening. But we were offended by the remark, frowned and proceeded to salvage what remained of our alleged masculinity by immediately shooting game to the go-go gods.
What exactly did he say that was so offensive? In all honesty, it's nothing that we haven't said—admittedly, a brotha has a little mo' game than that—but what was the insult? The fact that what he wanted was not within the realm of sexual possibilities? Would it have been more acceptable if he were black? Was it the weak intro? Or did the blonde highlights, polo and Izod shirt destroy any concept of how a "top" should market himself?
Probably all of those factors—especially the highlights and glo stick—contributed to the disgust. But the bottom line is, our social contract dictates that there are certain roles black men will or should perform behind closed doors when in an inter-racial relationship. Several of my friends have white BFs or will date white men; each vehemently says that they will never bottom. "I can't do that," Allen, a postal worker, insists. "That's too much like slavery." Demar, an HIV counselor, agrees and adopts a quasi-Marxist concept toward bedroom politics: "There's a history of rape and colonialism. I'd feel like they're raping my body just like their imperialism raped Africa."
If you're laughing at Demar's pseudo-intellectualization of bedroom politics, good; because we shouldn't be doing the same to pornography, which obviously is staged and there is a profit motive.
Let's be honest: the broad sexual spectrum should suggest that there are men willing to experiment within a wide realm of possibilities. Pornography reflects culture, so the fewer gay inter-racial titles usually show black men in the more active role. But some studios (and actors) have made a niche for themselves doing just the opposite. Certainly they're fulfilling a demand and doing no more than what goes on behind close doors. Let's be realistic: There's no point in holding pornography to a higher standard than much other creative media. Pure and simple, it's fantasy and the consumers want that.
But fantasies derive from reality and the consumer base will bring its own bias. Black, gay audiences appear unwilling to accept versatile porn stars who consistently bottom for whites. Top name, white straight porn stars (female) routinely do not have on-screen sex with black men; the thought is, they will lose their caché. It's pretty much the same with gay porn; the top San Fernando valley studios are reluctant to integrate casts. When they do, the black actors rarely are paired with big stars or make comparable money. "If I were white, I could make another thousand pr scene, easily," Ty Lattimore said in his February interview at our old blog, Brotha2Brotha.
Before you jump to comments and say, "Well, what about Matthew Rush?", he's the big exception. Greg .. err, Matthew ... may be part-black, but with his skin color, eyes and hair, he's able to pass; the studios don't market him as black so his on-screen identity is not black, per se. Within that context, Jason's strategy makes perfect economic sense: Make as much as you can marketing yourself to black audiences and create another, versatile persona with the white studios which have deeper pockets. The other day we once again caught up with Ty and asked him about Jason and other black porn stars who bottom on-screen for whites:
Some porn stars happen to be bottoms and some black guys are into white men. Some are doing it to be paid. More power to them.
"Power" is certainly a great choice of words. One could even argue that strippers and porn actors are the ultimate power-wielders in the sexual arena. After all, they're brazenly doing what many of us wished that we could ... and we're paying for the privilege to watch our fantasies realized via proxy. "What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn't sex but death," said one of our nation's greatest essayist, the late and brilliant Susan Sontag. How true; you're temporarily killing your own inhibitions and living vicariously through another.