Though his name wasn’t called during the Grabby Awards last weekend, porn star Leo Forte isn’t bummed out about his recent trip to Chicago during IML. With a little luck, Forte, one of the industry’s leading fetish performers and BDSM practitioners, may be on the stage next year accepting an award for his work directing NakedSword’s upcoming series Hotel Hookup.
This was the first time Forte’s ever sat in the director’s chair, and as he tells me between hits off his R2D2 bong, he’s “freaking the fuck out” about taking this step. While Forte unwinds and gets stoned in his apartment (once an underground San Francisco sex club), we talk about why being a BDSM sex worker is like being one of the X-Men, where his fascination with rope play comes from, and the not-too-common scenario that would render him “poop-shy.” Oh yeah, warning guys: major Maleficent spoilers ahead.
Adam: Hey Leo, what have you been doing today?
Leo: Not much. I just got up and unpacked. I got in from Chicago last night.
So you stayed in Chicago like a week after IML was over?
Yes. I like to go out there because it coincides with my brother’s birthday and a lot of events going on. I usually go for a week or two.
What were some of the highlights of the trip?
The biggest one was that I made my first solo film for NakedSword while I was out there. Mr. Pam had surgery and she couldn’t do the film so I got the opportunity to do it. And I was very proud and freaked out about doing it because we kind of have a standard, even though I know I’m on the top of my abilities, I still freak out like ‘Did I get everything? Did I fuck it up? Is it going to be good? Could I have done it better?’Oh! You were directing? When you said you made a solo film I was confused.
Yeah. I’ve been shooting now for 3 years now, but I’m always shooting second cam for Mr. Pam, so it hasn’t been well it’s been my work but it’s mostly hers. I used to shoot for Raging Stallion when they still had the Fetish Force line. But this trip was the first time I did it all on my own. I was the guy in charge the director. I didn’t have anyone else to fall back on to say “Is this right? Did I make the right call?” It’s a step in my personal evolution and it’s freaking me the fuck out.
Can you tell me what the content of the scene was?
It was really simple, it’s Hotel Hookup. Four different storylines that happen in a hotel room. I travel a lot and so do people in my industry so we’re always in different hotels and we have different stories. In one of them the guys are celebrating a one-year anniversary and they’ve traveled to Chicago, and I shot that all over the city, in Millennium Park. They were freaking out because I was having them walk and hold hands and make out all over this park, and it’s not necessarily a gay location in a gay city. I was like “Just go make out!”
I like that that’s where they suddenly felt inhibited.
Yeah! “I’m about to go get fucked on camera and I could care less but I’m making out with somebody out in the park and I’m freaking out.” The other one was a guy who’s coming in kind of late and he sees this twink and he’s there with his parents and bored and he’s out by himself. There was a Scruff hookup, and then I took Landon Jones sightseeing around the city for some B-Roll, and you know when you’re a tourist you have to sample the local fare.
Just from my own experience as a filmmaker, there isn’t ever a moment as a director where you’re not completely filled with self doubt and convinced you’ve just royally fucked the shoot up and could have done better. That’s a pretty normal feeling.
I gather that but it’s not something your mentors will tell you. They just let you figure it out along the way. I never had a moment of “I got this.”
I feel like it’s a natural progression from porn star to director, and you’ve always struck me as someone who has his head on his shoulders enough to really make a big success out of it.
First of all, I don’t concur with that I think it’s not a natural progression. It’s actually a rare thing. It is how it sometimes happens. There’s a handful here and there that fall in love with the industry and they wanna do something with it. But just in my time I’ve only known like Steve Cruz, Bruno Bond, Adam Killian, and Austin Wilde, they’re the only ones I’ve known in my time who have been performers and went behind the camera. But for me it’s the one thing I fell in love with. I come from academia. I was studying emergency medicine. I was getting my DSM, and I was also doing paramedic work, and I went to culinary school. I did a lot of things and it was me trying to find myself, and what happened was I started going broke.
You had no money because it was all going to all these different schools!
Yeah! I had no money! So I was like, okay, let’s try go-go dancing, and that was great, but then the money started drying up there because of the recession and I was like okay, let’s do this porn thing, and that’s how that happened. That’s how I started with the porn world and I fell in love with it and that’s when I started to want to create something.
So is directing something you want to pursue in the future?
