FIRST PERSON

Let Me Entertain You: How I Was Banned From Boylesque Because I Work In Porn

Harder
Photo credit: Wilson Models

“Oh my God, so excited for the NY Boylesque Festival!” A weird “smiley frown” clouded my face as I “liked” another excited Facebook post by a former student. All morning, friends, fellow performers, and past participants of my Boylesque 101 Class series had been excitedly tweeting and “social media-ing” about the 2014 NYC Boylesque Festival. If you’ve never heard of Boylesque, don’t worry, I’ll fill you in momentarily. Just know that this festival is a huge, fantastic celebration of male striptease and performance. Though I was happy for all these guys, I imagined my expression resembled one of those combo emoticons that can stand for feelings of confusion, or awkwardness, or irritability, all definitely not appropriate responses for the celebratory status updates I was reading. Instead, I settled for the go to “thumbs up” sticker and shut down my laptop, feeling confused and awkward but mostly just pissed off since this year I was officially banned from performing at the stripping festivities.

Hi there. I’m Chris “Go-Go” Harder: male burlesque dancer, porn “actor,” and in general, an all around clothes-less freelancer. I’ve worked in the NYC nightlife and burlesque communities for over four years and in 2013, I began my career in the blue movies as an adult film “star.” Isn’t it funny that porn is the one performance form where star status is immediately granted, even after just one scene? Truth be told, I’d be just as accepting of a more titillating title like “porn-stud” or the more blue collar “sex worker” when making my way through the realm of nightlife, because at the end of the day, whether on camera or onstage, I’ve ultimately thought of myself as an entertainer.

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Photo credit: RJ Sebastian

Unfortunately, not everyone shares that opinion. My on camera adventures are apparently just too hard to handle for the producer’s of the Boylesque Festival, and it was made clear to me that I was not welcome on either night’s stripping festivities, despite the fact that I had helped organize year one’s events and that a quarter of year two’s participants had all taken my Boylesque classes.

But you know what? I’m not here to start a smear campaign or play my poor-little-porn-star-violin. And even though I obviously disagree with the producers’ decision, as a fellow producer and event organizer myself, I recognize it’s not my place to tell someone how to cast his show. At the end of the day, I know my career won’t end because I wasn’t allowed into a festival, just as I’m honestly sure (and hope) that ticket sales for this year’s shows won’t drop because it’s “short a Harder.” Though I am genuinely upset that I can’t share the stage with my stripping brethren, I’m more concerned that this decision simply invites even more censorship and moralizing of a performance form with roots both equally glittery and gritty.

In my opinion, burlesque, porn and even sex work are much more deeply intertwined than many of today’s audiences and Dita-devoted starlets may realize. I’m thinking about the “classic” burlesque ladies who lived in an age where burlesque theaters were the only option instead of the alternative for a Stagg night out or a chance to see the stripping of cloth from skin and bare breasts under hot spot lights. And I’m reminded of burlesque legends now bragging at conventions and festivals about bagging JFK and of course the boys and men of Times Square and the golden days of the Adonis Theater or the Gaiety, where chaps and thongs were playfully peeled away and final reveals were sold to the highest bidder. Even Dita Von Teeze herself began her career in soft core porn films and fetish spreads.

selfieWhile I consider myself a staunchly “pro-sex” performer and think the blurring of these nightlife and sex worlds is wonderful (if not unavoidable), my transition into porn wasn’t guiltless. I wasn’t worried about what my friends or family or strangers viewing my porn would think. I mean I wanted them to buy it — the strangers, not my family — but I was more worried about how my peers in the Boylesque scene would respond. Would my former students and co-workers see me as selling out? Was I cheapening Boylesque or making it seem irrelevant? This isn’t a slam against my stripping, go-go-ing, and porn-ing brethren, but you have to understand that the Boylesque performers I work with put their heart and soul (and pay check) into their work. What’s the difference between strippers and boylesquers you may be wondering? Basically about a bag of rhinestones, a few jokes and a pay disparity much wider than the mandatory strip of fabric on the back end of a g-string. I worried that my entry into the adult scene might appear to some like an annulment of all that time, energy, and talent dedicated to the art of the tease. And what about those goddamned expensive rhinestones?!

tumblr_mvrvjjeKM01smg4x9o1_250I was having a porn/boylesque identity crisis! However, after a bit more reflection, I realized that my reasons for pursuing adult work very much mirrored my previous decision for burlesque: I wanted to, I felt like I’d be good at it and I also felt (and still do) that there’s the potential to explore and create adult content that has my own distinct, umm, mark. Call it my “Harder Hancock” if you will. Don’t get me wrong, “porn money” is definitely great but again, when all has been said and come, I consider myself an entertainer. Sometimes entertaining involves a break-away, bedazzled g-string and a gimmick, and sometimes it calls for a nice white pair of Calvins and a cum shot. I am simply a contributing member to the tribe of the unclothed. While I certainly want to meet and even exceed the bar of expectation for Boylesque shows — and yes, earn my porn star title — my style of performance is going to be just as uniquely different as the next guy. At the end of the shift when the confetti has been swept or the condom wrappers tossed, we all know the clothes are going to come off. It’s the story that makes it interesting.

On the nights of this year’s 2013 Boylesque Festival I will proudly stand in the audience supporting my peers and friends — I’m thinking a classy, black and white jock strap number, maybe a rhinestoned bow tie for good measure. I may be permanently benched, but that doesn’t mean I can’t celebrate a form that has brought me so much joy and success as well as introduced me to other adult circles and opportunities. Stage or no stage, I’m always Harder, and I’ll always find a way to entertain you.

UPDATE:

Boylesque producers read Harder’s article and offered a response to 21st Century Burlesque, alleging that Harder wasn’t “banned” from Boylesque because of his porn work, but due to a recently-ended relationship with Daniel Nardicio, one of the event’s producers. “This is between two guys who were lovers and one needing distance,” Nardici said.

Harder sent Queerty his reply to the producers’ statement:

While I would not back track on my words, in fairness to the producer’s of the New York Boylesque Festival, I do recognize that there were personal issues involved in the decision to not allow me to participate in this year’s 2014 Boylesque Festival. Specifically this: I was involved with producer Daniel Nardicio in a long term relationship which ended in June, 2012. While I would never imply that either producer is “anti-sex worker,” I do feel that my recent porn career was one of the main reasons for my exclusion from the festival apart from the fact that Nardicio and I were former lovers. This becomes even more apparent to me after taking into account that I was allowed to participate in the 2013 Boylesque Festival almost a full year after ending my relationship with Nardicio. I’m thus left with the conclusion that I am being “punished” for choosing to pursue my adult career, making the decision equally personal and well, “porn-y.” Again, I feel this “Boylesque benching” is hypocritical and unfair, but I also know it’s not my place to tell anyone how to cast an event. However, it is apparent to me that my sex work is definitely a huge deciding factor in their decision, relationship or no relationship.

My final thought: The Boylesque Festival is not the “Chris and Daniel Show.” And while unfortunately there is no doubt now a “coloring” to the event, ultimately the Boylesque Festival is and should be a celebration of male striptease, free from personal and professional grievances.

For more information on Harder, visit his (NSFW) blog.