JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

From the very start, “Gay Chicken” is presented as a game.

Noah awaits Duncan, who now takes the more aggressive position in round two.

Noah lets Duncan bring his erection right up to his face.

The videographer, who serves as the dealmaker in Bait Bus, invites the stranger, Dave, to approach the bus. He asks Dave if he would like to help him make a documentary.

On the bus, the videographer introduces Dave to his female friend. The so-called documentary concerns her desire for kinky sex. A negotiation is struck for the straight man to be blindfolded and to receive a blowjob from the unnamed woman. Dave legitimates his heterosexuality by agreeing to the deal.

The videographer tells Dave not to touch her during oral sex, because she doesn’t like that. Once the blindfold is on, the switch occurs. Cole Harvey replaces the woman and performs oral sex on the unwitting Dave.

Dave removes his blindfold and finds Cole Harvey fellating him. Enraged, he threatens Cole and the videographer with violence.

The unnamed woman reenters the scene to stifle Dave’s anger. She caresses him as the videographer renegotiates the deal. Dave agrees to have anal sex with Cole in exchange for $2000, an unfilmed blowjob from the woman to get him hard again, and the opportunity to have anal sex with her afterward. In the background, passing cars complicate the privacy of the sex act.

Bravo Delta 9 points his Fleshlight to the camera. It is shaped like a vagina, whereas other varieties include mouth and anus orifices. This sex toy serves as one of the more substantial indications of Bravo Delta 9’s heterosexuality.

One consistent feature of Bravo Delta 9’s XTube videos is his anonymity. To achieve this, he blurs his face in this video.

In another performance of his heterosexuality, Bravo Delta 9 orally stimulates his Fleshlight sex toy.

In this video, Bravo Delta 9 dons aviator sunglasses, his staple mode of concealment.

The logo for CockyBoys includes a devil and angel icon, which are suggestive of the website’s prevalent use of aggressive and submissive dichotomies.

Bravo Delta appears on the front page of CockyBoys in his seventh and most recent video.

Uniquely, the website CockyBoys includes a standardized form for its users to apply to become a porn performer, which reveals just how integral the idea—and fetish—for amateur performance has become to contemporary gay male desire.

 

III.

To add complexity to the definition I have provided for gay-for-pay pornography, I want to turn now to contemporary online examples, ever proliferating, and offer three close readings of gay-for-pay narratives to develop a tentative classification and to distill its underlying logic and tension. These three examples demonstrate what we might think of as variations on a theme. This triplication reveals the expansiveness and diversity of the genre, while simultaneously illustrating its guiding logic in reeducating gay desire.

The pledgemaster reveals to Duncan, left, and Noah, right, the rules of the game, which elicit amused bewilderment. Their t-shirts include the emblem of Sigma Phi, which is the second oldest Greek fraternal organization in the United States. Despite this invocation ... ... the power dynamics of fraternities, especially in regards to hazing, do not explicitly motivate the action of this video. As Duncan and Noah disrobe, the floor lamp’s encroachment in the composition plays into the video’s DIY aesthetic.
Noah is first to play “Gay Chicken,” and he slowly inches his hand closer to Duncan’s crotch. Duncan’s quizzical expression juxtaposed with Noah’s aggressive excitement perfectly embodies the conflicted affect of gay-for-pay pornography. By the time it is Duncan’s turn to grope Noah, the two have become rather competitive and seem to enjoy the game. Noah is the first player to develop an erection.
In the second round of the game, Duncan must let Noah bring his erection incrementally closer to his face. Duncan refuses, declaring himself “chicken.” Noah celebrates defeating Duncan in a round of “Gay Chicken.”

The first example, “Gay Chicken,” originally produced by straightfraternity.com, can now be found in its abbreviated format on a number of porn hub websites like XTube.com.[27] [open endnotes in new window] As far as online videos go, which are notably ephemeral, this one in particular has been disseminated frequently and still remains online, a testament to its popularity. In the video, an unseen pledgemaster informs two pledges, Noah and Duncan, “We’re going to play a game. The loser of the game is going to get cummed on.” Immediately, Duncan states to Noah, “So you’re losing.” Noah rebuts, “No, you’re losing.” Here, then, is an explanation strategy that defies monetization. It also simultaneously uses the notion of competition both to bolster the participants’ masculine bravado—and so evidence straightness—and to undercut it by revealing an ultimately homoerotic endgame. It is unclear who is the winner and who is the loser in a situation where one straight man must ejaculate onto another straight man’s body. This indeterminacy is precisely the confusion that gay-for-pay pornography relishes.

