A few nude men and a nice cup of tea

Pornography Part One: TESTIMONY: Self-acceptance or self-obsession? John Lyttle examines his gay porn collection
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here's a copy of Milking the Bulls on my bedside table. A Few Nude Men rewinds on the VCR. Somewhere a sticky copy of Stiff lies buried under a heap of clothes. I tossed it aside after tossing off but I'll have to locate it soon; our cleaner comes tomorrow and that sort of dirt isn't what she's paid to deal with.

Of course, the sheer abundance of homo hardcore in my home - books, mags, videos, CD-Rom's - is one day sure to impact upon her consciousness. No one can go pretending that The Young and the Hung is a treatise on juvenile delinquency and capital punishment forever, and, as I've indicated, my stroke stuff is always to, ha ha, hand. But I couldn't tell you why I buy porn. I'm at a loss to explain what I'm doing with this meat mountain (apart from the obvious).

Porn is, after all, the fantasy of sex - sex with the dull bits (getting to know someone) excised. About perfect strangers instantly dropping their pants; about multiple partners, separately or together; about slipping out of your three-piece suit into something more uncomfortable. Say, nipple clamps, or a tacky uniform: soldier, sailor, traffic warden.

But for many homosexuals these things aren't flights of libidinous fancy. It's just what you do, gay in, gay out. Not the things that wet dreams are made of, but casual reality: sex as mutually uncomplicated exchange, sex as fast food. Almost any appetite can be accommodated - and is - so why would we need porn?

Affirmation (psychological, cultural, erotic) is the usual argument, and there's something to it. Starved of images, blatant or otherwise, in the mainstream, gay men have traditionally cruised the margins in search of the self. And that's where they find it in its most naked form. I did. I was 14 and it was a Dutch job. A grainy, scratched film: scene after scene of guys going down on one another. I was, literally, blown away. To see the forbidden act - to have imagination given shape, to have disavowed desire graphically realised - was more than mechanically stimulating. The brazenness felt like permission to be.

The brazenness is what excites the lesbian academic Camille Paglia about gay porn: the stripped-to-the-essentials approach which is male sexuality. The one minute of tweaking, the two minutes of suction, the three minutes of insertion which is not only the gay porn formula, but aninadvertently brutally honest critique of sexual selfishness.

Which is fair enough, because the porn that truly revs my motor these days is mean dyke porn. Gay male porn still excites, but dyke porn offers "difference". It's required because gay porn's "validation" wears off fast, leaving you contemplating the narcissistic.

The narcissism is unavoidable, of course. Gay porn means you're sitting - I prefer to sprawl - watching two sets of similar genitalia bumping while playing with your own particular arrangement of the same. Unlike heterosexual porn, you're not identifying with one body and wanting the other. You're identifying with two, but they're the same body, one body, and that one body turns out to be your own.

The real sex object in gay porn is the homosexual viewer, and even though gay porn invites that viewer to be both penetrator and penetrated (trust me - it's a blast) the fact is that you know yourself too well - or, at any rate, I do. My body holds no mystery. And neither do theirs. Especially since the gay porn body (invariably built to a US blueprint) is worked-out, waxed, and buffed, it's pure assembly belt, a standardised symbol for standardised scenarios; the "drunk" buddies who do it, the mucking around that turns mucky. There's an alarming amount of gay porn with no "gays" in it and an alarming amount of gay porn stars who claim they're straight; which is either judging the market brilliantly (sex with straight guys remains a potent dream) or is hyper- masculinity as cop-out: a "real man" will plug any hole, regardless.

So let me be the first to give a big fist to home-made homoerotica, a Nineties growth industry that signals a fundamental dissatisfaction with what is commercially available, and a phenomenon that swisks me back to my first exposure to gay porn, where all shapes and sizes were welcomed, body hair wasn't considered a cardinal sin, and desire at least appeared to be democratic.After watching two machines doing it to one another, it's a relief of another sort to watch two guys you might meet on the street have a friendly shag and a cup of tea afterwards. Its unvarnished awkwardness puts gay porn into (im)proper proportion; big dicks aren't mandatory and it's no big deal. Which isn't fantasy, I know, and isn't exactly reality either, but which is at least closer to common experience. Not so much pornography as documentary, a verite version of that lifestyle choice - a format that allows some humour and occasionally a little tenderness along with the bare facts.

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