Hi Paul. I’m sorry I couldn’t pose nude for you. The tyranny of distance. You mentioned a studio in San Fran? Can you give me a brief rundown of both yourself and your involvement in Treasure Island Media?
I’ve been making porn since I was a little boy. I’d save my earnings from my paper route and pay neighborhood boys to let me draw or photograph them naked. Or with their pants down. Or just with their dick pulled out. I usually couldn’t afford film for the camera, but the photographs were never really the point.
Many years later I was apprenticing in porn production in SF and became deeply frustrated and discouraged by the fact that what was being produced had no connection with real male sex beyond the most superficial mechanics. I decided to start my own company—TIM— in order to shoot sex as I and those I knew were doing it. Within a year I started receiving death threats from irate gay men.
You seem to specialize in very confronting riffs on gay porn. Simulated heroin use, the works. Why the extremity?
I’m not sure what you mean by “riffs.” No one in my company has “simulated heroin use.” And I don’t think of my work as being particularly extreme. I’m not being disingenuous; when you’re focused on chronicling the realities of your own world, it doesn’t seem extreme. Fascinating and beautiful and compelling, yes. Extreme, no. For me, fucking a woman would be extreme.
I actually can’t decide if you are fetishising taboos or creating them. Help me out here.
I’m doing neither. My entire life has been about exploring and chronicling the realities of all-male sex. This is a very different world than your world of male/female sex and sexuality. When I watch most straight porn, I often find myself baffled by much of it. In point of fact, when I watch the courting and mating practices of the “straight” world, I’m often mystified. For example, many concepts that derive from straight culture, and which fuel a great deal of both straight porn and heteronormative gay behavior, concepts like promiscuity or monogamy or “cheating,” are not native to queer culture. In the same way that Europeans gifted Native Americans with small pox, straight culture gifted the queer world with protocols of sexuality that have done nothing but hamper and stunt our progress.
Many years ago I spent a good deal of time doing ethnographic work in the South Pacific, Vanuatu and Fiji specifically. Since you’re in Australia, you may have spent time in either or both places. Their identity structures and cultural practices are profoundly different from those of, say, people from San Francisco or Sydney. As often as not, the differences are experienced from the vantage point of the non-native as baffling or irrational. What’s true of Fijian or ni-Vanuatu culture is also true of the male sex culture I chronicle: what’s experienced by an outsider as incomprehensible or irrational is actually the surest evidence of cultural depth, of a profundity of practice.
Everything I’ve produced as a pornographer has been done as a native of this world I inhabit. The behaviors are the antithesis of “taboo.” I focus on them and depict them because they are the practices that are at the heart of our identity. If they anger or shock people it’s because of nothing other than the truth of the practices.
This Viral Loads production of yours has really stirred up the gay community. One blogger even called it a “snuff film.” What exactly was the impetus behind making this?
The impetus behind making it was my frustrated impatience with the Western gay/queer world. The people who refer to Viral Loads as a snuff or horror film are addicted to an utterly antiquated set of beliefs concerning not only HIV but also queer identity and the health of the queer culture.
The reaction, at least on the internet, seems to be horror rather than arousal. Who is going to be jerking off to this?
Pornography is the filmic correlate to dance music. You can’t be excited by that which you don’t understand on a corporeal, non-intellectual level. I’m sure you’ve heard musics that don’t move you to dance, and I’m sure you’ve heard musics that make it impossible for you not to dance.
My company has been the only gay porn company that has consistently grown, even in the age of internet piracy. I don’t say this out of a sense of inflated egotism. All I’m saying is that the number of men who “dance” to my “music” is legion. And I’m deeply humbled and grateful for this.
In one scene, there’s a jar of sperm labeled “POZ CUM.” You claim it’s full of “more than 200 poz loads.” That seems like a lot. Whose cum is it, and is it actually HIV-positive?
Pornography is a genre that has the license and the mandate to be both explicit and excessive. In a previous piece, The 1,000 Load Fuck we went far beyond 200. Each of these was not only a response to the practices of men I know but also resonated with the desires of the men who watch my work. The number of men who have written to me asking to be the recipient of gallons of semen is virtually uncountable. These aren’t the incidental fantasies of a small fringe of outliers. These speak to the heart of the sexual imagination of most queer men.
And then it is poured directly into Blue Bailey’s ass. That was something I hadn’t seen before, and I have the internet.
It wasn’t made for you. There’s no reason for you to see it. For you, it would read as an irrational stunt. But for the straight world, much of what comprises queer culture and life is incomprehensible. Regrettably, the same can still be said for many of the older members of the gay world.
Bailey did tell tell Salon that he is actually HIV-positive anyway, and seemed critical of the fact you might’ve not publicly mentioned this on purpose.
He didn’t seem critical to me. I think my not mentioning his status was, to be honest, a hold-over on my part from the time when men were (are) reluctant to “reveal” whether they’re HIV-neg or HIV-poz. I think Blue interpreted it as being an element of PR, which it wasn’t. Two years ago I asked everyone who appears in my videos for permission to make public their sero-status. I was surprised that nearly all of them declined. As is evidenced by the reactions within the gay world to Viral Loads, there was and is a regrettable and reactionary degree of stigma aimed at poz men. Fortunately, things change.
