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Is gay porn racist?

Is there racism at the heart of gay pornography? Are depictions of black and Asian men exploiting prejudices about them?
The Blatino Erotica Awards: But is gay pornography racist?
Photo by Blatino Erotica Awards.

Pornography and its alleged harmfulness has been a burning issue in politics and the media throughout 2013. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants porn-filters, scientists want to know what porn does to our brains and the city of Los Angeles wants its porn performers to wear condoms at all times.

When it comes to gay porn though, there is plenty of discussion in academia but barely any in the media.

So let’s get started.

Gail Dines is the author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Society; she is a professor in sociology and a founder member of the activist group Stop Porn Culture. She is the perfect person to tell us whether these ample sociological debates over pornography are inclusive of gay porn and, if so, what the pressing issues are.

Dines proves to be very enthusiastic to discuss the matter.

‘The fight has always been between women and straight porn,’ she says. ‘I think that gay men have not got into this, and if they have, they’ve sided with the pro-porn feminists.’

Dines has plenty of questions about the gay porn industry but the one she speaks most animatedly about is the issue of racial stereotyping.

‘When I was researching my book on gay porn I was shocked at the level of racism,’ she says. ‘A lot of gay porn is racist in the way it hyper-masculinizes black men and feminizes Asian men.

‘Asian men are always turned into “twinks” and “fuckees”, while the black men are always the “fuckers” of as many men as they can lay their hands on – especially white men.

‘In this country [the USA], racism has always been sexualized. The idea is that black women are whores and black men are animalistic “fuckers” who are after white women.

‘That’s the history of racism in America – black people were defined out of humanness into animalistic sexuality and that’s what was legitimizing the lynching of black men and the raping of black women.

‘It swirls around the culture – those racist, sexist stereotypes are in this [American] culture – so when they come to produce porn, it’s just sexualizing the stereotypes of black and Asian men.’

This is just one topic GSN discussed with Gail Dines, others will be covered in a later feature, but endemic racism is such a strong allegation to make against the gay porn industry it merits seeking a case for the defense here and now.

Mike Stabile and Jack Judah Shamama run Gay Porn Blog, a popular website for blogs, videos, news and discussion of all things within the gay porn industry. They say they have been ‘blogging about gay porn since there was an internet with porn to blog about’, so they know the industry as well as anyone.

Stabile and Shamama prove to be very approachable and provide firm responses to Dines’ views on racism in porn.

Stabile says: ‘Yes, porn has strains of racism. But so do politics, so does larger culture.

‘Where porn differs is that it offers tremendously varied versions of gay life; there are Asian tops and plenty of black bottoms. Part of the excitement about the internet is that you can see your body, and your sexuality, represented without limits.

‘So yes, if you’re looking for racism, you’ll find it – that’s what free speech is about. Sometimes it’s ugly, but it’s wrong to paint with too broad a brush.

Shamama adds: ‘When people start to talk about porn (especially gay porn) in the context of social responsibility I tend to get nervous because if you follow their arguments out to their logical conclusions they always seems to end up advocating for censorship, whether they mean to or not.

‘You can take any creative medium – modern art, rap music – and cherry pick racist or sexist examples (especially when you take them out of context) and easily apply that to the medium as a whole.’

So is gay porn fundamentally racist, as Gail Dines says? Or are videos featuring Asian ‘twinks’ and black ‘fuckers’ just one sub-category in a pluralistic industry that seeks to cater for all tastes?

GSN took to some gay porn forums to garner the opinions of the consumers themselves.

On the forums of gay porn site Just Us Boys, user ‘Agromac’ told us: ‘So long as you bear in mind what porn is then you’re alright – it’s entertainment, fantasy. If you start thinking it’s more than that, like a reality for which to strive, then you’re in trouble.

‘If porn does have any kind of stereotypes, then there has to be a market for it, but then that’s where the fantasy comes in – bear in mind it's not reality.’

