Porn Stars: Gay Men’s ‘Idolized Rock Stars’

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting porn star Matthew Rush at the Stonewall Pride Parade and Street Festival in Wilton Manors. Rush, whose real name is Gregory Grove, is a long-time resident of South Florida. Modestly covered in a Speedo bathing suit and flip-flops, the comely Mr. Rush made quite a sight at the Stonewall event, promoting a local video store and meeting his fans. And Matthew Rush was not the only adult performer to attend the Stonewall Pride Parade and Street Festival. Also present at the event were dancers from local bars (some of who also appear in adult films) and representatives of gay porn studios who rode on open cars and parade floats and made themselves available to their adoring fans. (Full disclosure: Though I have no direct connection to the gay porn industry, for several years I reviewed gay adult features for the now-defunct magazine, The Guide.)

The active participation of adult film performers is something that is unique to LGBT pride parades or festivals: You will never see porn stars (straight or gay) taking part in Martin Luther King Day, St. Patrick’s Day or Columbus Day parades or festivals. This is because gay porn stars enjoy a special status in the gay community that their straight counterparts do not have elsewhere. (By “gay” of course I mean gay men.) As Joe A. Thomas noted, in an article about “Porn Stars” he wrote for (an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture): “Performers in gay pornography hold a relatively esteemed position in gay culture, in contrast to their heterosexual counterparts. This is largely due to the fact that hard core pornography itself is such an integral and accepted part of gay male life, especially in comparison to the marginalized position straight pornography holds for its audiences.”

“Gay porn performers,” Thomas continued, “are the idolized rock stars of the gay world, showing up for personal appearances and autograph sessions, participating in gay pride parades, and establishing a celebrity presence that permeates multiple levels of the gay subculture.” Matthew Rush certainly got the rock star treatment at the Stonewall Pride event, as he was sought after by many eager fans. Why is this so? In Bigger Than Life: The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore, Jeffrey Escoffier offers an explanation: “Worshiped as models of masculine beauty, treated like sexual athletes, porn stars are more than objects of desire. Porn stars embody the sexual ideals of gay men.”

“As a group that is both defined by its sexual activity and rejected by the majority culture for it, gay men have often seen in pornography an all-too-rare positive image of gay sexuality,” Thomas wrote elsewhere in Performers in gay adult movies were openly gay role models at a time when most gay men were still in their closets. Early porn stars like Casey Donovan and Al Parker were not only models of masculine beauty and sexual acrobatics but also open, unashamed and self-confessed gay men. Even “gay for pay” performers like Jeff Stryker and Ryan Idol served to remind us that sex between males was good and fun and productive. To quote Jay Thomas (again), gay male porn stars “represent the unashamed expression of gay identity through their open practice of the sexuality that defines that identity.”

We may agree that, to some extent, gay adult film stars serve our community as “rock star idols” as well as objects of desire. But they should not be role models. Like the rest of us, adult film performers run the gamut from great to horrible. Some, like Greg Grove, are successful business owners and community activists. (Grove was one of the leading fundraisers at the recently-held Florida AIDS Walk.) Others, sadly the ones who get most of the headlines, are criminals, drug addicts, or suicides.  And while a porn star’s career is a short one, it is to be expected in a profession that is highly dependent on a performer’s looks or sexual energy.

During the last decades, many accomplished athletes, actors, musicians, writers and politicians have come out as relatively happy, well-adjusted gay men. As a result, we no longer need porn stars to remind us that gay is good. But we can still admire them for what they are: attractive, athletic, muscular and masculine men whose sexual performances onscreen or online give us a brief respite from the harsh realities of life.

(By Jesse Monteagudo)


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