There’s a rule of thumb in adult that goes something like this: If you want to know what the industry will look like in three years, find out what’s happening in queer porn right now.
By nature of its compact size compared to the near-monolithic straight adult sector, the vibrant queer industry has served as a critical testing ground for burgeoning market trends and shifts in consumer tastes. During the COVID era, queer producers and content creators provided a road-tested guide to navigating the new normal, lighting the path for adult entertainment’s metamorphosis and rethinking of what defines “normal” in the first place. The June 2021 cover story of XBIZ magazine, “Gay in Flux,” explored that adaptation in detail — and now, one year later, the market is decidedly kinky.
Put simply, major and minor players alike have adapted and innovated to such a degree that the current iteration of queer adult entertainment is more unabashedly kinky than ever before.
Truth be told, while the mainstreaming of queer content of all genres has reached a newfound zenith, the market has always been very kinky beneath the surface. Even harkening back 80 years to the inception of gay adult, fetish content was already quite prevalent. In the mid-1940s, Bob Mizer’s physique photography for Athletic Model Guild paved the way. Over the next few decades, he and a handful of contemporaries — David Hurles of Old Reliable, Jack Fritscher, editor-in-chief of Drummer magazine and Chuck Holmes, founder of Falcon Studios — seized upon the hunger for such specialty content, delivering a sought-after supply to meet the demand of an eager audience.
Then, about 25 years ago, brick-and-mortar retailers were becoming quite adept at quietly arranging special “director’s cut” editions of the latest Falcon Studios skinflick for discerning customers. These hush-hush edits included fisting action considered far too dangerous and outré to receive standard wholesale distribution. Of course, given the deep demand, retailers happily fulfilled private orders on an individual basis by calling studios directly to have the uncut version — no pun intended — quietly shipped through more clandestine channels.
Flash forward to the present. While kinky queer content is more accepted by the mainstream, indie platforms still restrict what can be uploaded. Nonetheless, the hunger for it only continues to grow. And since gay adult producers have long grappled with similar dilemmas, those seeking to capitalize on that demand can find ample advice for how to do so.
After all, in the gay market, fisting is practically orthodox and certainly more ubiquitous. So while Falcon may still grapple with what can or cannot be shown in a piece of art when advertising the company’s wares through traditional distribution avenues, fisting is so popular that the studio has even released entirely fisting-themed titles.
Put simply, major and minor players alike have adapted and innovated to such a degree that the current iteration of queer adult entertainment is more unabashedly kinky than ever before.
This is due in part to the rise of fan sites and their democratizing influence on the very notion of what a “porn star” is. Pandemic-fueled traffic surges poured accelerant on profitable genres that gay adult producers had been refining for decades.
There is an endless stream of books, magazine articles, pop songs, musicals, television shows and motion pictures that reflect the lived experience of people who describe themselves as heterosexual. They are spoiled for choice, while queer folx have historically been forced to look elsewhere, to adapt and to make their own art that reflects their own lives.
Leathermen and kinksters of all stripes and gender expressions are tightly woven into the fabric of queer culture. For a long time, however, if they wanted to see themselves represented in media with consistency and authenticity, porn was often where they had to look. Fetish content certainly exists for straight adult audiences, but they haven’t had to look to porn for authentic representation.
For those wanting to tap into this expanding genre, which is rich with opportunity, one of the key takeaways from today’s finest purveyors of queer content is to narrow your focus. Lean into genuine authenticity with performers whose lives reflect the content you want to make and market. The more personal the content, the more universally it is received. Queer fetish producers, performers and creators have known this all along; here’s how some of them do it.
Independent fetish content creator Axel Abysse, the self-styled “Poet of Pornography,” recalls stumbling across kink porn as a young man, which awoke deeply rooted fantasies and a desire to explore his own body. He started making his own content for himself, but once he took the leap to post it online, his popularity skyrocketed. Over the next five or six years, Abysse was pleased and deeply fulfilled to discover a large community who gravitated towards the same desires and fetishes.
