NEW YORK CITY
June 29, 2019
STRANGER: DeAngelo Jackson
LOCATION: Blue Dog, 308 West 50th Street, New York City
THEME: An adult model talks about changes and challenges in the gay porn industry
Losing your virginity can be a nerve-wracking experience, so spare a thought for DeAngelo Jackson who went through it on camera. Sometime in the mid-2000s, when he was 22, he filmed a gay sex scene from which he not only lost his cherry but also launched a career as an adult entertainer that’s still going strong.
Now 34 and sitting across from me at a restaurant in New York, DeAngelo laughs as he shares the tale. “I had never done anything sexually with a male or female, I completely experienced everything on camera for the first time. It was traumatizing,” he tells me, though the way he smiles afterward makes me doubt there was lasting trauma.
From the minute we meet at Blue Dog in Manhattan I’m put at ease by DeAngelo’s affable attitude; he takes more interest in learning about Dining With Strangers at the beginning than in being interviewed. And he says the fact we’re meeting over a meal rather than by telephone helped convince him to grant my request to chat. “I hate giving interviews,” he says, shivering and drawing out an “eeeugh” like he’s smelling something rancid. “But lunch, it’s more calm, so thank you for putting me at ease.”
Porn’s a visual medium, and DeAngelo’s appearance helps explain his popularity. His biceps put post-spinach Popeye to shame, and his handsome, youthful face makes it hard to believe he’s in his mid-thirties. DeAngelo doesn’t just have the physique of someone who knows the inside of a gym; he looks like he never leaves it.
He might be bashful about interviews but he’s a natural conversationalist. Attentive, curious, good-humored, and thoughtful with his responses. And I’ve plenty to ask him about as I try to get a measure on the current state of his industry while learning his story. As he’ll tell me later, DeAngelo says his private life is one of an introvert, yet his career requires him to be a non-stop extrovert once out in public.
I’m curious what’s changed in his industry during the almost-decade since I first interviewed an adult model. In July 2010 I met Malachi Marx, who identified as straight but performed sex scenes with men for the studio Randy Blue. He spoke negatively about many aspects of porn, describing the only real perk of the work as being a quick, easy way to make money.
Two years later I met Antonio Biaggi, a gay man who performs for studios and has his own small production company. The interview contrasted with Malachi because Antonio spoke positively about his experiences, saying there were few drawbacks.
In the years since those dinners the porn industry has evolved. Studios are no longer the monoliths of production. The plummeting DVD market has sapped the industry of a reliable revenue stream. Video sharing sites like PornHub have made it easier than ever for people to find illegally uploaded copyrighted material and view it for free, meaning producers are losing out on valuable subscription fees. And adult entertainers are opening accounts on sites such as OnlyFans, where they film their own scenes on smart phones or cameras and sell them direct to fans.
DeAngelo agreed to meet me for an interview to talk about these changes in the adult entertainment industry. We both had plans to be in New York in late June for World Pride, and that’s why we’re sitting across from each other now.
He’s in a chatty mood today, starting with small talk about the work he’ll be doing on this trip, mostly being “eye candy” as a go-go boy at the nearby gay bar Boxers. “I love it, I love the access for my fans, and to see the looks on the guys’ faces when they see me, it’s awesome.”
But he confides that it’s also an exhausting lifestyle because he’s naturally an introvert, and so he has to balance two ways of living: the extrovert who loves performing for the camera and his fans, and the introvert who needs his alone time to relax. When he finishes an event, or a shoot, or a public appearance at a bar or club, he likes to unwind solo at home in Atlanta. “It is so draining for me to be social, so I have to go somewhere to recoup and charge my battery. When I’m home I don’t want to do anything.”
Perhaps using a stage name helps him keep the introverted personal life and the extroverted professional life separate. I’m not shocked that DeAngelo Jackson is not his real name, instead it’s how he markets his adult entertainer role. It’s derived from the names of his two favorite R&B singers: D’Angelo, who stripped for the camera in the landmark music video for “Untitled (How Does It Feel),” and Michael Jackson.
