Actor Tegan Zayne has risen to the top of the gay adult film industry in three short years, but he says he is fighting a deeply personal, behind-the-scenes battle.
Last month, the 26-year-old Brooklynite came forward with rape allegations against another adult film actor, Topher DiMaggio. The incident took place, he said, when the men were sharing a room at an upstate New York location ― he can’t remember the name of the town or the exact date ― on the night before they were scheduled to film a X-rated scene for the adults-only site CockyBoys in the summer of 2016.
Porn studios suggest male stars refrain from sexual activity before a shoot to ensure their potency in front of the cameras, but Zayne said DiMaggio coerced him into having anal sex that night and ejaculated inside of him despite being repeatedly told not to.
He initially made the claims in a series of Jan. 21 tweets, and said he was “belittled and degraded” by the experience. (Warning: Graphic language appears in some of the below tweets.)
“I haven’t told anyone else because I’ve struggled with the idea that maybe he didn’t rape me, and maybe I did enjoy it,” Zayne wrote. “Maybe I’m wrong for pointing this out. Does it even matter? Does anyone care?”
It was business as usual the next day, Zayne told HuffPost. In spite of the incident, he said his scene with DiMaggio went on as scheduled, but said the filming process was “one of the hardest battles I’ve ever had to work out internally,” and the finished product was “probably the worst I’ve ever filmed.”
“My job was to act like I was having sex, and I did what I had to do in order to get the job done,” he said. “I might have considered backing out, but a job is a job, even if it is sex work.”
It’s a disturbing claim in an industry that thrives on depicting fantasy. Since Zayne went public with his allegations, four additional men have reportedly come forward with claims of sexual misconduct against DiMaggio. Among them is fitness author and YouTube personality Bryan Hawn, who told Instinct magazine that DiMaggio aggressively grabbed him and, when the advances were dismissed, verbally berated him at a gay club in Los Angeles last year.
Zayne said he didn’t pursue legal action because, as a man, he “never felt like it was an option.” His decision to come forward now, he added, was to highlight the exclusion of gay and bisexual men from discussions of rape culture such as the Me Too movement. Based on the response he’s received on social media and the small smattering of articlesthat have been written about the incident, he believes his case represents a lack of interest in protecting sex workers, including porn stars, against sexual violence due to the perceived nature of their work.
“I have been sitting on this, processing it, analyzing it, dissecting it,” he said. “Men can be victims, too. Sex workers can be victims, too.”
DiMaggio denied the allegations in an email statement that lifted lines from Russell Simmons’ remarks to The New York Times refuting allegations of sexual misconduct in December.
In it, DiMaggio said he was “hurt by these false accusations and malicious, slanderous statements that are simply not true.”
“Not wanting to further a relationship or not being friendly enough after having consensual sex doesn’t give the other person who had different expectations of a romance the right to accuse someone of something so awful,” he wrote in the statement sent to HuffPost. “Rape is a very serious thing and not a word to be thrown around.”
Experts believe the stigmas Zayne said he’s experienced by coming forward are compounded by the lingering taboos that exist around men ― gay, straight, bisexual and otherwise ― making sexual assault claims at all.
“We look at sexual violence exclusively as sort of a heteronormative issue that happens when cisgender men rape cisgender women, but we leave out most of the LGBTQ community,” Catherine Shugrue dos Santos, co-director of client services at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told HuffPost. “We have a hard time in this country believing survivors of sexual violence anyway, but if they’re men, it doesn’t fit with our narrow understanding of what it looks like.”
Though she was not familiar with the specifics of Zayne’s case, Shugrue dos Santos added, “When you layer on other identities … we see those things work in tandem. If you’re a man and you’re a sex worker in the adult entertainment industry, you’ve got all of the stigma, shame and self-blame that becomes part of that experience.”
While male-on-male rape may not be perceived as a systemic problem, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men experience rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner. The same survey found that 40 percent of gay men and 47 percent of bisexual men have experienced sexual violence other than rape.
But Dr. David Lisak, who is a founding board member of the male victim advocacy group 1in6, warns that such statistics are “functionally meaningless,” and that the number of men who are sexually assaulted is actually higher given the cases that go unreported or unacknowledged each year.
“As a man, to acknowledge that you’ve been vulnerable ― and especially vulnerable in the domain of sexuality and a sexual encounter ― is a pretty dramatic contradiction of masculine norms,” he said. “Viewed objectively, a man may experience something that is, without question, a sexual assault. But those norms tend to be so internalized by men that they color how men interpret experiences that they have.”
While there’s “a prevailing idea that, somehow, sex workers cannot be sexually assaulted,” he added, they’re actually more likely to. Indeed, one recent study found that sex workers have a 45 to 75 percent chance of experiencing sexual violence at some point in their careers.
Whether the allegations against DiMaggio by Zayne or the four other men will be investigated further is unclear. A spokesperson for the Los Angeles-based underwear and sportswear brand Andrew Christian confirmed to HuffPost on Feb. 7 that DiMaggio, who is one of the company’s models, had been placed on “indefinite suspension.” HuffPost reached out to a CockyBoys studio representative for comment but did not immediately hear back.
If empowerment is truly achieved through visibility, Zayne hopes his story is able to “expand the views and discussion on the issue,” rather than to prompt a “witch hunt” against DiMaggio or other gay porn actors.
“I knew I was speaking my truth, and I’ve accepted that I don’t need other people to make it their own in order for me to feel justified in my actions,” he said. “Abusive traits exist anywhere our egos allow them to.”