Abysse has turned heads among discerning kinksters over the past few years with such titles as “Rencontre Culturelle,” described as a documentary about a 2019 “high-culture and lowdown kink stage performance” in collaboration with Seoul-based multimedia artist and designer Woo Yeah; “The Experiment,” an homage to classic science fiction and horror, for which Abysse and co-creator Syusaku Nohara are slathered in glowing green goo; and the “Cursed” multimedia project with frequent collaborator Yoshi Kawasaki.
Over the past several years, Abysse has observed what he describes as “a shift in gender and sexuality barriers.”
With many kinds of kink play, he explained, penis-vagina penetration is rarely the main focus. “BDSM and kinky orgies can be very fluid and filled with all types of people,” he said. “As a porn creator, I always make what I want to see and live first. And I’m looking for that same kind of content, too. I watch all genders and all sexualities [move] toward fisting and anal exploration, for example. Animated content, too; it’s a very wide range.
“When creating a film, I never ask myself what people want to see, but what I want to do,” Abysse noted. “Some movies will be huge successes; others will be flops. But at least it’s consistently true to who I am.”
Fellow content creator Yoshi Kawasaki found inspiration in the work of legendary manga creator Gengoroh Tagame and felt compelled to convey the explicit tone in his own work. “At first, I didn’t have a clear vision for it,” he said. “But I knew being watched turned me on.”
After a number of years shooting vanilla content on the studio side of adult, Kawasaki recently launched his own website to explore his burgeoning interests. “What I do now essentially hasn’t changed,” he said. “But I’m more now aware of what people want to see. For instance, I wasn’t into latex before, but it was something my subscribers wanted to see. I tried it and ended up liking it. What I produce is what I like, but sometimes you have to try something just for the sake of it.”
Like Abysse, Kawasaki takes deep pleasure in sexual exploration. He sees his work as an opportunity for customers and fans to experience an authentic representation of a scene that may be closed to them.
Content creator and JustFor.fans model liaison Alice Skary echoes the sentiments expressed by Abysse and other creators in the community. Skary produces and even shoots and directs typically pro/am BDSM content with performers and lifestyle play partners who agree to be filmed.
Like many before them, Skary craved representation, and when they turned 18 and began to explore the possibilities offered by the adult industry, they found very little diversity in sexuality, gender, body type and skin tone. “I certainly enjoyed what was already out there, but I wanted to see more people in the kind of fetish porn I enjoyed who looked like average, everyday folks,” Skary recalled. “So I set out to create that.”
Like Skary, producer-performer Guy Criss had the desire to consume queer content, but what was available to him wasn’t enough. He founded AlternaDudes in 2009 with an eye fixed on long hair, tats, armpits and bushy pubes.
Criss recalled that every guy was “a cookie-cutter image of the last” with muscles, usually smooth-chested and clean-cut with very few tattoos, if any. “Those were virtually the only guys represented in porn 15 or so years ago,” he said. Even the skater sites would often slap a backwards baseball cap on a random model, hand him a skateboard and call him a skater.
“I wondered where all the skinny rocker dudes were. The shaggy, scruffy, long-haired guys at concerts and clubs and bars,” said Criss. “The real dudes in a shitty, branded T-shirt and shoes with holes in them. I knew I couldn’t be the only one wanting to see them in action.”
It was in the course of filming for AlternaDudes that Criss became more fully appreciative of his armpit and pubes fetish. It all clicked about five years into the life of the label, when he realized he was focusing intently on armpits and made a strategic course change.
“I realized I can film any type of guy,” he said. “All sizes and shapes and types because, well, everyone has armpits. My philosophy for this type of work is, ‘Stick with what you know.’ All kink is fetish, but not all fetish is kink. I’m drawn to long-haired dudes with tattoos. Personally, I think armpits are the hottest thing on a man. Who better to film that stuff than someone who’s into it? You get to give a consumer your knowledge and eye for what they want.”
Danny Zeeman is the founder of the zBuckz affiliate network, whose properties includes AlternaDudes as well as the BDSM-focused paysites for Abysse and Kawasaki.