The pledgemaster, who remains unseen until the very end of the video, asks his two pledges to strip naked and then clarifies the rules. The intention of the game is to engage in increasingly invasive sexual acts until one pledge no longer feels comfortable, at which point he calls out that he’s “chicken.” A series of such exercises ultimately results in a victor who is deemed less chicken or in this instance more willing to engage in sexual acts with the other player. The video takes as its backdrop a fraternity and the associated infamy of various hazing rituals, which lends the otherwise unlikely scenario a modicum of plausibility. As the two men undress, they note to each other how cold the room is, hoping to relay to both the pledgemaster and the viewer that the size of their penises—or their sense of masculinity—has been impaired by the temperature. In this moment, we again encounter an instance where the performers are simultaneously defending their sense of masculinity and yet undercutting it. As so much of their masculinity seems bound to the size of their respective penises, it is telling that Noah, who vocalizes the fear that his penis might be deemed small, develops an erection first. His erection coincides with Duncan touching his knee in the first round of the game. If before Noah had worried the temperature might diminish the size of his penis, here he remains notably silent when the touch of his male companion results in an erection. There is no explanation given, nor does the gay viewer likely need one. This moment speaks to a fantasy the gay male erotic harbors that straight men, too, can be aroused by contact with other men.

The next two sex acts Duncan and Noah partake in consist of giving one another a hand job followed by fellatio. Noah appears more excited by the games both physiologically and vocally, but he couches his sense of enthusiasm in terms of the competitive nature of the game. In the end, the pledgemaster declares Noah the winner because he is able to perform the sex acts longer and with less complaint. The second pledge Duncan performs these games with reservation and opts out more frequently, declaring himself “chicken.” But the very act of losing a round becomes for Duncan an alternative way to prove his heterosexuality while participating in all-male sex acts. In both pledges’ cases, these tests are accompanied by a constant call-and-response wherein the perpetrator asks, “Are you chicken? Are you chicken?” to which the recipient of the action must respond “No” or “Yes.” In this spoken exchange, the act of bullying becomes yet another method of managing of the event, and another performance of straightness overlaying all-male sex acts.

The camera pans down to reveal that Noah remains erect throughout the second round. Noah, who otherwise remains upbeat throughout “Gay Chicken,” grows frustrated when the unseen pledgemaster says he will next have to fellate Duncan.
By the end of the video, the pledgemaster declares Noah the winner. If one follows the gaze of both pledges, the viewer can see that they are watching pornography as a masturbatory aid. Aids to arousal like this, which would be absent or hidden in conventional porn, here play soundly into the gay-for-pay narrative. As stipulated by the rules of the game, Noah must ejaculate onto Duncan for losing “Gay Chicken.” This instance marks the only point in the pornography when the pledgemaster appears in the video. He manually stimulates Noah as Duncan awaits his comeuppance.

The quality of the video deserves attention, too. The footage here is grainy and the lighting poor. This and the use of unknown, everyday performers give the video an amateur quality that lacks the glossy, finished veneer of typical studio-produced porn. For in the case of its aesthetics, maximum visibility[28] is not the foremost concern, which would require a well-lit set, tight compositions, and spatial integrity in editing. The camera’s unprofessional, jerky motions and the lack of seamless edits reveal a low-budget aesthetic that recalls the spontaneous capture of documentary filmmaking. The documentary-style is no accident. It vouches for the authenticity of the event and the performers’ heterosexuality, even as they engage in sex with one another. In contrast, studio produced pornographies tend to create a clearer separation between the performance and the performer—always presenting to the viewer its uncanny façade. Here DIY technologies make such distinctions harder to discern.

The banner for the Bait Bus website dramatizes their mockery of the straight man in one uncanny tableau.

Interestingly, in the description of Bait Bus videos, only the gay male performer, Cole Harvey, gets billing. The female performer’s name remains absent.

