How porn made it happy and gay
By now many of you must have seen the new TV advertisements on the new-look Hindustan Times. They’re cool – and this one is my favourite.
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To use a cliché — yes we have come a long way.
Is it only me, or does everybody feel that suddenly things are moving rapidly. I mean after decades and decades of refusing to accept homosexuality, there is spurt of change. Of course it all started with that momentous decision of the High Court on Article 377 (please read that judgement – it is a piece of art) – but is now quickly followed by the government’s decision not to challenge it in the Supreme Court.
That isn’t all. Now the Health Ministry is going to start an awareness campaign on gay issues! It would seem that finally Ghulam Nabi Azad – besides suffering from foot-in-the-mouth disease – is finally getting some sensible work done. Just think, one year ago, all this would have been simply unthinkable.
What has brought about this change in ourselves…how have we suddenly come to terms and become comfortable with an alternate sexuality? Of course, there are a huge number of factors that have contributed to this change. But what would you say if I told you that gay porn has played a major role in establishing a gay identity and changing sexual styles. This is the main argument of a book titled “Bigger than Life” written by Jeffrey Escoffier that I’d read recently.
Escoffier, a noted gay intellectual and activist, lucidly argues that this billon dollar industry created space for increased experimentation with a large array of sexualities that were not organised around procreation and reproduction. Escofier believes that sexual revolution in the US in the sixties and the seventies wouldn’t have taken place if not for the series of extended legal battles over obscenity and pornography. These battles over porn helped establish a safe space where new sexuality could be portrayed in a very blunt and honest matter.
Gay porn, he writes, in many ways was a saviour in those dark days of living inside a closet. The porn industry, working in a grey market, helped provide explicit representations of gay sexual behaviour not otherwise available. And the simple availability of these images helped the gay community to help affirm their nascent gay identity.
Not only did it help with identity, but with time the gay porn industry reflected the issues that the community was grappling with and became an effective communication mode. Case in point: the early AIDS epidemic. Escoffier writes: “As the AIDS epidemic devastated the lives of gay men, more gay men were choosing to stay at home and pornography than go out to cruise for sex.” In many ways it curbed promiscuity.
But more importantly, porn also took upon itself to communicate important social messages of the time. Many gay porn stars insisted that pornography had a mission to eroticise condom use as an integral and necessary part of sexual play, and became crusaders for safe sex. By the 90s, all gay producers prescribed the usage of condoms.
Escoffier’s book is a great study of the history of gay porn and how integral it was for the gay movement. Interestingly, in partnership with the Adult Entertainment Business he has set up a website named after his book where one can view many of the classic films he writes about in his book. Check it out here.
Afterthought: While the book stops in the 90s, what interesting to note is what is happening to gay porn today. AIDS is no longer the dreaded disease – and many young gay men believe they are invincible to the infection. As a result, there is a huge demand and proliferation of bareback (non-condom) gay porn. Isn’t it time the gay porn industry to once again reflect on what kind of sexual practices they are advocating to young people who are just about starting to explore their sexuality?