Amy Andre

There Is No Closet: Learning about Queer Sexuality from 'Straight' Porn

Filed By Amy Andre | November 30, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media
Tags: bisexuality, closet cases, James Deen, porn stars, pornography, straight men, straight porn

Today I'm thinking about the way recent attention to porn for straight men relates to the idea that "the closet" is a myth.

James Deen is a successful porn performer who makes porn featuring him having sex with women, aka straight porn. James_Deen.jpgMuch has been made of the fact that Deen is conventionally attractive, especially in comparison to most of his male peers. They typically have big muscles, spray tans, and big hair, a la the men on the cover of romance novels; in contrast, he is slim with short hair, a la the boy next door. There is even an argument that his success has been in spite of his looks.

That argument goes this way: "Women like to look at him, but men don't. Men buy most of the porn out there, so what they like is what sells. But the fact that he is popular is 'proof' that women are buying more porn than they have in the past, because, otherwise, what could explain it? Men who buy male-female porn would not be interested in buying porn featuring an attractive man. When they watch porn featuring men and women having sex, they only want to see beautiful women, and what the men look like is irrelevant and/or the men should not be attractive. Either that or the men in straight porn should not be attractive to the straight male customers, because otherwise the male viewers might get upset about being attracted to them, because straight men all have internalized homophobia issues, and those issues override any enjoyment they would get out of looking at men they find hot." Seriously?

I think this line of thinking completely misses the boat, by suggesting that (a.) Deen only appeals to women, and that (b.) most men in porn are "unattractive" because then the male audience won't get distracted by their looks or distracted by being too "into" the men. BS. I believe that producers of "straight" porn have had a clear sense of what their target audience - straight-identified men - wants to see, and they make careful, calculated business decisions based on that institutional knowledge. Porn is a multi-billion-dollar industry, and industries don't grow to that level of financial success without a great deal of market savvy about their customers.

I doubt the industry is only taking into account how the customers want the women in male-female porn to look. Male porn performers look the way they do because porn is usually made with a male audience in mind, and these men fit the stereotype of who the porn industry thinks male porn buyers want to see. Otherwise, if straight men truly didn't want to be distracted by seeing a man in a film (either because they don't find men attractive, or because, uh-oh, they do, and can't handle their own attraction to guys!), straight men wouldn't watch any porn with men in it.

But, in fact, straight men watch straight porn more than any other type of porn.

This doesn't mean that the straight-identified men watching male-female porn are "secretly" bi. There is no secret. There is no closet. There is only the language we use to describe ourselves to ourselves and others, to create a sense of sexual intelligibility.

Maybe what's really happening is that straight-identified men like looking at other men, and are okay with that, and the porn industry knows that, and is okay with that - and is now learning a little more about the kind of men straight men like to watch.

What Deen's success tells me is that straight-identified men watching male-female porn are enjoying the opportunity to watch a stereotypically cute guy hook up with gorgeous women. Whether this is because they want to identify with him - and imagine themselves attracting such beautiful women - or because they erotically enjoy looking at him - the way they enjoy looking at the women he's with - the message that his success should be sending to the porn producers (or the journalists writing about them) is not that women are buying more porn, but that male customers are asking for more diversity among the male stars.

I'm not saying that women don't buy porn, or that women aren't buying more porn than they used to - or even that women don't like the looks of the more typical male performers. After all, romance novels, which are usually bought by women, are popular for a reason. And often that reason is the fact that the cover image of the Fabio-look-alike guy sells! But what I am saying is that, just because porn is described as "straight" and just because the guys who watch it may (or may not) identify as straight, that doesn't mean that those male customers don't like looking at hot guys. A man can be as straight as an arrow, in terms of consistency of using the term "straight" to identify himself, and still enjoy watching another man sexually.

In other words, like human sexuality, the reason behind the phenomenal sales figures of Deen's films is multi-faceted and has a lot of nuance. These sales figures tell us that there is a complex relationship between sexual desire, sexual identity, gender, lookism, and, of course, money. But they don't tell us that women are spending more on his films - or that straight men who like his work are "in the closet."

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