JULY 29, 2012

STRANGER: Antonio Biaggi
LOCATION: Beacon Bar & Grill, 1615 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, DC
THEME: Brunch with an out gay porn star

Caution: This interview contains explicit sexual language

Some people work 9 to 5 in an office. Some people do manual labor under grueling conditions. Some are desperately looking for work. And then there’s Antonio Biaggi, who earns his money by having unprotected sex with men on camera.

“It’s just a job,” he said with a shrug.

Now, regular readers of this site might think this article is already sounding familiar. Didn’t I interview a gay porn star already?

Kind of. In July 2010 I sat down to lunch with Malachi Marx, a straight man doing gay porn who told me all about his likes and dislikes about the world of being gay-for-pay. And there were many, many dislikes he had to share. To avoid editorializing, I keep my opinions to myself and let my interviewees speak for themselves in these articles. But the public’s response to Malachi’s comments was overwhelmingly critical, with people judging him for many reasons including what they perceived as his criticism of the gay adult movie industry.

Since then, I wanted to interview an openly gay porn star to provide a bookend, talking to someone who enjoys their work in their industry. That’s how, just over two years after I broke bread with Malachi, I found myself having brunch in Washington, DC, with Mr. Biaggi. And that’s not his real name — Antonio is his real middle name (he hates it) and Biaggi is a surname he’s always liked, first seeing it on the title of a big law firm back in his native Puerto Rico. With the stage name “I get the chance to be someone else,” he said.

Antonio, who is gay, lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but was in DC for the weekend. We’d talked for a while about an interview, and it finally happened at Beacon Bar & Grill.

The restaurant offers a $33 buffet brunch with unlimited mimosas, though neither of us drank that day. It’s a large place with seating indoor and out. We found a quiet table outside, and I started prying into Antonio’s life in adult entertainment.

Probably not a shock to anyone that he didn’t start out planning a career in porn.

Initially Antonio pursued a degree in medicine, but wanted to study something more creative and switched to architecture. However the costs of a private education in Puerto Rico quickly mounted up, and he couldn’t afford to keep going with the program. “But it was fun, and that’s where I met most of my best friends. We’re all architectural drop-outs,” he said. Other courses that he’s tried his hand at include marketing, hairdressing, jewelry and fashion design.

“Everything has helped me through the years,” he said. For example, after studying jewelry he ended up working for a short time on jewelry for fashion shows for Latin designers in Miami. “It was pretty good, really fun and interesting.”

Finally, he found a college where he could study tourism, and after graduating from those studies he became a tour guide and historian in Puerto Rico. It was steady and lucrative work. “I was making really good money from my normal job as a tour guide,” he said.

While living on the island, Antonio was spotted by a photographer who liked what he saw and asked Antonio to do some nude modeling. That kind of request might make some people think twice — for example, nobody needs to see my pasty body in a photo spread — but Antonio said that he was “bored” with his life and wanted to mix things up with some racy modeling.

He modeled on and off for several years, mostly for magazines that are designed more for their pictures than their articles. But that boredom crept up again, and Antonio said a sense of restlessness is what made him think about moving from photos to movies.

“Everyone has their own story about how they got in the industry. Most people need money or have nothing else to do. I was 29. I was making really good money from my normal job as a tour guide. I’d just moved to a new apartment, bought all new furniture. But I was bored. I wanted to do something different. I guess I had an early middle life crisis,” he said.

So Antonio went to a sex shop and spent hours browsing gay porn DVDs, noting addresses and phone numbers of adult movie studios. He got in touch with one producer and they agreed to meet in Miami the next week. “He took some photos, sent them to another studio that distributes his movies, they hired me a month later,” Antonio said.

His porn career had begun.

The first movie shoot was last-minute. Antonio was on holiday in Greece when he got a note from the movie studio Raging Stallion asking him to fly to California for his first sex scene. Feeling what he said was “a mix of excitement and nerves,” he got on the long flight to the Golden State. The studio picked him up and told him filming would start right away, starting with B-roll footage — the dialogue and other scenes that act as filler between the hardcore sex.

The movie was military themed and the studio had hired a real drill sergeant to lead a training scene. “They put me in uniform, we were on the floor, there was poison ivy, one model got a rash, and I was working on four hours’ sleep. I was like, ‘What the fuck is this?’”

Then it was time for his first ever on-camera sex scene: an orgy. Talk about throwing someone in at the deep end.

“I’m not looking for a dating service

The cast was out in the desert, surrounded by several cameramen, the producer, the director, the owners of the studio, photographers and more. “Normally it’s very private, just the cameraman and an assistant. But because we were in the middle of the desert, there was nothing else to do. There was probably about 40 people looking,” Antonio said. To prevent himself getting overwhelmed, he said he did he best to focus on the skyline or the camera lights — anything to district himself.

Despite the nerves, Antonio said the first time went well. Soon he was in demand. His sexual position on camera is a top, and apparently his tool of the trade (forgive the awful innuendo, but my mother will be reading this article) is not an insignificant size.

