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The Digital Death of Vintage Ebony and Blatino Porn

"Once retro porn began to fall, only Black and Brown queer fans put in the work to keep it alive."

By Steven Underwood

The first time I sought out porn, it was in 2007; I was about 12 years old. I went the amateur route and typed “gay porn” into Google. At the time, I allowed myself to be disappointed with the results of white men in various states of undress. I quickly closed the browser and cleared the search history rather than waste my time.

A year of blossoming into my sexuality later, I added the qualifier “Black gay porn” and was shocked when Sean Cody “exotic” previews flashed across my dashboard.

On the next page was a single graphic of Black men in faded jeans and Timbs laying bare-chested next to a Blatino model with a wide-gap smile. It was the first and last time I asked who Tiger Tyson was.

Sexual expression is an important and inevitable part of coming-of-age for queer youth, and in the internet age, that often includes online exploration. Growing up Black and queer, vintage "Ebony" and "Blatino" gay porn impacted my nascent views of sex and sexuality in ways that are difficult to overstate. Through conversations with other Black queer men, I now know I am not the only one. Perhaps that’s why witnessing the digital death of these adult movies as the powers-that-be crack down on online porn feels so personal.

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Good Looking Young Black Man - Stock image.

Defining "DL" Porn

For Black queer men, the relationship between Black identity and queer sexual expression in porn is bottlenecked by content lauded as “strictly gay,” which always seems to center white queer men. It’s ironic that so much content I can definitively label as gay today revolves around "DL" straight men. Historically, the genre never involved the white men who now dabble in it.

The term DL, or “down-low,” was used frequently in the 2000s to describe the average Black man who occasionally had casual sex with other men. The DL man was elusive because he captured what many Black and Brown men regarded as the pinnacle of masculinity due to the heavy prison culture that threatened us and tempered our expectations of the future. DL men sagged in baggy jeans; they were fit and present in the streets; and they always had a woman in their life, maybe even more than one. In short, they were thugs.

Over time, this definition has shifted slightly, but the delivery has not. Something about this genre defies the very fabrication of what is or isn’t Black or queer. The DL men featured in "thugporn" by nature embody the most masculine archetype of our community. They’re Black men who, if you see them on the street, do not possess any inclination of stereotypically effeminate traits.

Today, there are several production companies that cater to the idea of DL Black men — one in particular stars white gay cops cruising and assaulting “thugs” on the streets, which makes me squirm. Another, which involves a white man filming DL Black thugs in his bedroom having sex for emergency funds, makes me equally uncomfortable. This isn’t what DL porn centering Black men tried to capture because nothing about this content caters to a Black gaze. In fact, it’s deliberately going out of its way to show you the opposite.

That isn’t to say white gay men have never been attracted to straight men. However, DL culture — and the dying archetype of sexuality that was the DL man — are glues which only rightfully stick to urban Black culture. There is a specific trauma to it.

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - August 14 Tevin Campbel performing at KMEL Summer Jam 1994 at Shoreline Amphitheater. Event held on August 14, 1994 in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)

Tevin Campbell circa 1994.

In the early 2000s, the witch hunt to find and out DL Black men not only constructed a harsh culture of hyper-masculinity, but led to a number of deaths and career pitfalls. Rumors both valid and false mounted against popular Black rappers and celebrities. Many pop and R&B singers were brutalized by these accusations, most infamously Tevin Campbell, who experienced a terrible downfall following an arrest for soliciting lewd acts from an undercover policeman, sentencing to a mandatory AIDS education course, and a forced outing as “try-sexual” in Sister 2 Sister magazine with Jamie Foster Brown.

At the time, a lot of the DL commentary had to do with misinformation surrounding the AIDS crisis’s impact on Black and Brown LGBTQ communities. This phenomenon wasn’t helped by specific talk-show circuits of psychologists, doctors, and alleged professionals discussing the culture of DL men, and the supposed health risks attached to it. Whether for virtue or scrutiny, closeted and out gay and bisexual men were usually at the center of these conversations.

When porn was not as easily accessible to the public as it is today, a vast majority of porn websites were behind paywalls. Many men — and women — I’ve interviewed say their first introduction to porn wasn’t actually hardcore porn; it was the heavily censored, low-quality production of softcore material for premium channels like Cinemax, Showtime, and HBO. Still, much of the content centered white actors and scenarios (with odd exceptions like Zane’s Sex Chronicles, a Cinemax erotic based on the urban erotic novels of the same name), and the vast majority of it was straight.

But even niche premium content was harder to erase than DL porn. Sites like Thugporn, which hosted much of this vintage content, did not survive the boom of the internet, though some of its top retailers still push the distribution of gay Black and Latino content. Worse, in 2020, Pornhub performed a mass cleansing of its servers, destroying all content not posted by verified accounts in order to crack down on revenge porn and other criminal activity. Most of the retro movies were washed away with it.

