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Can Porn Stars Have A Race-Based “Sexual Preference”?

Gay porn insiders say performers frequently refuse to work with certain ethnicities—something studios allow on grounds of 'sexual preference'

SEX
Dreamstime
Sep 28, 2015 at 6:13 PM ET

Men of color in gay porn are losing out on work, thanks to the so-called “sexual preferences” of white actors. During eight years directing in the industry, Steve Cruz has frequently encountered performers who will only work with certain ethnicities. “I have come to expect models refusing a scene partner because of race,” says Cruz.

Usually the refuseniks are white actors with a “policy” against working with African-American or Asian men. “Each time, no matter the races involved, the models assure me they aren’t racist, it’s just a personal preference,” he says. Whatever the rationale, this widespread phenomenon has forced performers of color into a battle for survival in an industry that prizes whiteness.

Actors and producers say that it is not at all uncommon for performers to make these requests—and for them to be fully accommodated. Typically, actors defend this restriction by saying things like, “I’m just not into black guys” or “I’m not sexually attracted to Asians.” (Although it’s worth noting that Asian men are remarkably absent from both straight and gay porn in the U.S.) This practice has led to heated social media skirmishes within the industry with one side alleging both personal and institutional racism, and the other defending sexual choice. After all, you can’t force anybody to sleep with someone, right? But critics question whether producers and directors are doing enough to discourage this behavior, which threatens the livelihood of non-white performers.

Genuine Preference Or Lack Of Professionalism?

mr. Pam, a female gay-porn director (who goes by a lower-cased male honorific), has had a similar experience to Cruz. “I interview anyone I’m trying to cast and that’s one of the questions I ask: ‘Are you into guys of all ethnicities?’” she says. “And often they don’t want to work with certain races.” It tends to depend on where a performer is from—Californians and New Yorkers are generally open to performing with men of all ethnicities. “But you get middle America and maybe they don’t have a lot of diversity where they grew up and their sexual taste hasn’t really ventured out past white guys,” she says. “So because of a lack of experience they might say they aren’t into black or Asian or Latin guys.”

Porn performer Conner Habib says that typically these are young performers who “don’t understand that their ideas of preference might not be their own, that they might be created by all sorts of bad cultural influences.” Of course, immaturity and inexperience are to be expected in an industry that often cherishes youth. “I was probably way more sexually racist when I started as a performer,” says Habib, who is half Irish and half Syrian. “Because I got to do scenes with people of many different ethnicities, that really sort of opened up my sexuality a lot—but I had to be willing to allow that first.”

Habib believes that beyond just the racism of excluding certain ethnicities, it’s also unprofessional to work only with co-stars one personally finds attractive. “That I feel detracts from the healthy detachment that you need to be a sex worker,” he argues.

Sean Zevran, a bi-racial porn star, agrees. “Race notwithstanding, I am not attracted to roughly 80 percent of the guys with whom I work, but I still get the job done and I make it look good,” he says. “I do think it’s racist for porn performers to only work with co-stars of certain races, but in saying such, I am not arguing that everyone should be equally attracted to each race. Sexuality itself is very complex, but this business requires one to be versatile.”

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Performers who exclude certain races treat it like any other boundary for what they are willing to do on camera. “There’s people that fill in applications and don’t really put anything about anything except, you know, they won’t kiss and they won’t work with Asians,” says Chi Chi LaRue, a legendary porn director and drag queen. It’s common enough that LaRue feels he has to address it upfront with performers. “It becomes a question—and I don’t like that question, personally,” he says. “If I’m planning on putting them with a black performer or an Asian performer or a Latin performer, I have to say, ‘Do you have any problem with Latin guys or black guys?'”

“I don’t know if I’d call it racism as opposed to different genres that people shoot for” – mr. Pam

This plays out differently in the straight porn industry, although the impact on people of color is similar. Many white female performers refuse at first to work with black men, putting off their first “interracial” scene as the final taboo to be broken in the course of their careers, as Vocativ recently reported. They also charge significantly more when they do. But on the gay side of the business, performers won’t prolong their careers by putting off their first “IR” scene or command higher fees for working with certain races. Some just simply refuse to work with certain ethnicities.

Of course it isn’t just performers’ preferences that dictate who gets cast in the gay porn industry. “There are a lot of sites that cater to twinky white boys. Other ones will cast only black guys or Latinos,” says mr. Pam. “I don’t know if I’d call it racism as opposed to different genres that people shoot for.” She points to the aesthetic standard for mainstream gay porn, which she says was established by Chuck Holmes, the famous gay porn producer who started Falcon Studios. “He had a personal preference for little white boys with blonde hair and blue eyes wearing Calvin Klein underwear and white socks,” she says.

