My gay art-porn debut

I was a 20-something journalist looking for a new challenge. Who knew it would be on-camera sex?

Topics: Love and Sex, Pornography, Sex, LGBT, Editor's Picks,

My gay art-porn debutJesse Metzger (r.) in "I Want Your Love." The author is not pictured in this promotional still, which tends to happen when you only have 10 or 12 lines.

Before I decided to have sex in a gay art-porn film, I felt it was best to run it past my mother. We’re pretty open with each other, and I didn’t want her to think I’d made the decision behind her back.

“All right,” she said when I told her. “Why do you want to do it?”

The answer was complicated. The whole situation had started when a friend emailed me a link to an NSFW short film making the rounds on the Internet. He described it as “hipster guys talking and having sex with each other” — but awesome. Amazingly, he was right.

Most porn had little to no narrative, unrealistic body types and a severe lack of condoms. But this film was beautifully shot and naturalistic and had a clear artistic vision, in which safe, explicit sex was a companion to sincere filmmaking. I didn’t realize until then what a void had existed in my rampant media consumption: These were people like me … having sex.

I work as a film journalist for an online magazine, and after I wrote a little article about the short film, I began corresponding with the director, Travis, who was starting work on a feature version of the short. I was only half-joking when I said to him, “If you’re ever stuck for a role, keep me in mind. Journalism isn’t quite cutting it for me these days.”

“Are you serious?” he responded.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure. But the more we talked about it, the more serious I became. I convinced Travis to let me audition, which turned out to be one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I left with the assumption that the audition was the birth and death of my acting career, a notion I was generally satisfied with. After all, it had consisted of me jerking off on camera in front of two people I’d never met before, after discussing with them how I lost my virginity and what my relationship to masculinity was like. Take that, bucket list.

But a few days later, Travis called, and told me I somehow had a part in the film if I wanted it: a one-night stand for the main character — a very small role that wasn’t too daunting. I only had 10 or 12 lines of dialogue, and it was on the lower end of the fear spectrum (no anal). I talked it over with friends. But aside from squashing any plans to run for office, what did I really have to lose? I actually started wondering whether it might be a healthy challenge for me.

“I spent a lot of my adult life feeling threatened by my own body and by my own sexuality,” I told my mother. “But I’ve come pretty far in that regard. This could be a way to confirm that, and push it even further.”

My mother is a 40-something divorcee who spent the first two decades of her own adulthood in a marriage that could never be mistaken for a self-esteem booster. She understood.

“You know what?” she said. “If I were you, I’d do it. Just don’t expect me to ever go to a screening.”

A few months later, I was on a plane to San Francisco to shoot the film.

I’d never been to the city, and my only ideas were a batch of mostly gay cliches pulled from Armistead Maupin novels, the story of Harvey Milk and the opening sequence of “Full House.” I was terrified as I headed from the airport into the city’s unfamiliar skyline — in less than 72 hours, I kept thinking, I’ll be having sex on camera with a stranger.  But that night, as I wandered the streets to ease my anxiety, I took it as a good omen when I saw the Castro Theater all lit up with a marquee for a singalong version of “The Little Mermaid.”

“The Little Mermaid” was, without a doubt, the most formative film of my childhood. I was 5 when it came out in theaters, and my mother must have taken me to see it 10 or 15 times. When it came out on video, I wore down the VHS tape three times thanks to multiple viewings in which I’d dance around our living room belting out “Under the Sea.” It was the gayest thing I’d ever done. Until now.

The morning of the shoot I woke up hung over after a few too many celebratory pints the night before. Feeling bloated, I went to a Bikram yoga class and jogged through the hilly streets, blasting Britney Spears dance remixes to bring forth my inner slut. I bought a $16 health shake called “The Ultimate,” and decided it was the only thing I’d consume before the shoot. Eventually I headed to the set, which was really just Travis’ house. Gay art porn doesn’t exactly rouse up investors.

I gave myself two hours to walk there, even though Google Maps made it clear I’d need less than half that time. I kept purposely diverting from the suggested route as much as possible. My reluctance mounted as I drew closer.