He sees a direct line between the rapidly growing popularity of queer fetish content and a heteronormative culture that doesn’t allow for full gender expression — or in many parts of the country, Zeeman noted, “even just holding hands.”
By contrast, freedom of expression and an invitation to explore is built into a queer fetish community. From the start, zBuckz has sought out “unique voices” among underserved niche communities and fetish performers, including Buck Angel, the first FTM trans performer and a pioneering kinkster, as well as Kawasaki and Abysse.
“There’s no one doing fisting content quite like Axel,” said Zeeman. “His content is very artistic and unique. He tries to make fisting more sensual and beautiful, which hadn’t really been attempted before he came along. I think platforming people like him is important for the community. He’s someone who is ingrained in that culture and represents for them.”
Performer Robert Black’s notable career in gay adult started in the late 1990s and ran for more than 12 years. He first appeared in BDSM content for now-defunct Brush Creek Media and its contemporaries, and he was among the first men to be recruited by Chris Ward for the founding of Raging Stallion Studios. Today, he hosts the “Sexual Heroes” podcast, dabbles in content creation and remains dedicated to the kink and BDSM community.
He sees the “exchange of power” between an alpha top and a fisting bottom, for example, as a deeply affecting scenario for gay or queer men who do not have the agency they deserve in a dominant heteronormative culture. It’s no wonder those men would want to experience those fantasies in their porn, he observes.
The power exchange in a proper BDSM scene is not random, Black explains. In such a scenario, you are giving control to the other person and they accept it with respect. Your consent can be reclaimed at any time, and the play time or the scene ends. Everything in adult is agreed upon beforehand, of course. But various forms of BDSM require a deeply intimate level of trust among all of the participants — including the crew. By extension, the audience participates in that power exchange. Queer people, Black says, have more experience with negotiating agency and trust.
That kind of lived experience can’t help but soak into the adult content they produce.
“It’s in our culture, it’s more acceptable to talk about,” Black said. “Even if fetish is not your scene, it’s certainly on your radar. You know, we have Pride, and then we have Leather Pride events all around the world now. Within every gay event there’s usually a contingent of leathermen. There is still some stigma; some people are still afraid to walk into a leather bar. But the leather community, my community, is mainstream now. I think the industry sees that. They see where the eyes are going.”
“The most ‘acting’ I ever did was in regular sex films,” he added. “I wasn’t necessarily into my scene partner or the sex we were having; it was acting. But if you see me in a BDSM movie, that’s me. And you can trust the authenticity, even if it’s not exactly your thing.”
Kristofer Weston credits fetish content for giving him, as a newly fledged 21-year-old burgeoning kinkster, a direct connection to the community he craved, but couldn’t find.
“Porn wasn’t just fucking and sucking to me,” he said. “It was all about the bottom bondage, the leather daddy, the boots, the gear, all of that was hot. The classic Tom of Finland look. So I always knew that about myself. I landed in West Hollywood and answered an ad for jockstrap wrestlers for BG East, I think, and then got in with kink studios and started doing bondage.”
Weston went on to a career in both marketing and production for Falcon Studios and COLT Studio, which he recalled as “a wonderland” for someone with his interests. Today he describes himself as a “professional Daddy,” bondage enthusiast, kink educator, porn director and adult performer. Weston co-hosts the fetish-centric podcast “Watts the Safeword” with his pup, known as Pup Amp.
His adult career stretches from mail-order VHS tapes to DVDs, paysites to tube sites and now fan sites. He describes the current mainstream interest and ever-increasing numbers of content creators as “an interesting collision of wants and needs.”
A consumer, however they identify, may not necessarily be into fetish, but they do want to get off. They seek out fetish content because they understand the performers in that context have established a certain connection to pull off what they’re about to do. It’s that deeply human bond that proves the key ingredient to break through the constructs of gender and sexual expression.
Weston notes an ever-growing number of self-identified “vanilla” models who request OnlyFans collabs with him, collabs from which he says he earns “good numbers.”
