For those that don’t know, the term ‘gay-for-pay’ refers to men who identify themselves as straight yet star in gay porn films. But why do these men choose to have gay sex if they are straight, and how straight can they really be?

The subject, which has come to the fore again thanks to a recent and much-discussed The Tyra Banks Show episode, which featured a number of gay-for-pay performers talking about their work, is swathed in controversy. And at the core of the debate lie issues of homophobia and gay self-loathing.

For many gay men the fantasy of having sex with a straight man has played a role in fuelling the gay-for-pay phenomenon. This has resulted in an entire genre of “straight-guy” gay porn coming into being in the 1990’s, more recently represented by the men of Active Duty and Sean Cody, and many of the ‘twinks’ of Bel Ami.

To cash in on this trend some of the studs that are hyped up as being straight are often far from it. In certain cases the gay-for-pay phenomenon is simply marketing hype: in order to turn us on, some gay porn actors have been sold to us as being straight.

But there is also no doubt that there are indeed a group of male performers in the gay adult film industry that sincerely identify themselves as straight. In the 1990’s most of these actors – the names Ryan Idol and Jeff Stryker come to mind as examples – made their heterosexuality clear by never, or very rarely, taking on a passive role in the films.

Their logic seems to be that if you receive oral sex or do the anal penetration as a ‘top’, then you aren’t really gay. It’s a bizarre way of looking at things – and it’s steeped in homophobic notions of masculine heterosexual power and control.

In recent years however, a younger generation of gay-for-pay actors seem to have fewer boundaries with many merrily swapping passive and active roles in front of the camera. Yet, they still insist they are very much straight; some even parading wives and children as proof.

So why do they do it? The rationale varies, but some point to the economic reality that male performers earn considerably more in gay porn than in straight porn (where women tend to draw the big bucks). The gay porn industry is also easier to break into and, unlike in the straight world, male actors in gay porn actually become recognised and adored stars.

“Porn is porn, honestly,” said Kurt Wild (who has appeared in films such as Young Guns, Just the Sex and Splish Splash) when asked on The Tyra Banks Show how he reconciled his gay film work with his straight identity.

He went on to explain that the way he arouses himself when making a film is by thinking about his (gay) fans watching him and knowing that he is performing as best he can for them – and not by his partner in the film. It seems that for exhibitionists like Kurt, the most important factor is to have an audience; any audience.

Gay-for-pay actors also use erection-boosting drugs like Viagra to assist them in their performance as well as watching straight porn on set to turn them on. Another gay-for-pay star, Aaron James, explained to Tyra’s audience that he makes video clips of himself having sex with his wife on his camera phone which he takes to work to watch in order to get aroused before shooting a scene.

…they struggle to explain their choices within the confines of “gay” or “straight”.

Interestingly many gay men are increasingly turned off by the gay-for-pay phenomenon; seeing it as insulting to their identity and community. They see these performers as financially exploiting the gay community but then refusing to be seen to be part of it.

A recent online video clip which featured gay-for-pay performer Pat Bateman having sex, doggie style, with another actor, Marc Stone, while looking down at a clearly visible straight porn magazine resting on Stone’s back raised the hackles of many.

The implication is that Bateman has no sexual interest in another man other than as an orifice standing in for a woman. While many might find this humorous and even exciting to watch, others, judging by comments on blogs and forums online, are outraged and insulted.

In response to the video, gay porn actor Tre Xavier blasted producers who “recruit” gay-for-pay performers:

“If viewers make enough noise about their anger towards this as they have here, maybe these producers will hire some gay or bi MEN. I emphasize MEN, because a real man is secure enough to admit that he is gay or bi, instead of the bullshit ‘I’m straight, but I find gay sex fun, too.’ If these guys find gay sex fun as well, then they should stop being wimpy bitches and admit to being bi,” he wrote on his blog.

He went on to add: “…viewers shouldn’t be making noise over the fact of how [Bateman is] simply doing it for the money was put so blatantly in their faces. They should be making noise over how the “GAY-FOR-PAY” GENRE SHOULDN’T EXIST AT ALL. This genre is a clear display of self-loathing and hetero-phobia.”

Many will ask whether the fact that these performers have sex with men doesn’t at the very least make them bisexual. While some of these actors might well be bisexual or even gay, (but not comfortable coming out as such while enjoying the benefits of gay sex), others really appear to be entirely heterosexual in their private lives and only ever seem to have gay sex for money.

Although much of the gay-for-pay phenomenon points to a sense of dread of the label of ‘homosexuality’ it also speaks to the growing realisation that the neat terms of ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ are very limited in describing human sexuality.

In order to grapple with these contradictions, people that work in the field of sexual health have coined the term “men who have sex with men” (MSM) to describe those men who engage in gay sex but don’t see themselves as gay. The concept is that being gay is not only dependent on who you have sex with but also how you choose to identify yourself.

Watching the actors talk to Tyra Banks about their gay-for-pay experiences, it seems clear that they struggle to explain their choices within the confines of “gay” or “straight”. The contradictions in their arguments indicate that they themselves are unclear about their motivations or even how to really define their sexuality.

As society generally becomes more comfortable with gays and lesbians we can expect people who don’t fit into the traditional definitions of sexual identity to come to the fore; which may very well be the case with some of these “straight” men who bare all for our entertainment.

The fact that young male porn actors who identify as straight don’t see having sex with men as such a big deal, could be seen as a step forward for all of us – at least in terms of acknowledging a certain fluidity in sexual behaviour. But there’s also no doubt that in the adult film business, the gay-for-pay phenomenon still reflects the ongoing homophobia in society and within some of the performers themselves.

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