First Encounters

My First (Gay) Straight Porn: Why I Was Obsessed with ‘Debbie Goes to College’

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First Encounters is a series in which writers explore the media that inspired their first brush with their sexuality. Whether it was a book, a cartoon character, a film, or a painting, we all have one cultural artifact from our adolescence that informs how we think about our bodies and desires for the rest of our lives. Have a First Encounter you’d like to share? Send your story to submissions@nerve.com.

Debbie Goes to College was on channel 27, broadcast via the black cable-channel-stealing box atop my dad’s TV.

I was fourteen, and I think the thing about this porn, the reason why I watched it again and again was: College. College would be an escape, I thought, from a sexless Pennsylvania small town high school. I lived in the middle of nowhere, but college would be a different world of fucking and camaraderie. College wouldn’t be lonely. No more assholes knocking my books out of my hands or teachers with dead faces or skinheads. No more barren fields and post-industrial steel factories with broken windows.

This was before the Playgirl I stole from Waldenbooks, and before I saw my first gay porn, which was called Hard at Work, I think. I wasn’t gay or straight or anything. It was the late 80s when everyone was like me; horny and confused.

On a clunky VHS tape, I recorded Debbie and her friends and the guys they fucked, erasing my stepmom’s episodes of All My Children. In both soap opera and porn, the colors were soft and washed-out neons. Everyone’s hair was big.

Debbie attended Muff University and was a played by Barbara Dare. Her sorority, the Hubba Hubbas, were a bunch of boozy, slutty girls, and Dean Snyder (Mark Horner) had decided this just wouldn’t do. They’d need to make a contribution to student life. Debbie and her friend with strikingly short blonde hair, Boobs (Lois Ayres), were politically-minded. They loved college life and women’s lib. “I can’t believe what’s happening to our rights,” they lament in their first scene, then drink and laugh about girls who have gotten pregnant.

Their contribution will be a political overhaul of sorts. Debbie will run for student body president. “We promise you nothing, but give you everything”  is their slogan. Not bad.

The girls have sex with football players, students voting in the voting booths, a guy who’s pretending to be asleep, and a college kid in the back of a brunch restaurant.

In one scene, broad-chested and hairy Jerry Butler and his fraternity brother Jon Martin are hanging out in their eighties beige frat house by the fireplace.

“I got a chick that’ll fuck you without a rubber,” Butler says. Then Debbie/Barbara shows up.  More than the sex in the scene, which is an editing disaster of jump cuts, loops, and blocked-out penetration, it’s the talking that turned me on.

“Buddy this is great! Like being in the back of an airplane,” Butler says to Martin while he’s fucking. It doesn’t make much sense, and neither does his next pronouncement, just before trading places:  “Let’s swap, let’s play What’s My Line.”  This was what college was for me: the image of two guys talking while having sex. The two of them naked with the girl in the middle, acknowledging each other in that moment of arousal. It drove me over the edge again and again. The tape in the cassette thinned there, the picture became thin and fuzzy over time.

Butler talks through the whole scene with a New York accent. He’s not a bad actor, and of course, porn gives him some leeway to not have to be great. It’s performed and earnest. It’s staged moaning and actual cumshots. Campy lines, exposed tits.

It’s like everything in the porn world of true and false.

Nothing happens that isn’t real and unreal at once. Of course I didn’t recognize any of this when I was watching, I was just experiencing it. The looping, for example. Every scene in Debbie Goes To College has a replay of certain angles of fucking. Often it’s obvious, because the same words will be repeated in the loops. Or the same strange facial expression will show up. In the scene where Shone Taylor fucks Little Oral Annie in the back of a restaurant (sure, why not fuck right there on the floor next to your table?), he throws his blonde head back, wincing in pleasure in the exact same way, again and again. On the one hand, it comes across as an error, an editing fuck-up. On the other hand, it gave me time to use it to masturbate. Freud proclaimed that repetition is desire. Shone  throws his head back. He throws his head back. He throws his head back.

And why was I paying attention to this guy anyway?  Shouldn’t I have paid attention to the girl?

When I was young, I didn’t understand why I fixated on the blowjob scenes so much. It must be because I want some college girl to do that to me, I thought (wrongly, of course). Most gay guys my age have had this experience: we watched straight porn because it was what we had access to, and what we presumed we wanted to watch. But really, I’m not sure what’s more confusing: gay guys watching straight porn or straight guys watching it. I mean there are naked men in it. How do straight men cope with watching men have sex with women?  There are all these dicks. Guys fucking. Butt cheeks. The mystery of straight porn is that it can’t ever really be straight.

There was another scene, the antithesis to the frat house. Marc Wallice, who is handsome, whose voice appealingly cocky, who was later in life accused of hiding his HIV positive status from other performers, is sleeping on his dorm bed. The pro-Debbie faction sneaks in. No, that’s not it, “sneak” is too dramatic. They stumble into the room in a mock silence. They’re laughing and one of them is still carrying the gigantic calligraphic sign. One of them climbs onto his bed and gives Wallice a blowjob. The scene is all dick, interspersed with and gradually fading into the two other girls on another bed, having sex. He cums in his sleep. In today’s climate, a girl doing this to a college boy would be considered sexual assault; no consent was given. But not to worry; later he opens one eye and smiles — he wasn’t sleeping after all. This scene roused the same feelings in me as the frat scene. It was traced the contour of what I wanted for years before I was willing to be myself.

I watched Debbie Goes To College over and over until the tape was so stretched out I had to throw it away. I didn’t love it because it was a great porn. It was clumsy and silly, it had unnecessarily long filler scenes. A marathon race with a giant lobster. Monologues by Dean Snyder. I loved it, instead, because it was about not being anywhere or anyone.

Before I knew I was attracted to men, my body and desires somehow anticipated the mess and struggle that was about to happen. But I wasn’t ready to admit it yet. I could imagine giving someone a blowjob in his sleep. He wouldn’t know I was there, except maybe through his dream. I wouldn’t have to admit anything. Or in the fraternity scene, the talking — I could be that person they were talking over. I wouldn’t be an interruption, they’d just go at it, naked, not really noticing me except to brag to each other how good it felt to be around and in me. I’d be in their lives, almost invisibly.

If I could just get out of my little town, I could live in some college fuckfest.  I could be real and unreal, myself and someone else, and no one would have to know about or understand my desires, not even me.