Some Links May Be NSFW: The 2008 GayVN Awards

GayVN Header.My friend Melissa Gira Grant and I recently attended GayVN Awards, the biggest gay porn industry awards show. Both of our tickets had been gratis through our office jobs, hers as a consultant at the St. James Infirmary (an occupational safety and health clinic for sex workers) and mine as a webmonkey for NakedSword (a hardcore streaming gay porn website). It’s one of those weird, neat little perks of my place of employment, which is otherwise an office job like most any other.

We’ve got health insurance and mysterious 401K paperwork and a sign above the kitchen sink asking people to please wash their damn dishes and cliques and birthday cards passed around and we go on the occasional “team-building” outdoor excursion or out for lunch around the holidays. Except, you know, our raison d’etre is pornography, so we can use dirty words in office emails and it’s perfectly okay to put up pictures of naked hunks if one is so inclined. Best of both worlds.

(Sidenote: my new favorite adjective is “hunky.” It’s often used in movie blurbs, as well as episode synopses for our webcast The Tim & Roma Show, i.e. “Tim and Roma are joined by hunky Jason Adonis…” I have no idea why, but it makes me laugh every single time.)

Sometimes we need to de-porn the office for a sensitive visitor (like one of our “straight” web design clients, or the boss’s nephew), and even though the relaxed corporate culture allows me to decorate my workspace like the gloomy, media-saturated teenager I’ve never stopped being, there’s no nudity on my walls. Three (count ’em, three) Marilyn Manson posters, sure, magazine covers from Bizarre and Fetish and Skin Two as well as one-sheet movie posters for both Twin Peaks Fire Walk With Me and Cronenberg’s Crash, both of which are among the most sexually outré films of the nineties, but no porn. Because, really, that would just be tacky.

Melissa’s actual day job is writing for Valleywag, and in addition to Medialoper I write for the Eros Zine (or at least I did, until it folded this week). Our post-modern ironic-yet-sex-positive credentials were solid. Granted, to get in the door all that mattered was that we had our tickets in hand. Like David Cross said, indie hipster cred won’t buy you a house in the country, and at a hundred bucks for regular tickets (and two hundred for my “industry” ticket), we wouldn’t have been there if our bill wasn’t footed.



GayVN Ticket.
The event was being held at the otherwise respectable Giftcenter Pavilion, which was just one of the many controversial elements of the show. Last year’s show had been held at the arguably more theme-appropriate Castro Theater, deep in the heart of the queerest district in the world’s queerest city. (Actually, some would argue that the Castro is no longer the queerest part of town, and they’re probably right, but that’s another essay.) The GayVN people—the gay extremity of AVN, itself the online presence of the venerable Adult Video News magazine—decided this year to go with the ostensibly less expensive Pavilion. To me, that’s a classic example of the queer bubble of San Francisco. Even our porn awards don’t have to be held at venue associated with gayness, especially not if a better deal can be had elsewhere. Adding fuel to the big dramatic fire: rather than inviting last year’s opportunistically unctuous host (and Vicki Lewis wannabe) Kathy Griffin, they hired unctuous Sirius radio hosts Derek & Romaine and Wigstock impresario Lady Bunny. Unsurprisingly, this lead to hissyfits.

The loudest was from Griffin, who was persnickety about the perceived snub and counterprogrammed an event at the Castro Theater in conjunction with the International Bear Rendezvous. “Bears” are large, hairy gay men, and their Rendezvous was one of two big gay events happening in town that weekend, the other being the GayVN Summit which of course climaxed (heh) with the GayVN Awards. There’s usually at least one such event happening in town per month, and obviously more than one per weekend isn’t unheard of either.

(Though they weren’t all gay events, my personal favorite citywide traffic jam was the the last weekend of September 2005: both an anti-war protest and the Ecstasy-tastic Loveparade filled the streets Saturday afternoon, Green Day played at the ballpark that evening, and Sunday was the Folsom Street Fair. That was a good weekend to not have to get across town.)

It was the only one in San Francisco that weekend, but the Rendezvous isn’t the only big bear event. Off the top of my head, there’s also the Lazy Bear Weekend up in Guerneville and the Hairrison Street Fair here in town. There’s gotta be more, and I’m sure I’d know them if I was a large hairy man or a man who loved them.

