The Evolution of the Power Bottom
Gender performance and gaze ownership within the mainstream gay porn industry. Told through the evolution of gay porn and the characters it depicts.
“It has become almost customary in work on this subject [of porn] to acknowledge the problems associated with academic enquiry into pornography and the whilst it is largely superfluous to rehearse once more the reasons why such problems exist, it can scarcely be denied that debate around pornography in a popular or academic context has often been characterised by hyperbole and sweeping generalisations.” (Mercer, 2012)
Performance on screen is something we are used to as an audience. The simulation of reality on screen as entertainment serves its main purpose but is so not to forget that it is just that. A simulation. An experienced machine (Nozick, 1974) of primitive sorts, only not always to simulate pleasure. However, it is said that pornography is defined by “Printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement.” (Pornography, 2017) So porn has a sole purpose which is for pleasure, or so it is believed. But of course, a performance has to take place to create this pleasure machine. A performance which is often placed as not a performance, but instead as a documentation of a spontaneous action. Resulting in a large portion of its audience to perceive it as real life caught on film. Which is damaging for impressionable minds as their expectations of sex are warped, into an unrealistic projection of what sex should be. The same goes for the genders in which are portrayed, performed and made visible within mainstream porn. (Butler, 1990)
Seeing as porn is an experience machine, to simulate a sexual fantasy of the watcher, porn depicts encounters which are almost always shown from the point of view, or to the appeal, of a hyper-masculine figure. As according to Laura Mulvey, our patriarchal society has shaped the way in which we produce and perceive film. (1975)
Included in this is porn, and within porn it may seem more obvious in the way that the narratives are constructed to position a Womxn as an object of pleasure, and the Man the subject of pleasure.
But how does this play out in Gay (M&M) porn¹ when there is no “Womxn” present?
A stereotypical representation of “The Boi²,” as told by the classic Porn Bottom:
"His youth - Emphasised by his smooth, hairless, boyish body and manner, with an air of androgyny fair skin and perfectly sculpted blond hair.
"Belonging within the domestic realm, the home, the poolside and of course the bedroom, highlighting his passiveness willingness and sexual availability." (Mercer, 2012).
This role/character has populated the world of porn, since its gay beginnings. There has always been very little fluidity within this role, and it is far too familiar with the object of pleasure and desire which the Womxn is seen to play out within heterosexual porn. The heteronormative interaction is just as present within gay porn, which is often translated into real sexual encounters. (Warner, 1999) This also raises the point of the fact that bottoms are often viewed as lesser, for the feminine act of being passive. From the view of our patriarchal society, it is seen as demeaning to a woman, meaning to be feminine and to partake in feminine acts it should be demeaning too.
There was little fluidity shown between being a bottom and a top, let alone the genders of the actors, even throughout the career of the actor, not just scene to scene, as to maintain the fantasy, such as actors like Kevin Williams, one of the best-known bottoms from the 80s. Throughout his career as a “Boi,” he was always depicted as a passive and willing bottom, there with a purpose to serve to his older hyper-masculine counterpart. Sexualised for his youth³, and exploited for being so sexualised. (Papadopoulos, 2010)
After leaving the industry of porn for more than a decade, Kevin Williams returned to staring in porn. However, within his hiatus a transition had happened within the industry, with his image as an actor and where he fits into the industry. More porn studios were starting up and old ones were dying, with the proliferation of the internet and free porn. The new studios that were starting were no longer sub-studios that were born from a larger hetero-studio, mostly using “gay-for-pay”⁴ actors, creating feature length films with high production values, like they were in the 70s or 80s. But instead, gay owned studios were carving their place in the industry, creating more films quicker than ever before. With this saw real gay actors taking the screen for themselves as a stand against being more visible within their communities and the world, as there were very few openly gay icons of the time. There were no gay CEOs, film stars, or political voices. The only sectors where openly gay men were seen was fashion, hairdressing, and pornstars. (Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, 2008)
So with Kevin Williams' return to porn, he found himself able and almost forced to adopt a new position and character. As he was no longer of the age to be a boi, he returned to porn as a power bottom, one of the few transitional figures within the world of mainstream gay porn.
Power Bottom - As told by the most prevalent prototype, Dawson⁵:
"An insatiable desire to be fucked, but more importantly his pleasure in getting fucked. No longer is the narrative constructed around the goal of the top achieving an orgasm through fucking, but instead around the pleasure the Power Bottom attains from being used, and the mutual pleasure derived from giving the other pleasure too. He has taken himself out of the domestic realm, shed his coy personality to take his pleasure into his own hands."
This somewhat shows a move away from the binary driven, heteronormative sex seen within gay porn prior to this. No longer propelled by an archetypal masculine gaze, but displaying a duality and togetherness that is taken place within sex. Queering the way of seeing sex (Berger, 1972), which has far too often revolved around a heterosexual blueprint. With the bottom acting as a sex object, taking the place which is traditionally taken by the Womxn within heterosexual porn.
Then the top taking the position of the hyper-masculine heterosexual man.