As a second example, I offer the Bait Bus phenomenon for consideration.[29] In name, Bait Bus refers to the bait-and-switch form of fraud that informs this website’s protocol. In one of the most consistently duplicated narratives of any of the pornographies represented here, a crew in a van approaches and picks up a straight man from the streets. The unseen videographer tricks this man through the prospect of having sex with a woman and later through the promise of earning money into fucking a man, much to his confusion and distaste.

All the action in this webseries takes place in a large van that drives around town as the scene unfolds. This unique location presents some striking implications for Bait Bus. First, the boundary between public and private that typically guards the sex act opens up as a site of contention. As the shoot commences, the viewer sees cars pass by on the streets and highways, creating a spatial dissonance that mirrors the sexual dissonance of the gay-for-pay act. That which typically remains private here publicizes itself not just to the viewer at home, but also to the unwitting public. This muddling of the private and public spheres, though, cannot conceal what would otherwise be considered a hostage situation. Certainly, on some level, the viewer recognizes the convenient fiction that—if nothing else than legally—this scenario must be staged. But taken on its own terms, the underlying violence of capture provides a third competing explanation strategy to the promises of sex with the woman and monetary reimbursement.

Upon completion of the sexual act, the perpetrators dump the duped man by the roadside without his promised reward. The same spiteful conclusion recurs in each video; the van speeds away, with its con artists laughing. The Bait Bus website quite proudly flouts its role in facilitating the resurgence of the gay-for-pay phenomenon, claiming to be

“the original site that started a revolution, picking up straight guys, offering a little cash, and seeing how far they would go with a man.”[30]

The site’s second tagline, though, confirms the more sinister undertone:

“Granted, they were always tricked at first to already be with a guy, but once the blindfold came off and the cash came out, every guy was fucking another guy and getting his dick sucked. Join now!”[31]

In addition to these negative insinuations, the presence of the woman in Bait Bus presents a unique variation from much gay-for-pay pornography. Generally, gay-for-pay pornography dispenses with the figure of the woman or promises her as reward for undertaking gay sex without actually following through.[32] However, here the female performer lures the straight man onto the bus, thus serving as guarantor of his heterosexuality. What begins as the promise of a blow job follows with the stipulation that the man be blindfolded, at which point a previously unseen man replaces her and proceeds to fellate the straight man. Inevitably, the straight man takes off his blindfold to see the woman pleasuring him. After the straight man’s shock and protestation at having been blown by a man—and, more horrifyingly, enjoying it—the videographer renegotiates the encounter, offering the woman’s desire or additional money to prolong the all-male sexual encounter. She wants to see him get blown by this man, or she wants to see him fuck this man. In such an instance, the woman’s desire and gaze are elevated above the straight man’s, which must undergo a transference in order for him to go through with the act. It is a short-lived transference, though. After the duped man inevitably agrees to have anal sex, the woman vanishes from the scene until he finishes. She reappears only afterward to repair his embattled heterosexual identity, but more critically to coerce him out of the van.

Bait Bus fabulates a sadistic fantasy for the viewer, whereby the subterfuge that leads to the sex devoid of its ultimate promise—women and money—complicates and competes with the pleasure of the sex itself. Moreso than “Gay Chicken,” which displayed a sense of reciprocity and a fullness of disclosure, here a kind of Schadenfreude—the pleasure derived from viewing the straight man’s misfortune—dominates the scenario. In their calculated alliance, the videographer, female performer, and gay performer hold all the cards, at least in terms of the narrative. But as numerous episodes of Bait Bus proliferate, a unique consequence results. Its repetitive nature lends these videos a similarity and interchangeability that come to belie its cinéma vérité.

Although the camera work, unknown status of its actors, and on-the-street environments lend these videos the semblance of authenticity, the recurring narrative structure indicates a kind of mass fabrication. This repetition forces the viewer to decide whether or not to suspend disbelief for the presented diegesis at the same time that formulaic narrative mitigates the recognition that the straight performer here has been—in narrative at least—sexually violated in the process. If the abuse the straight performer experiences is also part of its pleasure, the viewer can rest easy, knowing the duress portrayed is itself an act. But what might this complex depiction suggest about gay male desire? The lighthearted eroticization of homosocial bonding in “Gay Chicken” pales in comparison to Bait Bus, which instead displays the malice of revenge fantasy. And it gives evidence to the difficulty in locating a singular and coherent gay male erotic, even as it pertains to one genre.

