Talking Points: Porn Stars on Life, Love and Fame

This article originally ran in the March 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here for a copy of the digital edition. Pictured above, from left: JJ Knight, Brent Corrigan, Liam Riley, Dirk Caber and Jesse Jackman.

On the last full day of the Internext Expo, the GayVN Lounge was the setting for all [email protected] events, including an impromptu discussion with five of the gay porn stars attending the event. In addition to the currently single CockyBoys exclusive Liam Riley, AVN also talked to Dirk Caber and Titan Men exclusive Jesse Jackman, who have been in a relationship for five and a half years, and adult star Brent Corrigan and Falcon Studios exclusive JJ Knight, who have been together for only five and a half months. Sitting together for more than an hour, the five performers talked about their careers, their love lives, the pleasures and pains of adult stardom, and life after porn.

How do you navigate a relationship with someone who is in the industry?

Dirk Caber: It’s not about sexual jealousy which generally gets in the way—it’s about professional jealousy. It’s that fact that any given porn career has its ebbs and flows—the moment when you’re working every day for a month and then you’ll have two months where there’s nothing at all. The problem is, these are never going to line up perfectly between the two of you, so at any given moment one of you has all of the attention and the other is in the background.

Brent Corrigan: I don’t want to generalize, and I can’t speak for all porn stars, but not many of us are that emotionally mature. … what is normal behavior for us—you just can’t run yourself like a traditional relationship. As gay people in general to mirror ourselves after straight principles of monogamy is a total mistake. Even gay porn stars, we’re not immune to that.

Jesse Jackman: Specifically when you can say that the hetero-normative model doesn’t work for straight people either. So then you throw males into the issue. … we’re the ones able to look at this and speak about this realistically.

Brent Corrigan: There are many opportunities to exploit [the relationship]. That’s also a mistake and we’ve been very careful with that. To be honest, at only five months into it, that’s one of the biggest fights that I have internally … keeping our connection strong without having the influence of the industry.

Dirk Caber: Obviously we have the Facebook effect, where we are showing [fans] the aspects of the relationship that we want them to see. They get a misunderstanding of the reality of the relationship. They think it’s all roses and candy … and we have our share of conflicts just like any other couple. … People tell us, “You guys are the perfect couple.” No, we’re not. We’re a couple, but we work at it. … So there’s that added pressure, even if you’re feeling shitty or you’ve had a fight, you still have this persona out there that you need to maintain because it’s part of your brand.

How is it for you as an adult star to be single and dating?

Liam Riley: “I try not to date in the industry anymore. I’d like to keep my personal life private. I choose what to share, just like anybody else. But when it comes to a relationship, I don’t want to deal with it. The jealousy of who’s working with who, who’s bigger than who. I really try to just have a normal life outside of work and just have dates with average people who don’t know about the industry.

Dirk Caber: When you’re dating someone, do you tell them about the porn right away?

Liam Riley: Absolutely. I’m very open. Who I am onscreen is very much who I am in person. I’ve had people who just completely want nothing to do with it, and that’s it. There’s nothing you can do to change people’s perception on the way they see the industry. But there are also people who are understanding, who will take the time to listen to you say that it’s just work. I try to make it as easy as possible, introduce them to my co-workers to show them that it’s nothing more than friendships, that there’s no relationships behind the scenes … So you just kind of have to build trust with that person and let them understand the way the industry works. But some work, some don’t. That’s life.

Brent Corrigan: When it comes to sex and love and anything social-oriented, gay porn stars seem to have a certain mindset. When you have a job that sort of weeds out people who might be on the other end of the spectrum from you, it does help to a degree.

How much are you like the characters that you play on screen?

Brent Corrigan: When we talk about who we are as media people in front of the camera and the connection we have with our fans and the kind of attitude we put out there, I think it depends on where you’re working and who you’re working for and what kind of porn you do. There are areas in pro-am and sort of smaller studios where they really hinge heavily on the personalities of the guys. They want to reveal as much that’s natural about them as possible because that’s what’s earthy and that’s what’s grounded. And I think that’s what people respond most to when it comes to baseline, straight-on sex. But then there’s obviously what Titan does—they put on a really good show and they know the emotions and they know the moves, and it’s really specific to a certain kind of look. And that, I imagine, requires a fair amount of consideration. I mean, just working with Falcon we have to think about where we place ourselves and how we look, and if we don’t think about these things it kind of comes off as sloppy or unkempt, and that’s part of playing the part. Our actions and the way we look on camera are affected by the job to a degree.