Nor is there a shortage of porn awards, gay and otherwise. (To quote the obvious Woody Allen line about California: “What’s with all these awards? They’re always giving out awards. Best Fascist Dictator: Adolf Hitler.”) NakedSword is a frequent nominee and winner of industry-insider awards from Cybersocket and Xbiz, often in categories such as “Best VOD Site,” “Best Blog” (the oh-so-Web 1.0 Gay Porn Blog), and “Best Business Person of the Year” for my boss Tim Valenti. The GayVNs focus on the actual movies themselves, so NakedSword is mostly present as a leading distributor/promoter of the product, and not eligible for any of the awards.

Which is why the other high-profile hissing came from The Sword, my company’s recently launched oh-so-Web 2.0 blog-portal-social-networking-Gawkerish site. Unlike Xbiz or Cybersocket, they weren’t hurting NakedSword’s chances of winning anything when they called Derek and Romaine “houseplants”. (Tim did receive a GayVN “Special Achievement Award” this year, but that had been announced before the hosts.) Derek and Romaine dissed The Sword in return, and so on and so forth. A flamewar by any other name is just as stupid.

The Sword and Romaine.

I wasn’t aware of the controversy until I heard a collective “Oooooooh!” followed by cheering from the other side of the office one day. I asked my coworker Sister Edith over IM what the hell was going on over there, and she said people over there were listening to Derek and Romaine diss The Sword. She then filled me on the brouhaha. I was immediately bored by it, and remain rather bored now, especially since The Sword actually made lettuce jokes about Romaine’s name. Get it? Romaine…lettuce? Y’know, even at Bad Movie Night when we’re riffing off the top of our heads, we think some jokes are too easy.

That said, I hope it got The Sword the attention and controversy it was looking for and established it as being edgy and iconoclastic and stuff. Hey, if it helps NakedSword be a viable company so I can keep my awesome job which both makes me happy and pays my rent, I’m all for it. (In addition to gay porn awards shows, through my work I’ve attended concerts by the Kronos Quartet and Philip Glass, both a solo show by the latter as well as him conducting a live score for screenings of Koyaanisqatsi and Naqoyqatsi. I love my job.)

Though parking in the area was suspiciously easy, especially for San Francisco’s SoMA District on a Saturday night, the Pavilion was was pretty well packed when Melissa and I arrived. (When I picked her up earlier, we were happy to discover we were both wearing ripped fishnets without having planned ahead. Kismet!) Melissa’s expertise is whoring, both as an activist and practitionerk, and she doesn’t know much about gay porn. So, as we stood at the surprisingly cash bar to order our gin and tonics—most expensive drink: nine bucks for an “Energy cocktail”, which Melissa figured was rum and Red Bull—I pointed out many of the luminaries to her. It was a handsome-looking crowd, no question. I’m not into boys—I wish I was, ‘cuz I would get so much more action—but working in the industry for the past few years has certainly taught me to appreciate male hotness.

Such as Buckshot Man Alex Chandler, who spotted me in the crowd and made his way over to give me a hug. He worked behind a desk at NakedSword for a while, and god, I had such a crush on him. I still think he’s cute. Though I’m not into butch women, when I develop one of my infrequent crushes on a man (like poet Horehound Stillpoint, my gay boyfriend—quit looking at him! I saw him first!), they’re usually bald. Alex also has a certain Lex Luthor-esque quality about him, and he worked at NakedSword right when I started watching Smallville, so that surely counts for something as well. Of course, my real crush on that show has always been Alison Mack, who plays Clark’s BFF Chloe. Damn, she’s cute. She lacks the calculatedly exotic hotness of Kristin Kreuk, and for me that’s what works about her. That clip of Alison in the opening credits of the first few season, where she’s smiling in slow motion, like a new dawn? Kills me every time. But I digress.

As is probably obvious by now, more in keeping with my usual sense of aesthetics is Sharon Kane, who was nominated for Best Non-Sexual Performance—literally, a role that doesn’t involve sex. I’ve been a fan of hers for a long time, but like Nina Hartley at the Masturbate-A-Thon last year I decided not to approach her. I’m generally timid around celebrities, but there was another factor: plastic surgery. I hate it, and she’d obviously had a lot.