He’s found success in the industry since his first scene years ago by being able to flip the performer switch on and fulfill a sexual role for the camera as needed, but says shooting scenes is often an hours-long process requiring him to stay in uncomfortable positions, more technical than titillating. Lights can go out, a scene partner might have performance problems; it’s a far cry from the well-edited finished product.
“It is so unsexy,” he tells me with a dispassionate look, the kind of face a kid might make after getting extra homework. Then he laughs again, and I notice a pattern to his conversation. He’s refreshingly honest about his work, but able to detach himself from it and make wry observations about the industry while still giving it great respect.
Although shooting porn is a technical process, DeAngelo says there’s a natural enjoyment from having sex with someone else. His goal is to portray that on screen.
The character of DeAngelo Jackson is a man driven by “pure passion,” he explains as we place our lunch order. “That’s the vibe I’m trying to give off. Granted I don’t enjoy every scene partner the same, so I try to find something on each guy that draws me in, because if you don’t get the sense that my partner and I aren’t into each other then I haven’t done my job,” he says. “But it is a job, and it’s hard work.”
I ask how the work is affected by evolving technology, which seems to bring with it promise such as selling scenes direct to fans but also peril from video sharing sites whose users never met a copyright they didn’t like to infringe.
“It started to go down right around 2007, 2008, when DVDs fizzled out and you had the tube sites with porn for free. Who’s going to pay for porn?” he asks rhetorically. If that’s the case, how does he make a living? “You have to do extreme due diligence” is the answer. “I’m on these tube sites sending out requests to have videos taken down, you have to do that, you have to take it back and own it or you’re losing money.”
DeAngelo also runs his own Twitter account promoting his studio work and self-shot videos for sites like OnlyFans. “It’s so interesting to take the middleman out and be directly connected to your fans like that, it’s incredible,” he says.
“But I think there’s still a substantial market for studio porn. I think people like the production values. But they are bleeding money,” he adds.
While we wait for our food, DeAngelo speaks in vague terms about being in talks with one studio to sign an exclusive contract, similar to the contracts in old Hollywood locking talent in to only make movies for one big name studio.
I’ll find out a few weeks later that he decided to sign that contract, inking a deal with Noir Male. It’s an interracial gay porn website that “showcases black men as sensual, sexual and unapologetically fine” rather than being fetishized, which DeAngelo says is an ongoing problem with how black men are treated in gay porn.
“We have a history in this country of African Americans being viewed as these sexual beasts running around raping anything — look at the movie Birth of a Nation,” he says, referencing D. W. Griffith’s 1915 silent movie set during the Civil War in which the Ku Klux Klan is portrayed as a heroic force and black men are depicted as sexual aggressors. DeAngelo says that mentality lingers to some extent in porn.
“Every time people use the term BBC…” he says, pausing to roll his eyes (the abbreviation stands for big black cock). “You never hear the term BWC. Why do you have to say black? Or people say I’m beautiful for a black guy, or they talk about my ebony skin. It’s the subtleties, the codewords. And I’ve had all kinds of conversations about this in private, about how can we change that? My vision, what I want to do with Noir Male, is that when you see me, it’s colorblind, or you quickly see beyond that.”
I question whether there’s a contradiction in his noble quest and working for a studio whose promotion focuses heavily on the fact it’s showcasing black models. He ponders for a moment, then tells me that he has no such concerns because the site’s creator Chi Chi La Rue wants Noir Mole to be high quality scenes free of gross racial overtones. “No shade, but it’s not thug porn, we’re not being fetishized,” DeAngelo explains.
And he’s happy that Noir Male pairs him with a wide variety of models. “I’m accustomed to my friends being white, Latino, all this stuff. So on screen I’m with white, Latino, Asian, black partners, the whole rainbow of colors, no-one is out of bounds for me. Skinny, muscular, I want people to feel like they could be with me.”
