By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
In blooper scenes included on the soon-to-be-released gay porn feature Behind the Set, we see a decidedly mirthful 19-year-old Christian Valentino dancing and clowning about, all smiles as he bounces his flaccid penis off the heads of other actors.
The reel also reveals another side of the Phoenix-based Valentino, a behind-the-scenes perspective of a gay porner grimacing as he struggles to relax his sphincter using a large, rather reluctant dildo. The hindmost loosening, prefaced with an all-cleansing douche, is necessary; once the shooting starts, Valentino is the anal recipient of a rigid 10-inch penis. The gent brandishing said genitalia shows little mercy on the spindly limbed Valentino. What's more, shooting for that particular scene lasted hours.
Valentino is Behind the Set's star. He will grace its DVD/video box cover. He plays a pouty, passive hetero raped by a burly, masked femme wielding an overtly articulated lust. In the scene, Valentino's yelps of pain are feigned, or so he claims. He says he enjoyed the sex scenes, and his crow and matching distressed countenance were shot for added drama after the actual intercourse took place and later edited in.
Nick Richmond, head honcho of Los Angeles-based Premier Pictures, is optimistic about Valentino's porn future. Premier, a heavily financed concern spanking-new to the jiz biz, is considering offering the actor a fruitful contract that would tie him to the company. An exclusive deal means simply that Valentino would earn a base salary for a fixed number of sex scenes. He'd be flown everywhere and, in a sense, treated like a star. Valentino came to Richmond's attention through the local all-nude male cabaret The Hideout.
"He's talented," Richmond says, sounding like a cigar-in-the-mouth studio head of yore. "When this guy works, people take notice. Is he arrogant? Sure. But that's okay, that's part of it. He may have a few problems, but I think he's got a future."
Almost by default, gay male porn is Valentino's budding career. His first calling was the military. Late last year, after serving nearly two years, the Navy released Valentino with an honorable discharge when his sexual bent became public. For this story, Valentino requested I not use his birth name.
"That [the Navy] was something I wanted so bad, and they stole that," he says. "They ended up taking my career. During the exiting process in Maryland, I was getting death threats slipped under my door when it was found out that I was gay. The exiting process usually takes 24 hours. 'Pack your shit up, get out, because your life is usually in danger' type of thing. Especially in a case like my mine, which was around the time a military man was killed for being gay."
Valentino doesn't conform to gay porn's long-standing, boundary-blurring image of the queen with a flattop and gym-assisted body. The 19-year-old is lithesome with dark skin and close-cropped hair. His dark eyes reveal a doe-eyed accessibility not yet thwarted by the possibilities of regret, or the downside to dubious decision-making. Not much different from the photo on his military ID taken a few years back. Valentino is cosmetically closer to his jazz-age namesake than he is to, say, porn's most identifiable gay male star, Jeff Stryker.
He says the homophobic nature of the military made him put up a complete front. "When I was in the Navy, I was the straightest man," he says. "When it came down to it in court, there were people testifying on my behalf saying the Navy had it all wrong. I had so many people standing up for me, trying to protect me, my career. From the day I walked into boot camp, my RDC Division Commander knew that I wasn't gay. They had understood how much the military meant to me.
"Honestly? I had more fun in boot camp than I think I ever had in my entire life," he continues. "They ended up putting me in charge of so many things. While I was in boot camp, they ended up making me a religious petty officer, which meant that I was in charge of everybody's religious well-being. They tested my IQ, then made me an education petty officer. I worked hard, day in and day out."
When Valentino speaks, he's mannerly in a kind of contrived urbane way, in full sentences with a slight New York twang. He graduated high school a year early, plays piano, paints, is an aspiring club DJ, and he says he knew he was gay long before he was blacklisted as such by the Navy.
"People in the Navy wondered because I walked around in Gucci when I was off work," he says, laughing. "I had grown accustomed to dressing well. They didn't question my actions, the way I walked, or the way I did certain things. In full contact sports -- wrestling, basketball, football -- I was kicking ass."
