Colby Keller loves to chat, something evidenced by the bunch of conversations he's had with Nightcharm over the years (link majorly NSFW). He's also one of gay porn's most prolific and exuberant -- not to mention diverse -- performers, playing all kinds of roles in all kinds of scenes. So while it may seem contradictory that Colby identifies as a natural introvert, his marvelously introverted reflections on introversion demonstrate that introverts aren't necessarily shy: We just aren't interested in small talk.
Mark Adnum: I read that your stage name was suggested by a gay porn director who found you so shy and quiet in person that all he could think of was Helen Keller. As politically incorrect as that may be, I understand that you are a classic introvert, with unsteady social skills and a preference for your own company. Yet at the same time, there you are, performing in XXX movies for the world to see, so you're obviously not shy. You're a non-shy introvert. What's the difference, do you think, between being introverted and being shy?
Colby Keller: Hmm. I suppose I should interject with a few corrections to start off: While I do consider myself a natural introvert and do appreciate some quality time alone, I can't say I prefer it to quality time with other human beings. A good part of sex and nearly all of "love" is a frustrated (though immensely rewarding, if done properly) attempt to experience and share in the subjectivity of others. People that can't cope with the inevitable responsibilities of social engagement that life on planet Earth affords us all border a crevasse of psychopathology. I might be close, but I'm far from the edge.
I think a lot of my shyness stems from growing up (and continuing to struggle) in a conservative, anti-intellectual culture (capitalism) where "conformity" ranks much higher, ideologically, than any sort of creative, experiential investigation of the world. Even "normal" sex activates a highly charged liminal zone -- that impossibly frustrating space of estrangement located between radically different subjectivities -- between all of us. As much as we want to penetrate the other, throw one body inside the other, fill other bodies with cum, we'll never truly get entirely "inside." We never succeed. All sex is a type of failure. Even a child created from sex isn't necessarily "two made one" but an entirely different (and doubly estranged) "third." Sex is a failure we feel compelled to reenact over and over, anticipating different results -- the definition of craziness, right? Imagine coupling this sort of limitless tension with public exposure. My curiosity with porn comes from this kind of emotional and intellectual engagement, but I can't say I'm altogether comfortable with it, hence my commitment to "shyness." If I were too comfortable with it, after all, I can't imagine how it would continue to spark my interest.
Adnum: In her marvelous book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain notes that introversion/extroversion is a relatively new concept, since the word "personality" didn't even exist in English until the 18th century, when the tradition of a "good family name" was on its way out as individuals were moving alone to big, post-industrial cities and had to "perform" themselves to complete strangers -- potential new employers, potential new friends and contacts -- in order to find a job and prosper. The "culture of personality" -- and with it the age of the extrovert -- was born. This age has yet to recede, as any introvert who's gone into paralysis during a job interview or while on a date and never got a call back as a result can tell you all too well (if they're not too shy to talk to you at all). What have been some of your most memorable struggles as an introvert, even though I'm sure you'd rather forget them?
Keller: Oh, man! You really want me to have an anxiety attack, don't you? First off, I couldn't agree with Cain more. While capitalism certainly planted its roots further back than the 18th century, I think the kind of performative operations that the modern market economy demands from all participants doesn't conform to the typical operational capacities of an "introvert." Oddly enough, the market also privileges "art" with the most inviolable concentrations of abstract value. Art is nothing but introspection laid bare (introversion's classy cousin). Does this phenomena hint at capitalism's own inherent insecurity -- a desire, perhaps, to exculpate itself from its many sins? By attempting to tame art, capital corrals all of its enemies in one place. Oddly, it never really succeeds in this totalizing project (the artist is too savvy) but comes close.
Then again, I'm just trying to avoid your question: Job interviews definitely make up some of the worst memories I have. It's another reason I do porn. (There isn't really an interview process.) In my experience with conventional job interviews, potential employers never call back. What's with that? All social morality seems to break down and reveal its true face at the zero-level entry phase of economic acceptance. You find out how much you're really worth (nothing). That's never a good feeling. I also began to realize that honesty, a value I learned to advocate above all else as an evangelical Christian (we read the Bible literally, after all), doesn't sell well. "Work" in capitalism always involves a performative up-sell, pure, positive self-promotion, not a reconciliation with the truth, which I find more productive, intellectually, and, well, when it comes down to brass tacks (and carbon caps), necessary if we really want to continue reproducing as a species on this planet. Can I get an "amen"?
Adnum: Amen. But I'm still curious as to how an introvert can perform as confidently as you do, as a rampantly exhibitionist porn star?
Keller: Ha! Rampantly exhibitionist! You say it like it's a bad thing. Laying the body bare, confronting the successes (and failures) of engaging other bodies, makes for an inherently awkward project. Awkwardness is challenging, and most people hide from it. Better to do it under the sheets, with the lights turned off. We feel compelled to have sex, but isn't sex also completely ridiculous, "funny," "unnecessary"? If we really want to believe in the ideological project of "individualism," shouldn't we all come to the conclusion that each of our bodies is already whole? Why "need" any kind of intrusion from others? In truth, we fumble around two polar conclusions ("I am whole," "I need others"), sex in the crosshairs. I find this contradiction engaging. To answer your question more directly, I also needed money to feed myself (see question above).
Adnum: As we've discussed before (link NSFW), both of us are introverts, and both of us are chronic nail biters. Many introverts I know bite their nails or can't stop fidgeting or fiddling. Are we just a bunch of nervous wrecks?
Keller: While I can't speak for all of us, who really needs fingernails anyway? That's why God invented the penny: to pull off price tags, right? Plus, fidgeting keeps me thin.
Adnum: A horrible irony: The Internet was a boon to introverts, who have found a social life they never had and "met" countless people on Facebook, etc., and who are very comfortable in correspondence, such as in interviews like this, for example, but after years of happily operating from behind the barrier of the screen, a lot of us are now less comfortable and less able to function in face-to-face interactions than we ever were. Your thoughts?
Keller: I do think engaging people online counts as engagement. Let's not dismiss the Web too readily. It's a different kind of engagement, granted, but the Internet has actually made it easier for me to talk to people in the real world and learn to engage real, conventional types of people -- the hardest part of the job. On the downside (and what sad-sack introvert doesn't end a conversation with the downside), my increased public profile has definitely made it harder for me to have sex. I don't have a good answer for that, but the evidence bares it out. Maybe I just intimidate men with long-winded answers to simple questionnaires like this one?
This interview was originally published in a different form at Nightcharm.com (link NSFW).
Photos by Gabe Ayala
Colby's blog can be found here (link NSFW).