Does it bother you he shattered the illusion?
To be honest, I don’t think anything Blue has ever done has bothered me. He’s an astonishing, thoughtful and intelligent man. I admire him enormously. Also, the work I do isn’t about creating or producing illusions. Porn isn’t about fantasy; porn is a crucial sub-genre of documentary.
Which bring me to: why is the illusion there in the first place? I’ve heard of the fetishization of HIV infection, but until you it was only in urban myths of ‘HIV parties.’ Is this an emergent fetish? An established one? Or are you inventing it?
Again, it’s not about fetishization. I recently worked with a young man who lost a leg in Afghanistan. Actually, he’s in Viral Loads. For a year he had to use crutches. Then he finally was fitted with a prosthetic leg. I saw him soon after he got his new leg, and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a happier man. Is he fetishizing his missing leg? Is he fetishizing the prosthesis? Is his physical totality a fetish for him? No, it’s part of who he is, and he is proudly and happily embracing it. He’s embracing himself in his totality.
I understand the gay community often trades in ‘denominations’ of HIV status, ie. “I’m poz but undetectable, it’s fine.” Is this the logical next step? “Who fucking cares?” It even feels like a celebration of the disease at times.
Your wording is strange to me. Do war veterans trade in “denominations” of PTSD or amputation? Do straight men trade in “denominations” of aggression or sexual experience? HIV is an everyday and normal part of gay/queer existence. We embody it in every possible way, from shame to celebration. I know extremely intelligent young men in their 20s and 30s who refuse meds and are staunchly proud of their viral loads, and I know gay men in their 80s who refuse to have “unsafe” sex because they’re determined to stay sero-negative. To my thinking, the latter are the definition of foolish. But who am I to judge?
Have you seen the film Pontypool? The characters in it face the incredible problem of dealing with a virus that’s transmitted in the language they speak, specifically English. It has always been my contention that whatever it is that we are as queer men is transmitted and continued through our sexual practices. If you’ve never sucked cock or been fucked up the ass you won’t understand this. But it’s been one of the basic underlying themes of all queer art and pornography. Sex, then, is a kind of primary grammar or behavioral rhetoric for gay/queer men. The issue of HIV for queer men for the last several critical decades has been parallel in a very real way with the dilemma of the characters in Pontypool. How do you, or your culture, survive if your language carries an infection, a virus? And the answer is, for better or worse, that you survive in league with that which plagues and endangers you. When I called this video Viral Loads I was saying, in part, “Okay, let’s just be honest about this. Let’s say out loud what everyone has known all along.” I can’t imagine anyone with any intelligence not getting to the point where they simply say, “Who fucking cares?”
If you want to know why I think this video has caused controversy, here it is: we’re at a point where it’s altogether possible, given the simple strategies like PrEP we now have at our disposal, to render HIV an utter non-issue. And the gay world is panicking because too much money, too many institutions, too much of the gay mainstream has based itself in terror and fear and grief. It’s a cultural identity crisis. It’s a mass version of agoraphobia; a world that’s suddenly free of fear is daunting and very large.
Trying to have a regular, normal sex life under the constant specter of something like HIV must be stressful. I think I can halfway understand.
Halfway is pretty good. Most people, gay or straight, don’t make it that far.
Your press release claims some of the actors involved are HIV-neg, but given Bailey’s position, is this true? The sex is unprotected, and super deliberately so.
Yes it’s true.
I don’t know how I feel about your wording “super deliberately so.” If you had been in the room during any of the shoots for Viral Loads you would have felt a solid level of excitement, happiness and general camaraderie. If you had actually seen the video, you’d notice that the men, although serious, laugh a great deal. They’re having fun. I suppose you might say that when you have sex you do it in the ways that will give you the most pleasure and meaning, and that you do so “super deliberately.” Is that true?
Surely the legalities of doing this the way you claim you did must be insane.
The integrity of one’s identity and one’s culture are of paramount importance. If you saw everything about what you hold most critical to your life being utterly misrepresented by everyone around you, would you speak up, or would you allow yourself to be cowed by fear? A vital and living identity requires some degree of nerve. It’s a form of non-violent rioting.
What effect(s) on the gay community do you think your films are having? What do you think of the criticism that you are setting bad examples for an already at-risk majority?
I’ve been astonishingly fortunate in the degree of support that I’ve been given by men from around the world.
I would hope that the effect my porn has is to lead those with whom it resonates to delve more deeply into the nature of their identities.
Is a straight man who allows his sperm to impregnate a woman setting a “bad example” in a world of depleted natural resources, skyrocketing overpopulation, and global warming?
What about if/when AB1576 happens?
Nothing would change. How do you outlaw cultural truths? The effect would be the same if a law was passed that made speaking in Spanish illegal in California.
What is the final frontier for TIM, if not this?
Utopia, of course. What else?