off our backs, July/August 2005
A report on Christopher Kendall's presentation at the 2005 Captive
Daughters conference on pornography and international sex trafficking.
Kendall is a professor of law at Murdoch University in Perth, Western
Australia, and author of the book Gay Male Pornography: An issue of sex discrimination.
The Harms of Gay Male Pornography: A Sexual Equality Perspective
Kendall effectively narrowed an area fraught with complicated identity
politics into its most basic unit, the actual contents of gay male
porn. Most of his speech focused on the issues raised in the 2000
Supreme Court of Canada case Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium v.
Canada. Several lesbian and gay groups, including one directly involved
with getting Canadian law to recognize the harms of heterosexual
pornography years prior, attempted to justify gay porn as liberating
and integral to constructing healthy gay identities. Canada's highest
court decided unanimously that simply being gay pornography does not
make the depictions egalitarian or harm-free.
Key to making his case was giving specific examples and examining what
they suggested about gay male sexuality. If gay pornography is free
speech, suggests Kendall, then what would a paraphrasing of the speech
look like? Turns out it looks a lot like the same old homophobic,
humiliating pornography for heterosexuals that eroticizes domination
and sexualizes violence between a hypermasculine “top” and a feminized
“bottom”. Instead of breaking down heteronormative gender binaries, gay
porn reinforces oppressive sex roles regardless of the actual gender of
The following are two examples Kendall gave:
From Manscape Magazine,
“I pushed his meaty pecs together. They wrapped around my
dick perfectly as I started tit-fucking him like a chick. His hard,
humpy pecs gripped my meat like a vice. Of all the things I did to him
that night I think he hated that the most. It made him feel like a
From Advocate Men, in a scene where a non-gay male convinces another non-gay male to rape a gay man,
“'The man’s got a tight, tight pussy, man,’ Phil told me.
He wrenched his hand free and slapped Saul in the back. ‘Lean over and
show this man your pussy ass.’”
In this way, feminized gay men are the subjects whose rape, battery and
degradation are meant as a stand-in for women’s usual roles in
pornography. Traditional masculinity is glorified and femininity is an
instrument of abuse. Predatory, violent men attain the usual male
position of superiority by mistreating less masculinized men to make
clear one of them is the “bitch” or “cunt” and one of them isn’t. Such
pornographic depictions promote inequality and subjugation as the
preferred model of gay male sex as well as reinforcing homophobia and
Kendall’s critique of the supposed libratory effects of gay male porn
continued with observations about the intersections of sexual and
racial identities. In heterosexual porn the hierarchy of dominance is
evident from the fact of the males and females portrayed; with mixed
genders we all know who’s the top and who’s the bottom, the alpha and
the beta. While some plots reinforce traditional roles, placing scenes
into thematic context is not as necessary with heterosexual porn as it
is with gay porn. With two men, two alphas, the question of how to
decide which man assumes the beta role is more complicated. Racial
identity is the most common method gay male pornography uses to decide
who is the “man” and who is the “woman”.
As heterosexual porn portrays Asian women in sexualized racist
stereotypes, so does gay porn present Asian men as physically smaller,
servile inferiors willing only to please. Black men are commonly
portrayed as animalistic aggressors with huge penises who try to rape
white men or who express the desire to sexually submit themselves to
their white masters. Straight, white, middle-class men are at the top
of the porn hierarchy whether the intended audience is gay or straight.
Many feminists have been trying for years to help people comprehend how
rape is less about sex itself and more about eroticizing and abusing
gendered power, and some feminists have been trying to show the basic
premises of pornography are not so different from other parts of rape
culture. The picture of gay male porn that emerges from Kendall’s
investigations is one focused more on dominance, cruelty and power over
others than explorations of alternative sexualities based on intimacy,
dignity and mutual pleasure.
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