Attached is a copy of the article "Porn Again: Life After Skinflicks," an article on post-porn success stories which appears in the July, 1997 issue of the gay lifestyle magazine "OUT". The article is by Eric Gutierrez, a staff writer with a few other credits to his name.
While the article is important in that is brings gay porn "out of the closet" for (I think) the first time in a gay lifestyles magazine, I found the article to be more than a tad "cheerleading" and somewhat inaccurate. I also found that it ignored a fair number of other success stories as well.
Anyway, here it is.
"Porn Again: Life After Skinflicks," by Eric Gutierrez. "Art & Commerce" column. "OUT" magazine, July, 1997, pp. 64-68, 105.
"Can a former triple-X actor build an A-list career without hiding his past?"
The ER is swamped, and the handsome 44-year-old resident physician has been on call for more than 10 hours. A quick scrub, a swig of coffee, and he's back in action, checking vitals, meds, and symptoms of a man on a gurney, ravaged by a variety of AIDS-related illnesses. What he doesn't notice is that the patient is also examining him, checking out his well-built body and steely blue eyes. The patient can't take his eyes off the doctor.
"Then he called me by my porn name," says the doctor, the former Mark West, star of BLOW ME DOWN and SEX STAR INTERACTIVE. "For the first few seconds, it was uncomfortable, then just plain comical. We were both laughing. He wanted to ask me questions about the movies, but it was extremely busy with nurses coming and going."
>From our doctors to our MTV jockeys, former stars of gay male pornography are cropping up everywhere, and many of them don't care who knows it--or at least, like Dr. West, have no trouble moving ahead in new careers even if their past peeks through now and again. Now that American society routinely forgives divorce, adultery, alcoholism, even criminal acts (think Oliver North or Marion Barry, for example), has gay porn become the latest taboo of polite society to become normalized?
The short answer, as former physical education teacher and coach Jeffrey Dion Bruton can tell you, is, not really. Also known as porn star Ty Fox, the Virginia middle school teacher lost his teaching credentials and his job over his X-rated moonlighting (see sidebar). But Bruton's story is no longer the only possible future for porn actors who go legit. Depending on the field they choose and how they spin their past, a triple-X resume is no longer the kiss of death for an A-plus career. Not surprisingly, the apparent rules for evading or even building on a porn background resemble the rules for achieving mainstream success as a gay entertainer: 1) Pick a field that's relatively immune to puritan morality--music is excellent, acting variable; highly skilled behind-the-scenes professions are good, supervising kids not. 2) Pick a place where homosexuality is more generally accepted--sinful cities are great, Virginia not. And 3) Always be one step ahead of your press--if you're open about your past (or at least don't try to hide from it), people are less likely to use it against you.
"As long as you're not going to run for office or teach children, you shouldn't have any problems," declares Chris Green, lead singer and songwriter for L.A. band the Johnny Depp Clones and star of the triple-X COURTING LIBIDO. "I'm in rock 'n' roll. Doing porn doesn't hurt me at all."
These days, veterans of straight erotica qualify more as curiosities than as scandal. For years, Traci Lords has been trying to build her acting and music career on the bedrock of her notoriety as a former underage porn actress. Even some superstars have dabbled in sleaze: The soft-core sexploits of Sylvester Stallone and Madonna even made "Entertainment Tonight" a few years ago.
Gay porn's leading graduate to date may be Simon Rex, 21, until recently one of MTV's best known VJs and host of "MTV'S Most Wanted." His story illustrates how the right choices can make all the difference, and points up the thin lines between porn as scandal, as news, or merely as colorful biographical detail. At age 19, Rex, under the nom de porn Sebastian, masturbated in three solo videos aimed at the gay market. When the tapes came to light in April, 1996, "Newsweek," "New York" magazine, "The Village Voice," and television's "Hard Copy" all did pieces on MTV's handsome court jester and his porn past. The Internet carried his seminude photos. Not since Brad Pitt's bare balcony promenade had there been such a flurry of downloading.
