JOSH: What about performers– what are your thoughts on performers these days. And what is the best way for performers to take care of their safety?
PAUL: The best way for performers to be safe is for performers to be empowered. Porn that is alive is entirely the result of the people honestly showing you their very specific and individual sexuality. In my porn—and let me say right away that I fail as often as not—the entire apparatus of production is organized around the primacy of the people in front of the camera. At no time are people slotted into generic functions or performances. We work—always!—from the basis of the actual practices and desires of the men with whom we work. At every step you interrogate their motivation not only for being in porn but also for having sex as they do. And you have to do it obliquely and in-depth.
If I do an interview, for example, one of the first questions I ask is about their very first sexual experience—How old were you? Where was this? What was it like? What effect did it have on your sense of yourself? Tell me about the other boy. What was his name? Begin at the very beginning and then ask about their entire sexual development, their history. But also ask what books they’re reading, what movies they love, whether or not they’re living the life they want to live. Gathering this sort of information is a bit obsessive, certainly, and it doesn’t make for the most efficient work process. But for me that’s the real point of making porn: it gives you the privileged opportunity to listen to another man describing in detail his unique development as a man and as a sexual being. From that you begin to understand who he is and what he wants to do in front of the camera. Then you discuss a possible scene.
So to make effective and meaningful porn, it’s essential to do your best to engage with the authentic and individual agency of the men or women with whom you hope to work. I find it impossible to separate the positive agency of an individual and the safety of that individual. It’s not possible, in my opinion, to bureaucratize or legally circumscribe a person’s agency. To try to do so has always had the result of diminishing personal power or responsibility, of relinquishing it to the unreliable vagaries of some inevitably inept political order.
JOSH: Is porn–particularly bareback scenes and/or fantasy scenes including “poz me” type scenes dangerous?
PAUL: Porn—if it’s doing its job—should cover the full range of the human id. And, as is the case with any human activity— like climbing or surfing, for example—some people are driven to conquer Everest while others are ok with following an easy trail to a pleasant vista. I have friends who surf and they’ve never surfed anywhere but their relatively tame home spot. Others surf the world. For the latter, if I say Pipeline, Teahupo’o, Maverick’s or Pe’ahi, their eyes glaze and they’re ready to go. They live for it; it’s in their blood. It’s very much like that for sex, particularly for gay or queer male sex. The practice depends on the man and on his temperament.
So if a man comes to me and he’s the sexual equivalent of Sir Edmund Hillary, John-John Florence or of a Navy Seal, it’s my job and my duty to document and present him faithfully, accurately—which means that I give him that which is appropriate to his drive, hunger, ability and courage. If I do less, I’m failing him—and in failing him I’m losing an opportunity to document an aspect of our true nature as gay men. Imagine the world of documentaries if they were forbidden to chronicle anything dangerous. Nothing about lunar exploration, nothing about extreme sport, nothing about free climbing, big wave surfing, free diving and so on ad infinitum.
It’s important to remember that our identities are defined not only by the similarities that we share but also by the range of variations within that set of similarities. Documentary—and porn is a form of documentary—is responsible for depicting and disseminating not only the common behaviors but also the farthest reaching and most extreme instances of what we do because of who we are.
Scientists and philosophers who study the human brain and the nature of awareness and consciousness are coming around to the fact that our perception, imagination, language and behavior are all aspects of the same integrated process. In other words, the nature of our identity is projected and expressed in how we imagine ourselves, how we talk about ourselves and how we behave as ourselves. In my work I’ve seen from the beginning that gay sex is a particularly dense behavioral nexus and this means that it’s crucial to collect and present samples from the full behavioral spectrum. I’d say that it’s particularly important to be accurate and honest about queer sex because what we are—our nature as gay or queer men—is currently violently contested throughout the world. There are those—and they are many—who firmly believe that we aren’t actually human, that we’re subhuman and deserve to be outlawed, killed, thrown off of buildings, exterminated. And even among those heterosexuals who more liberally support us, their natural inclination is to effort toward simplifying or domesticating us, corralling us into behaviors that they can more easily understand and support.
So from the beginning I’ve been obsessed in my porn with capturing and presenting the full range of desires and sexual behaviors that illustrate and illuminate our deepest nature as gay men, everything from nervous camera-shy masturbation to wanton gang-bangs that involve massive amounts of semen. This is why it’s of paramount importance that the sex not be a sanitized and theatrically performed version of itself. Any work that purports to be documentation but allows the sanctioning of its content by either society or the state is nothing more than propaganda. Truth requires ruthless accuracy; accuracy requires constant vigilence.
The sex of gay and queer men is without doubt a core behavior that in every sense delineates, defines and creates our identity. I’ve said it countless times: it is a language and because it tells us who we are it must be depicted with honesty. You could say then, certainly, that there is danger—even great danger—in what we do with our bodies as gay men. But there is a far greater danger in not doing it, not documenting it, not seeing it. Given the state of the world, it’s literally a choice between honesty and death. To compromise this would be tantamount to cultural suicide.