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Arpad Miklos' suicide shows we should look after gay porn stars

Arpad Miklos has become the latest gay porn star to kill himself. So are pornography fans killing the objects of their own desires?
Arpad Miklos: A gay porn star who committed suicide this year.

As the debate rages on about the effect the ‘porn epidemic’ is having on our relationships, our youth, the expectations we have of our partners and our collective insecurity over whether we are measuring up sexually, I think it is time we gave some attention to the performers themselves.

Arpad Miklos is the latest in a steady procession of gay porn stars to die prematurely. He was found dead in his New York apartment on 3 February, having committed suicide. He was 45 years old.

As sex is seen by most of us as an enjoyable act, the fact more porn actors die from suicide or drug overdoses than the general population may seem counter-intuitive.

But then again, having sex for money under any circumstances raises questions about the link between how we use our sexuality and our self-esteem. Can we fully respect ourselves whilst having sex with others for money? What psychological effect does it have on a man when sex stops connoting pleasure and human connection and starts being work? Are we able to separate sex from emotion? And if we are, is that a good thing?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and I do not pose them on moral grounds, but rather to highlight the conflict that exists within each individual when he takes stock of his actions.

In the wake of Miklos’s death, Colby Keller, another gay porn actor, referenced his suicide in his blog, stating: ‘While I don’t pretend to fully know the rationale behind his decision, I can say that I’ve struggled myself with depression and suicide.

‘Like any physically demanding, socially-vexed form of labor, sex work isn’t easy work – not least because of the stigma and meager income.

‘You give a lot of yourself for what can seem like very little in return. It can take its toll emotionally.’

As a society, we do stigmatize sex workers. We make their identity indistinguishable from what they do to earn a living. We dehumanize them by negating their wholeness.

This must be extremely damaging to the psyche of any sex worker because if you are viewed so myopically, you are left with very little room to maneuver. You either have to fill the role you have been given, thereby promoting an inauthentic and one-dimensional version of yourself, or retreat from the world outside of the sex industry entirely. So your friendships and relationships will largely exist within the context of your professional life.

Our ambivalence towards porn and its performers is analogous with the conflict we feel about watching it. Men in particular have a strong urge to view porn, yet associate doing so with shame and sin.

But if we are watching porn, then we are as much a part of the industry as the makers of it. After all, we are the ones who ensure its continuation and proliferation.

Despite this, I think we have a very ‘us and them’ approach to it. ‘It’s okay for me to sit here in my bedroom and watch two men having sex for money, but it’s less okay to actually do it.’

We tend either to discriminate against porn stars on the basis of their lack of virtue or objectify them by reducing them to their basest constituent part, namely their ability to perform sex acts in a way we deem to be arousing. Then we label them ‘stud’, ‘sex fiend’, ‘donkey’.

Culturally, we view porn stars as extroverts. We see them as sexually aggressive, often body-obsessed and either extremely liberated or morally vapid. That’s if we bother to consider them as anything more complex than sex-machines in the first place.

So how do society’s judgments impact on how performers see themselves? What does it do to you to become just a ‘sex object’?

Well, as feminists have been saying for eons, it makes a person into a thing. In the case of gay porn, it turns a man into a product and a commodity, and one with a shelf-life. Because if the product has been labeled ‘hunk’ then it only has any value if it retains a gym-fresh body and does not get old.

And if the ‘sex object’ does start to get too old, or the industry stops paying? Move on and find something else to do. But how easy is it to let go of an identity you have so much invested in? What do you do once the sex industry is through with you?

Arpad Miklos was a chemist in his native Hungary, where he was born Péter Kozma, before being ‘discovered’ and flown to America to make his name. I suspect after 15 years in porn he was thirsting for some appreciation and validation on the basis of something other than his physical attributes and sexual voracity. But who was going to employ him for anything else?

The stigma attached to working in porn would have prevented him from being able to disclose his work history to a potential employer. So how would he have secured a job? What support did he have outside of the sex industry? Where was he supposed to turn for advice?

His death should be taken as a wake-up call. Whatever people think about porn and its place in society, it is not going away, as internet viewing figures will attest.

We must look more seriously at what working in the sex industry does to performers’ mental health. We should help them find meaningful occupation somewhere else if they leave the industry.

We also need to provide them with emotional support and promote their inclusion in society instead of alienating them on the basis of what they do or used to do. These men may be physically strong, but in many cases, they are also emotionally vulnerable.

Nobody knows why Miklos took his own life. What we do know is that he was more than just a sex object. He was a man. He was somebody’s son. And he should have had a future.

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