Oh My Papi
June 28, 1994
Pornography imagines an eroticized universe where anything can happen, nothing is forbidden, and the unattainable is all yours — an orgiastic Eden with no threat of expulsion, or mortality. But even the pornographic imagination, particularly the highly profitable corner of it that latched onto the gay male libido, has its limits and conventions. Anything goes, perhaps, but not any-one. Like fashion models, porn actors are more form than content, and that form — both a mirror of and a spur to changing tastes — quickly becomes standardized. Currently, the porn ideal is the same cartoon (actually, a Tom of Finland drawing) of masculinity found at most gay gyms, dance clubs, and go-go bars: He’s broad-shouldered and bubble-butted, with a chest like shiny armor plate and no sign of body hair; he’s clean-shaven, thick-lipped, straight-acting, and white. He’s the ’90s clone, and we’re over him.
Thing is, many of us were never into him in the first place. There’s no denying the attractions of the hunky whiteboy: they’re damned near unavoidable. So maybe I wouldn’t throw the boy out of bed, but I wouldn’t coax him there. He may be an icon for our times, but he’s just not part of my fantasy life. But, faced with limp indifference, pornography is infinitely resourceful; like any niche marketer, it specializes.
Lately, the consensus has given way to a whole new porn multiculturalism — magazines and videos whose subjects are exclusively Asian, black, or Latin. In New York, it’s the Latin angle that seems most resonant. Maybe that’s because the city has a long history of cross-cultural Caribbean connections and that melting pot really boils over when sex is added to the mix. Or maybe it has something to do with the fuck-anything-that-moves stereotype; when it comes to polymorphous perversity, Puerto Rico is definitely in the house.
The relationship of gay white men and Latinos, whether mutual attraction or mutual exploitation, has its lore, its literature, and plenty of anecdotal evidence. (You could start with the personals in any gay rag, the ones that read “GWM seeks PR homeboy, 18-28, beefy, hung, uncut. Bi a plus.”) And for the past nine years it’s had its own porn auteur, the pseudonymous Brian Brennan, whose Barrio-based outfit, Latino Fan Club, has turned out 60 exhilaratingly cheesy, way hardcore extravaganzas. The LFC motto: “Celebrating the beauty of the Latin male.” Right — all nine and a half inches of it.
Latino Fan Club films — from the seminal Boys Behind Bars trilogy to the four-hour epic Spanish Harlem Knights to the insouciant Horse-Hung Hispanics (in four volumes), Red Hot Ricans, and Foreskin Forever — have a raw energy due partly to their homemade, improvisational style, but mostly to their rambunctious young stars. While most mainstream gay porn is fixated on buffed beauty — the choreographed coupling of two well-oiled machines — LFC gets off on homeboy horseplay and utterly unaffected horniness. Some of this gangsta attitude is what the ball children call banji realness, a butch pose played to the hilt, but much of it is genuine. Many of LFC’s most popular “models” look like the kids who regularly show up in handcuffs on the covers of the Spanish-language tabloids: dark-eyed, tattooed, scarred, slightly built, haphazardly groomed, mean, cocky, wounded.
This personality profile promises a heady combination of brute domination and lost-boy vulnerability. Over and over again, with plenty of the requisite cum shots, that’s exactly what Latino Fan Club delivers. But what animates the best LFC titles is an all-consuming interest in the boys themselves. It’s not that these guys spill their guts out in the course of the amateurishly improvised dialogue, but they do emote in ways most porn would relegate to the editing floor. Since many LFC movies actually have narratives, some of the boys even get to act, or at least react.
The LFC aesthetic — though inspired by exploitation (and mock-exploitation) auteurs like Roger Corman, John Waters, and the anonymous dirty old man behind those “solo” films from Old Reliable — owes its style to its stars. Loose, funky, playful, always ready to drop real work and fool around, LFC doesn’t take itself too seriously. Without actually introducing a woman onscreen more than a few times, it swings both ways. Though most LFC actors come across as straight (“trade” Brennan calls them), the ruling sexuality of the films is definitely bi. “You do it even better than my wife,” one man tells another, and lots of homo sex is sparked by conversations about withholding girlfriends.
