THE BLOG
03/03/2014 04:18 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Sticky Situation: The Porn Star, the Producer, and the Politics Behind the Strip and the Tease

RJ Sebastian

"Oh my god, so excited for the NY Boylesque Festival!" A weird "smiley frown" clouded my face as I "liked" another excited Facebook post by a former student. All morning, friends, fellow performers and past participants of my Boylesque 101 Class series had been excitedly tweeting and "social media-ing" about the 2014 NY Boylesque Festival. If you've never heard of boylesque, don't worry, I'll fill you in momentarily. Just know that this festival is a huge, fantastic celebration of male striptease and performance. Though I was happy for all these guys, I imagined my expression resembled one of those combo emoticons that can stand for feelings of confusion, or awkwardness, or irritability -- all definitely not appropriate responses for the celebratory status updates I was reading. Instead, I settled for the go to "thumbs up" sticker and shut down my laptop, feeling confused -- and awkward -- but mostly just pissed off since, this year, I was officially banned from performing at the stripping festivities.

Hi there, I'm Chris "Go-Go" Harder: male burlesque (or boylesque) dancer, porn "actor," and in general, an all around clothes-less freelancer. I've worked in the NYC nightlife and burlesque communities for over four years and, as of 2013, I began my career as a "porn star." Isn't it funny though that porn is the one performance form where star status is immediately granted, even after just one scene? Truth be told, I'd be just as accepting of a more titillating title like "porn-stud" or the more blue collar "sex worker," when making my way through the realm of night life, because at the end of the day, whether on camera or on stage, I've ultimately thought of myself as an entertainer.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares that opinion. My on-camera adventures are apparently just too hard to handle for at least one of the producers of the Boylesque Festival. Despite the fact that I had helped organize a series of guest Boylesque classes for 2012's festival and that a third of 2013's opening show line-up had taken my classes, I was informed that I would in no way be welcome to perform at this year's stripping festivities.

Here's where things really get a little sticky -- even more so than I'm used to. In fairness to the producers, specifically Daniel Nardicio, I should note that I was also involved with him in a long-term relationship which ended in June, 2012. While I don't believe that either producer is "anti-sex worker," (especially in the case of co-producer Jen Gapay), I do feel that my recent porn career was a primary reason for my exclusion from the festival. This is especially apparent if you consider the fact that I was welcomed to participate in the last year's Boylesque Festival -- almost a full year after my relationship with Nardicio ended.

Since little else has changed, I'm left with the conclusion that I am being "punished" for choosing to pursue my adult career, making Gapay and Nardicio's decision equally personal and well, "porn-y." You can read Gapay and Nardicio's response to my thoughts here. While these producers may not be deliberately excluding all sex workers, I do feel it's extremely important for both performers and producers to distinguish between those that "support" sex work and promote a sex-positive attitude, and those who merely profit off the work, energy and yes, talents of night-life and adult industry entertainers. For example, consider Nardicio's statement below taken from a 2013 interview with Hook-Online:

I am not anti-porn. I am not sex negative. I had sex an hour and a half ago. My whole life is a celebration of sex. But when you do porn, you are a whore. You are paid to have sex. People will always look at you as a whore.

This inspires an uncomfortable challenge: how to promote a "sex-positive" attitude without letting it become yet another excuse for us to project our own sexual standards onto others.

But you know what? I'm not here to play my poor-little-porn-star-violin. And as a fellow producer and event organizer myself, I recognize it's not my place to tell someone how to cast his show. At the end of the day, I know my career won't end because I wasn't allowed into a festival, just as I'm honestly sure and sincerely hope that ticket sales for this year's shows won't drop because it's "short a Harder." I truly believe The NY Boylesque Festival is not the "Chris and Daniel Show." And while unfortunately there is no doubt now a "coloring" to the event, ultimately these shows are and should be a celebration of male striptease.

Though I am genuinely upset that I can't share the stage with my stripping brethren, I'm more concerned that this decision simply invites even more censorship and moralising of a performance form with roots both equally glittery and gritty. In my opinion, burlesque, porn and even sex work are much more deeply intertwined than many of today's audiences and Dita-devoted starlets may realize. I'm thinking about the "classic" burlesque ladies who lived in an age where burlesque theaters were the only option instead of the alternative for a Stagg night out or a chance to see the stripping of cloth from skin and bare breasts under hot spot lights. And I'm reminded of burlesque legends now bragging at conventions and festivals about bagging JFK and, of course, the boys and men of Times Square and the golden days of the Adonis Theater or the Gaiety, where chaps and thongs were playfully peeled away and final reveals were sold to the highest bidder. Even Dita Von Teese herself began her career in porn and erotic films and fetish spreads.

While I consider myself a staunchly "pro-sex" performer, my transition into porn wasn't guiltless. I wasn't worried about what my friends or family or strangers viewing my porn would think so much as I was concerned about how my peers in the boylesque scene would respond. Would my former students and co-workers see me as selling out? Was I cheapening boylesque or making it seem irrelevant? This isn't a slam against my stripping, go-going, and porn-ing brethren, but you have to understand that the boylesque performers I work with put their heart and soul (and pay check) into their work. I've certainly encountered adult entertainers with the same passion and commitment to their work, but in my opinion, the difference between adult and boylesque performers comes down to a bag of rhinestones, a gimmick or two, and a pay disparity much wider than the mandatory strip of fabric on the back end of a g-string. I worried that my entry into the porn scene might appear to some like an annulment of all that time, energy and talent dedicated to the art of the tease. And what about those goddamned expensive rhinestones?!

I was having a porn/boylesque identity crisis! However, after a bit more reflection, I realized that my reasons for pursuing adult work very much mirrored my previous decisions for burlesque: I wanted to, I felt like I'd be good at it, and I also felt, and still do, that there's the potential to explore and create adult content that has my own distinct, umm, mark. Call it my "Harder Hancock" if you will. Don't get me wrong, "porn money" is definitely great, but again, when all has been said and come, I consider myself an entertainer. Sometimes entertaining involves a break-away, bedazzled g-string and a gimmick, and sometimes it calls for a nice white pair of Calvin's and a cum shot. At the end of the shift when the confetti has been swept or the condom wrappers tossed, we all know the clothes are going to come off. It's the story that makes it interesting.

On the nights of this year's 2014 Boylesque Festival, I will proudly stand in the audience supporting my peers and friends -- I'm thinking a classy, black and white jock strap number, maybe a rhinestoned bow tie for good measure. Again, I recognize that my "benching" from The NY Boylesque Festival is not a clean cut decision. The blurry line of sex worker and performance artist very much parallels the equally gray area of personal and professional grievances surrounding this issue. However, I still contend that porn is embedded -- no pun intended -- at its center. One thing I do know: Whether I'm included or excluded from individual shows, I am incredibly grateful to both the burlesque and adult communities for providing a place at the table for me. Stage or no stage, I'll always find a way to entertain you.

Subscribe to the Queer Voices email.
Get all of the queer news that matters to you.