About

Led by Dr João Florêncio (Art History and Visual Culture; Exeter Masculinities Research Unit) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council through a 24-month Leadership Fellows grant (2019-2021), Masculinities and the Ethics of Porosity in “Post-AIDS” Gay Porn theorises gay “pig” masculinities and their visual mediation, which emerged in the last two decades in tandem with the introduction of antiretroviral therapies for the management and prevention of HIV infection. It does so through a close critical engagement with representations of “pig” masculinities in contemporary gay pornography, interviews with gay men who identify as “pigs” in London, Berlin, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and archival work at the Bishopsgate Institute (UK), the Schwules* Museum (DE), the ONE Archives (USA), and the Tom of Finland Foundation (USA).

“Pig” is a term used by some gay men to self-define themselves in terms of their own sexual practices, which they regard as transgressive, pushing the limits of the body and of its integrity through relentless condomless penetrations, stretching of the rectal sphincter, and exchanges of all kinds of bodily fluids (sperm, urine, saliva, etc). It is used in the names of hookup websites directed at gay men into fetish or “extreme” sex (e.g. NastyKinkPigs.com or AssPig.com) and often included, as a pig head or snout emoji, on usernames or profile text on gay hookup apps like Grindr, Scruff or Recon. It is also a term that, alongside “bareback,” has been appearing in increasing numbers of gay porn titles since the mid 1990s. What is interesting about gay “pig” masculinities are the ways in which they appear to be predicated on a transgression of the boundaries of the male body, a blurring of inside and outside, self and other, through the pursuit of relentless penetrations and exchanges of bodily fluids. Unlike hegemonic forms of Western masculinity, which have been shaped by a rejection of all things considered “feminine,” including penetrability, gay “pigs” appear to become more “manly” the more penetrated and open to foreign bodily fluids they are.

The introduction of Highly-Active Antiretroviral Therapies (HAART) and viral load testing in 1996 made HIV infection a long- term chronic condition and led to a radical transformation in the lives, identities and sexual practices of gay men. Not only did HAART make HIV infection no longer progress to AIDS but it also makes HIV-positive individuals uninfectious. More recently, the confirmation of HAART’s efficiency as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) also means that those who are HIV- negative and having sex without condoms can prevent HIV infection by taking one pill a day. As a consequence, unprotected sex has been uncoupled from the spectre of AIDS and the number of gay men engaging in “barebacking”-that is, in intentional condomless anal sex-has risen exponentially, leading the practice to become mainstream. At the same time, bareback porn has also become the fastest growing genre of gay porn and, today, only a very small minority of studios continue to make visible use of condoms.

It is in that context that gay “pig” masculinities have emerged and become visible in gay online platforms and pornography. This research project will lead to the first monograph and documentary feature film critically discussing “pig” masculinities and their sexual ethics at length. Taking on a speculative research methodology (Wilkie, Savransky and Rosengarten, 2017) and drawing from porn studies, masculinities studies and the posthumanities, it theorises “pig” masculinities as porous threshold masculinities that simultaneously reiterate and trouble hegemonic traits of Western masculinity whilst pushing the limits of the body and opening themselves to new forms of sexual sociability and modes of communion.

In so doing, the project aims to contribute to existing critical histories of sexuality, subjectivities, and their visual representations by examining a contemporary form of gay male self-identification, one that is emerging in “post-AIDS” contexts through a complex interplay of desire, sexual performance, biochemical technologies, and 21st-century visual media.

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We’re living in viral times; ours is a time of contagion. As Tony Sampson writes in his book Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks, “the networked infrastructures of late capitalism are interwoven with the universal logic of the epidemic” (Sampson 2011, 1–2). Deeply connected to contemporary biopolitics and modes of digital sociability, virality also underpins news forms of wealth creation and accumulation sustained by 21st-century media, whilst at the same time (paradoxically, perhaps) presenting a political threat through the risk it carries of “contagious overspills” that may undo borders, nation states, institutions, ontologies and subjectivities (2). Defined by Sampson as “contagious relationality” (3), in the age of memes, “fake news,” hacking, epidemics, ecological crisis, global migration flows, antiretroviral drugs, YouTube and Pornhub, virality is at the centre of contemporary forms of both control and liberation (5–6). Whilst, on the one hand, it sustains the logics of 21st-century biopolitics (antiretrovirals, hygiene, cyber security, monitoring and surveillance systems, etc.), on the other, it has the capacity to disrupt subjectivities and social assemblages, a capacity that resides in its ability to facilitate unforeseen flows of desire and affect (chemsex parties organised through Grindr and facilitated by Uber, biohacking, citizen journalism, Wikileaks, Anonymous, the “Arab Spring,” the “Yellow Vest Movement,” etc.).

If our time is a game of push and pull fuelled on all sides by contagious forms of relationality, what then for masculinities? If our understandings of masculinity are “inherently relational” (Connell 2005, 68), what happens to them in a context of “contagious relationality” (Sampson 2011, 3)? If “gender is a way in which social practice is ordered” (Connell 2005, 71), what has been the impact on masculinities of a social order both coded and disrupted through viral means?

All questions should be directed to Masculinities@exeter.ac.uk.

 

Book

Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures: The Ethics of Becoming-Pig (Routledge, 2020) analyses contemporary gay “pig” masculinities, which have emerged alongside antiretroviral therapies, online porn, and new sexualised patterns of recreational drug use, examining how they trouble modern European understandings of the male body, their ethics, and their political underpinnings.

This is the first book to reflect on an increasingly visible new form of sexualised gay masculinity, and the first monograph to move debates on condomless sex amongst gay men beyond discourses of HIV and/or AIDS. It contributes to existing critical histories of sexuality, pornography and other sex media at a crucial juncture in the history of gay male sex cultures and the HIV epidemic. The book draws from fieldwork, interviews, archival research, visual analysis, philosophy, queer theory, and cultural studies, using empirical, critical, and speculative methodologies to better think gay “pig” masculinities across their material, affective, ethical and political dimensions, in a future-oriented, politically-inflected, reflection on what queer bodies may become.

Spanning historical context to empirical and theoretical study, Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures will be of key interest to academics and students in sexuality studies, film, media, visual culture, cultural studies, and porn studies concerned with masculinities, sex and sexualities and their circulation across an array of media.

The book is now available for pre-order through Routledge.

Documentary

Filmed in Spring 2020 in Berlin, the documentary short OINK! offers a portrait of gay men who—in different ways—relate to the gay “pig” sexual imaginary. The film provides insight into their experiences of identity, masculinity, community, belonging, sexual pleasure and intimacy, as they are co-shaped and framed by 21st-century media.

The film will have its theatrical premiere in November in London at Fringe! 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credits:

Producer: João Florêncio
Director: Rob Eagle
Cinematographer: Rufai Ajala
Assistant Producer: Ben Miller
Editor: Liz Rosenfeld
Colourist: TBC
Sound editor: Dominic Deane
Music: Liam Byrne

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