Crossing the Great Gay Divide
Many think the adult industry simply mirrors American society as a whole. Think about it: In the late '90s, Bill Clinton was touting "Don't Ask Don't Tell," and gay marriage wasn't even a blip on the radar screen let alone a major campaign issue. Today, in society and the adult industry, things have evolved.
"Personally I believe that the division in the adult communities are no different than the reflections of society in general," said Joe Sterner, co-owner of popular gay affiliate program PrideBucks.com. "Most people say that adult marketers are liberal. However I really don't think that's the case outside of free speech arguments."
Patrick Curran, who is in charge of client relations for Epoch.com, agreed, and added that he feels the adult industry has helped changed society's views as a whole.
"As society in general has become more accepting of gays, so has the adult industry. As a matter of fact, as in a lot of areas, I think the adult industry has led the way," he said.
Many straight webmasters have shied away from gay parties and business because of the myth of the "gay mafia," or a group of individuals that somehow controlled the entire market.
Sterner believes it goes back to comfort level; people tend to network where they are most comfortable. Webmaster boards especially have a reputation of being particularly brutal and filled with so-called keyboard warriors.
"Take an afternoon and search some of the big webmaster boards. It won't take you very long to find a recent post where someone is being called a fag or other offensive gay remarks are made," he said. "In the mean time, we [gay webmasters] look exclusionary following our natural self-preservation instincts. Straight marketers appear to be elitists. The circle is an unfortunate one, especially since a good many from both sides would love for the walls to fall completely."
Turner thinks the perception is falling by the wayside as more and more companies and individuals begin to work together to achieve their business goals.
"The perception is out there because back several years ago it was thought that there was a particular group of companies out there that some how held some sort of power," she said. "It was thought that you were either in or you were out and if you were out, you'd not have the support of certain companies, which would make it harder to succeed. It is and was a bunch of hogwash. There is no Gay Mafia and there never was."
As the adult online industry matured, so did many of its members. While this industry definitely has its perks, at the end of the day it is still a business and more and more people are viewing it as such. BadPuppy was one of the original online gay adult companies and after more than 11 years in the business, Turner has been through it all. She has seen the maturity and acceptance level grow and in return, many of the profit levels.
"I think it was realized that we could accomplish so much more by working together, rather than creating our own separation," she said. "Together we are a much stronger group and as a result, we've gained more respect from the straight industry and [the adult] industry as a whole."
Curran of Epoch agreed: "People in this industry take this seriously as a business. Businesses that succeed don't close the doors on great opportunities; in this case the gay market."
For Benoit Le Chevallier, managing partner of ExpressPro.com, the chasm between industry segments has grown smaller as people have become more comfortable with themselves and the types of content that are out there.
"The division between the gay and straight market disappeared when people realized they didn't have to be afraid of each other. Gays have been attending shows in the past three years where only straight crowds would attend. Shows are now a complete mix of crowds," he said.
"Gay webmasters have all worked deals with straight companies to monetize with the straight/curious crowds that cannot be neglected, and straight programs have by now all hired gay representatives to develop their gay business."
Most agree the new convergence of the markets is a positive thing for the industry as a whole.
"Today, by working together, the gay and the straight side of the industry are stronger [than] each working individually," Le Chevalier said. "The buying power has increased on both sides, and the benefits of sharing have allowed both sides to grow rapidly."
"Because of the diversification of the consumer market, whether straight, bisexual, lesbian, gay or those that are a bit curious, there is most definitely some good business that can be done between both markets," Turner said. "Also if you look at so-called 'straight companies,' many have realized the value of creating and marketing websites that target the non-straight market. Because of their realization, it opens a clear path for the gay market and straight market to work together, which has proven to be mutually beneficial and profitable."
The change has come about in part due to societal changes and in part because of the focused efforts of a few companies in both markets to bridge the gap.
"I think that the gay market has opened its arms to the straight market and vice versa, offering affiliations, partnerships and business relationships that may have not been possible, or at least [not] very common a few years ago," Turner said.
"There are a few companies on both sides that do well or at least give a concerted effort to work with their counterparts," Sterner said. "Most of the major trade magazines now have a gay-perspective article in their respective monthly issues. We at PrideBucks attend a good many tradeshows, even the predominantly straight ones. Cybersocket has held parties labeled as unity parties — bringing both sides together."
Joe Stricklin, director of marketing and sales for CelebrityCash.com, is relatively new to the business; as a straight man he has seen the gay webmaster community as a welcoming group.
"CelebrityCash is primarily seen as a 'straight' program but in fact, about 65 percent of our income comes from gay consumers," he said. "Because of that, I try to make all of the gay events and not once have I felt unwelcome or out of place because I'm straight. This is a business, and I'm here to help people make the most they can from our sites.
While the difference, especially to veterans, is abundantly clear there is still a lot that can be done to bring the two sides together for a mutually beneficial business environment.
"We as a gay community can stop saying, 'Oh I'm not going to that event/show because its only going to be straight people there.' We have to remember that socializing and making friends is an added benefit," Sterner said. "Its not why we're in this business. As for what straight companies can do, a big one would be to stop tolerating hate speech. Although we don't live in a PBS magic world and our king isn't a purple dinosaur. So, a big step would be to get your account reps over to the gay boards and actually contribute, rather than posting the occasional drive-by spam or go on the defensive after a board tracker picked up a negative post."
Turner added that with an increasingly competitive market — online adult in general — every avenue webmasters can pursue to increase their business opportunities should be exhausted.
"I think that both sides need to keep their eyes open for opportunities that may or may not be obvious," Turner said. "When I come across a gay site or a straight site or company that I feel offers a product or service that is of high quality, I look at that company nine ways to Sunday to try and find opportunities that would be mutually beneficial and bring something good to the table for all involved."
Rainey Stricklin is the business development director for Epoch.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.