If you’ve ever wondered where porn, hardcore punk doom metal, literary masochism, and submissive male desire meet palpable shyness, it’s in Christopher Zeischegg’s Body to Job.
Zeischegg performed in adult films under the name Danny Wylde. His memoir subverts the form by twisting the tell-all porno tale into a real-life horror show: post-sex work adulthood. Zeischegg writes so nakedly about sexual labor it’s disarming—neither titillating nor cynical, it’s presented as an obvious choice for part-time work for a young man whose parents are about to cut him off. One may think that Zeischegg is attempting to normalize the industry like a good pro-sex feminist boy. But he transcends that, too. Romance blossoms. On-set bisexual discrimination hurts his feelings. His plans go awry. He does not glide into retirement from a porn career into a desirable middle-class job with bennies. He ended up in the hospital with priapism and had to quit porn. The aftermath of that is where Body to Job goes to a place I will call true fiction—the tricky epistolary narrator confronts himself and his own value; he plots his own snuff film while giving a hand job to a Prius-driving man. He is the star and the director in his dismal fantasy. It’s what he desires most of all: freedom.
On a hot February day, Zeischegg and I met the Highland Cafe, a cute queer-owned coffee shop in Los Angeles so we could discuss his band “Children,” the limitations of feminist film theory, romance, his love of horror, and the new book.
The Rumpus: You’re just a nice boy from Grass Valley, California, right? What attracts you to metal and horror? Erotic vampires, violent sexuality, porn, and blood. Your books all come with a fun-sized side scoop of Dennis Cooper imagery.
Christopher Zeischegg: I guess the metal is a louder, more exciting hyper-masculinity I never saw in my small, quiet, radically liberal town. The horror film genre is a way to externalize emotionally difficult material like anxiety or trauma in a metaphorical and visceral way.
Rumpus: What were your favorite metal bands growing up?
Zeischegg: Converge. Isis. Neurosis.
Rumpus: Favorite horror films?
Zeischegg: Hellraiser. Event Horizon. Taxidermia. There’s a scene in Taxadermia where a guy jerks off and shoots fire for come.
Rumpus: Which came first, film school or porn?
Zeischegg: I paid for my life in film school by doing porn. I was studying feminist film theory and literary masochism. I really wanted to make a horror film. But it’s so expensive and takes so long. So my experiences as a porn bottom and submissive bled into my work and music.
Rumpus: Which feminist film theorist? Laura Mulvey?
Zeischegg: Yes, but her male gaze is reductive in the sense that its central focal point is on the male gaze as demeaning to women. It didn’t speak to my experience of male sexuality, like vulnerability and the male desire to be submissive, the gaze of john to trick and trick to john, and the desire to want to be shoved in positions and have people do things to me—working as a submissive.
Rumpus: How old were you when you attended film school and did porn?
Rumpus: It seemed like you came to porn as a way to pay for your life as well as your other artistic endeavors. Did you find a sense of community within porn?
Zeischegg: The alt porn circles were close-knit and felt like family, at times, but when I began doing more mainstream porn, I wasn’t embraced as much by them. I’d been good at gay bottom-porn, and I had to learn more about straight porn, and I had to develop a taste for it if I wanted a career there.
Rumpus: What does courtship look like between porn performers? It seems like it could be great, or really tough for introverts.
Zeischegg: My shyness is always with me. Being thrust into forced ritualistic closeness does break the ice, but doesn’t guarantee closeness.
Rumpus: In places, your book is quite romantic. The first love interest you wrote about meeting in porn, Jean, for instance. You had committed her number to memory before you went up to San Francisco to meet her in person. That sustained attention in the midst of chaos was incredibly unjaded and romantic.
Zeischegg: That was a time when I was waiting for Jean to finish her shoot and a guy was creeping me out in an alley, jerking off. I was so nervous to meet her in person. It was sweet, but all around us was this aggressive sexual circus.
Rumpus: When you finished film school, did you continue to work in the porn industry?
Zeischegg: I wanted to quit. I wanted to move forward and I felt that was expected of me by my peers and my family, but my identity was wrapped up in sex work.
When the economy collapsed, I collapsed, too. I felt that I, too, had lost value. I was seeing these johns who were very needy, on top of doing full-time assistant work. It was so emotionally taxing. The financial realities of the workforce came crashing down. That was hard.
Rumpus: It seemed like a very dark time. Towards the end of your book, the narrator writes a letter to a self—you—that seems to embody the “literary masochism” that is at once focused and unhinged. You write:
I have two goals:
1. To earn an extraordinary amount of money
2. To kill myself.
Zeischegg: That was a time where my identity was wrapped up in porn and sex work. I had to reinvent myself in the aftermath of a porn career, and I needed to find out if I am good at anything. I’m still doing that now.