The irony, he says, is in the fact that he relished in more sex while serving in the Navy than any other time in his life. He says the sailors are reduced to jerking off in the showers. Valentino wouldn't have any of that.
"You go camp that long without sex," he says with an odd, straight-faced chortle. "No, no, no, it does not happen."
His first sexual encounter came during A school, which is the schooling that follows boot camp. He met a sailor who sensed his sexual preferences. "So my first time was in the study room while the petty officer looked the other way."
Valentino started stripping while stationed in Maryland. He won an amateur go-go night in New York. "You'd win $200 if you're the top one there that night," he says. "I won that four times. It was in a gay bar, but nobody knew. In the Navy, you get really good at [stealing time]. You just don't say anything. I never mentioned anything about homosexuality. I always did what I had to do."
He says he did his first amateur porno while stationed in Florida. "I just did it. It was fun."
So Valentino was booted from the Navy, and now he says he misses it. He explains this in such a way that suggests he was on the receiving end of a raw deal. But where's the bias when you've stripped, made amateur porn, and had homosexual trysts with other servicemen?
In more candid moments, even Valentino admits his complaints about the Navy are only a pose. "I can't talk bad about the military. I can only talk about their exiting process. The fact of the matter is that the 'Don't ask, don't tell' policy really is not real. I had so much fun in the military. Including when I was in A school. I thought, 'My God, I'm never gonna have sex. I have never had more sex in my entire life than when I was in A school, in the study rooms."
If nothing else, the Navy represented certain latitude, if not liberation, for Valentino. Home life had unraveled, as it tends to do when one comes up gay in a strict Christian household. "I wanted to spread my wings," he says. "My stepfather and I were fighting all the time. I thought I was a big shot. But I was always a good kid. I wasn't in much trouble or anything. My stepdad kicked me out. As far as I'm concerned, I'm a normal guy, I grew up in a normal house."
Valentino says his real dad is an Air Force vet who later became a Phoenix cop, and now lives on a ranch in Arkansas. His parents divorced before he was 10. He says he was born and raised in Manhattan and moved to Phoenix when he was 6. Dad is Sicilian and mom is Filipino. He describes his family only as large and says that he is close to one of his sisters who lives in the Valley. He says his family totally disapproves of his lifestyle and porno career. His parents were unavailable for comment.
"After my father left the military, he wound up a cop here in Phoenix," Valentino explains. "My father and I are not on speaking terms. He disowned me. He did not like my sexuality; he did not approve of my life. He told me I wouldn't make it through, and I did.
"My mother is the most perfect person in the world. I mean literally, I do have the most perfect mom in the world. My most fond memories are of dancing with my mom, throwing my mom around the kitchen, and she'd be doing it too. And times we would sit on the kitchen floor coloring on that big butcher paper. I did have the Brady Bunch mom. My mother doesn't think I'm evil; she thinks that I am just sinning right now.
"According to my stepfather," he continues, "I am going to hell. My mom doesn't believe I am going to hell, but everybody else in my family does, except, surprisingly enough, my grandmother and grandfather."
He says his grandparents are green to certain aspects of his life; for instance, they are unaware that he's been romping around on sweaty porno sets for money.
"I don't care what they think, really," he says, in a tone edging toward spite. "It's my life; I don't give a shit anymore. My friends are the only ones that help me."
On one hand, he claims his was an upbringing of privilege, yet a few sentences later he'll complain that his dad wasn't forthcoming with ample child support to allow his mother to purchase enough milk for the family. He calls it a "normal" upbringing, but his family loathes his sexuality or believes he is living in sin. His grandparents have no idea he is hustling and making gay porn.
Modern porn is such that many of its players define their self-worth by how famous they think they can be, how much cash they figure they can earn. Valentino is entering that scene with a seemingly similar mindset. When he flies into L.A. for a porn shoot, he is chauffeured about in a limo. He stays in killer digs. There is an easy illusion at play, one that celebrates a particularly facile and dismal hue of celebrity.