This lead to a revelation within porn, it carved many new paths in which porn could progress and grow, and ultimately a somewhat more realistic representation of sex⁶. It made a place for versatile actors, as it was realized that there are more sexual formulae than just those which fit into a heterosexual “normal” standard. Furthermore, that pleasure is not owned by the Top, nor the masculine archetype whether they be male, female, man, woman, gay, straight or wherever in between. Sexual pleasure is not defined by the act of giving penetratively, in the same way a conversation is not being talked at. Another conversation this opens up is the link that is subconsciously made by many; that bottoming is a feminine act. Because to be passive, and to receive is to be female, according to the heteronormative binary ideals. (Reilly, 2016)
“The performance is effected with the strategic aim of maintaining gender within its binary frame.” (Butler, 1990)
But when this binary frame is dismantled, within the forms of gay sex, healthier stronger relationships can be built, and more realistic gender identities can be assumed. As a heterosexual binary is no longer trying to be failingly attained, instead a place for new, realistic, fluid, queer identities can be occupied. Porn does not depict a reality, in the way it shows sexual relations, nor in the way it depicts gender identities.
- I am referring mainly to mainstream gay porn studios, such as Helix Studios, Bel Ami, Treasure Island Media. I would also find it important to note a glaring problem with studios such as these, they have a huge lack of actors of colour. They largely feature white actors, and most actors of colour are limited to studios which will only feature actors of colour. Perpetuating segregation within the LGBT community further than Grindr. For readings on these topics look to Aberrations In Black (Ferguson, 2003) and Disidentification (Muñoz, 1999)
- Boi; defined in this case as a young gay man, presented in a boyish style, often bottom or/and submissive.
- This does raise new questions, of our communities sexualisation of young gay men, and how they are deemed as ignorant for being young, but not teaching them any different. There is a huge problem with the generational divide within the queer communities, older gay men, in particular, feel resentment towards younger gay men for they have had to suffer more hardship than they did in previous years, of which many young gay men are oblivious to. “Adults must be prepared to follow the lead of youth, to learn from youth; youth must be prepared to rely on the mentoring of adults and on their experience with solving problems, if not on their access to ultimate answers” (The Policy Journal of The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, 2005). However, and unfortunately, there is no mentoring happening.
- Gay-for-pay; defined as a heterosexual who is paid to perform homosexual acts in a professional setting, not for the pleasure of themselves, but for the audience and often the counterpart.
- Dawson; as in the character from Dawson's 20 Load Weekend (2004), Dawson's 50 Load Weekend (2005). The best-known power bottom of them all. Athletically built, averagely handsome, defined by his “normality”. Neither fitting into the hyper-masculine top archetype, nor the androgynous nature of the classic bottom. He attained “the guy next door” look, which popularized porn from the 2000’s until the present day. But his character is more interesting for setting out his desires, of what he wants, setting the tone of he is the one who's pleasure will not be forgotten.
- But only in one way. Porn still depicts hyper-masculine, cis-gendered and binary characters.
Berger, J. (1972). Ways of seeing. 1st ed. London:Penguin.
Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.
Dawsons 20 Load Weekend. (2004). [DVD] New York: Max Sohl (Treasure Island Media).
Dawsons 50 Load Weekend (Part1&2). (2005 [DVD] New York: Max Sohl (Treasure Island Media).
Ezra Brown III, C. (2008). RACISM IN THE GAY COMMUNITY AND HOMOPHOBIA IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY: NEGOTIATING THE GAY BLACK MALE
EXPERIENCE. Post Grad. Master. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Falcon Studios, (n.d.). Kevin Williams. [image] Available at: https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/ I/41D6s3iyvsL._SY400_.jpg [Accessed 13 Mar. 2017].
Ferguson, R. (2003). Aberrations in Black. 1st ed. Minneapolis (Minn.): University of Minnesota Press.
Kipnis, L. (1999). Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America. 1st ed. Durham: Duke University Press Books.
Laaksonen, T. (1981). Man and boy.. [image] Available at: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/564x/3e/ 77/0c/3e770c9c889b73090c3b1619164b55c7.jpg [Accessed 11 Mar. 2017].
Mercer, J. (2012). Power Bottom: Performativity In Commercial Gay Porn. In: C. Hines and D. Kerr, ed., Hard To Swallow: Hard-Core Pornography On Screen, 1st ed. London & New York: Wallflower Press, pp.215-228.
Mulvey, L. (1975). Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. 1st ed. [ebook] pp.57-68. Available at: https:// www.asu.edu/courses/fms504/total-readings/mulvey- visualpleasure.pdf [Accessed 8 Mar. 2017].
Muñoz, J. (1999). Disidentifications. 1st ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Papadopoulos, L. (2010). Sexualisation of young people. 1st ed. [Great Britain]: [Home Office].
Pornography. (2017). In: Oxford Dictionary, 1st ed. [online] Oxford University Press. Available at: https:// en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/pornography [Accessed 7 Mar. 2017].
Reilly, A. (2016). Top or bottom: a position paper. Psychology & Sexuality, 7(3), pp.167-176.
The Policy Journal of The Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies, (2005). The Gay Generation Gap: Communicating Across the LGBT Generational Divide. Angles. [online] Amherst. Available at: http:// www.bouldersafeschools.org/PDFs/article_angles.pdf [Accessed 9 Mar. 2017].
Warner, M. (1999). The trouble with normal. 1st ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon. (2008). [film] USA: Jeffrey Schwarz.v