The implied blowjob does not appear onscreen, and instead we cut directly to anal sex with Cole. After both men finish, the videographer insults Dave, saying, “That was weird, dude. I just said fuck the guy, I didn’t say you had to get all gay about it.” Dave defends his heterosexuality, comparing the sex to anal sex with a woman.

The woman pushes Dave out of the van; their agreement is to have sex while the videographer takes out $2000 from an ATM to repay Dave. Moments later, she excuses herself to grab her purse from the vehicle.

She reenters the van and they speed away. Dave runs after the van, to no avail.

Having successfully completed their bait and switch, the two performers laugh at Dave’s gullibility.

Our third and final example concerns the performer Bravo Delta 9 and reveals gay-for-pay pornography that no longer even needs to call itself such, but rather relies on the structure of the Internet to fulfill its narrative strategy. According to his XTube profile, Bravo Delta 9 states he is

“just a straight college guy who likes to show off and maybe make some cash on the side because of it. I keep an open mind and I’m not homophobic, so anybody can watch, comment, support, and get off.”[33]


Bravo Delta 9’s XTube profile fosters his straight persona. It also recursively cites his work with CockyBoys. Despite more than 2.5 million viewers on XTube, he humbly refers to himself as “practically a pornstar.”


Bravo Delta 9, whose pseudonym stands for “balls deep, or the act of inserting the penis into the vagina all the way to one's balls,”[34] performs his heterosexuality through his profile and his nom de guerre. But he does not disallow gay men from watching his videos, as though that were something he could control. And indeed Bravo Delta 9 appears to have a healthy gay following. Under “Turn Ons,” on his XTube profile, the very first sentence admonishes—albeit graciously—men who have expressed sexual interest in him:

“Sorry guys, I’m into girls, but I’m an open-minded guy and don’t mind showing off for everyone.”[35]

This simultaneous rejection and encouragement of gay male desire displays the oppositionality common to gay-for-pay, one we already have seen in play in the Tyra Banks episode. Bravo Delta 9 denounces the desire, pleasure, and sexual identity of a gay man, at the same time that he beckons the projected desire of other gay men. In this sense, there is what Tom Kalin has termed a homophobic homoeroticism at play.[36] In his self-shot XTube videos, Bravo Delta 9 never records himself with anyone but himself. In fact, all of his videos on XTube consist of solo shoots where he masturbates by hand or with the aid of a Fleshlight sex toy. Another distinct feature of Bravo Delta 9’s videos concerns his anonymity. If he does not wear aviator sunglasses, Bravo Delta 9 blurs his face. This desire to be seen but not known is consistent with much amateur pornography, where unidentifiable bodies—or bodies without heads—predominate. Other than the vaginal shape of his sex toy and the brief references to his claimed heterosexuality on his profile, nothing about Bravo Delta 9’s masturbatory videos inherently substantiates a gay or straight identity. Masturbation appears to be the universal and unaffiliated sex act, or empty enough as a signifier to be tipped in either register.

Bravo Delta 9 quickly acquired a mass following on XTube. More than two-and-a-half million distinct visitors have watched his videos since they first appeared in June, 2010, and it is precisely his popularity on XTube, a host site for both amateur and excerpted studio pornography, that drew the attention of CockyBoys.[37] The gay-oriented porn website CockyBoys focuses on, as the name suggests, boys who are cocky (although certainly the root “cock” is meant to resonate as an unsubtle pun), which usually translates into aggressive, domineering “alpha” men forcefully fucking a host of submissive sissy boys. Since May of 2012, Bravo Delta (who has dropped the numeral “9” from his nom de guerre, which was an unsubtle reference to his penis size) has appeared in seven videos for the CockyBoys website.

CockyBoys operates as a membership-only website that notably does not specialize in gay-for-pay pornography. In fact, most of its performers identify themselves as gay men. Bravo Delta is one of the few purported straight men to feature here, and he joins the ranks as a prototypical aggressive top, which falls in line with the assumed homology between sexual identity and sexual role. How his sexual identity comes into play in his videos contrasts greatly from “Gay Chicken” and Bait Bus and most other gay-for-pay pornography. No explicit mention is made of Bravo Delta’s sexual identity within the narrative diegesis of his videos. Rather, the textual features of the website, such as Bravo Delta’s CockyBoys profile[38] or the video summaries and searchable keywords allude briefly to his straightness. But it is not a point dwelled upon or developed in the pornographic narrative, nor is there ever any clear explanation given for why Bravo Delta elects to perform sex with these men.