Often, gay male porners are arrested by AIDS, a problem nearly nonexistent in its hetero video counterpart. For a porn actor, it is required that he or she undergoes a PCR/DNA test every month. The director must see test results before any sex scene is shot. Condoms are required on most gay sex sets. Valentino works all-condom. "I insist on condoms or I won't do a scene."
Many gay porn stars use the porn work as a means to beef up a take from turning tricks, whereas a popular female porner can earn a hundred grand or more a few months out of the year simply touring strip bars as a featured dancer.
I go to meet Christian Valentino at The Hideout in central Phoenix. Its roomy, gilded interior teems with sculpted males in matching G-strings hawking table dances to a handful of giggly women and a few churlish gents whose eye contact suggests a sort of challenge to an introduction.
Up on one of the stages, in the hazy, burnt-orange lighting, Valentino's lithe frame maneuvers up and down the 25-foot pole like a seasoned dancer. The movements vary slightly in terms of timing and tempo, part ballet, part slithery sleaze. The leopard G-string drops. Three women at the bow of the stage leer, and adore each move and choice Valentino makes. They eagerly peel one-dollar bills from small rolls in their hands. The money is placed carefully on the lip of the stage.
Valentino's act is more about movement and far less graphic than that at an all-nude female cabaret. It's far more narcissistic. You sense he'd be doing the exact same detailed dance if he were alone in front of a mirror.
The show and song end, and Valentino bows absurdly. He saunters over, his body glistening in sweat. "Shit, that was great," he announces. "You know I do like girls, I do, really. But I looooove men."
Valentino is here working; dancing, gyrating, preening, and it's seemingly in vain. Tonight his cell phone is dead because he couldn't make the payment. The eviction papers he had recently received ensure that he has nowhere to sleep. His rent-boy sob story, though spongy with ample Camille-esque drama, is a subterfuge of real sadness. His bulletproof armor, that arrogance, is circumvented with childlike insecurity. It's a heady medley that breeds desperation and recklessness.
"I have nowhere to go, okay," he sighs. "Everything I own is in boxes. I don't even have anywhere to keep my dog."
One of The Hideout's owners, who requested anonymity, says he feels sorry for Valentino. "He's got an attitude. The kid's got some things going on. He seems out of control."
Because he is broke and homeless, Valentino tells me he has to spend all the next day hustling. He's his own personal escort service. He employs a driver for protection.
"I think anyone who's that active and that young hustling, there's some kind of problems going on," says Jonathan Bond, who was one of Valentino's local drivers. "Once I picked him up at this place called the Chute. He comes out and he's kinda like athletic, affecting this sort of masculine posture. It was some kind of front. He gets in and he starts counting all this money. It was pretty obvious he had hundreds of dollars. He said when he was inside the club he was surrounded by people and he couldn't get this guy off his dick. It just seemed sad. He reminded me instantly of one of those Portland kids hustling in My Own Private Idaho."
"I can make $1,600 in two days," Valentino claims, then adds contritely, "but I'm scared shitless. I love doing porn. I love to have sex. I don't want to have to do this [escorting] for long."
Conversations with Valentino are fraught with contradiction and subtle manipulation, the words of a bright but confused 19-year-old. He is not easily accountable, and can play up the Hairdresser on Fire bit with aplomb. His days are either strung ahead like perils or he's in the role of the victim unaware that his plight is self-inflicted, the end result of a series of personal choices.
Porn, in a way, allows Valentino autonomy from the demands of his desires. Yet the porn biz has taught us that odds are a 19-year-old anal queen does not make for an attractive, out-of-work 30-year-old. He says he likes the money, and it's obvious he adores the attention, but it's a shortsightedness, that glittery definition of self-worth. He's kidding himself about what the Navy did to him, he's kidding himself about the normalcy of his family life, and now he's kidding himself about where it's all going.
From any standpoint, hustling and being sodomized on porn set by a total stranger is a hell of a way to make a living. Valentino's manhood is reduced to, and defined by, its lowest common denominator: penis performance. It says if you can't keep it up, or if you can't take it, you will soon be out of work, and, at that point, perhaps, out of luck.