From: Tim Evanson <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I finished Scott O'Hara's autobiography, "Autopornography," last night.
I'm not sure what to make of the book.
First, the structure of the book: It's not very linear at all. It's mostly short stories about events that have happened to him, or essays on themes in his life. Chapters jump ahead and deal with subjects that need context,but that context is missing because that context is in a forthcoming chapter. It's very disconcerting. O'Hara even felt compelled to provide a TIMELINE as appendix! How odd. I appreciate the timeline, of course, even if it does leave out a LOT of events he finds important and which he covers inhis chapters.
What galled me was that O'Hara uses this non-linearity to kind of cheat his readers. For instance, O'Hara tells us that he had 4 great lovers in his life. Okay... News to me. He devotes a small chapter to them. Yet, it's hard for the reader to remember where O'Hara was in his life at the timeof each lover, hard to recall what O'Hara was doing, etc. God, O'Hara almost forced me to TAKE FUCKING NOTES! I wanted to several times, just to get things right! Grrr! It really takes away from a lot of the impact of what O'Hara says, and makes it hard for the reader to understand why O'Hara does what he did.
Now, about the content: I find that O'Hara contradicts himself numerous times. He says his first sexual experiences were at age 15 with his older lesbian sister's gay boyfriend. Uh, but then he describes sucking off another boy in the 2nd Grade (age 8???? Wow!). Maybe O'Hara doesn't consider that child's play sex. But I think it counts. Ditto with his HIV stuff. He says at one point that he was probably infected around 1985, yet later he he says he felt sick and was getting odd diseases as early as 1981 and in retrospect it was probably HIV.
Worrisome as well is O'Hara's cavalier attitude toward HIV. O'Hara is usually lauded as a guy with the "guts to speak the truth about HIV." I have always found him opinionated and lacking fact to back it up. For example, late in the book he says he fucks without a condom these days when he knows the other guy is a "Positive." He dismisses medical evidence of re-infection and its problems as quackery. Yes, quackery. At times, O'Hara recognizes his own hypocrisy: When he had lymphoma, he went to the doctor and let the people he so derides heal him. When those same people warn him about re-infection, he scoffs without any evidence whatsoever. It's almost as if O'Hara unconsciously believes in the most egregious myths about science and medicine (that it's free from politics, that it's omnipotent, that it is omniscient, etc.) and then knocks down these straw men. I find that disingenuous.
O'Hara's opinions about HIV almost seem hypocritical in other ways. For example, he says that he knew about HIV by about 1983, but continued to fuck without a condom (in his private life as well as on screen) until 1991 or so. HUH? You know, back in January many posters to RAME spewed venom and hatred on the gay porn studios for not imposing a condoms-only regime until 1988 or so. I wonder what people will think when they realize that O'Hara blatantly disregarded his own information, and probably spent his entire career HIV+ and infecting guys on screen. (Well, I know I'm probably putting it harshly, yet O'Hara has used the same imagery himself.)
I'm also a little confused and suspicious of O'Hara's refusal to come right out and admit that his parents were EXTREMELY WEALTHY, wealthy enough so that his parents never had to hold down jobs. In fact, he does not tellus that he himself was given a HUGE amount of money by his parents. We know he was; as early as 1985 he shelled out $10,000 to a friend to finish Scott's first gay porn flick, "California Blue." Now, I'm sure jobless porn stars just have $10,000 lying around. (Look at his own timeline; he's only stripping at Savages earning about $100+ in pay 3-5 times a night.) O'Hara buys cars, motorcycles, and homes seemingly at random in his book, with no indication where the cash was coming from. He doesn't seem to hold downany jobs. O'Hara often paints himself as this rural hick with a total innocence about himself. He paints himself as a small-town boy with a naivete about sex that led him into early self-discovery. BULLSHIT. He was a rich kid whose parents could afford to ensconce themselves in a rural hideaway, and a rich man who travelled with his family to France when he was 16 and financed a bicycle trip around the country lasting 6 months and who a month later (after paying for college) bought a motorcycle (and toured the Eastern seaboard only six months after that).
I have nothing against his wealth. But it's such an important factor in O'Hara's life--freeing him for the adventures that he has--that I wish he had talked about it. I couldn't read Greg Louganis' biography without being reminded often of the lifestyle he'd led while a kid (poor, unable to take advantage of many opportunities, etc.). I couldn't read Paul Monette's "Becoming a Man" without being similarly reminded of the social, economic, and educational life Monette came from and which shaped his emotional development for much of the rest of his life. While O'Hara talks extensively about his family's emotional life, he is nearly silent on their socio-economic status--a status which often forms the basis against which people act and react. It's clear O'Hara took much advantage of this in his life. I just wish he'd talked about how this helped him become the sexual explorer he did.