Bravo Delta’s first CockyBoys video description makes reference to his fame on XTube to validate his straight persona. Contrary to Bait Bus, the description of his second video positions the straight man not as the fool, but as a disciplinarian of the gay performer.

Instead, CockyBoys relies on Bravo Delta’s notoriety and built-in audience from XTube, where viewers were already familiar with his amateur work, to establish his heterosexuality, thus rendering a kind of gay-for-pay pornography that is more dispersive and less explicit in its function. In fact, in a kind of self-reference, the first video that Bravo Delta shot for CockyBoys bears resemblance to the videos he self-produced on XTube, which again points to the open signification of masturbation. In the scene, he masturbates with the aid of several sex toys reminiscent of the Fleshlight, as he typically did on XTube. Here, though, among the other toys dangling from the wall are a series of sizeable dildos, which mark a stark difference from Bravo Delta’s previous solo pornography and remind the viewer that the threat of penetration looms in the background—although in this video the threat does not materialize, and the dildos serve only as a visual joke or wishful thinking.

An even more notable difference between his XTube and CockyBoys videos, though, concerns the loss of Bravo Delta’s anonymity, a distinction that highlights the importance of the perceived authenticity of the visual. At CockyBoys, Bravo Delta can no longer conceal his eyes behind sunglasses, a cropped composition, or a post-production blurred face. It is difficult, one would imagine, to be anonymously cocky. Were Bravo Delta allowed to mask his identity, there would be nothing to lose in the act of “going gay-for-pay.” And so I offer another underpinning to this genre of pornography: there must be something at stake—usually some threat—for the straight man to be desirable to his viewer. In showing his face, Bravo Delta ransoms his personal identity to elevate his pornographic character’s appeal, muddling the divisions between public and private as well as performance and reality.

When Bravo Delta graduates from solo shoots to videos with other men, CockyBoys does not give him much dialogue, nor is the narrative set-up for the sex featured prominently. Rather, the sex itself acquires primacy. For instance, in his first all-male sex scene, Bravo Delta drives up to a truck stop and picks up a young man, telling him they will have to be quiet when they get to his home because his parents are asleep. Though not explicit, there are subtle indications of Bravo Delta’s straightness that allows us to categorize this episode as gay-for-pay. First, this scene depicts an act of cruising or anonymous casual sex that refuses intimacy and implies shame. Bravo Delta may have sex with men, but he is not openly gay, nor can the stranger he fornicates with impugn his identity. The forewarning to be quiet upon arrival speaks to the need for secrecy, which again highlights the illicit nature of the encounter. Though this video does not barter sex for monetary incentive, the ludic rules of a game, trickery, or the chance at sex with a woman, it subtly encodes itself in gay-for-pay’s grammar of transgression and disavowal.

Although there is little explicit narrative given to explain why Bravo Delta, a purportedly straight man, has sex with other men, his previous status as amateur XTube star reveals new insights into the medium specificity of online pornography. To most dedicated viewers, Bravo Delta’s XTube profile demonstrates his straightness, which continues to augment the videos he shoots for CockyBoys. In the rare occasion where there is an introductory backstory to a CockyBoys video, it references Bravo Delta’s XTube videos as a kind of calling card.[39] So too, Bravo Delta’s XTube profile now reciprocally makes reference to his CockyBoys shoots. The pornography here disperses and cites itself in and across its peer websites. One pornography does not exist hermetically by itself, but rather through the hyperlink, it expands to a vast network of past videos one has made, which can inform, haunt, or recontextualize coterminous pornography, and pornography yet to be made.

Bravo Delta’s profile on CockyBoys insinuates that his curiosity and desire for men may develop eventually. The unspoken promise seems to be that, given enough time, he will transition from the role of aggressive top to submissive bottom.

Rather than focus on his heterosexuality, the video description for Bravo Delta’s solo video spends most of its time recounting his XTube following and obsesses over the fact that he will, for the first time ever, reveal his face.

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