JJ Knight: Whenever I’m on camera everyone has this perception of me; they see one person on camera where it’s really hardcore and everything. But I try to portray myself as as any other person would, in terms of real life or on camera. I don’t like putting on a front to people or putting myself in situations where I know I’m not comfortable. There’ll be shoots like I did for Titan where I show up in leather and everything, and everybody automatically assumes that’s really what I’m into. It’s keeping yourself open to a wide range of things and not closing yourself off to things. but also being real to who you are.

Dirk Caber: It’s an interesting balance you have to ride between playing the character that’s assigned in the script but also being the actor that everyone follows as well. Doing a hardcore BDSM for Kink.com, yeah, I’m the dom top and I’m gonna beat you shitless—and I’m still a big old goofball who can’t help bursting into laughter in the middle of it, too. And both are important. Anyone who tries too hard to set aside one in favor of the other is going to find it very difficult to maintain that.

Brent Corrigan: It’s tough because we really do work to build the fantasy and we really do work to be the best of gay sexuality and present that as healthily as possible. And the thing is there’s sort of a residual connection to that. We can only just do what we can. People are going to have their own perceptions as well. I look at the world how I look at the world. I don’t have the same experiences as the next guy—the fan, the viewer.

Jesse Jackman: Sharing your own personal experiences and your own personal point of view about a lot of things that you’re discovered in the industry, it’s really great for connecting with people. That’s both marketable—it’s usable from a business perspective—but it also actually helps people, I think.

Brent Corrigan: “We’re just really unlikely heroes. … To say that anyone has ever looked up to me is kind of awkward, to say that out loud, and it almost feels like I’m tooting my own horn, but at the end of the day if people have approached us and they have said, “Hey, it was watching you as a young person that taught me not to be afraid of who I am,” or to come at it quicker, I feel like that’s a service.

Jesse Jackman: “My mom, actually, I was talking to her about a year ago and she said—it surprised me—that Dirk and I and all of us are on the forefront of a sexual evolution, that this openness is something that she sees a lot of benefits for society at large. And we represent that. Which is, I agree with you, bizarre. I never asked for that, but I kind of enjoy that.

Talk about what it’s like working with co-stars to create on-screen chemistry.

Jesse Jackman: When I first started at Titan, the mantra of the director at the time was, “This is not a dating service. You will work with whom we want you to work with.” And the idea there—and this is actually in the model agreement—that they were looking to catch lightning in a bottle, and find that electric chemistry. They strongly discouraged you from even making contact with the person you were going to work with before you were on set. That changed about three or four years ago in the studio. Now they say, “What do you think of this guy?” As an exclusive I’m fortunate I get this prerogative. They say, “Give me your wish list.” And these are people I know, these are people that I trust, these are people I will reach out to on Twitter—and they encourage that now—to interact and see if we have chemistry. And that on the whole has made for a much better product than the risk-taking they were doing a few years ago.

Brent Corrigan: A lot of performers are very discerning about what they’re attracted to and how they fit into the puzzle. But some of us are much better when someone else can look at the broader picture and mix and match. … It’s good to have input but we don’t see everything. I have had the best scenes, especially in the last year, when people that I had pretty much written off as either [having] a bad attitude or just not being my cup of tea physically, and then we end up having the best time, the best connections. It’s taught me as a performer to shut my mouth and just have faith. Because there is someone out there looking out for us.

Dirk Caber: For my first scene, I remember the picture being sent to me and I thought, “Hmm, Titan’s really going to test me.” … I arrived, met the guy and it was the sweetest thing ever. We had a blast.

What are some of the down sides of being a recognizable porn star?