I also was sadly disappointed that O'Hara didn't mention one thing about "Steam" magazine and his role in it. He mentioned nothing about why he wanted to create it, nothing about the troubles he had at first, nothing about its great success, nothing about his mis-adventure publishing a glossy color sex magazine and the bankruptcy it drove "Steam" into. DANG! Here is one of the great writing and sex and gay fiction stories of the 1990s--and O'Hara ignores it completely.
It's not the only thing O'Hara ignores. Repeatedly, he gives short shrift to many tales, adventures, and stories. His decision to move to Wisconsin is not described in any depth, although his move there sort of is. His decision to LEAVE Wisconsin is not described or addressed AT ALL, only that he came back to SF. He talks about a trip he made cross-country on a motorcycle at age 19--and describes almost nothing. His many trips around the world are mentioned, but not described. It kind of left me shocked, pissed off, dismissive of him, and frustrated. The "devil's in the details", but O'Hara ignores much of the details in his life. Where he stays, who he has sex with, how he manages, who he meets, the places he saw that impressed him (non-sexually)...ALL of this is largely missing. Yet, it provides clues to the Scott O'Hara who is NOT a porn star, who is NOT concerned only with exploring his sex life, who is NOT an idiot but a man interested in culture and music and literature and photography and art.
I have to say, I normally dislike O'Hara intensely. He comes off as an opinionated asshole in his other writings I'm acquainted with. He has few facts at his command, only opinions...at least for the most part. And he is so absolutist and judgmental about most things and people that I am shocked by his brazenness. Yet, in this book, I found that by the middle (as he began to talk about gay porn) I kind of liked him. His writing style, normally stream-of-consciousness, is far more structured and readable inthe book, and he tries to make points. That style really grew on me. (True, he still has a tendency to end one paragraph and start another with absolutely NO relationship to what came in the preceding one.) But by the final few chapters, when he starts talking about HIV, I loathed him again. His writing style becomes less coherent, less pointed, more rambling. It's also when O'Hara becomes almost totally opinionated (instead of being a storyteller). His total dismissal of doctors and medicine, his refusal to reflect on why he's stayed healthy and others have died quickly, and his off-handed rejection of re-infection made my jaw drop open again. And then---the book ends. No conclusion. No finale. No afterward. No plans for the future. No retrospective. Huh.
But for me the biggest problem of the book is that O'Hara really never talks about his feelings much. He says things like, "I'm just not a relationship kind of guy, I think relationshp are not natural." And that's it. No sense of how deeply he felt the love, no reflection on why relationships "must" become boring" after 2-3 years (yes, he says that's why he broke up with each guy), no sense of why he fell OUT of love, no sense of how he fell IN love, etc. In another example: O'Hara repeatedly says that he refused to get tested for HIV although he was sure he had it. What were the thoughts which led to this decision? Was the decision motivated by fear? Or a refusal to acknowledge mortality? Or a need to continue expressing his sexuality? We get no clue. O'Hara simply states the fact, and that's it. In a few cases, he says "I was afraid" or "I already was so sure, what did it matter?" But these simple, single-sentence statements don't explore Scott O'Hara the human being. This is a common habit of O'Hara's, and it made me realize that O'Hara's book is not about Scott O'Hara, but about what Scott thinks. It's not about feelings, it's about Scott proving his points. It's not a biography of Scott O'Hara the human being, it's about Scott O'Hara the sexual person and the things which affected this sexual person (with no description of what affected any other part of him).
In the end, that's what disappointed me about the book. O'Hara is evidently learned about art, literature, music... But where is this described? He tells of going to the Stratford Festival in Canada--and then ignores his love of theater in order to focus exclusively on the sex he had and the people he had sex with. He goes to Australia when he's 27 and spends 8 months there cycling around the country (5 of them in Sydney alone). Doing what? Of that entire huge trip (which for anyone else would constitute a major adventure with many non-sexual thrills and tremendous intellectualand emotional introspection, change, and growth), O'Hara mentions almost nothing except the few sex episodes that really stand out.
I wish Scott had been more forthcoming. Greg Louganis' biography is pretty pathetic. It's really a hack job, with little good prose or insight in it. Yet, we get a fairly decent grip on what makes Greg Louganis tick. I'm not sure that we do with Scott O'Hara. We know what makes Scott the sex-pig tick. But that's only part of him. O'Hara himself says he integrates his sexuality into the rest of his life; his personality is a unified whole. If so, then in this biography he performs schizophrenic emotional surgery and separates out only the sexual part--and puts it on display. If only he'd shown us the rest...
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, I'd rate the book a 7.5. In comparison, Louganis' is probably a 4, and Monette's a 9.5.
Scott O'Hara. "Autopornography: A Memoir of Life in the Lust Lane." New York: Harrington Park Press (Haworth Press), 1997. 210 pages. $14.95 softcover. ISBN: 1-56023-898-4. $29.95 hardcover. ISBN: 0-7890-0144-6.