When I reached the right block, I thought about fleeing altogether. But then I saw Jesse, sitting on a stoop and talking on a cellphone. I recognized him from the short film I’d seen. And I also recognized him as the person I would be giving a blow job to by the end of the day.

Jesse was tall and scruffy and thankfully just as attractive in person as he had been in the short film. The sight of him officially ended my urge to walk in the other direction. I was here, and I might as well give in.

He ended his phone call and turned toward me. “Peter! I thought that might be you.”

We’d spoken briefly over Skype, but Travis decided that’s as far as our pre-shoot correspondence should go. Our on-screen relationship was that of two guys who just met in a bar; our interactions were supposed to be awkward.

So far, so good: Here was a guy I’d never met before, even though I’d once masturbated to the image of him having sex. And now I was going to have sex with him in front of an entire film crew. Do you go in for a hug?

Apparently, yes. He even went so far as to pick me up off the ground, an occasional tendency of people who are much taller than me (as most people are). It might have annoyed me in other circumstances but here it gave me a burst of security. Jesse had this remarkably welcoming smile, and eyes I immediately suspected would be a considerable catalyst in my pulling this off.  I started to feel less anxious about the whole sex-on-camera thing and instead got a new batch of concerns. Namely, I really wanted him to like me. I wanted him to want to have sex with me.

After a lot of waiting around (and running to the bathroom to take off my shirt and criticize the lack of pectoral perfection I’d managed in anticipation of this day), we shot a few basic establishment scenes, and then had to wait for the sun to set to shoot the rest. Jesse suggested we grab a couple beers and talk in the park. This was the attention I’d wanted from him since the second I arrived, so I jumped on it. We wandered the nearby streets and chatted, and it had the air of a first date, even though it was something else entirely.

“If we just met at a bar, what would be one of the first stories you’d tell me?” he asked me. I guess this was an attempt at method acting.

I gulped down a good quarter of my beer and then told him how I am usually forced to start these conversations by telling the story of why I’m deaf in one ear (the result of a childhood bout of meningitis). Because otherwise the other person will keep talking in the wrong one and think I’m ignoring him.

“I guess it’s really not that interesting, or at least not sexy,” I said, and then asked him what his best icebreaker was.

“My childhood friend was one of the gunmen at Columbine,” he said. “It’s not like I was there or anything. My family had moved to Florida by then. But I remember seeing him on the news. It was one of the most intense moments of my life.”

Somewhere between meningitis and Columbine I was certain we were mining some actual chemistry. By the end of two beers, I felt like I was at that bar and it was clear he was interested. Stanislavski would be proud!

It also became apparent how much more comfortable and in control Jesse was with all this.

“There’s going to be three other people in that room, but you have to completely ignore that they are there,” Jesse said. “Just ignore everything except me. And it will just happen.”

He knew just what to say. By the time we walked back into that apartment, I’d developed enough trust in Jesse – and enough of a crush on him – to make this all feel possible.

As we killed time in the apartment before shooting began, Jesse and I poured some shots of whiskey to push each other over the necessary edge. But before we clinked shot glasses, he pulled out two blue pills and handed me one.

“Think of it as insurance,” he said. “Do you really want that to be the reason the shoot gets held up?” At the very least, Jesse continued, I should do it for the experience. It could be pretty intense, and when else – in the next 40 years, at least – would it actually be somewhat appropriate?

So I agreed to do half, assuming my youthful mojo could make up for the rest. We put the pills in our mouths, stared each other in the eyes, and downed them with our whiskey shots. I tried not to cave in to the paranoid thought that I was somehow allergic to Viagra and was about to die.

When we finally made our way to the bedroom, Travis, the cinematographer and the sound guy were setting up the equipment. They told us to just get undressed and they should be all set up momentarily. My heart was beating extremely fast and my face started feeling flushed. The latter might have been a side effect of the substances, but the former was all fear. Couldn’t we forget about the whole porno thing and make out fully clothed?

But before we went any further, Jesse asked Travis and company to give us some time alone. I breathed a quiet sigh of relief as they shut the door behind them.