He’s also optimistic about hints of a better approach to diversity starting to take hold in the gay porn sector. DeAngelo references January’s GayVN Awards, the gay porn industry’s version of the Academy Awards. Latino performer Armond Rizzo and black performer Max Konnor won the award for best duo sex scene, which they filmed for Noir Male. “That was an emotional moment, to look out at that sea of peers, it has been all white faces, but that was the first year that it was so diverse. And for men of color to win that category? A Latino and a black man? Man, that’s…” and he shakes his head in happy disbelief. “You know, it’s porn, but I felt like I was at the Oscars, I felt like Halle Berry, I’m cheering, I was moved by that because things are starting to shift a little.”
I ask about the risks of STD and HIV, and DeAngelo says that performers are tested regularly. “I’m not asking my co-stars to bring their papers, I’m going off their word as far as being tested and, being on PrEP, that’s good enough for me,” he says. “PrEP” is an abbreviation referring to pre-exposure prophylaxis — the drug, Truvada, that can significantly lower the risk of HIV transmission if taken daily.
DeAngelo’s comments paint a fairly rosy picture of his career, but in a May interview for a website called The Wiley Show he talked about “vultures that want to do you wrong” in the porn industry. I ask him to elaborate. “I have to be careful about what I say,” he answers, and gathers his thoughts. “When you’re 18, 19, 20, and getting in the industry you’re very vulnerable, and I’ve seen a lot of models been taken advantage of, making pennies for their scenes, being swindled. When I got into it I was 22, almost 23, and I had my head on my shoulders pretty straight, I knew what I was going to do.”
He’s making enough money from porn to currently be “comfortable,” but adds that he’d like to make more — and hinted that the then-undisclosed Noir Male contract might be a step in the right direction.
So are there any negative aspects to his work? “I think social media can be very toxic sometimes, when I go on Twitter and see all the competition and read some of the comments. I’m sensitive, and these online warriors can be brutal. But outside of that there’s no negatives. I’m a chill, relaxed, down-to-earth guy.”
It’s a career that his parents are still struggling to come to terms with, and it’s also far removed from his college days when he thought about being a cop.
DeAngelo, the son of an Army man, was born in Germany and so the family was uprooted every few years. He went to college in the States to study criminal justice. At the time he was 18 or 19 and confesses to being “pretty free with my body,” posting shirtless pictures online and being an exhibitionist. It was the start of what would become more than a decade of living up to the adage that if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
By the age of 22 he was living in Tallahassee, Florida, and putting a strong emphasis on working out. He decided to try getting into porn because he was intrigued by it, and the men he’d watch. “I was seeing all these porn stars, they looked like they were having a great time, they looked phenomenal, they were so free with their bodies.”
He submitted his pictures to various websites and a company called Flava Works called him back. He traveled to their studio in Orlando, shot the scene where he lost his virginity, and from there has worked in porn on a semi-regular basis.
Porn is also what stopped him pursuing a career as a cop, which he had thought about doing because his older brother is a policeman. “Porn put the brakes on that,” he says. “And also seeing what my brother was going through, it’s a thankless job, they don’t get paid enough for what they go through. I can’t see myself being on the beat. Nice as I am, I’d end up getting shot because I’d give people the benefit of the doubt.”
Although he’s enjoying his career, DeAngelo is thinking about the mid- to long-term future and what else he might like to achieve. But before he can tell me, our waiter arrives with the small dishes we ordered for our lunch.
DeAngelo says he isn’t that hungry, opting for a simple artichoke dip.
I’m also after something light, and enjoy the Quinoa Cobb Salad: romaine, cherry tomatoes, eggs, bacon, cucumbers, blue cheese, and coconut lime dressing. The ingredients are fresh and combine well, a perfect amount of food for my hunger level.
The food’s good quality and the restaurant is a snug but attractive spot. The walls are painted in dark hues and the windows framed with large, heavy curtains, a style that projects an intimate atmosphere, like a refuge from the noise of the city outside. I make a mental note to return for another meal on a future visit to New York.
Neither of us are particularly peckish albeit for no particular reason, so we pick at our dishes as DeAngelo elaborates on his future in porn and other careers he might like to try. “I don’t completely see myself removing myself from this industry” in future years, he tells me. “But I would love to try and go mainstream, do some modeling, acting.”
