This week, Michael Lucas is making what he calls “a bold move to promote Israeli culture and tourism.” His website extols the virtues of a country rich with natural wonders, intriguing museums, liberal politics, and friendly locals. More than a biblical theme park, Lucas’s Israel is a tourist destination, a place where lovely beaches beckon and muscle-bound men have sex with each other.
Lucas—a porn actor and director, and founder of the New York-based gay porn production company Lucas Entertainment—sees his new film Men of Israel as a tool, if you will, to promote tourism, at least among gay men. Before you laugh this off, know that it’s happened before, when the Bel Ami studio’s movies helped turn Prague into a major gay destination soon after the Iron Curtain fell, or when porn director Kristen Bjorn’s Australian trilogy put Sydney on the gay map nearly 20 years ago. The Russian-born Lucas has been ratcheting up the heat for weeks in anticipation of the film’s release tomorrow. His website—MenOfIsraelXXX.com—features still photos of the actors and excerpted video clips, as well as text explaining the performers’ biographies and Lucas’s Zionist motivations for making the film.
Journalists from The Atlantic to Out Magazine to Yediot Aharonot have taken notice, deeming the project a landmark because it is the first gay adult film to feature an “all-Israeli” cast. Fair enough. But they’ve missed the larger story: Men of Israel is a landmark because it is the first gay porn film to feature an all-Jewish cast.
Jewish involvement in the adult industry has been widely documented over the years. And even though that involvement usually happens behind the scenes, where viewers never notice, or gets erased when Jewish performers adopt deracinated porn names, there have been some openly Jewish stars in straight porn. Nina Hartley, Joanna Angel, Heather Pink, and other women have succeeded without hiding their backgrounds in interviews. A smaller number of Jewish men have done the same in straight porn, although they often play their parts with tongue in cheek. (Think of uber-nebbish Ron Jeremy, or Harry Reems—born Herbert Streicher—whose on-screen persona was as close to Groucho Marx as it was to fellow ’70s super-stud John Holmes.)
But in gay porn, where there’s less room for nebbishes and clowns, openly Jewish men have been virtually absent or invisible. In fact, the only one in recent memory is, well, Michael Lucas.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been Jewish guys in gay films. Just two years ago, for instance, Dror Barak made it big as a hirsute hunk making movies for Raging Stallion Studios; but Barak—who worked in the Israeli Consulate in New York until news of his other career broke—performed under the name Roman Ragazzi. (It seemed like not much has changed since I came out 20 years earlier and got this bit of advice from an older Jewish friend: If you want to date a guy, tell him you’re Jewish, but if you want to get laid, tell him you’re Italian.)
In Men of Israel, the guys are all Israeli, all Jewish, and they’re not hiding it. Sure, their names are probably fakes—no parents would name their son Morr Foxx unless they knew he’d grow up to be a gay porn star. But at least their names sound plausibly Israeli, plausibly Jewish: Matan Shalev, Avi Dar, Naor Tal.
So will Lucas’s self-proclaimed landmark film change things? For Israel, perhaps. The director’s goal is to help viewers realize that Israel is a place of unique beauty and history, he says, but also a place that’s not so different from Prague or Sydney or Palm Springs— all places where hot men have sex with each other on film, and all nice places to take a perfectly innocent gay-cation. To that extent, the project seems likely to succeed.
As for Jewish men, the question remains open. Will Jewish men become a religion-based fetish category for consumers of gay porn, who can already choose narrow types of men to watch based on their race or ethnicity (Latinos, African-Americans) or age (daddies, college boys) or body type (big bears, skinny twinks)? Will their Jewishness become a signifier for a certain type of sexual prowess or desirability? Will Italian guys start wearing mezuzahs and telling people they’re Jewish—and will that make them seem more virile, better endowed, hotter?
I’ll believe it when I see it. It’s possible that Men of Israel will herald a golden age for Jewish guys in gay porn, but it’s just as possible that the few “openly Jewish” performers who have made it in gay porn have gotten away with it because they are still somehow “exotic” foreigners—Israelis with unfamiliar names or, like Lucas, Russian born —rather than the Jewish boy next door. I’ll know that Jewish guys have truly arrived when I see a magazine called Jewish Inches, or a DVD titled Dirty Jews, or a blond, blue-eyed Midwestern performer who adopts a name like Lance Bornstein or Rod Horowitz.