Rex has never attempted to deny or repudiate his past--he simply declines to talk about it. And while gay-baiting visitors to the chat room on MTV's Web site occasionally flare over Rex's X-rated videos, they are usually told to get lost by others in the room. In the words of one online female fan, "Who cares? He's gorgeous!"
"Young people's attitudes are different," explains Jon Murray, the gay co-creator and producer of two of MTV's most successful programs, "The Real World" and "Road Rules." "Besides, my guess as a producer is that it's the people putting up the money who have more misgivings than those watching." In fact, there are those who believe that MTV, with its carefully cultivated image as the rebel network, didn't mind the notoriety; it definitely qualifies under Rules 1 and 2. Although the channel took Rex off the air at the end of March, it was for reasons of programming, not punishment; caught in MTV's overhaul of its entire schedule, Rex left with a sweet development deal.
It's important to note the fact that Rex's videos were solo affairs with no man-to-man contact, allowing him to escape with his hetero credentials and bad-boy persona intact. Contrast Rex's experience with that of Jeff Griggs, once an actor on NBC's "Days of Our Lives." In March 1996, six months after Griggs came on as Jude St. Clair, the tabloid press made the connection between Griggs and Tony Sinatra, the name under which Griggs appeared in hard-core gay videos such as HOLE IN ONE and SECRET BOYS CLUB. Griggs' contract expired when his character was killed off (as NBC notes had always been planned), and he left the soap--without significant success thereafter. The message was clear: Real man-to-man pornography is still a little too much for middle American to swallow.
"Sylvester Stallone has a porno past but a gay porn past is different," says actor Michael Kearns, who starred in the hard-core gay classic L.A. TOOL AND DIE and later appeared on "Cheers." "It's a question of sucking dick. Being openly gay you can go further today than five years ago, but I'm still not sure you can get to the absolute top."
In search of former gay porn performers who have found a place in the more legitimate spotlight, sex industry boosters point to Tommy Chandler (THE BIGGER THE BETTER 2, THE STROKE), who appeared on the short-lived television game show "Caesar's Challenge" as a Vanna White-style spokesmodel in gladiator drag. They tout former porn/drag performer Karen Dior, who had a featured role on the syndicated "Xena: Warrior Princess," will appear in this summer's Richard Chamberlain movie, A RIVER MADE TO DROWN IN, and has done several TV commercials. And there's also Johnny Hanson, who, in the tradition of Traci Lords, used his porn notoriety as a stepping stone to a fledgling music career, including a decent review in "Billboard" for his dance single. All fine examples, and all working on the fringes of the entertainment industry. All within the rules.
Some current and former gay video actors are actually exploiting their sex stardom, capitalizing on their porn identity to heighten their profile in other fields. Take, for example, the panoply of porn royalty who have been paraded through the off-Broadway production of "Making Porn," now in the second year of its New York run, after six months in Los Angeles in 1995 and 1996. Technically, they're legitimate actors now.
Or take Aiden Shaw, novelist. Revered enough in the porn world to have his own "Best of" compilation video, Shaw, 31, received a great deal of attention in his native England last year as the author of BRUTAL, a raw fictionalized account of a painful drugged crawl through the London club scene. The author, boasts the book jacket, "made a living as a prostitute, also starring in hard-core pornographic films in California." "I've got things to say," Shaw says, the words tumbling freely. "If exploiting my big dick gets someone to listen to what I have to say, I'm willing. It's not about the fact I've done porn or been a prostitute or even written a book. It's about saying as much as I can, being as much as I can, feeling as much as I can."
Similarly unrepentant is Kearns, who says he knew exactly what he was doing when he made L.A. TOOL AND DIE in 1981. "In the long line of things that keep me from getting work [as an actor], cocksucking on tape is way down there," he says, rolling his eyes. "My vociferous hatred of Hollywood homophobia has been more of an obstacle than my porn movie. All the movie did is make it forever certain I'd never go back in the closet." In fact, Kearns' career picked up in the '80s with guest turns on "Cheers" and other hit shows, and a recurring role more recently as a gay man with AIDS on "Beverly Hills 90210."
