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Porn That Way Exhibition – Schwul* Und Sexy


The Schwules Museum*, an institution of education on LGBTIQ culture since 1985, currently has the exhibition “Porn That Way” on show, a groundbreaking journey through gay, lesbian, queer and trans* porn history.  It was my privilege to get a guided tour by one of the curators, Dr. Kevin Clarke. "The good thing about porn is that it’s a tool to talk about sexuality in general and how we deal with it. Think of the TV series ‘Masters of Sex’. In season one, someone asks Dr. Masters, 'Why do you have to do all this research and talk about sexual details all the time? -- Because it’s important that we destroy the myths and the shame, and see what’s really happening.'"

"Porn That Way" starts with quite the mythbuster itself. The earliest image traces back to 9000 BC, with the Ain Sakhri lovers as the oldest known depiction of human sexual intercourse. This image was always considered to show a man and a woman in a tender embrace, but can only be explained as such through the heteronormative glance of the society we live in. In the Schwules Museum*, we are invited to broaden our gaze and look at it within a wider possibility of gender combinations and thus as the start of a tradition of pornography that dares to veer away from heterosexual intercourse. "How people accept gay and lesbian depictions of sex reflects how they see gays and lesbians in general, so basically it is a very historical exhibition that shows how non-heterosexual movements were being perceived, treated legally and came into the public limelight. Looking at the way we have sex on film and in photos shows how we ourselves have changed, how body types have changed, how categories, ideals and health concerns changed."

The exhibition compiles historical traces of LGBTIQ pornography. “Today, with the internet, you can be anything you wish to be, and there is a market for any type of body and every kind of sex. What you see in our exhibition is our whole history told through the lens of pornography.” To enable this diversified perspective, it was curated by four people from different backgrounds, each with a different take on pornography. Together they could safeguard a depiction of the constituting components of the theme in equal measures and varied combinations. Interestingly so, the audience also shows up in various constellations. “What I like about the exhibition is that you see a lot of mixed groups visiting, walking around the museum together.” Surprisingly and luckily so, a lot of straight visitors find their way to “Porn That Way” too. “Straight couples on the one hand could react like the mothers of our research fellows Ronny who enjoyed what she saw but hoped her son was not into some of the more drastic stuff on display. On the other hand, straight couples might simply be curious to see, in the flesh, what gays and lesbians do – and what they themselves might be missing out on. Of course, they could check all of this out in Pornhub.com as well, but it might feel like a safer environment to visit a respectable museum.”

Three major lines can be distinguished throughout the display of the evolution and the progression of lesbian, gay, queer and trans* porn: In, Out and Go. “What you see in porn is always what happens in real life, but it is also a utopia, something we dream could be true. Obviously, when it is an emancipated time, porn is very liberated as well. It might not be a straight line of emancipation, but at least there is a constant progression.”

The In-part traces the roots LGBTIQ pornography up until the 1970s, when it was still seen as illegal and unrespectable. It starts with more underground-oriented topics such as lesbian imagery in stag films used to educate young men and the smuggling of pictures of images from porn magazines into the DDR before moving on to the breakthrough of LGBTIQ pornographic imagery in mainstream culture through pop art pioneers such as Kenneth Anger, Andy Warhol and Wakefield Poole, whose “Boys In The Sand” (1971) was the  first gay pornographic film to cross over into mainstream journalism and cinema; all of this one year prior to the release of “Deep Throat” (1972).

The second part, Out, shows how pornography made its way into the public arena thanks to specialized cinemas, where it was experienced together with others, but was afterwards reconfined to private surroundings due to the AIDS-crisis and the arrival of the VCR. In the context of HIV, we see the body image changing from the anything-goes diversity of the seventies to the health-radiating muscular Calvin Klein-model who was preferably “straight” – because straights don’t have AIDS; or so legend had it back then.

The third and final part, Go, shows the evolution of porn in times of the internet, which has also allowed for an emancipation of LGBTIQ porn with the broader audience. “The big porn websites are a very good way of educating people. Anyone who goes onto these websites gets to see anything they want to and that such a display of diversity is new. I think that is a gigantic leap forward to accepting all sorts of sexualities in general, because in the end people realize: it’s always just bodies in motion, nothing to ever be afraid of.” It sees the emancipation of (parts of) the genre through politically engaged feminist porn, the organization of festivals, the acknowledgement through awards and the conducting of academic studies. Furthermore, it displays the surge of new genres such as trans*porn, which encourage the viewer to think outside of the box and embrace physical differentiation. It also depicts the rise of new subgenres such as the 2.0-friendly reality porn and the more extreme bareback features, but also the softer romantic porn. “I have no idea what the near future will bring. There was someone here who said the new generation is not having sex anymore because they watch porn instead. We are definitely living in a time of change, but there are a lot of options and paths to explore. Romantic gay porn is one of the latest possibilities that attracts a lot of heterosexual women, but there are also the most extreme fetishes put on film that people might not want experience themselves [but]... get a kick out of watching – like the gladiators in the arena, in Ancient Rome.”

The future is still unpredictable, but the past and the present of LGBTIQ porn can be discovered at Schwules* Museum (Lützowstraße 73). The exhibition has been extended until May 24th and is also accompanied by a series of events “Screening Desire.” More information can be found on Schwules Museum.

By Tom De Moor


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