Brent Corrigan: There’s this ambassador program situation that just automatically we all become inducted … sometimes you just want to take that hat off. When I’m buying milk or I’m in the gym and I’m trying to do some curls, I don’t want to be called out in my sacred spaces.

Jesse Jackman: “I must say [living in] Boston has been a blessing for us; people don’t recognize us here. It’s nice to have a safe space. … We’re human beings. We need our own separation.”

Dirk Caber: There are some people who thrive in being in the public eye and don’t need that. The Maverick men come to mind, actually. They a lot of the time are their characters, even in social, private situations. And they own it and they love it and they’re great guys—they’re really good friends of ours. And I respect that and I understand it but I could never do it.

Liam Riley: Before porn I came from a mainstream space of competitive cheerleading, and they have what’s called cheerlebrities, which are celebrity cheerleaders, and I was one of them. And the craze of social media and cheerleaders is so big … People look at me now and think I’m the nicest person. But early in my years, when I was 16, 17 … I was the mean girl thinking I was in my prime, that I was hot shit on the internet. People were talking at me, they wanted pictures. But I had a wakeup call when a few of my coaches sat me down and said, “People don’t pay attention to mean people.” And immediately those words stuck to me and my whole attitude and perception changed. Now I’m grateful for people wanting to know me.

What are the ways that social media affects your career?

Liam Riley: I love social media. I use it. I would consider myself a really out-there millennial kind of person. My fans know when I’m hurting, they know when I’m going through a breakup. … I also like to voice smart opinions [laughing]. I was there for the whole presidential campaign. It’s an interesting space where you can share your thoughts and opinions.

Brent Corrigan: We live in an age where you have to be really careful. It can take over our lives, social media. We can give it all away on social media. If you don’t know how to manage yourself, you are working for social media. It’s not working for us anymore.

Dirk Caber: We have seen some of colleagues who have gone down the rabbit hole and are just saying anything to get attention.

Studies suggest that some straight men watch gay porn. What do you think about this?

Dirk Caber: Having talked to some of our straight female fans as to why do they watch gay porn, an awful lot of time it boils down to that in straight porn you rarely see a parity of roles between the two actors—the guy’s the guy and the girl’s the receptacle. And particularly for women that’s really hurtful. … I wonder if for men it’s the same sort thing. For men who’ve had sex with a girl, they know that’s not how a girl sounds when she’s having sex. That’s not right at all. Maybe they can come to gay sex the way women do and say, “There’s something really more realistic about this.”

Liam Riley: I watch straight porn and I know I’m gay like 100 percent. But we shouldn’t shame people for what they like sexually. Sometimes it’s just what you want to watch in the moment or that’s what will to get you off the fastest. I don’t think it should come from a place where straight guys can’t watch gay porn and gay guys can’t watch straight porn. That’s something we all need to take into consideration.

Dirk Caber: It’s not that the person is gay or closeted. It’s simply a case of what you love and go home to and curl up with and sleep with and have children with is not necessarily the only thing you’re going to find sexually interesting.

Brent Corrigan: When you think about it, sex-positive is really attractive. It is the ultimate optimism. … That’s obviously what we promote working in the adult industry.

Jesse Jackman: This is part of why a lot of us got into the industry: to try to show a very sex-positive approach to the world. It goes beyond “I’m a homosexual and I have sex with men and I fall in love with men.” I haven’t gotten much beyond that. But that’s just me. … We know so many people who do vacillate back and forth. My point actually is, we as gays are not beyond [shaming]. I’ve worked with straight co-stars—some of these guys are nice guys, and you hate to see them treated like this. They go on social media and some guy asks, “Aren’t you straight” and then says, “You had a dick up your butt—how can you be straight?” But how many of us in our teenage years had sex with a girl because that was what you were supposed to do. Does that make you straight?

What’s after porn? Is there an expiration date on this? Are you just going to ride it until it stops?