It’s a look that dominates the most popular gay porn sites, but Habib argues that the industry is working with an outdated model. “Porn producers are and have been for a long time pretty out of touch with what audiences and viewers want,” he says. “Most of these people who are running larger companies started in the 90s and are completely out of touch with their audience.”

Calling Out Racism Online

As accepted as perfomers’ racial preferences are in the industry, they do tend to cause controversy when they are voiced publicly. A couple years ago, gay porn performer Marc Dylan responded (NSFW) in the comments section of a blog post to questions about why he’d never performed with a black man by saying that “people are allowed to have a type.” This sort of thing happens a lot, according to Zachary Sire, who runs the industry gossip site Str8UpGayPorn.com. Often it’s in response to fan questions and they will say something along the lines of “I’m not attracted to black guys,” he says. “This happens once a month or once every few months,” says Sire. “And I’ll do a post about it and say, ‘Here’s another racist gay porn star, this time it’s so and so.'”

Most recently, Sire turned his gaze on Paul Canon. This summer, a matter-of-fact message was sent from the porn star’s Twitter account: “I am not sexually attracted to colored people.” A later tweet from his account explained the message as a show of support for his fiancé and fellow performer Damien Kyle after he refused to work with an actor of a “dark skin [sic] complexion.” (Kyle’s response to requests for comment was “lmfao” via a Facebook message, but he has publicly expressed a distaste for African-American men: He can be seen in a clip from a recent porn reality show, saying, “I am not racist, I’m not sexually attracted to black guys.”) As the tweet drew controversy, Canon’s Twitter account stood by the remarks, arguing that “sexual preference and racial [sic] discrimation are totally different things.”

The tweets have since been deleted and now Canon has said in an email to Vocativ that he did not send the tweets in question and implied that he was hacked by someone “who wanted only to degrade our character.”

“In the porn world, I believe that people can f—k who they want and they don’t have to f—k anybody they don’t want to. It’s just that simple” – ChiChi LaRue

As much as LaRue disapproves of discriminating against sexual partners based on race, he says there is little directors like himself can do about it. “You have to take into consideration everybody’s feelings, because you are doing something that obviously puts people in vulnerable positions,” he says. “If you’re a nail technician, you can’t say, ‘I’m not working on her nails because she’s black’—but as far as sex goes, then you have full control over your body.” He adds, “In the porn world, I believe that people can fuck who they want and they don’t have to fuck anybody they don’t want to. It’s just that simple. I don’t think anybody should get bent out of shape over it.”

mr. Pam agrees. “Rather than pointing fingers—‘you’re a racist!’—it’s really a personal preference,” she says. “I tend not to judge much. It’s a very intimate experience that they’re going to be having on camera.”

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Habib believes the industry could do more to discourage this kind of prejudice, though. “It’s tricky because you don’t want people to engage in sexual acts that they don’t want to do,” he says. Instead, Habib suggests, “You might say to a performer, ‘Look, okay, that’s not where you’re at right now, I get it, but you really might want to think about that if you want to continue to work in this industry.’ There has to be an encouraging cultural conversation around it within the industry.”

This mirrors an ongoing debate in the gay community at large about what some call “sexual racism.” It crops up on dating apps like Grindr, where men sometimes display aversion for certain ethnicities with “words that you’d find on old signs in a civil rights museum,” as The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen put it. Often, an interest only in white skin is compared to a taste for any other feature, like big arms or hairy chests. Sometimes, it’s compared to sexual orientation with the rhetorical question, “Is a gay man sexist for being attracted to only men?” But a recent study of gay and bisexual men looked at the issue and concluded that “sexual racism… is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of personal preference.”

“It’s throughout the gay community where the word ‘preference’ is used instead of ‘racism’,” says LeNair Xavier, who performed as Tré Xavier until he quit six years ago because of frequent typecasting and being restricted to working with other African-American men in what he dubs “ethnic” porn.

In the case of porn, though, it’s people’s jobs, not their dating lives, that are at stake. “It affects my bottom line as far as going out there and getting work,” says Diesel Washington, an African-American porn performer. “It’s one thing building chemistry between two models in a scene, but the inherent racism of when somebody says they won’t work with somebody else of a certain race, to me that sounds asinine. They’re dismissing an entire race of people.”