“And I just tie them up and edge them or jack them off,” Weston said. “Bondage is scary for some of these vanilla models, but they do it for the content. And then they discover, ‘Oh, this is actually kind of hot and I enjoy it,’ and they go back home and they do it themselves. And so I feel like I’m creating kinksters, one at a time, through collaborating with them. I literally show them the ropes.”
Earlier this year, CAM4 partnered with queer zine “Frock” for a new four-week series of uncensored premium cam shows centered on 16 content creators exploring different forms of sexuality.
“Kinksters and cakesitters,” said CAM4’s L. West. “Drags and hags. Dicks and dongs. Tricks and toys. Doms and subs. Locks and keys. Poles and holes. Subs and switches. Leather and latex. Jocks in socks, Fuckbois and showgurls. Icons and legends and everything in between.”
The project offered an alternative view of content creators and it was exactly what CAM4 had been seeking.
“We wanted creators who were completely unique from one another and who would appeal to many demographics,” West recalled. “We wanted the site to feel like something viewers have never seen before.”
Photographer Eli Schmidt, creative director of “Frock,” enthused about the opportunity CAM4 provided to satisfy a particular hunger among consumers.
“I feel like I’m dedicating the rest of my career to this topic because that’s how deeply I feel about it,” he said, citing a recent conversation about kink with burlesque performer and sex worker Misc. Dom Top, who wiped away stigma by stating simply and cleanly that “kinkiness is inherently human.”
“This is somebody who participates in a lot of BDSM activities, who is clearly a representation of this type of lifestyle. I thought it was a great response,” noted Schmidt.
Schmidt noted how kink and leather has historically been very closely tied to the queer community. Leather and BDSM bars are an integral part of queer culture, just as leathermen and women and nonbinary folx have been at the center of the community’s activist core, with artists like Fred Halsted, Kenneth Anger and Robert Mapplethorpe introducing queer culture to the heteronormative mainstream.
“Queer people really examine their identity and their sexuality before they even start acting on any of these behaviors,” Schmidt said. “And that’s an experience that is unique to queer people. When you go through that process, just to be active sexually and accept yourself, you’ve already pushed a lot of things out of the way. Once you begin exploring your sexuality, you see things like BDSM and fetish and you’re more open to it.
“There has already been some internal investigation,” Schmidt continued. “So to be ‘sexually open’ means to be open to other ideas and other types of stimulation. And eventually straight culture says, ‘Hey, what’s up with that weird sex you’re having over there? What are those things you’re wearing?’ I mean, Timothee Chalamet doesn’t end up on the red carpet wearing a Louis Vuitton harness by accident. That’s leather culture!”
Like many current-day queer artists, Schmidt sees himself at “a funny intersection” between the fashion/art worlds and content creators for platforms like OnlyFans. The commingling is rapidly becoming normalized, even as the broader culture takes a hard swing to the far right during a polarized election year.
Toby J. Morris, VP of Marketing for Falcon/NakedSword, enjoys pondering how the particular interests of legendary directors like Chris Ward and Steven Scarborough, founders of Raging Stallion Studios and Hot House Video, respectively, brought authentic exploration of fetish and BDSM content to mainstream queer audiences, and thereby to straight culture.
The Falcon/NakedSword umbrella now includes both studios as well as a variety of fetish-specific imprints like Fisting Central and Fetish Force.
“What we’ve learned is that if someone loves BDSM, that’s all they want to watch at first,” he said. “They’re probably not interested in fisting, or sounding, or puppy play. It can be a tricky thing to market. But I love what directors like Trenton Ducati and Tom Moore are doing for us now with these niche labels. They’re shooting these very specific things, but with a broader focus. I tell our team that cling wrap [fetish] could be a gateway to a whole new world the customer never thought about; they see one of our hot guys bound up and they join the website and suddenly they’ve expanded their horizons.”
Morris identified Kink.com as laying the groundwork for allowing customers to access “separate entry points into a kinky universe,” and explore everything from ropes and bondage, to BDSM, to far more extreme kink play.
Kimi Evans is head of cams/talent for Kink.com. She described a recent resurgence as the company brings production back under its own roof.