She was never what society considers a classic beauty, and her eyes always have always had a certain asymmetrical weirdness which I find hot (like Nina Hartley or Vash), but Sharon’s face now just looked wrong, the proportions of her lips and cheeks all wonky in that unmistakeably silicone-ish way. It was jarring, and I realized that I didn’t want to see it up close. She’s about to turn fifty-two, and I recognize that the porn industry is worse than the mainstream film world regarding age, but…no. Ick.

It also reminded me of one of the many reasons I’m glad my company does gay porn rather than straight: the relative naturalness of the performers. Oh, I know that a lot of ’em are less than organic in one way or another, steroids for their bodies and Viagra to perform and whatever else, and they’re fantasy ideals of masculinity in much the same way that female porn stars are fantasy ideals of femininity, but at least the gay porn boys still look more or less the way DNA made them. The straight porn girls, not so much, and their extreme fakeness just squicks me out. (For my money, some of the hottest women in porn can be found in bisexual movies targeted at gay men, especially the ones made in the Czech Republic.) I wish I knew what Sharon Kane truly looks like now, underneath all the plastic. Long live the new flesh, indeed.

The details of most of that flesh—though there was no nudity—were tricky to see from where Melissa and I chose to sit at the edge of the third floor balcony, looking down on the event in the courtyard-like area. We probably could have sat with my coworkers on the main floor, but from above we had an excellent view of the stage as well as the ginormous video screen behind it. The screen flickered on and off throughout the show, seeming to give up altogether near the end. As most of us did.

The View from Above.

The festivities began with a pair of potted plants being brought onstage as Derek and Romaine spoke into microphones backstage, a direct reference to The Sword’s snark, made all the more direct by, um, directly referencing it: “Seen any good assholes lately?” “How about Michael Stabile from The Sword?” “No, I mean good assholes!” I could see Michael well enough to tell that he was getting a kick out of it, and really, notoriety is currency in this industry. The Sword, for the win!

Knowing a thing a two about the currency of notoriety was the first presenter, Michael Lucas. The most calculatedly controversial figures in the industry, Lucas prides himself on being a badass, talking trash about everyone and pulling stunts like sending out fake press releases claiming to have been murdered. He gets away with it because he’s usually right, at least in terms of making money. He’s also a prime example of how insular the gay porn industry is in relation to the mainstream. Michael Lucas is a huge fish in a small, if multi-gazillion dollar pond.

Like, his movie Michael Lucas’ La Dolce Vita totally owned the 2007 GayVNs, winning fourteen awards including the highly appropriate “Best Marketing Campaign.” A week and a half before the GayVNs, the owners of the Fellini’s La Dolce Vita sued Lucas for copyright infringement, saying the porn movie would “infringe, tarnish and dilute” the trademark rights to the original. As copyright lawsuits go it’s even sillier than Island Records suing Negativland for their “U2” single, and that made no goddamned sense whatsoever. (If you’re the sort of scofflaw who wants to take bread from the mouth of Bono’s children, the “U2” single is available for download on Negativland’s website. Just sayin’.)

The story got some coverage in the mainstream media, but what really drove home for me how unmentionable gay porn remains was a clip from Late Night with Conan O’Brien a few days before the GayVNs which Lucas helpfully posted on his site. (I can’t find it now, of course, but here’s a recap.) Conan talked about the case, not mentioning Lucas or any details other than it being porn. Bandleader Max Weinberg then delivered a rant to the copyright holders of the original film for being misleading, since he’d rented that one the night before and was sorely disappointed to find it was an Italian art film and not hardcore pornography. Wacky juxtaposition! Which raises the question: did anyone on Conan’s show know the movie was gay? If so, was Max comfortable with the implication that he’s gay? Or did they just figure that so few people watching would be familiar with the movie, it wouldn’t matter?

Making a valiant effort to surpass Lucas in the controversy department, but snubbed in several GayVN catergories (especially “Best Leather Video” and “Best Specialty Release”) was Dark Alley Media, a New York-based studio specializing in fisting and heavy S&M. They released what was probably the most controversial film of the year, at least in the gay porn world, Gaytanamo. If you’ve figured out for yourself the title is a spoof on Guantanmo, then you can probably figure out the rest, too. The gay blogsophere was all a-twitter when it was announced, and NakedSword made a big to-do out of exclusively carrying it for VOD (precisely the business acumen which wins Tim those awards). Not to be outdone by Lucas, Dark Alley released their own Fellini rip called 8 1/2, and just to be sure to cover the potential controversy bases, Passio, based on the most successful mainstream torture-porn movie ever made. Mel Gibson didn’t sue, probably because director Matthias von Fistenberg and producer Owen Hawk appear to be Gentiles.