Dirk Caber: I always feel you need to retire before your laurels begin to wilt. I think there seems to be a progression in porn at the moment of understanding that men who are older and older can continue to do this. Whether that’s because of the advent of Viagra and Cialis and a willingness to use Caverject or whatever makes it a little more possible for us to keep hard-ons the way 20-year-olds do, notwithstanding I think there’s also a societal understanding of the sexiness of a more mature man too. I’m seeing my participation starting to wane a bit … but if I keep going another ten years I’m happy to do that with certain studios. … Somehow this is still working. I’m still enjoying this.

Liam Riley: Obviously I don’t want to model forever. Something I’ve admired about Brent is that he’s broken into that mainstream kind of space, and that’s something I’d love to do. At Cockyboys they teach you also how to work behind the scenes. I know how to package and distribute DVDs and hot-melt the DVD covers onto them, which is the biggest bitch in the world. I would love to learn PR and I love working in the spaces between straight and gay porn. And who knows, maybe I’ll work for AVN down the line. I just want to grow in the industry and be part of the business, putting on conferences and talking to bright models who want to thrive in the industry.

Brent Corrigan: I think there’s a space for all of us when we’re done. Whether it’s in this medium or whether it’s in any number of avenues this leads to for us. Photographers, PR agents, anyone who works behind the camera, on set, there is work for us. If you really love the porn industry and you still are sex positive and you have an optimistic mind for it, you should definitely find those avenues. They’re pretty much open to all of us, especially those of us who have been a beacon for positivity. For me personally I think all through this entire process at every stage it has been really important to maintain some piece of me that is separate, so when this thing goes tits up, god forbid, we can do something else.

JJ Knight: Unlike some performers, I did start with a college degree before this. I got my degree in marketing. I did a full-time job, I worked in Asia and did all that. I got tired of the retail environment so I decided to do the one thing I had wanted to do since I was 18. But unfortunately, being from the South, it’s not exactly the best thing to tell your parents, that you’re going out to shoot porn in California for a week. So I put that on the burner for a while and I lived the all-American-boy life that they wanted. And then made the move out to California, started all that. So after this, I would love to do something with marketing for porn, especially something for one of the porn studios. It would be a lot of fun. I like the PR aspect of things, the photography.

Dirk Caber: People ask about “the career.” It isn’t really a career. It’s something you do for extra cash and for fun. But very few guys actually get enough work to be able to sustain their life doing this. Most porn stars have a day job of some sort. We know so many IT people, creative types. I’m a musician. There are escorts, of course. … If you don’t come into porn having that already under way and you don’t keep tabs on that while you’re doing this—as in don’t give up your day job entirely—you don’t end up with something that is yours to go further with when the porn finally does run its course.

Jesse Jackman: It’s not a fair question for me because I had a career before porn. I have a career now that’s in health care that’s completely unrelated to porn, and I intend to have that career when I’m done. So I have a built-in fallback plan. This was, like Dirk said, for a little bit of extra money and for an amazing experience that I figured if I don’t try it I’ll never know what it’s like. So I do already have an exit plan, and it’s my entrance plan. So I’ll continue doing this as long as it’s fun. That said, it has led to other opportunities that are going to enrich my life rather than just sustain it. Like the writing, which I discovered because of this. An incident happened a few years ago. We posted a photo of ourselves kissing at the gym. Completely clothed. And someone started gay bashing us on my Facebook page. I called them out on it and a day later I found out I had been banned on Facebook for posting that photo. I was PISSED. I started reaching out to media outlets, including Huffington Post. … I was contacted by the editor of [Huffington Post’s Queer Voices section] who asked, “Would you like to write up an article about your experiences through this?” I said, “Fuck yeah, of course!” … I discovered this joy of writing that I never knew that I had, and I’m going to continues this and cultivate this.”

Brent Corrigan: The one thing I would like to know is where all of you guys would like to see the porn industry. Because in the next year we’re going to be going into a new presidency and a lot of things may change. Of course a lot of things may stay the same, but the question is how can we make sure that we’re continuing to head for that sex-positive future.

Liam Riley: I think we need to stand together rather than building resentment and competitiveness between the studios and the companies, because as a whole we’re so much stronger together than we are alone. … As a whole we need to come together because it’s such a loud voice if we all stand together.

Jesse Jackman: We are lucky to have this little soapbox of ours.