What’s holding him back from doing that alongside his current work? “I think it’s my background, I think people say they can’t touch that. But it’s not as if I’m trying to, you know, act for a Disney Lifetime movie. I think I could cross over. And that’s my five year goal, is to eventually expand my market. I’ve already crossed over from being just mostly an ‘ethnic’ model,” he says, referencing in particular his scenes for Noir Male.
He tells me that a scene from 2018 taking place on a massage table garnered a lot of positive reactions from viewers, creating a major spike of interest in DeAngelo’s career. “People saw that scene and were asking who I was, and when they look at my catalogue of work they see I’ve been doing this a long time but hadn’t been as visible.”
While he’s grateful for the increased attention, and determined to stick with porn, DeAngelo realizes that any effort to move into mainstream entertainment will likely require him to relocate from his current home of Atlanta to Los Angeles.
“I’m apprehensive about it because I’m not sure if my background will be a barrier for me to really be looked at as a serious person,” he says. “And I love my background, I have no regrets about it, I wouldn’t change anything about it because this has been phenomenal. I have met a lot of people and it’s been great.”
Other options he’s thinking about for the future include following through on a long-running plan to get certification as a personal trainer. His current work and travel schedule is too packed to allow for dedicating himself to training clients, so becoming a trainer is another plan that’s temporarily on the backburner.
The busy pace of work means that he has little free time to do anything but work out or sleep. It’s Saturday when we’re having lunch, and on Tuesday he was up at 6.30am, flew to LA to shoot a scene until 3pm, then flew back the same night. That’s pretty typical. “So when I’m home I’m just knocked out, I’m exhausted.”
It’s a career that also results in a non-existing dating life, another sign of the two lifestyles DeAngelo leads, because the sexual extrovert who plays a role for the cameras belies the introverted, private guy who aspires to a committed relationship in the future.
He tells dates about his career straight away, not hiding anything because of his belief that they’ll find out eventually. Many dates aren’t turned off and are instead curious, peppering him with the sort of questions I’m asking. The biggest hurdle to dating DeAngelo is the fact that he can’t quite reconcile performing in porn while being in a serious relationship. “I can’t perform if I have a partner at home, I can’t turn that switch off. If I’m acting I’m having to give myself to someone sexually, and that’s a hindrance to being in a relationship. So that’s why I’m single, because of my profession. I choose to be single,” says. “But once it ends, I will be in a relationship with someone.”
In DeAngelo’s off-screen introverted life some of his family members are still struggling with learning about his career. He was outed by a cousin who saw DeAngelo’s picture and a link on Facebook which led to learning about his videos.
“My family’s very religious, my dad’s a pastor. They said I needed to pray. My mom almost had a heart attack,” he tells me. “She’s still trying to come to terms with me being gay. So on top of that me also being a porn star — the first thing that came to her mind was HIV, and I told her there are precautions that we take.”
DeAngelo’s older brother isn’t fazed by his sibling’s profession. “My brother’s mad cool with it, he’s like, ‘Bro do you, get your money.’”
I tell DeAngelo that I hope his parents come around to accepting his career.
He nods. “We shall see. But if not, it’s okay,” he says.
Throughout the hour we’ve chatted DeAngelo has been relentlessly positive, even when discussing some of the less-enticing aspects of the porn industry. Although his life is a balancing act of an introvert’s lifestyle and an extrovert’s lifestyle, he seems mostly content with both. And he credits his upbeat attitude and love of the career with the interaction and feedback with fans.
“When people see me it’s a stress relief, it’s entertainment,” he says as we prepare to part ways. “As far as what I provide, as far as just my work, it’s pure escapism, pure fantasy. Also I’m not off-limits, I’m not off-bounds,” DeAngelo says about his porn scenes and doing public appearances. “And you know what? I’ve been told that several times that a lot of guys are motivated to work out when they see me. If I can influence you or motivate you to go to the gym when you see me, hey, I feel great, I’m helping. That makes my heart feel so warm.”