Oh absolutely, um, I mean right now I’m chomping at the bit to get in that seat, to get that hat on. I want it. I really want it. I want to be the one who walks up on that stage during the Grabbys and says, “Thank you for my best director award.” I think it happened because I fell in love with cinematography and videography, and the ability to create something.
Are you a cinefile? Do you watch a lot of movies?
Absolutely. I live off movies.What are some of your favorites?
Well I just got off an Elm Street bender, and I love anything Kubrick. I love A Clockwork Orange. I thought that was awesome. I like vintage sci-fi like Soylent Green and Logan’s Run. I love Barbarella. Lots of camp. I love anything John Waters. Everything. The thing is when I was little, my mother used to work at a video store called Latino Video. I used to go after school and watch videos all day long. That’s how I fell in love with movies. I loved the directors because of what they were able to create. Everybody’s always gaga for the actors, but if it wasn’t for the team behind them they would never exist. And the way people would start telling stories. I fell for the style of Martin Scorsese, I fell for the style of Quentin Tarantino. All these really awesome people who have all sorts of street cred. These people who were independent and went mainstream.
Did you see Maleficent this weekend?
Yes. I did. I was dying, I was like a little gay boy, wanting to try on my mother’s horns.
I really adored it so much.
The whole time I was looking at it I was like, okay, how would I fabricate this look. That’s one of my skills I can fabricate anything. So I was like, okay how would I make her horns? What materials would I use? How do I rock that at the next big event?
I’ll read you something this is how I was feeling when I was watching it, but my friend on Facebook described it in this really brilliant way that I totally agree with. He said, “Maleficient is a radical lesbian Oedipus saga that queers the hero/villain binary and applies a feminist retelling in which magic emerges from trauma.”
Yeah, I was totally getting that lesbian vibe from it. It was kind of a Oedipus lesbian story, like I wanna fuck my mother.
And she’s spying on her and tucking her into bed and of course true love’s kiss is from her not from the prince!
I loved that!
Moving on, so some of the guys that I talk to who do rentboy work, when the weekend hits, it’s time to work and you can’t get ahold of them. Is that the way it is for you?
Yes, weekends are when you’re always busy when everybody’s calling you at all hours, one in the morning, six in the morning. You have open office hours as it is work. But where some people do it for sustenance I do it for recreation. Some people are like, “Gotta make that money, gotta make that money.” That’s their only source of income and I get it, and they live these awesome lifestyles because of it. I do it because I can. I don’t do it to make ends meet. It’s not my first job. So you can find me on the weekends.
Well if it’s recreation for you, as you say, how do you deal with it when you have a client who’s maybe someone you’re not necessarily attracted to? Does that factor in or are you very selective who you work with?
Well, okay, money is by all means the almighty equalizer of all things. Ultimately it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s whether or not you can pay for it. But I don’t really care because my clientele, how can I put this? I don’t approach it from an ego perspective. You’re giving of yourself to someone else. I do this with compassion. Whether or not you look hideous, or for instance I came across a burn victim once, and I remember this guy starts crying his eyes out because he finally has someone touching him and not wincing, not being scared. Do you know how important that is? In this moment the person is receiving the most basic of human needs which is touch. In moments like that it’s not about me. It’s about giving someone something that they emotionally and psychologically need. Or another one who was coming out of a ten-year relationship, nine years of which was detrimental to him, and again, his husband didn’t want to touch him, didn’t want to have a certain kind of relations with him, and here we are in this space together, and I don’t treat him like his best years are gone and he wasted his life on someone who didn’t care for him. I treated him as another human being, being desired, being touched. And again broke into tears. Or with my particular line of work where I deal with the S&M crowd. There is something far greater than the physical, it’s the mental. Are you an X-Men fan? If you ever read the books, they talk about how the telepaths go inside the mindscape of somebody and there’s this whole world that exists inside somebody but you don’t see it because it’s in the mind. That’s kind of how S&M is. You go into this person’s mindscape and play around with it. So it’s not so much physical, so much as mental manipulation and not necessarily mind fuck, but being able to navigate someone else’s mind. For instance someone enjoys being tied up, but they don’t get it because no one else will do it or is scared to do it. And so they go to someone that they know will do it and it fulfills that need.
