Not Quite Ready for My Closeup

My day as a soft-porn centerfold

For the young queer man, eager to make a quick buck from that thing nearest and dearest to him—his body—Southern California is perhaps the ideal locale, offering a variety of avenues along which to pursue the quest to turn flesh into cash. In the three years since I moved here, I've worked as a nude house cleaner, an odd trade where the quality of the cleaning is definitely secondary to the charms of the cleaner and that hot-pink feather duster is purely ornamental. I've done three-hour stints on the Internet, displaying my corporeal wares (and dirty-talking typing skills!) in a mock bedroom setup, pandering to the various desires and fantasies of a cyberworld of anonymous admirers. I made a solo jerk-off video under the pseudonym Calhoun Ross, where I was interviewed and then promptly stripped down, danced and splooged, propped up against an Addams Family pinball machine.

Despite the exotic and unusual nature of these gigs, all their sexy bump has definitely been tinged with the grind I've come to associate with any service occupation. But the fast money I made off my skin sure beat making no money at my regular job—that is, churning out one alienated latte after another for bohemians of the pseudo and crypto variety. Plus, I'm a firm believer in the anarchist concept that all work is prostitution of one kind or another (whether it's of the body, the soul, the psyche, your creative energy or all of the above), so I've never had any moral or spiritual qualms about getting my booty out there.

My latest adventure, prompted by mounting school payments, was posing nude for one of this country's most prestigious soft-porn magazines, a publication specializing in stylish solo shoots of twentysomething naked men.

But let me back up just a little, to a time before the shoot. A centerfold's gotta do what a centerfold's gotta do. And I did it. I did my morning sit-ups, lifted my free weights, laid off the Ben & Jerry's (being raised Catholic on the system of penance before absolution comes in handy at these times), and checked myself out in the mirror on an hourly basis, developing a deep empathy for the evil queen in Snow White. I shaved myself (or rather, my boyfriend did) in all the appropriate places. I chewed my fingernails down to the bone. I suffered—oh, how I suffered!—even up to the point of having a recurring dream. In the dream, I was being photographed—I looked the part, perfectly muscled and flawlessly smooth—and it was all going great until the Nikon camera grew fangs like a piranha's and went straight for my dick. Ouch.

But the day of the shoot eventually came, and I had done mywork. On a crisp winter's day, under a clear blue sky, I drove to the location in Pacific Palisades with the magazine's art editor, who also happens to be a happening dyke of the butch variety. This may sound like an anomaly to many of those gay men who like to gaze over airbrushed boy-flesh. But open your minds, my friends. A quiet revolution is occurring in a corner of the world of queer porn, and it's being led by this woman. She's giving tired, gay-male erotic art a much-needed injection of life and style, dusting off the clichés, rediscovering what was good about old porn that had been lost or discarded, and drawing on the looks of mainstream fashion shoots, probing the fine line between fashion and porn. Face it, in every fashion and entertainment magazine you open these days, it's usually a matter of seconds before you come across a naked male body. The naked male form in all its splendor is up on a pedestal and very much on display at the beginning of the 21st century, perhaps in a way that hasn't been seen since the Renaissance. Chatting with Rosie (not her real name, just as when my photos go to print, my real name won't be used), the deadpan chorus from the old Waitresses' song kept ringing in my head, with a nice little gender twist: "I know what boys like, I know what guys want."

Yes, indeed. By the time we arrived at the location—the beautiful hilly grounds of a beautiful Art Deco house owned by Rosie's beautiful superfemme of a girlfriend—I had been set at ease by her easygoing manner. Seeing the space where the shoot was going to be conducted only added to this: a hammock surrounded by bright green grass and big old eucalyptus trees (continuing the trend of bringing nature back into porn locations—ever notice how porn seemed to move into a generic, badly decorated interior as AIDS took over?).

After meeting Richard, the mellow photographer, who failed to meet any of my "sleazy porno photographer" stereotypes, and numerous changes of clothes and numerous compliments from Rosie on my ass, the outfit in which I would be immortalized was finally decided: white boxers and baby- and navy-blue pajamas sweetly offset by an emerald-green guitar that looked like it had been manufactured in Oz. I was ready for my closeup.

Well, maybe not quite ready. Due to a number of externalfactors, it took me a while to ease into the shoot. Despite what people on the East Coast might suspect, we know it gets cold out here. So between shots—when I looked sensually into the lens of the camera and pouted seductively and lounged suggestively—I shivered. And although a hammock is a nice idea and at first looked incredibly comfy, as soon as I lay down on it, I realized how incredibly hard it is to look all lazily turned-on in a nonchalant manner on one of these things. People sleep on these? It felt like they might as well have asked me to get all sassy on a bed of thistles.

I was most certainly feeling bothered by all the awkward poses—and the buzzing mosquitoes—but the hot part of the equation was somehow missing: myself. Truth be told, since I was a kid, I've never been comfortable in front of the camera. For as long as I can remember, as soon as the photographer says "Cheese," I freeze, grimacing.

