Race, Porn, & Naked Honesty

Editor: Josiah contacted EFNIKS because they felt that we were the proper platform for voicing these concerns. As our mission states, we do not engage in shaming, we aim to be accessible, we share opinions that empower and elevate our communities. As not only one of the biggest names in the gay porn industry, but also a member of the QTPoC family, we are happy to share his op-ed with all of our readers. -Chief

 

My name is Josiah Jennings, also known by my porn alias, “Sean Zevran.” I’m a gay, biracial pornographic actor. I’ve worked with studios such as RandyBlue, Falcon Studios, Raging Stallion, Hot House, and CockyBoys. I also have a contract with Fleshjack and was named XBIZ Awards’ 2017 ‘Gay Performer of the Year’. In other words, I’ve been in the porn industry for a hot minute. Lately, there’s been a lot of talk of racism in gay porn, even sparking the hashtag #gaypornsowhite on social media. This became a hot topic after fellow gay porn actor Hugh Hunter sent a scathing letter to GayVN declining all of his nominations for the GayVN Awards and accusing the organization of racism for its inclusion of a “Best Ethnic Scene” category.

For those of you unfamiliar with the GayVN Awards, it’s an awards ceremony produced by AVN Media Network honoring the best in the gay porn industry. In the past, individual GayVN awards were presented during the AVN Awards each year from 1986 to 1998, at which point the GayVN awards became its own separate annual awards show until it was suspended in 2011. This year, GayVN Awards has announced its return, with the ceremony to be held on January 27, 2018 at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s worth mentioning that award shows in the porn industry have long had categories for things like “Best Ethnic Scene.” For example, the XBIZ Awards has an “All-Black Release of the Year” and an “Asian-Themed Release of the Year,” with strictly gay porn award shows like the Cybersocket Awards having many of the same categories. But this year it seems these categories are coming under scrutiny, and the subject of racism in gay porn and, indeed, the gay community as a whole, is lighting up gay media.

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Almost immediately after Hugh Hunter sent his letter to GayVN and posted it on Twitter for all to see, I, myself, began getting inquiries from fans, blogs, and several different publications about it. My initial response was posted to YouTube in a video. You can watch it here. Shortly thereafter, I began reaching out to those well-connected in the industry to find out more about the GayVN Awards and the controversy now surrounding it.

After speaking directly with Tony Rios of GayVN about GayVN’s decision to include and subsequently remove the category of “Best Ethnic Scene” from its list of awards, I’m fairly confident there was never any racist intent behind the initial decision to include a “Best Ethnic Scene” category. However, people of color know all too well that intent is not a sufficient test for whether the person or thing in question is inherently racist, particularly when said person or thing reinforces systemic racism and racial stereotypes.

As I suspected, and as Rios confirmed, including a “Best Ethnic Scene” category was not an attempt to separate ethnic minorities from the rest of the awards, nor was it an attempt to fetishize ethnic minorities. Rather, including a “Best Ethnic Scene” category was an attempt to circumvent the racism of gay porn fans, who are ultimately the ones picking the winners. Unfortunately, having a “Best Ethnic Scene” category naturally invited feelings of “separate but equal” and that it fed into the dehumanizing fetishization of racial minorities. As such, GayVN made the decision to remove the category altogether and pool its nominees into the category for “Best Duo Scene.”

Personally, I think this decision was premature, but with the GayVN Awards right around the corner, I’m sure GayVN is pressed for time and felt this was the best decision. However, I remain torn on the issue. Though I share concerns about having a de facto “separate but equal” category and about the fetishizing of racial minorities, with the elimination of categories such as “Best Ethnic Scene,” my larger concern is that talent of color in the gay porn industry will find it more challenging to be recognized.

Now, I was only shortly behind Hugh Hunter in withdrawing my own nominations, but I suspect his and my reasons for doing so are slightly different, and I want to be forthcoming and clear on exactly why I withdrew my nominations. My fans, and those with whom I was nominated for this particular award, deserve an explanation.

Foremost, I withdrew my nominations because I wanted to show my fans, especially those of color, and the rest of the industry, that I am serious about wanting to see real change; that I want to not just talk about it, but be about it. Never in my entire porn career have I received so many texts, emails, and social media messages from fans, blogs, and publications alike asking what my response would be to the latest gay porn controversy. So, I thought maybe this would be an opportunity to add momentum to the conversation. Maybe this would be an opportunity to create a narrative that is driven mainly by the experiences and stories of people of color in the gay porn industry.