“You look really scared,” Jesse said with a concerned smile. He came over to me and kissed me, pulling off my shirt in the process. Then he took off his own shirt, and pulled me toward him as he backed up toward the bed.

“It’s just us, remember?”

I nodded.

We started to make out on the bed, and I wondered how much of a ploy this was on his part. It felt natural, but did that just mean Jesse was good at his job? But I guess it didn’t matter at this point. Within a few minutes our clothes were on the floor and the Viagra had most certainly kicked in.

Travis knocked on the door, and Jesse and I got under the covers. The crew came back in and Travis walked us through the various sequences and motions of the scene. I kept finding myself not paying attention, assuming Jesse would listen for the both of us and I could follow his lead. I didn’t really want to know what was about to happen. I wanted it to just happen.

The camera started rolling. And then Jesse took control, improvising most of the lines and motions and letting his eyes guide me through the same.

From different angles and with various new instructions, we did our little dance. We made out with each other, blew each other, whispered very brief lines (“Is that OK?” “Oh, God!”). In between takes, Jesse would pull the covers back and continue to kiss me, holding my hand. It all felt bizarrely romantic and normal.

But then Travis instructed that the time had come to cum. I’d almost done so twice already on accident, but now that the right time had arrived, I wasn’t sure if I could.

Jesse looked at me and smiled. “We can do this,” he said.

The cameras started rolling, and Jesse went to town. It was a sincerely spectacular blow job. I tried to mentally remove myself from the pressure and just enjoy what he was doing, because I knew that would be the only way. And it worked.

“I’m gonna cum!” I finally said. It was the best line reading I gave all night.

Afterward, Jesse collapsed on top of me and we cuddled under the sheets one last time. I was already melancholic. We were nearing the end of our arranged little romance.

Once we’d wrapped, I decided it was best to bolt. No need for awkward goodbyes. I thanked Travis and sincerely told him how positive the experience was.

“It certainly looked like it,” he said with a laugh.

Jesse was in the kitchen, scarfing down leftover Mexican takeout. He offered me a plate, and I desperately wanted to take it. For one thing, the last few days of borderline anorexia had left me starving. But I also wanted to extend whatever had just happened. I wanted to go back in that bed, and do it all over again.

I’ve never been good at restraint, but this seemed like a moment for it. I knew whatever I was feeling belonged to a window of time that had already closed. I declined the Mexican food and made up an excuse that I had to meet an old friend from college for dinner.

I couldn’t figure out how to say goodbye. I wanted to thank him for making the whole thing so easy. I maybe wanted to ask him to marry me. But instead, I hugged him a bit clumsily and said a simple “bye” before stumbling back out into the foggy streets of San Francisco.

There was a skip in every step as I headed back home. I had actually done this. After so many months hoping it would be all over, I was a little sad to find it really was all over now. But it had been so much better than I ever could have expected.

I found a Mexican takeout place on the way home. As I sat alone and devoured a burrito, my phone buzzed in my back pocket. I had a text message.

“Hi it’s Jesse,” it read. “You were awesome.”

He must have gotten my number from Travis. And I actually felt nervous all over again as I took to the keypad to respond.

“Thanks for being equally if not twice as awesome,” I wrote back. “Seriously. There’s no way I could have done it any other way.”

He responded almost instantly.

“Thanks, Peter. You’re real cute. It was awfully easy.”

I let my resulting smile be Jesse’s final gift as I put the phone back in my pocket. I headed back to the place I was staying and once more walked past the Castro Theater, where a screening ofThe Little Mermaid” had started roughly 20 minutes ago. I decided to go in.

The gorgeous old theater was packed not with kids but with people my age, who clearly shared my affinity for the film. I found a seat in the back corner, and put on the pink paper crown that was in the goodie bag the cashier had given me. A familiar musical intro filled my one good ear as everyone in the crowd stood up. And with a childlike joy, I joined them in belting out the lyrics to “Under the Sea.”

Peter Knegt is Montreal-based author and journalist. He currently works as the Senior Editor at The film described in this story -- Travis Mathews' "I Want Your Love" -- is screening at both Los Angeles' Outfest and New York's Newfest this July.

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