Some studios will tell him exactly what they want him to do, and which specific positions to get in at any given moment. Others will just say what positions they want to see and let the models go at it for a while. It all sounded very technical, and Antonio kept saying it can be hard work. “You don’t go to entertain yourself. It’s a job,” he said.

“I don’t care about who the models are. I have my specifications of the model but I don’t care how they look, I’m not looking for a dating service. You have to get used to whoever they put you with, whoever they think is good or right for you,” he said.

But how does an openly gay man manage to perform with another man that he’s not physically attracted to? Pills or injections help the blood flow to the right places. “That’s very common,” he said. While I winced in my seat, he told me that the injections don’t actually hurt — but there’s always the danger of blood collecting and an erection not going down. If that happens, it has to be drained and that process can put a model out of action for a couple of months. “Thankfully it never happened to me,” he said.

Antonio added that although the work he’s doing is somewhat enjoyable — he’s having sex — it’s not a non-stop party. “You enjoy it to a certain degree but it’s a job, filming for four, five, six hours. Some studios it’s up to 12 hours. I don’t think anybody enjoys that much sex,” he said. “I go to bed after every movie, and I go to sleep. I don’t want to see anybody.”

After living for a short while in Miami, Antonio moved to San Francisco and his porn career took off. In the beginning, he said he attended a lot of gay porn industry awards and had a good time. “It’s a game, and if you treat it as a game, it’s fun.”

Antonio also had to adjust to being recognized in public — something he’s still going through, as he told me two men at DC’s Union Station made comments about recognizing him when they saw his train pull in to the city. “Real fans treat you like a Hollywood star, which is weird to me. I don’t make the money a Hollywood star does and I don’t think of myself as famous.”

However, other models do think of themselves as famous and that’s what turned Antonio off the industry parties. “When the models are looking for attention and they have other drama that’s when it becomes a problem, because once they are not filming anymore, nobody pays attention to them, then that’s when all the problems start,” he said.

“There are two types of guys who do this. One type does it because they need the money, they need the attention, that’s all they know how to do, they don’t have anything else to fall back on. They are usually the ones that have a lot of problems and they are usually the ones that become really famous,” Antonio said. He also generally tries to avoid working with gay-for-pay models. “It takes longer to film with them. They’re more needy than the gay guys.”

“A lot of us have normal lives

Others in the industry lead a more low-key life.

For example, industry friends of Antonio’s that fall into the more sedate type of gay porn models include a performer who did just two movies and is currently vice president of a bank, and another that works as a biologist. “A lot of us have normal lives. The films are our second life. You don’t mix both of them. I do my job, I film my scene, and that’s it.”

While living in San Francisco, Antonio dated one of the owners of Raging Stallion. But he tried to focus on the separation of his personal and porn lives by opening a store that sold organic products such as bamboo towels and sheets and environmentally friendly clothing. But he admits he didn’t plan it out. “I pretty much made it up as I went along,” he said. “I got a cash register and some products and thought I’d let it run. That was my business plan. It was a lot of work and not at all what I expected.”

Then he broke up with his boyfriend. “I had a lot of bad experiences in San Francisco, so eventually I decided to move,” he said. That’s how he wound up in Fort Lauderdale. He wanted to be near the beach and close to — but not in — the hustle and bustle of Miami.

It’s also around this time that Antonio switched to filming unprotected bareback movies.

Antonio’s contract with Raging Stallion had expired, and he was seen as over-exposed in the industry, with more than 30 movies under his belt. The main studios were turning him down. “It’s kind of like the fashion industry, you have a limit and then they don’t want you any more,” he said. And then he got an offer from a bareback studio to do a scene for them. “I thought about it, and said as long as it’s clean, it’s all good.”

Concerned about STDs and HIV, Antonio requires testing for the models that studios pair him with. He says that studios specializing in unprotected sex videos are “more open” about testing their models than safe-only studios, which he says have a laxer attitude. “They think the condom takes care of everything, but the only time I got an STD was in the safe industry. But that’s the mentality of the industry. I just make sure I take care of myself.”

Antonio said he’s in the health clinic every few weeks to get tested for STDs and HIV, and makes a particular point of going before and after every movie. “I don’t know if it’s the norm for other models, but for me it is,” he said, because he wants to protect against passing any diseases on to his partner.

His boyfriend is not involved with the gay porn industry, and Antonio said he is careful about testing and who he’s paired with, in order to avoid catching anything he would pass on to his partner. Still, “He’s fine with me being in the industry,” Antonio said.

His boyfriend’s family doesn’t know what work Antonio does — they just know that he’s a model — but Mr. Biaggi’s family knows. “They don’t care,” he said. “They make fun of me all the time. My mom says, ‘You must be tired, get a rest.’ She’s awesome about it.”

So is his grandmother, who found some of Antonio’s revealing photos while cleaning his room one time Antonio was staying over. “She said, ‘Very impressive, I wish your grandpa was like that.’ My family sometimes they can be embarrassing. But it’s fun, it’s never boring with them.”

Antonio chose to tell his family about his “second life” career. “I had to tell them, it would be worse if they found out from someone or somewhere else,” he said.