We lost many scenes, including content starring models who have become synonymous with queer dalliance and exploration. Actors like Tiger Tyson introduced me to the concept of free and open bisexuality. Even reading the odd interviews where Tyson discussed his demand to wear condoms and practice “safer sex” on camera because of heightened HIV awareness at the time made me consider what I would want for my first actual sexual experiences.

No wonder once retro porn began to fall, only Black and Brown queer fans put in the work to keep it alive. Only we have any incentive to want it to exist. It isn’t the "mandingo" archetype so many non-Black queer men pursue us for, nor is it the long-upheld myth that thugs are incapable of ever succumbing to same-sex curiosity. It’s as complex as we are.

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gay couple kissing and make sex in the bed

The Continued Cultural Resonance of Vintage Porn

Anthony, a 23-year-old gay man exploring his sexuality with an OnlyFans of his own, was just 8 years old when he first found Tyson and Castro Supreme. From there, he found Disesel Washington, Ian Rock, Jovonnie, XL, and Venom, and the genre became more of a fixture and less of a singular retro gimmick. The latter actors were in what Anthony calls “a transitional period that ultimately opened doors for studios.” The actors were no longer just with Black or Brown men; the appeal of Black men in gay porn broadened.

Anthony was nothing like these actors at the time — buff, masculine, charismatic, and assured of their sexuality — but he still found their digital presence meaningful. “I think that their existence gave me space to explore my own sexuality,” he tells Logo. “I knew what liked, but I was uncomfortable with it because of the negative stigma placed around homosexuality throughout my childhood. The content was the vehicle for me to embrace and ultimately liberate myself sexually.”

People like Tyson and Alejandro the Great are beautiful, but nothing about their beauty objects to their clear strength. And then, they pivot where it counts: They are posed sensually and suggestively. They smile — look, they can be coy! They can be rough in the scene, too, but there is always an emphasis on touch that cannot be ignored.

Touch is important for Black men. We don’t take it lightly, especially between other men.

Corey* was first exposed to queer porn not through the internet, but through physical media in his 20s. He found Enrique Cruz's Off Da Hook on VHS while browsing in an adult video store in Washington, D.C., in the early 2000s.

“I felt like Cruz in particular focused heavily on foreplay, with an emphasis on kissing,” Corey tells Logo. “His focus on the urban aesthetic, in locale, in costuming, combined with the affection between them, seemed to create a healthy start for me and my sexual life. The actors were all masculine-presenting, but again, the emphasis on the neck-up intimacy was very important.” Corey is now 42 and writes about Black queer intimacy in varying forms.

Despite the aforementioned losses, retro content has persisted for the most part, drawing itself up from the decrepit older files of hosting sites like Xtube. However, in 2021, even the seemingly impenetrable hosting site announced it would be shutting down. No explanation was offered, but according to The Next Web, Xtube and its parent company, MindGeek, have been slammed with lawsuits citing human trafficking and the illegal hosting of content.

These allegations aren’t without some substance. For years, sites like Xtube served an explicit purpose of hosting porn either lost or unavailable without a healthy fee. Even sites like Myvidster, known for its user-operated uploading schedule and a litany of content appealing to particular interests, used the public access of Xtube and Pornhub to distribute its work.

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OnlyFans logo is seen displayed on a phone screen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on August 25, 2021. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

In the same vein, OnlyFans’s recent controversy about banning sexually explicit content was seasoned with the exact same rhetoric: the concerns of powerful banks against the dangers of sex work — and homosexuality, for that matter. Though the company conveniently changed its mind, there was still the very real threat of digital sex workers’ livelihoods being, at leisure, erased.

While discourse around these topics typically centers established white actors, I’ve thought about the impact decisions like this would have on Black and Brown queer people because, from my experiences, digital sexuality is a key part of our dialogue. Queer entertainment commentator @Nicosaesthetics discussed how gay porn models circulate a kind of celebrity in the LGBTQ community and lamented the encroaching disruption of this legacy.

Today, several Black queer men’s groups I belong to attribute their substantial social following not to some niche influence or ability, but to the odd piece of sexually explicit content they post that garners virality in digital hemispheres that will never touch the light of day. Many men in these groups are no longer merely consumers of this fading genre. Often, they reflect the genre’s depiction of masculinity and what thugporn’s fantasy tried to embody.

Some Twitter users are committed to upholding this legacy of Black and Brown porn where touch is complex and centered. It isn’t lost on me that many of these accounts are real-life Black DL personas sharing and experiencing queerness in ways their public lives will not or cannot allow. They talk openly about wanting to be touched by the right person, to share something significant.

Sometimes they show it, too, not for profit, but just because they desire to be celebrated even in the relative anonymity of social media. These moments are exactly like those you see in the before-glow of every one of Tyson’s or Castro’s scenes: 20 seconds of subtle intimacy between two Black men, before the intimacy surrenders to passion.

*Subject’s name was changed for privacy

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