I’ve never really heard it talked about that way. It makes a lot of sense. I’m somebody who only does stuff like that in a casual way. It doesn’t always float my boat. But that’s a very interesting way to describe it. How did BDSM first become a part of your life?
It’s always been there since I was a little kid. You just don’t know what it’s called until much later in life. Understanding something as simple as corporal punishment, when you’re a kid and your mother or father spanks you or whips you, you learn these lessons, pain equals blank, pain equals love, it could equal discipline, it could equal cleansing of the soul. Pain could have so much involved with it, and these are things we learn as kids and don’t even realize it. I grew up on a farm and I was all about the rope work. The rope is a very important tool on a farm because it’s how we manage the cattle. It’s how we close the gates. Stuff like that. The rope was always around me. I remember being three, four and having the desire to want to learn how to manipulate rope. I would watch my uncles lasso bulls, lassoing horses and saw the umph that came with it. I remember being a kid and lasso-ing Piglet, and tying up my toys. Most people who are BDSM practitioners will tell you the same, that it’s always been there. They just didn’t recognize it until they were much older and it had a name.
Rope work is your specialty right?
It’s definitely one of my big specialties. It’s not the only one. Take whips. Whips and I have been together since I was a little kid as well. Coming from a farm watching people whip the horses, and use them, and then I got older and saw Michelle Pfeiffer cracking that big ass black bull whip in Batman Returns, and I was like, “Wow, I want to be her! I want that catsuit.” I have a lot of things at my disposal.
I sometimes wonder with fetishes, and the BDSM world, from my perspective it seems like it’s all become very commodified and expected. You go to a gay bar and everybody has the same leather harness.
There’s two worlds of leather. I consider myself a lifestyle practitioner which means it’s part of my every day. The way I interact with people, the way people interact with me, my social circle, it is bound by the not protocols but the handles of traditional, “capital L” Leather. It’s a lifestyle that’s kind of been lost, because AIDS when took away our alpha males in the eighties and nineties, the culture, the shamanism of S&M was lost, and what remained was underground. I ended up finding the underground, finding the rituals and finding the sacred aspect of leather and bondage. Then there’s the other side of leather which is the stand and model crowd, the glorification of the image. They’re not necessarily practitioners, they don’t know how to do anything.
And they like the look of Tom of Finland and all that.
Yeah. They want to perpetuate what it is to be a man. If to you putting on garb makes you a man, then by all means do it. But I’m gonna be the one in the corner kinda laughing at you. It’s just glorifying and perpetuating an image. You ask these little gay boys at the bar, “What are you here for?” and they go “Oh isn’t it national leather day?” No, you dumbass.
Leather is a culture. Not a fashion. And in the latter years it’s become a fashion, and fashionable. Which is why the new guard of leather, the new generation, aren’t necessarily drawn to leather in and of itself. I have leather pieces but it’s not my thing “I gotta wear leather to be a man!” I’d rather wear the Fort Troff stuff or Rough Trade gear where they make harnesses, jockstraps, everything that’s traditional leather garb, but they use it doing neoprenes and plastics, and it looks like a nerf ball. It’s hot and cool and that’s how we are redefining ourselves. People are like, yeah let me go and spend $500 on this leather harness that I’m going to wear once, and we’re like alright let’s throw some shit together, look really fucking cool and swag out.
I agree with you, I think it’s far cooler, and the thing that you never really see, for instance, how you were dressed at the Hookies, that would be so hot if I was watching a video or we were in a session and you were just dressed like that. If you were dressed like Maleficent that would be so much more interesting to me than just another leather outfit.
100% agree with you. To me because I am such a cult movie freak, and I love comic books more than I love everything else, to me the idea of somebody dressed as some giant horned creature dominating me, is far hotter than somebody wearing a motorcycle hat with chaps. It’s creativeness and true BDSM is a very magical, almost spritelike world. It’s just never seen that way because everybody has the idea that it’s black leather and mean people. But for me if I’m beating you, I’m smiling ear to ear because I’m having fun. I’m enjoying it. I’m in this moment which you’re allowing me to have. I’d rather be like “Wheee!” than “Take that boy! Take that!”
Are there new fetishes? Things that are just recently coming on the scene?
