Connect to share and comment

Special report: Gay-4-Pay in Prague

In the dark corners of Eastern Europe, economic crisis drives straight men into gay porn.

Editor’s note: In this GlobalPost investigative report, Prague correspondent Iva Skoch gained rare access to one of Eastern Europe’s most secretive industries, uncovering a world where shifting human sexuality meets rampant commercial demand. It is an industry where global economic crisis mixes with the latest web technologies, set amid the upheavals of Eastern Europe’s uneven transition from communism to a raw form of capitalism. In this multimedia report, we examine the complex and interlocking pieces of Prague’s booming gay porn business, from its roots in an American entrepreneur, to the cultural, moral and political foundations that make Prague a gay porn capital, as well as the economic necessities that drive many into the industry, and finally, the human toll it takes on workers. It is intended solely for mature audiences.

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — Martin Justel is 20, as old as the Czech democracy and, arguably, just as mature.

He is scrawny and too tall for his body mass. He has a baby face, short auburn hair, long eyelashes and a vacant expression. He looks hardly 18 but his eyes, blinking slowly, convey the gloom and servitude of somebody much older. In the terminology of the American gay sexual marketplace, he is a classic “twink,” a thin, young, pretty boy.

He whispers “hello” as he tiptoes into the Prague film studio of William Higgins, 67, an American producer and “dean of gay porn” who moved to Prague right after communism ended to corner the gay sex market, arriving around the same time two other bearded vanguards of capitalism — Santa Claus and Colonel Sanders — showed up to monopolize Christmas and fried chicken.

All three have found fertile ground here.

“You can take off your clothes,” says Rado Pauer, Higgins’ cameraman, stage artist and translator, as he walks over to Justel to hand him half of a blue pill, which he swallows without question.

(Nightlife in Prague)

Justel knows the drill already. This is, after all, his second time shooting gay erotic video. The first time, he did a solo scene and found it to be an easy way to make money doing something he does for free at home anyway.

Today, he was supposed to do a twosome — for the first time in his life experiencing, let alone being filmed in, a sexual encounter with another man. But his partner-to-be didn’t show up, for reasons the studio doesn’t investigate. It happens often. Some men get cold feet, others get real jobs or — once they have a little experience in the business — find a better-paying studio and stop returning phone calls.

Nevertheless, Justel is here, naked but for a pair of white athletic socks with tiny Czech flags on them, sitting on the same couch where some two thousand men sat before him, some only once, others repeatedly. At the end of the shoot, he will get cash in hand. That's all he can focus on. He will use it to pay rent and take his girlfriend out for dinner.

Justel, after all, describes himself as 100 percent straight. He is merely gay for pay.

Like the vast majority of the thousands of “perfectly straight” Czech men performing in gay porn, he gets offended when asked whether he ever considered he might be gay. He is, he insists, only doing it for the money. Visibly timid, inexperienced and “hetero,” he caters perfectly to the sexual fantasies of those discerning consumers — primarily American gay men — looking to satisfy their appetites for homosexual pornography featuring straight men.

Gay men have always fetishized masculinity and seen straight guys as real guys, says Jeffrey Escoffier, the author of the book "Bigger Than Life: The History of Gay Porn Cinema from Beefcake to Hardcore" and a visiting scholar at the New York University Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. “It’s a marketing opportunity for producers,” he says. “A large percentage of gay men see heterosexual men as more masculine than gay men.”

According to Higgins, gay men want to see straight guys but imagine them as gay, which is partly why 90 percent of the Czech men he uses in his films are heterosexuals, or at least “that's what they like to call themselves.”

Higgins also likes to recruit men who have typically never done porn or had sex with men before and market their inexperience as an asset, not a drawback. To this day, he enjoys filming the first-timers, especially if they don’t really like it. He zooms in on their faces clenched in pain. It makes it real, Higgins says.

He also prefers working with straight guys because they are not as picky about with whom they have sex. “If they are willing to do it with a guy, they’ll do it with any guy. It’s a job,” he says. “We have one gay guy who always dictates who he’s going to do it with. I’d much rather work with straight guys.”

Gay porn: the numbers

Gay video sales and rentals represent a disproportionately large segment of the $10 billion to $12 billion global porn industry, up to one-third or even one-half, by some estimates, writes Joe A. Thomas in "Gay Male Video Pornography: Past, Present, and Future."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/commerce/100323/gay-porn-prague