But outside of the entertainment business--and its coastal hubs--the level of tolerance remains much lower. Kearns' TOOL pride might have played out very differently had he been a middle manager in Mayberry rather than a character actor in Tinseltown. "If Ty Fox lived in L.A., I don't think the school board would have responded the way it did," speculates Sabin, the one-name-only publisher of "The Gay Video Guide." "But in any profession dealing with children, you're asking for trouble. In regular professions it doesn't matter as much. I know mortgage bankers and realtors who are known to have done porn, and it's not a problem."
Maybe retired porn performers just looking for a decent job and a good dental plan have less to worry about. But case studies are hard to find, since most would like to keep their past behind them. Including Mark West. "Medicine is highly competitive," says the doctor in a barely audible rumble, explaining why he has asked that his real name, medical specialty, and hospital not be mentioned. "Someone could possibly use this against me. People will spread damaging information if they thought it could help them somehow."
That's exactly what happened to Steve Schulte. At one time an aide to Los Angeles city councilmember Peggy Stevenson, Schulte had also done a stint as Colt model Nick Chase in 1978 and 1979. When Schulte ran for reelection to the West Hollywood city council in 1986, he recalls, "another gay candidate sent a mailer of two photos, one of me in a tie, another of me totally nude with a black box in the appropriate place. The caption read, 'Which Steve Schulte are you voting for?' " Nevertheless, against the odds, Schulte won the election and went on to become mayor of West Hollywood.
Even in America's first "gay city," it wasn't easy, Schulte says. "I was intellectually prepared but emotionally naive. I wanted to be in public service and not run away from myself or my past, but I wasn't ready for it to be the focus of things. The 'L.A. Times' did a piece headlined 'Former Gay Model Contemplates Council Run.' I died 13 deaths that night waiting for that article to come out." Still, Schulte, now a public health professional in Pasadena, California, believes that if the rules of elective politics can be broken once, even if only in a "special place" like West Hollywood (see Rule 2), they can be broken for good.
One young man determined to break some barriers is Adam Wilde, Gay Erotic Video Award winner in 1996 as Best Bottom, who has a 3.5 GPA at Ohio State University, where he's pursuing a master's degree and his dream of becoming a high school or college coach and PE teacher. Insisting he's unfazed by Ty Fox's experience, Wilde's withholding his real name from print is his sole concession for the sake of his future career.
"I don't worry about it at all," he claims. "Having been in the military, I know how to separate my professional from my personal life. I know what's appropriate around high school kids and what society accepts. If someone wants to be evil and get me fired, I'll deal with it then. That's why there's a legal system, to fight discrimination, and I'm one of those types who would sue if I was fired for no other reason than having been a porn star."
Schulte agrees that confronting the truth openly is the way to avoid long-term professional problems while actually renegotiating the social contract. "I think the public is more willing to accept you on the merits of the job--not totally, but more and more," he says. To avoid Ty Fox's fate, Schulte offers a simple strategy: "In politics as in real life, the only way to deal with something uncomfortable, indelicate, or tragic is to be up front and move on. If not, you lose."
In America more than any other nation, you are what you do, and you can always expect someone to ask or find out about it. But maybe Americans are starting to grow up when it comes to distinguishing between personal or past behavior and professional performance. The people we've made our presidents and our movie stars say a lot on that count. And the post-porn success stories believe that now that they have their foot in the door to respectability it won't ever be entirely shut again. "Look at the number of gay professionals who've come out in the past 10 years," says Schulte. "Just 10 or 15 years ago, being gay was the kiss of death professionally, just like porn is thought to be today. Times have changed. Lots of people aren't so quick to typecast anyone who ever took off their clothes in front of a camera."