Come on, anything that is being done has been done before. You think your grandma wasn’t getting fisted? It’s always been there. It’s American squeamishness that has kept it under wraps for so long. And now that we’re flourishing into a sexually liberated society, which tied into things like the internet that make it easily obtainable, it’s just coming out into the light. There’s been shit-eaters and felchers all this has happened before. We’re talking thousands of years. People have been tying each other up and beating each other for years. S&M is part of our human nature. It is within us. So are kinks and fetishes. It’s in the context of how something is created for us. What’s important is for someone to be introduced to a tool or a fetish properly, because if they’re introduced improperly, they’ll hate it forever. But if you do it right they’re going to love it and crave it and want more.
Do you have personal limits? Do people come with things and you say, I won’t do that?
It’s funny I got this question earlier. I don’t necessarily have limits because it isn’t about me. But my personal limit period is drugs. I don’t do drugs. I’m not a user. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m one hell of a fucking stoner, I’m totally ripped right now talking to you, but um, I don’t do other drugs. I’m not a partier. I think the biggest plague of the gay world isn’t even HIV anymore, it’s crystal meth. That’s killing off people left and right. I have clients who say “Do you party?” I say, no, but if it’s what you need, go for it, but I’m not gonna partake, or judge you for it, but it’s not my world. I usually ask people to do it before I get there because I really make myself open, when I come into people. If you believe in energies or the metaphysical situation, I am this gigantic lightning rod and everything that I receive either goes through me or I spit it out and so when someone is in these situations, it throws me a little bit.
Do you ever do scat with clients?
It’s not something that’s very common, and I’ve never done it. I’ve had one or two who would really like to have that experience, but it’s just never panned out. I think it’s just something I can’t bring myself to do. I can do a lot of things but to shit on you. I get poop-shy. “I really had to go three minutes ago, I was crowning and everything.”
Ha. Okay. Last question. Tell me more about the big party you throw during Folsom?
Oh you actually know about that?
Well it’s been going on forever and a day, but since I’m here it just kind of brought it to a new level. So my house has been titled Top The Hole, because we live on top of the Hole in the Wall bar. Top the Hole has parties for Dore Alley, Folsom, occasionally for New Year’s, or my birthday or if I just feel like throwing a party. But here’s the situation. This place, back in the day, it used to be a hook-up spot, like a sex club.
Yeah it was called Mike’s Midnight Gallery and dudes would be up in here in slings and everything, and come here to fuck. Funny story. My boss Tim Valenti used to come here and one day he was at the party and he was like “Why does this place look so familiar?” and he was like “The bathroom! I recognize that bathroom!” But anyways, it just continues that energy of the house as a sexual safe haven. We throw parties here to celebrate it. It’s a select grouping. You have to be given a certain invitation. And the invitations are only handed out by the three people who live here. Myself, Richard, and Nicholas. We all have a different crew of people, but the ones we invite are the ones that we’re like, “Okay yeah they’re cool enough to hang.” We get about 300 people here in the house, anything goes. The only rule is don’t have sex or do drugs behind closed doors, do it out in the open where anybody can see it. But pretty much anything else goes. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to do what you do in front of all these people who are looking at you and knowing your business, don’t do it. We’ve had all sorts of people here, all sorts of celebrities show up, people from Project Runway, RuPaul’s Drag Race, ChiChi LaRue has been here, anyways, tons of people. You know Danni Daniels? She came to one of my parties and she went buck wild and in the middle of the kitchen where we serve the liquor. She threw me down and started fucking me over the sink. I was like, “Yeah fuck me, yeah yeah!” It was the first time I ever got fucked like that by a trans woman. She was like, “You and I should become an item!”
So if I come to Folsom, can I get an invite?
Of course. Let me know because we have people at the door and if you’re not on the list and if you don’t have the invite of the year, they won’t let you in. But yeah, we’d be happy to have you.
Sweet. See you in September!
Adam Baran is a filmmaker, blogger, former online editor of Butt Magazine and co-curator of Queer/Art/Film. His short film JACKPOT, about a porn-hunting gay teen, won Best Short Film at the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and was recently featured on The Huffington Post, Queerty, and Towleroad, among others. He is a features programmer at Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival and NewFest in New York. In his spare time, he complains about things to his friends. “Fisting for Compliments”, his weekly musings about the intersection of sex, art, porn, and history, will appear every Monday on TheSword. You can contact him at Adam@TheSword.com and follow him on Twitter at @ABaran999. Check out his previous columns in the Fisting For Compliments Archive.