Two typical LFC models, Gustavo Viva and José Pelos, identify themselves as bisexual but are quick to note their hetero preferences. Pelos, an LFC office worker who says he met Brennan while hustling the peep shows on 42nd Street nearly 10 years ago, insists that “with a guy it would be a hustling thing and it would be safe; if I’m going to do something I’ll do it for the money.” Viva, a carpenter who builds some LFC sets, says, “Working with Latino Fan Club — that’s my job. I’m not going out there and harming anyone else; I’m working for what I receive. Some people may look at me as, like, he’s nothing more than a faggot or a homosexual, but I have a fiancée at home, and she says as long as you come back home to me and use a condom, she has no problem with it.” Both say Brennan doesn’t push his models beyond their limits (Pelos’s are succinct: “Won’t suck, won’t get fucked, won’t kiss”), but there’s clearly a certain flexibility. In a gay porn zone too often artificially divided between tops and bottoms, this is definitely another country.
Charting that territory is Brennan’s forte. Forty-nine, bearded, and frankly out of shape, the Latino Fan Club founder doesn’t pretend to understand or explain the whole Latin thing. He only aims to exploit it for his pleasure and, not so incidentally, ours. A former Madison Avenue art department slave, Brennan was working as Blueboy’s art director when he decided to do a photo spread of his own. He chose his first subject, the half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican boy who delivered coffee to the office every morning, by following his own tastes. He’d been going to a bar near his West Village home called the Phoenix that young Latin hustlers had turned into a kind of clubhouse. Sometimes they would bring their girlfriends, sometimes they would do what Brennan calls “hiphop stripping” and jump up on a table so guys could stuff bills into their G-strings. Encouraged by the MC to videotape these spontaneous strip shows, Brennan realized that his crude tape was exactly the sort of thing he could never find at the video store, where “it was all California surfer dudes, boy-next-door stuff, or leather scenes. You’d never see a Hispanic model, and I thought this might be a niche that I would enjoy doing.”
In 1985, Brennan began setting up nude photo sessions and marketing “a typical jack-off tape” of five different models called New York Street Boys. He also began running an ad for what he at first called, with typically clumsy bluntness, a Fan Club for Guys Who Dig Latin Guys. “I started believing in the thing about please yourself, do it as best as you can, and you’ll find all the people who are just like you,” Brennan says, sitting at a littered work table in the Latino Fan Club office/photo studio/crash pad/headquarters in East Harlem. The mailing list of Latinophiles he began building nearly a decade ago now includes over 7000 men, one of them the owner of this well-secured corner property. With the exception of LFC’s suite and another space with a pool deck that turns up, stocked with grinning homeboys, in LFC’s promotional newsreels, most of the building has been gutted for co-ops and remains empty.
Sade wafts in from the pool deck below, where a potential LFC star splashes under the rear windows of neighboring tenements. Under the loft bed where Spanish Harlem Knights‘s picaresque hero, Julio Nieves, snores fitfully, there are two banks of VCRs busy duplicating a tape running soundlessly on a monitor nearby. A scrawled sign reads “Say no to drugs and yes to dicks!” It’s all a cheap parody of film studio empire, fitting for a company that thrives on parody, trash, and — yes! — dicks. Though LFC’s production values have improved since Brennan shot every scene of the original Boys Behind Bars in the same corner of the same room in his old apartment in Forest Hills, its tapes are still deliberately unpolished. Continuity is a sometime thing; the focus fades at the most crucial moments; and there are plenty of times when you can hear Brennan’s instructions from the sidelines: “Push your pants down” or “Move your hand away.” “Do it as best as you can” seems to be the operative phrase here.
Brennan may admire the impeccable gloss of Kristen Bjorn’s gay porn videos, but he models himself on a rougher, more marginal (and much more low-budget) style. Boyd McDonald, the horny genius behind Straight to Hell‘s collections of true homosexual experiences, was a kindred outlaw spirit. He once gave Brennan written permission to do a video version of his books, but Brennan says. “The only real way to make a Boyd McDonald movie is to have hidden cameras and stuff. I don’t think that’ll ever get made.” So he carries on in his own way, fucking with the genre whenever he can. As if the tough mugs of his stars weren’t enough to signal viewers that they’re veering off porn’s beaten path, Brennan jokes about putting barred-circle symbols on his boxes to indicate No Butch Queens, No Designer Underwear, and No Shaving (of the depilated California prototype, he says, “It’s almost like ‘Oh my God, hair on a male! How gross!’ ”).
