Porn Has Done Its Good Deed For the Week

Bert Archer is a Canadian author, journalist, travel writer, essayist and critic. He is the...

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Porn did a good deed this week, and here, for the record, is why I’m not going to be putting up with anyone trash-talking it anymore.

But first, a memory: Steve—slim, chiseled features, blond and cold, maybe even a bit nasty—walking across the quad, and me thinking he was just the dreamiest—I may have even used that very term to myself. Despite being an adolescent boy, with all the hormonal foment and sexual extremity that period usually entails, when it came to sex and boys, I was a fawn—timid, snatching nibbling glances instead of ogling mouthfuls, and never, ever talking about it with anyone, robbing myself of a lifetime’s worth of sexual fronting.

It was the 1980s, and with the exception of a few proudly effeminate boys who would occasionally admit to bisexuality, that was high school: a Bronze Age village where you might be temporarily ostracized for a wardrobe gaffe, but where the punishment for gayness was as literally unimaginable as what two boys might actually do with each other if they were of a mind to.

I got a hint of the latter in a thumbnail-sized ad for a video in the back of a Hustler that showed one half-centimetre of blondness, on all fours, with another nestled up behind him. But the former? I really had no idea what would happen to me if anyone caught me looking at Steve, or found out what I wanted to do with him, to him, on him. Lose all my friends, certainly; have to change schools, of course. But the chances of finding another one that somehow hadn’t heard about me? Nil, I thought.

So not only was I quiet in school, I never did anything outside its grounds that might leak back in. This voracious, joyful, puppy-like gift teen boys get, this adolescent sexuality, to compensate for all the pimples and the voice-cracking and the smells and the stupidity, evaporated for me and a million others as soon as it arose, every minute of every hour.

But you knew that, just as you knew that things weren’t significantly different in the 1990s, last decade, or, really, even now.

Except, look at what happened this week and last at this random high school in Cocoa, Florida. It’s not Miami, or Miami Beach, or South Beach: it’s across the channel from Cape Canaveral, in a part of Florida that’s not much different from much of small-town U.S.A.(only marginally surfier). When school administrators found out that 18-year-old senior Noel [NSFW], to use the name his part-time employers chose for him, had done some porn, they told him he was expelled. When the story became local news, the school said he’d never been expelled, just suspended; when it became national news, the school insisted it would never suspend a student for out-of-school activities.

So, what were those activities? Well, there’s a jerkoff scene, which was enough to derail Simon Rex’s mainstream career just 15 years ago, and another called Joshua & Noel Bareback. High school being high school and the Internet being the Internet, everyone at Cocoa High will have seen Joshua & Noel Bareback, as well as the other scenes he did (including a variation on the theme called Noel & Jordan Bareback). And what did they do? They moved out of the Bronze Age. They protested his suspension.

Young adults have been doing porn for as long as there’s been porn. They’ve also been found out—by friends, family, boyfriends and girlfriends, more easily and presumably more often in the last 10 years or so than ever previously. And I’m sure there have been all manner of reactions, from violence to acceptance to congratulations. But I have never before heard of anything like this. High school, where students live to leap on each others’ failings in order to prop up their own nob-kneed senses of self, where parents transmit their social and moral fears through their children in the form of under-breath dining-room epithets that turn into locker scrawls. But this time? After some initial bullying, dozens, possibly scores of students (to judge from the pictures published on his Facebook page and those of his friends) gathered, stomped, skipped class en masse, shouting Noel’s name in a scene worthy of Dead Poets Society.

I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever get misty over anything to do with porn, but that’s aging for you.

I’m sure Noel wasn’t especially pleased to have his extra-curriculars exposed, and he may be unhappy at how much attention it’s already received. (He didn’t reply to my Facebook message asking for comment and context.) And while he’s certainly entitled to be as nonplussed as he likes, he may not fully realize just how lucky he is to go to school in the era he does, the occasional ass of an administrator notwithstanding. The students’ reactions to Noel’s adventures in the new economy seem to me to be a double affirmation—of sex in general, and same-sex activity in particular. I find both remarkable, and remarkably encouraging.

We hear, or have heard, a lot of bad-news stories about porn: women forced into it; drugs taken before, during and after it; diseases spread by participation in it; men’s understanding of women coarsened by it; men’s relationships with other men diminished as a result of it; women as a whole victimized by its mere existence. So here, then, is a good-news porn story—the story of a school rallying around a young man who, according to him, had some commercial sex to help out with the family finances. (No idea if that’s true, or if he did it to buy a motorcycle or to score a hookup with Jordan and Joshua. It doesn’t actually matter.)

It’s often been easier to see men as agents than women when it comes to porn. But, with apologies to Bonnie Sherr Klein, I don’t see the difference, at least not these days, when there are a comparable number of men in the industry to women. Here was a young man with whatever long-term assets he might have, and one very obvious short-term asset, which he chose to cash in on, just as someone might take advantage of a friend who owns a business or an ability to run fast or jump high. I have no idea how much these guys make, but it seems to involve flights and hotels, so I’m guessing more than a couple of hundred bucks. His choice would have been just as valid if he were a woman.

(You could argue, of course, that the school’s reaction would have been different if he were a she, but I would argue against you. This wasn’t a young man caught boinking chicks for cash: dude was a bottom. You could also argue that things might have turned out differently if he were black or brown or Asian instead of white, to which I would say, maybe at home—Noel’s mother has publicly supported him, another shock to my system—but I’m guessing not at school.)

One of the arguments historically leveled against acting in porn is that it marginalizes you. Women in porn—and to an almost negligible extent, the men who accompany them—are there as a last resort, at the bottom of their respective barrels, the last stop before death in a ditch. And even if they miraculously manage to pull themselves together after whatever personal tragedy led them to it in the first place? If anyone ever finds out about it—employer, husband, children—that will almost certainly be the end of that.

But the odd logic of porn, it turns out, means that the bigger it gets, the less big a deal it becomes—to watch, to be caught watching, or, it seems, even to act in. After some initial reflex bullying, the student body of Cocoa High didn’t mind what one student had done with his. They thought the suspension was a bigger deal than the bottoming.

If Noel liked the sex he was having with the other guys, the fallout from this is quite lovely: A school supports an outed student. If he just did it for the cash, though, it’s perhaps even better, because that implies our replacement generation understands porn and, vastly more importantly, sex and sexuality in a way that most folks born before, say, 1995, and back a few hundred years before them, just didn’t. And for that, on behalf of my teenaged, Steve- (and Bill- and Adrian- and Jon-) gazing self, I would like to thank the mass outing of sex that is Internet porn. Thanks, porn.

Image via seancody.com

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