Secondly, I withdrew my nominations because I was angry, not at GayVN, but at the way the situation seemed to be unfolding. After receiving news of Hugh Hunter’s bombshell and reading the letter he sent to GayVN, I was angry that some random white guy had seemingly decided to take it upon himself to use the struggle of gay porn actors of color to get attention. Hugh Hunter is being praised right now by gay media and porn blogs as some kind of gay porn social justice icon while actors of color who have been talking about this for years continue to be ignored and forgotten, actors that came before my time, even.

For me, it’s more than a little unnerving that Hugh Hunter, again, a white guy, seems to be getting most of the attention for something that should be about us and how we feel. That in itself is telling. It also makes me suspicious of his motivations. I mean no disrespect to Hunter with what I’m about to say, but the things for which he was nominated put him up against some stiff competition, and had I been placing bets before he withdrew, I wouldn’t have placed bets on him to win anything at all. Mind you, this is less of a criticism of his talent in the industry and more of a compliment to those he was up against. He was up against some serious industry veterans, and Hunter wasn’t even nominated for “Best Ethnic Scene.” After all, he couldn’t have been. He’s white.

Forgive me for being skeptical of his motives. For a white guy who had next to no chance of winning, it seems something other than fortuitous that he would decline all of his nominations and try to blow the whole thing up on his way out by crying “Racism!” As a friend of mine often says, “Stay in your lane, boo. This ain’t about you.”

I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong. If so, then I apologize to Hugh Hunter and the entire industry. However, I think if Hunter had been serious about addressing the problem of racism in gay porn, he would have first reached out to the talent that was nominated for “Best Ethnic Scene” and asked us what we thought about it. Furthermore, he would’ve sought out someone at GayVN, as I did, and asked about the reasons behind having an award for “Best Ethnic Scene.” Instead, he reached out to neither those nominated for the award nor anyone at GayVN before creating a spectacle by withdrawing his nominations and posting an explosive letter to Twitter. I think it was selfish. The best course of action would have been for all of us to sit down together and ask “How can we make this better?”

Doing such would’ve been quite simple, as I’ve demonstrated. For example, after exchanging a few text messages and making a couple of phone calls, I found out exactly who to contact at GayVN so that I could get GayVN’s perspective on the whole thing. I heard their side of the story while also voicing the concerns that many gay actors and fans of color have about having a “Best Ethnic Scene” award. The conversation was professional, understanding, and compassionate. GayVN has acknowledged its missteps and expressed interest in reaching out to more actors, studios, and fans of color in order to better understand how to tackle this issue. That is how progress is made: by talking to people, getting their perspective, listening, learning, and turning knowledge into action.

That, honestly, is more or less what I’d been planning to do before this whole thing blew up and every blog and gay publication began raving about it. I could already see the direction this was headed: a few blogs and publications would pick up the story and run with it for clickbait for a while, as they always do; Hugh Hunter would get a pat on the back for virtue signaling; the story would eventually blow over and people of color would once again be left in the dust with nothing actually being done to make things better. It’s hard enough as it is to get people to take gay porn issues seriously, even among those in our own industry. For many, it’s just not worth the time.

Despite these challenges, I think we can make a difference. Maybe I’m being too idealistic, but I don’t think so. Ideally, what I would like to see is a narrative in the gay porn industry that educates—one guided by the experiences, knowledge, and stories of people of color. Racism in porn is not a simple issue, chiefly because sexuality itself has many layers of complexity. This is entirely different than, say, addressing equal opportunity and diversity in the workplace, or addressing the lack of diversity with the Oscars. Those kinds of solutions do not neatly transfer to our industry.

For starters, we have to acknowledge that sex is complicated. Gay porn media needs to do what it can to promote the visibility and elevate the experiences of models of color. The media should be proactive in promoting our scenes, our successes, our ambitions, our stories, our challenges, our opinions, and much else. Studios need to reject tokenism and make a serious effort to have a diverse team. Get creative. A lot of studios are lacking in creativity these days. The single biggest barrier I see is that many people, particularly porn consumers, don’t always understand our perspective. Get out there and tell your stories and what it’s truly felt like to be a model of color in gay porn. It’s cliché, but knowledge is power, and knowledge is exactly what we need right now.

 

Josiah Jennings, aka Sean Zevran, is a former Marine and one of the most well-known names in the adult film industry. You can follow them on Twitter @SeanZevran, and on Instagram @SeanZevran--safe for adults, probably not safe for work. 

 

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