“We’re thrilled to get back to the core values that have grown our community over the decades,” Evans said. “A lot of our content creation is served by the excitement and creativity of our directors and feedback from our fan base.” An open forum on Kink.com allows users to suggest everything from new fetishes to which performers they’d like to see enact certain fantasies.
The company has closely observed the creator-led revolution underway in adult.
“There’s been several evolutions over the decades as it pertains to content and marketing strategies,” Evans noted. “Change is a natural part of growth and ensuring we continue to evolve with our community of talented creators in mind is a top priority for us.”
Kink.com’s head of production, Joshua “Huggy” Ybarra, no longer differentiates between queer/LGBTQ and cisgender content creators, noting eveyone has the same goal.
“We are all here to create amazing visuals. Good creators can work with talent to share vision, openly communicate and create common goals,” he said. “I want to see what excites someone, what they can’t wait to show the world. I find the kink world is made up of all shapes and sizes and ideologies. The best people find and accept inclusion and use that to their advantage to create. I refuse to work with people that choose not to be inclusive and recognize people’s strengths based on their gender identity.”
AlternaDudes producer Guy Criss sees a clear current trend: authenticity.
“Skip the crap and skip the search,” he added.
He echoes the observation of Toby Morris at Falcon/NakedSword, that customers don’t want to “sift” — they know exactly what they want and they want to jump right to it. He agrees that fetish content is less taboo and more celebrated in queer culture. Gay “sex celebrities” today are celebrated as regular people. We follow them on social media and we’re a part of their daily lives.
Alice Skary joined their colleagues in trumpeting an emergent openness to explore new flavors of fetish.
“I would say the most major change I’ve seen is that people are becoming more and more open to a subgenre of fetish play called ‘science fiction sex’ or ‘monster fucking,’” Skary said. “Science fiction fantasies of being impregnated by alien monsters, mesmerized by murderous plants, attacked by a horny pumpkin-headed Ichabod Crane are some of my bestsellers over the last few years. I think ‘monster fucking’ might appeal to people who are on the trans spectrum because, in a suspension of reality to allow sci-fi play, it also allows you to suspend a belief in gender and anatomical expectations.”
Danny Zeeman has been exploring a recent trend rising among queer communities on the East Coast, called “simultaneous stimulation,” in which both parties climax at exactly the same time in an expression of closeness and intimate connection, while Weston happily expounds on the appeal of “puppy play,” which he described as “the gateway fetish” for young queer men.
“It’s cute, it’s sweet and it’s a great choice for queer guys who are maybe socially awkward,” he said. “They put on a mask and bark and run over to a leather daddy and lick him and tear off his clothes. I love it.”
Schmidt declares himself “completely inspired by” Bob Mizer of Athletic Model Guild, whom he seeks to emulate as he navigates the ever-shifting landscape in adult entertainment. Mizer went to Muscle Beach in California to find models; Schmidt utilizes Twitter and OnlyFans. Mizer made films and printed magazines, just as Schmidt does today.
Because the work of queer artists is often ignored and overlooked, the content created by Mizer and his contemporaries — during a time when being openly queer could be life-threatening — has a special resonance. This erotic archive is woven into the thread of queer culture and when filmmakers emerge to document their kinks and fetishes, they aren’t simply churning out widgets. They are providing a path forward for queer folx who are still forming their identities, and they are showing non-queer contemporaries how to create a body of work that will withstand the vagaries of politicians and social arbiters.
“Porn reinvents itself every four or five years,” Weston noted. “I’ve literally lived through VHS, DVD, the internet and now fan-driven platforms.
“But we have a bigger issue,” he added, citing the collapse of Tumblr and increasing OnlyFans censorship of consensual fetish content. “The market craves it. You can’t legislate or pray away someone’s desire. But I’m not sure the industry is really prepared for a massive shutdown of explicit content. What are these content creators going to do? You can’t jump over to Instagram or Facebook.”
Producers and content creators, he believes, should take a page from what queer artists and performers have always done, by banding together to teach each other the skills we all need to survive — and thrive — in an increasingly kinky world.