I was not a porn consumer or seeker when I was a teenager. Though I was sexually precocious and promiscuous in many ways, porn wasn’t really on my radar. In fact, when a high school friend found me on MySpace recently and discovered that I’d become a porn director, he was pretty surprised. But since I’m a bit of an extremist, when I began to explore porn, I really did it up. And I wanted to find porn that was like me – bisexual.At my first job in sex, I lucked into a treasure trove of porn with obsessively categorized videos, magazines, and mementos: the Ralph Wittington Collection at the Museum of Sex. I started as a researcher at the Museum and then became an assistant curator the year it opened – and in addition to jump-starting my career as a sex nerd, being exposed (ahem) to the wealth of smut in the Wittington collection plus meeting a delightful array of sex industry legends got me started on my own personal journey.
Among the carefully labeled boxes that contained videos in plastic archival boxes, polaroids of enthusiastic collector Ralph Wittington with a variety of stars, and a smattering of creepy flesh-colored sex toys was a box labeled “bisexual.” The contents were a bunch of Paul Norman films – the “Bi and Beyond” series that kicked off in 1988. The late 1980s through the mid-1990s were apparently the heyday for bisexual porn – if a heyday can be considered somewhat prolific production from one director.
I was a bit puzzled – this bisexual porn seemed to be kind of a crappy afterthought (even in it’s heyday). The main thing that distinguishes bi porn –then and today- from straight porn is the fact that men touch each other in it; porn with girl on girl action is essentially considered straight. And no one bats an eye if a female performer who does scenes with other women says she’s straight; but guys who do scenes with other guys are thought of as gay gay gay, whatever they call themselves.
In addition to the dude-on-dude action, the Paul Norman films often had “hermaphrodites” in them. In one of the films I saw, the so-called hermaphrodites were biological women wearing flesh-colored strap-ons with lots of concealer makeup so they kinda sorta looked like real penises. If you’re feeling generous, you might be inclined to think of these hermaphrodites as Havelock Ellis’ definition of bisexual – people with the genitals of both sexes. Or you might think that Norman either didn’t know MTF pre-op transsexuals exist or for some reason didn’t want to hire them. I don’t really know the answer to that quandary.
In Norman’s films, the performers generally give the impression that they are doing a job, and not one they entirely understand or think is sexy. To his credit, Norman’s films were a thing unto their own – bisexual porn. Since then, however, bisexual smut has been subsumed into gay porn, despite the presence of heterosexual and girl-girl (I hesitate to say lesbian) scenes. The porn industry seems to not at all believe that bisexuality exists, rather that for guys its a stumbling block on the way to full fledged gay, and that girls just want to get attention (and paying porn jobs) any way possible.
In porn, girls do each other with a male viewer in mind, and once a guy has done another guy rumors will fly about his sexuality for the rest of his career – often he uses a different name for gay and straight scenes. Many porn studios with contract girls don’t allow their girls to do scenes in bi movies or with men who’ve done gay scenes because of the associated stigma and the perceived risk of HIV infection. Sex educators and sex toy retailers know better and acknowledge a broader spectrum of sexuality, which is probably why one of the few bi movies of note in recent years, Slide Bi Me, was produced by the San Francisco-based Good Vibrations in 2001.
In 2006, when I got the opportunity to direct and produce my first porn film, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a film that did justice to actual bisexual experiences and identities (and I emphasize that both of those are plural). I aimed to make a film that captured some of the bi action I’d personally seen and participated in at private sex parties in my hometown New York City. I had a wild ride with The Bi Apple, which was released by Adam and Eve Pictures in February 2007. It all started with a big party in a strip club, which was followed by public screenings in Amsterdam, New York and Berlin (as well as plenty of -ahem- private screenings), an award for Hottest Bi Sex Scene at the Good For Her Feminist Porn Awards, a blurb in Oprah magazine, and a nomination for the GayVN Award for Best Bisexual Release. A lot of things about The Bi Apple don’t fit too well with the bi traditions – it has a female protagonist and a female director, and it features authentically bisexual performers, many of whom were amateurs.
A few people asked me if I felt weird about being given a nod by GayVN but being totally ignored by the AVN Awards, where niche award categories like “Best Internal Release” exist but bi porn is invisible. Honestly – no. I don’t really feel at home in either half of the porn industry – the halves are the problem for me. Sexuality isn’t black or white, there’s a lot of gray area – just have a look at the Kinsey scale and you’ll see that there are very few people who are perfectly gay or perfectly straight. When I first began to wade through the wealth of sexual media six years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that the sex industry could be so, well, conservative and narrow-minded about sexuality. But my experiences with seeking out and making bisexual smut have taught me that indeed, that is the case. Of course some of it is marketing – which I have great respect for. You can’t sell a product if you don’t have a specific name for it, and claiming to make anything goes pansexual porn would be met with silent dismissal from most distributors. But the way that most pornographers steer clear of bisexual activity is about more than marketing – it’s about homo- and biphobia, being afraid of fluidity, and maintaining an outdated, one-drop rule about gayness. In an industry where anal gaping, throat fucking, and group sex are part of normal, mainstream movies, it will always seem bizarre to me that bisexual interaction is the ick factor.