Arts & Culture » Book Review

Oral (and Anal) History

Owen Keehnen's been writing "beat-off stories" for two decades, but his latest project is letting gay porn stars tell theirs.

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Jack Hawk fantasized about having sex with Queen Elizabeth II when he was a teenager. Andy Dill says the wildest sex he ever had was in Liberace's bed with the pianist's groundskeeper. Jacob Scott confides that he's topped with a large dog on several occasions. Tag Adam admits to having lost his anal virginity to a plastic banana, part of a fake-fruit arrangement still decorating his mother's dining room.

Owen Keehnen reveals these tidbits, and a lot more, in Starz, his collection of interviews with gay porn performers. Keehnen, a Chicagoan who cheerfully describes himself as a pornographer, has written gay erotica for anthologies and "beat-off" stories for Torso, Mandate, Honcho, and other gay porn magazines for more than ten years. Starz, which came out last fall, is his first book.

The idea for the collection came to him during a long stint working at Unabridged Books, the Lakeview bookstore specializing in gay and lesbian material. "Guys would come in and ask about porn stars," Keehnen recalls. "There were some guidebooks and some specific biographies, but nothing like a book that described these guys or talked to them a little bit. I saw there was a demand there, wrote up a proposal, and shopped it around."

Florida-based Starbooks Press, which specializes in gay-themed books and erotica, made the best offer of the three publishers that liked the proposal. In 2004, with a contract in place--Keehnen didn't get an advance but is paid a percentage based on sales--he got to work tracking down porn stars. That proved so easy he already has enough material for a sequel, More Starz, set to be released this fall. "Everybody has a Web site, and everybody loves publicity," Keehnen says. "It wasn't like getting Garbo to agree to an interview or something."

The 60 profiles in Starz, all accompanied by hard-core erotic photos, begin with physical stats--height, weight, size while erect--and proceed to favorite sexual position and ideal man before getting down to business. Leather-and-bondage aficionado Rik Jammer, for example, wants a man to "mark me with his scent in bed" and answered the fill-in-the-blank "I'd give anything to meet ___________" with "the founders of our country."

Keehnen says the bizarre shifts--from, say, a tale of being gangbanged in a wheelbarrow for hours to the subject's zodiac sign--are deliberate: "In Starz I just wanted to show that there is this amazingly surreal reality that exists in all these guys' lives that we can't understand but that they're normal at the same time."

But as you might expect, the emphasis remains on sex, with questions like "Have you ever done anything sexually in a movie that you wouldn't in your real life?" and "If you were to make a movie called 'My Orgy,' who would you want as your costars?"

Keehnen, who's 46, has tried his hand at poetry and nonfiction, but gay erotic writing has been a constant for him for almost 20 years. Born and raised in downstate Quincy, he went to Knox College there, majoring in English, and ended up in Chicago in the mid-80s. He says he wrote his first gay porn stories as exercises in "creative pleasure" for himself but almost immediately thought about publishing them. "I took down the address to Mavety Media in New York," Keehnen says. "They publish Honcho, Inches, Torso, Mandate, Playguy--so many of those. I sent them my first stories." They were accepted, and he says he hasn't had a porno piece rejected since.

In the mid-90s Keehnen worked for Penthouse Forum for two years writing a column called "Tell Me the Good Parts," with descriptions and critiques of sex scenes in mainstream movies. Though it was his highest-paid writing gig to date, he was more than ready to return to his own work. "I'd had enough of heaving breasts to last me for a lifetime," he says with a laugh.

Keehnen, who works days as a massage therapist and coedits a literary supplement for the Windy City Times, also has two novels and two screenplays for indie horror movies on offer. He never uses a pseudonym. "People would see a porn story I wrote in the latest issue of Torso and say, 'Oh my god, I can't believe you used your real name.' But I never understood why it was such an issue. . . . I don't want to ever sound judgmental about all the sex stuff. Culture has the problem, but I don't."

So far Starz has been selling fairly well at Unabridged and on the Internet. "The fact that there are 60 guys with hard dicks and their asses up in the air in the pages of the book puts it on that not-ready-for-Borders plateau," Keehnen says. "But I'm not ashamed of it or any of the erotica I've written. The only thing I'd be embarrassed about is bad writing--not dirty writing."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.

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