Like Hitchcock, Brennan appears fully clothed on the sidelines in several of his films (he’s the shady stockbroker in Latin Sex Party, the prim painter in Spanish Harlem Knights). In one of his many outtake reels, where the rawest material pops up, Brennan is an off-camera audience to superstar Rico Suave’s nude posing routine. “You are so fucking beautiful,” he says, while Suave stretches his long brown body like a particularly sly cat. If there’s a typical Latino Fan Club moment, it’s probably the offhand exchange (“That was great, man.” “You like that, huh?”) between two macho boys who have just had sex. But Brennan’s “You are so fucking beautiful” sums up the feeling behind the camera.
Because this comically awestruck bit of psychological fluffing comes from a white man who’s paying his Latin models between $200 and $300 a scene (the “receiver” earns more), there’s a definite whiff of colonialism in the air. Aside from some lightweight rumination about the “qualities of maleness that turn me on,” Brennan offers no deep examination of the attraction to what he calls “bad boys.” And he shrugs off the relentless characterization of his Latin stars as criminals, hustlers, addicts, or street kids as typical exploitation film fare (besides, he says, he gives guys auditioning for his prison and rehab clinic films the choice of being guards or inmates). Danger, uncomplicated sex, the exotic unknown — “I’m giving them what they want!” Brennan barks with a laugh.
According to a 1991 LFC membership poll, the number one collective fantasy involves being accosted by a gang of Latin boys, dragged into an alley, and forced (but not too violently) to go down on them. Brennan associate, and sometime film heavy, M. Vic Mann realizes this fantasy for LFC’s cute young white boy star, Eric Beatty, at the beginning of his Homeboy Hoodlums. After the rape, Beatty dumps his nagging girlfriend and turns into a major cocksucker, picking up one rough trade Rican after another until he gets around, inevitably, to his original attackers, who get their comeuppance from his Latin cop lover, but not before an orgy at gunpoint. There are some happy endings.
Most of LFC’s cracked scenarios have this Samuel Fuller on Spanish Fly quality, so it’s hard to get exercised about their racial politics. The white wardens, doctors, and petty functionaries in LFC’s clearly makeshift institutions (you’d be surprised at how much can fit between these prison bars) are either loudmouthed, cigar-chomping creeps or venal manipulators. But they’re such corrupt buffoons that their scheming and rapaciousness is more comic than alarming, and they always end up on their knees before sneering boys who purr, “You like that big dick, don’t you doc?” The boys may not look like angels, but next to these assholes and toadies, they’re the heroes, and the camera loves them.
Other LFC films imagine a world where Latins rule (Super Barrio Brothers) or triumph through a combination of cunning and sex. In Latin Sex Party, the funniest of Brennan’s movies, a windbag “professor” runs a seminar aimed at reforming uptight white yuppies. While he’s spieling, his increasingly bored audience is seduced one by one by the Latin boys from the basement apartment who are trying to raise rent money. The seminar is such a success that the professor and the homeboys go into business together. It’s the perfect LFC fantasy: white daddies, on their knees, only too happy to receive the Latino’s sexual healing.
If this fantasy can’t entirely quell our uneasiness at the boys’ willingness to trade flesh for favors or the men’s fetishization of their undisguised contempt, one more shot of superstar Romeo Castillo’s ripe, quivering ass will. These aren’t tracts or position papers, they’re Papi potboilers; order is subverted, everybody gets fucked, and if anyone comes out on top, it’s the Horse-Hung Hispanic, waving his meat like the flag of the latest independent nation.
Waving the freak flag right along with them is Brennan, who’s fast becoming the Russ Meyer of queer porn — part crackpot, part visionary, total obsessive. “When I was a kid I was nuts about just movies, movies, movies,” he says, and now he’s making four of them simultaneously. Here’s a trailer for one called Attack of the Amazing Colossal Latino: A broad-chested B-boy looms naked over Times Square at night, his fat uncut dick swaying next to the Coke sign. He leans down, scowls into the haze of neon, and shouts, “Fuckin’ size queen! Is this big enough for you now?” ■