And this day was no exception: as I smirked through my teeth, I thought I must look like Eddie Munster. Although I have no problem with being objectified, I find it difficult to objectify myself. Questions like "Do I make the grade?" and answers like "I don't belong here" swirled through my head. When would I start feeling beautiful?

So you probably want me to ditch this "itwas oh so work-like and un-sexy" line and dish the dirty glamour and sleaze. I will. But before I do, let me tell you something about the dirt—literally. I had a close encounter of the klutzy kind with the dark, rich Palisades soil. Having finally gotten the hang of the hammock, I became a little too nonchalant—while attempting to stand on it and climb the tree above, I fell face-first into the dirt and got a nasty graze on my elbow and back.

At this point, Rosie and Richard began to look a little worried—I heard them mumbling something about "legal matters"—but I promised not to sue. Weirdly enough, something about this act of literally coming down to earth made me relax into the shoot, and I finally began to feel at home and enjoy myself. Lucky for me because now that I was no longer tense and stiff, it was time for me to get stiff.

I can hear the readers breathe a collective sigh of relief.

Rosie diplomatically left to make out with her girlfriend when it came to this moment of truth—the boner shots (which, for those with a fetish for facts out there, take up approximately a third of the shoot time). Conjuring an erection whilst naked, outdoors, in winter, is no easy feat. Maintaining said boner whilst remembering not to blink and whilst the photographer changes rolls of film or smokes a cigarette is even harder. I began to have deep regrets about not taking that tantric-sex workshop.

If I do say so myself, I don't usually have a big problem when it comes to getting aroused and have done so in the past under the most onerous circumstances. But I was finding this a little tricky. I tried to picture the legions of men who would be fantasizing about me in the months to come—the readers who, in the photographer's words, "all want what you've got"—but I couldn't buy into this fantasy of adoration; too abstract. Although I've been blessed with a vivid imagination, I'm basically a flesh-and-blood, meat-and-potatoes kind of guy.

Lucky for me there was another flesh-and-blood kind of guy standing around for me to focus on—the photographer. Nothing can beat the erotic sparks set off by two bodies in close range to each other. It's ancient, and nothing virtual will ever exceed its power. There is a very particular intimacy created for a short time between the photographer and the model. Even though he wasn't really my type and even though I didn't have sex with him (my boyfriend should take particular note of this), there was definitely something going on between us. The soft touch of his fingers brushing against me, untucking my T-shirt, pulling my boxers down my hips so they sat just right. The cool feel of his light meter reading the depth of light against my cheek. Finally, things were beginning to feel genuinely erotic, neither forced nor simulated, and I began to take real pleasure in my body. I felt authentically turned on that I was buck-naked, watched by this fully clothed man behind the camera. As the camera flashed, a memory flashed through me from when I was 12 years old. In the thrill of early puberty, as soon as I would have the house to myself, I would strip in front of my parents' white and gold gilded mirror. With my hands and eyes, I explored my body, taking utter visual and visceral pleasure in the discovery that there was this new way I could see myself. I wasn't quite sure what I was seeing or experiencing; this changing body with its recently acquired capacity to get hard looked kind of funny, but it felt amazing. I felt that boy, caught up in his heady discovery of a new self, close to me for a moment or two. Maybe it was purely physiological, but as the blood rushed and rushed from head to head, all those nagging doubts about my belonging here, all my crippled self-consciousness, went very quiet. I forgot about time, and before I knew it, Richard laid down his camera and the shoot—all 150-odd frames—was over. By the time I was well and truly ready for that closeup, it was time to call it a day.

Whatever—I had gotten through it. Back atthe Deco ranch, dressed in my regular clothes, with only a hint of reluctance I handed the pajamas I had neatly folded over to Rosie. She asked Richard how the shoot went. He paused to take a sip of coffee, and in that pause, all my fears and doubts came rushing back. What if the photos turn out horrible and I don't get paid? What if I don't even look as cute as Eddie Munster—more like his dad, Herman? What if, what if? Having swallowed his coffee, Richard glanced at me with a look one part devious and two parts shy: "Fantastic. I kept on getting mixed up whose boner I was meant to be photographing." I breathed a sigh to end all sighs. I haven't seen the photos yet. I'll get toview them when everyone else does, when the issue I'm in comes out in four to six months. I'm curious, but I'm not holding my breath (I began breathing again when I got the check for $500). I'm as vain as the next man, but I'm no Dorian Gray—like I said, I'll sell my body but not my soul. I fear aging like everyone else, but maybe being a writer has helped me realize that those irritating beginnings of crow's-feet spinning out from the eyes are the lifelines to my stories. But I can't deny that it will be nice to have this document to look back at in years to come, of me naked at 27. Nor can I deny that I'm not a teensy-weensy bit proud to be seen as cute enough to be featured in those pages, pages that for some are profoundly sacred and for some deeply profane (me, I think it's a delicious mixture of both). So keep a lookout on the stands in the months to come for the boy in the pjs, and if you like what you see, enjoy. After you've lingered a moment or walked on by, maybe consider that behind all that flesh, there's a real boy with a story. Who knows—this could make the experience all the sexier. There's a lot going on behind that emerald-green guitar.
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