User ‘ElmosToe’ said: ‘The racial stereotypes found in porn exist because they exist in society first. Porn can be harmful in the sense it merely perpetuates those stereotypes and can contribute to a lack of respect towards others by the viewer.

‘Personally, I think some people can tend to, unintentionally, turn what they don’t understand and may fear into a fetish as a way to explore and understand their curiosity.

‘An example of this would be the myth that black men have bigger dicks. This took root several centuries back, starting in Europe and eventually carrying over to the US. The idea of “sexual threat”, that black men in particular were sub-human, animalistic and lust-driven.’

Also among these responses were several negative reactions to the idea of academics being vocal about gay porn.

‘PAbear’, for example, said: ‘They need to get a grip. It’s not about making societal commentary, it’s about getting your dick hard and then getting off.

‘Remember, porn is a tool. It’s a tool for the makers to make money and it’s a tool for the viewers to get off. We’ve got to stop making it the be-all-and-end-all of society.’

This skepticism for academic criticism echoes a comment from Stabile of Gay Porn Blog: ‘At the end of the day, Ms Dines doesn’t like sexuality. She's called for Playboy to be banned and for BDSM images to be outlawed.

‘Sexuality may not be a big part of her life, but it’s a big part of the lives of a lot of people – men, women, gay, straight, black, white, Asian. And for those of us who do like porn, and don’t see sexuality as a negative, we don’t want to be told that what we’re looking at is wrong or shameful.’

There seems to be a general acceptance on both sides of this debate that racial stereotypes do indeed exist in gay porn, but are they present in ‘a lot of it’, as Gail Dines says, or in ‘cherry-picked examples’ as Jack Judah Shamama says?

One repeated suggestion is that, in porn, racial stereotypes only exist only as a reflection of the society they are created for; that if there were no demand then there would be no supply.

If, by this logic, the accusations of racism were turned from the creators of gay porn onto the consumers of gay porn, surely the same questions would still apply; is it endemic or is it isolated examples? Is it just harmless sexual fantasy that has no decisive influence on society, or something more sinister?

If we are to separate porn consumers from the visual porn industry itself, then it is worth looking to the written erotica industry.

The publishing industry for gay erotica is very precise in its targeting of specific reader preferences and caters largely (although certainly not exactly) to the same consumers as gay visual porn.

Make Mine to Go author Dilo Keith (a professional pseudonym) writes gay erotica that is fuelled by a lifetime’s immersion in gay culture and by her own experiences in BDSM culture.

A self-described ‘queer female’, Keith says she is an avid reader of written gay fiction, but only an occasional watcher of gay porn; so she knows the audience well, but is neither an avid consumer nor a critic of visual gay porn itself.

She is the closest we are likely to get to an informed but impartial opinion.

‘My experience [with gay porn videos] is mostly from what I see posted on sites like this [Just Us Boys forums],’ Keith tells us. ‘Men, more than women, tend to get turned on by very specific things, including race. I don’t think gay and non-gay men differ all that much.

‘I don’t get the sense there’s a huge amount of racial inequality depicted, not more than any other element.

‘Like most porn, it can perpetuate stereotypes, encourage turning people into fetish objects and so on. But non-porn media does the same thing by creating unrealistic standards for beauty or success or whatever.

‘For most men, racial preferences probably don’t cause a problem in real life – it’s just what they want to watch. I’d rather not encourage more racially-based porn, but I’m not going to support regulating something there’s a market for if it involves consenting adults who do no actual harm as a result of it.’

Whether or not this is correct, that there is ‘no actual harm’ as a result of racial stereotyping in gay porn, is a matter of each individual’s moral opinion.

Likewise, whether or not gay porn is a ripe subject matter for academic debate is open to question.

But while pornography at large is being hotly debated in politics and the media, and with gay porn being largely ignored in both arenas, the most important thing is to ask the questions.

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Dines has many concerning questions on questions about the gay creation trade however the one she speaks most animatedly about is that the issue of racial stereotyping.