Passio et al.

Since there were eighty zillion nominees in approximately thirty-two zillion categories to plow through, clips were not shown and names were not even displayed on the screen. This made the program very handy as a libretto, since the acoustics were not so great (possibly this had more to do with where Melissa and I were sitting) and the majority of the announcers were gay porn actors. They ain’t exactly in the business because of their (ahem) diction.

Some breezed through it, some had energy and some didn’t, some had accents which were even thicker than Russian immigrant Lucas, and some just couldn’t pronounce a damn thing. My favorite was the twink (a gay man of legal age who looks like jailbat, often characterized by spiky blonde hair and a startling witlessness) who was reading the winner for “Best Bisexual Video.” The title in question was Bi-Accident, but he evidently got confused by the similar titles and started to say Bi-Apple instead. Ah, twinks. Always good for comic relief, though having a conversation with one can be exasperating.

The most stage time in the show was devoted to the Hall of Fame. A half dozen or so new inductees spoke, including director David McCabe. Beyond his porn work, he’s known to my fellow video store alumni as the director of pictures such as Puppet Master III, which was disingenuously referred to in his introduction as being a Paramount movie. I almost turned to Melissa and said “Actually, the Puppet Master series was produced by Charles Band’s company Full Moon, and Paramount simply distributed it,” but I decided to spare her.

She was more interested in new Hall of Famer Tiger Tyson from Pitbull Productions, purveyor of Thugporn. It involves black men acting “thuggish”—do-rag optional but common—and then having sex. It’s mostly produced and distributed by black men such as Tyson, thus allowing bleeding hearts such as myself to not fret too much about the issues of representation and such. Besides, y’know, it’s porn. Social responsibility is arguably not the point.

Yet it’s a point many people do argue. There’s a big debate within the industry about barebacking, i.e. sex without condoms. Some say it’s irresponsible and sets a bad example, and others say that porn is fantasy and thus shouldn’t have to set a good example. For our part, I’m proud that NakedSword doesn’t carry barebacking movies made after the mid-eighties, the advent of AIDS. The industry term for those older movies is “pre-condom classics.” Sounds better than pre-AIDS, to be sure.

The award-giving began at 7:38pm, and best picture (GRUNTS: The New Recruits by Raging Stallion Studios, one of the big winners of the night) was awarded at 9:27pm. Just shy of two hours, not too shabby at all. It helped that they skipped the Intermission (subtitled in the program “Drink Time” for the benefit of the twinks who wouldn’t know what to do with themselves otherwise) listed in the program. Of course, people still complained about how long and boring the show was. Christ, people. It’s an awards show. You expect brevity and wit? Consider yourself lucky there wasn’t a raffle.

Drink Time!

Instead, on our way out we were given bags o’ swag. The contents of mine:

Melissa had been rather intrigued by Tiger Tyson’s name, and while he was onstage we his possible discussed mainstream inspirations, including Tiger Woods and Mrs. Tyson’s Fish Sticks. We decided neither are likely, but it did get us both hungry for fried fish, giving our night a definite purpose. So, after the show went to The Old Chelsea.

Located in the Tenderloin, where gay sex could most commonly be found before its quasi-legitimization over the past few decades, the Old Chelsea is a traditional fish-and-chips shop. Well, I don’t know how traditional the ratty storefront itself is, but I’m told the food is the real thing. And, of course, there’s malt vinegar provided on the tables, and I love any excuse to use malt vinegar. Most people just go to a hipster bar around the corner called the Edinburgh Castle, where you can have your Old Chelsea order delivered as you drink your booze, but Melissa and I decided to go straight to the source. It was the perfect way to end the evening.

I suppose there’s a possible joke in there somewhere—needing to cleanse our pallette with fish after and evening spent watching beef—but, as I say, some jokes are too easy.

One Response to “Some Links May Be NSFW: The 2008 GayVN Awards”

  1. Tyson says:

    For years when I have called up to order something (food, whatever) when I give them my name inevitably there is a pause and the person on the other end says “Oh you mean like the boxer?” Now since gay porn has gone mainstream (?), I have to wonder if someone is going to ask me “Oh you mean like the gay thug porn star?”

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