Though Antonio said his family is not critical of his career, he has received attacks online as a result of his performing in bareback movies. Antonio shares his random thoughts through a blog and a Facebook page, and he said that he recently spent a whole day rebutting criticism after he posted a photo of two gay porn stars in a float appearing to snort cocaine on a gay pride float.

There is “a lot” of drug use in the industry, Antonio said. Some models can even cause problems when they use so much of it they can’t perform correctly, taking breaks every 10 minutes to get a quick hit. But if people want to use drugs behind closed doors, Antonio doesn’t have a problem with that. He just took exception to two gay porn actors doing drugs in public.

“This is an industry like Hollywood

Some people jumped on Antonio as a hypocrite, saying he had no right to criticize poor behavior because his videos were promoting the evils of unsafe sex and encouraging risk sexual activities.

For Antonio, the incident underscored one of his biggest complaints about the industry: hypocrisy. He chose to highlight the drug use because he felt it was “really tacky, especially for gay pride, which is supposed be about our rights and our equality and show how we are. And then you have these two idiots sniffing coke openly in a float. It’s illegal and stupid, so I criticized it.”

Several times during brunch, Antonio stressed the need for personal responsibility to step in when it comes to porn. “This is an industry like Hollywood. You’re entertaining, you are giving a product people want. I’m not a teacher. You’re an adult and the people that see these videos are adults. I think they have the brains and knowledge to know what they can and cannot do.”

Antonio doesn’t think his on-camera activities should guide what people do in their own homes. “I’m not a sex therapist. I’m just doing something to entertain people. You do it if you want, if you don’t want to do it, you don’t do it,” he said. “I’m not telling people you have to do it. It’s a fantasy we’re selling. It’s not my responsibility. It’s everybody’s responsibility on their own to decide what they’re going to do.”

Antonio said some mainstream “safe” studios are hypocritical about bareback, as they’ve essentially ostracized him from performing for them, even though off-camera some of the models or owners of the conventional condom-only studios prefer unprotected sex.

While Antonio gets frustrated by the hypocrisy he sees in the gay porn industry, he never once expressed anger while he was speaking. He talked in a calm, laid-back manner — with a fairly strong Puerto Rican accent — and was quick to laugh. And there are benefits of being in the industry, including the opportunity to travel a lot and make some good friends.

“I have met a few models that are really good and I’ll go out with them and we’ll have dinner. But a lot of them I don’t want to see them cause they’re a total mess,”  he said, grinning.

But a lot of the time when he’s traveling he finds himself at dinner alone, part of his conscious effort to keep the porn career separate from his life when he’s not on camera. Apparently studios typically pay to fly a model out and to put them up in a hotel. But they get exclusive rights to that model while they’re in town. Antonio likes to pay his own travel and accommodation, because that gives him the flexibility to work with several studios during one visit.

In-between shoots he’ll either be resting at a hotel, working out, or having a quiet meal. I was glad to break his trend of dining alone by having the brunch interview.

And what a brunch it was. We both gave high compliments to the buffet options, which was praise indeed from Antonio who said he hates breakfast food.

I piled my plate up with all manner of stuff that probably shouldn’t have gone together: pork, croissants, salad, cheese blintzes and more. A more prepared interviewer would have brought a notepad to list all the various foods on my plate. All I can say is it was delicious.

Antonio then led the conversation on to telling me about his new company Blue Cakes. He got into making cakes shortly after his bad experiences in San Francisco. “I love to cook and for some reason at that time I was attracted to cakes. Somebody said maybe it’s because cakes are sweet and I was going through a really bad time. I’m not sure.”

Antonio has been making cakes for friends for about a year, but in the last couple of months has stepped up efforts to turn it into a small business. He has an assistant who makes vegan cakes, and a makeup artist who decorates the cakes. His plan is to start out small, selling cakes at farmers’ markets in Fort Lauderdale. “I just want to take it easy, do something small. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, I don’t lose that much money either,” he said.

He’s looking for alternatives to the gay porn industry because he knows he has a shelf life. “I don’t think I can do it for that many more years because I already surpassed what a normal model does in the industry. I don’t know if there is much more for me to do.”

Nowadays movies pay less than when he started out, which he says is partly due to widespread pirating of DVDs and the proliferation of free porn online. So now major studios can get away with paying some models $500, whereas several years ago it could be six times as much.

Antonio said that some models supplant their income by escorting, which can include anything from a quiet dinner to sex. “That is how a lot of the models make most of their money,” Antonio said. “Even if they make $3,000 for a scene, they can make three or four times that escorting.”

He’s escorted in the past, but he’s not a huge fan of it, although he say he’s met some interesting people while escorting.

Self-aware of his porn expiration date, Antonio is scouting for other opportunities, including the cake business and maybe even his own gay porn website where he’d go behind the camera and direct. But he’s not in any rush, noting that there are plenty of gay porn websites that have sprung up only to close down six months later.

Instead, Antonio seems content to let things slowly unfold, continuing to perform in movies as long as the demand is there, while keeping one eye firmly on his interests outside the industry. From what he said, it didn’t seem like he has any craving to be seen as the most popular gay porn star in the world, because his approach to the industry is very simplistic: it’s another form of employment.

As he reminded me as we wrapped up our meal: “It’s just a job.”

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