Benjamine Heath is a tall and flower-shaped 25-year-old who moved to New York from Arizona with one friend, no high-school degree, and a Starbucks job transfer. That was eight years ago. Now he helps his boyfriend, Jason, run one of the only gay-porn studios in New York City—a successful midsize company called CockyBoys. His nom de porn is “Benny Morecock,” and his title is creative director.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about CockyBoys content, which tends toward relatively vanilla activity performed by cute, scruffy models. The studio is run like porn studios have always been run, with paid directors and actors. Membership, which includes access to films on its website, costs $29.95 per month, and there are currently between 4,000 and 5,000 active members. Still, there is something about the CockyBoys aesthetic that gets porn wheels turning—an ironic touch that’s light enough not to compromise the simple pleasures of whacking off. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like CockyBoys,” says Erik Schut, managing director of TLA Video, America’s largest retailer of gay adult films. “They’re just fun. It’s not the same old blah-blah-blah. They’re not formulaic.” The content, actually, verges on that—sex is hard to reinvent. What’s different is the sensibility, and the sensibility belongs to Benny.
Last fall, Benny started co-hosting CockyBoys parties at Le Bain, the club at the top of the Standard, and Eastern Bloc, an East Village gay bar, with Paper magazine’s Mickey Boardman. The parties were notable for attracting a crowd not typically associated with the porn business—designers, musicians, and editors like Prabal Gurung, Nicola Formichetti, Jake Shears, and Ariel Foxman. These were porn parties, but they were not porny. At another event, in an immaculate Tribeca party space, the socialite Marjorie Gubelmann guest-D.J.’d. The industry’s abiding paradox—sex is glamorous, and porn is sex, but porn is not glamorous—seems not to apply to CockyBoys. As Paper’s Drew Elliott puts it, “they can do things that a normal porn company can’t do.” This is a license that Benny works hard to maintain. (He’s likely the only creative director in the business.)
“We try to stick to college studs with an edge,” Benny says one afternoon at the CockyBoys office in Long Island City, outlining the company’s porn niche. “Cute guys with personality, maybe some tattoos. There’s a new term I heard—otter. It’s basically a young, skinny bear. Or a hairy twink. Personally, I think otters are really hot.” (Worth noting: The term otter has been around longer than Benny’s career in porn.) Dressed in a formal shirt and suspenders, he is as two-dimensionally thin and neatly pressed as an envelope. “I wouldn’t be shocked if I learned that he was the world’s most convincing female-to-male transsexual,” Boardman says. “There’s a Johnny Depp quality to him. You have to stop and think: What am I seeing?” With his watchful mien and velvet-painting face, Benny doesn’t come across like the avid porn consumer that he is. On his desk sits a ball of alpaca yarn; he has been crocheting, he says, “a patchwork quilt of differently shaped squares in muted colors.”
His computer is cluttered with projects. There’s a gallery of images for the website, a folder labeled MORE AMAZING TYPOGRAPHY! and a daily to-do list that is actually a composite to-do list culled from a master list of to-do items. The desktop is Harry Potter–themed. Sometimes Benny will work fourteen- or sixteen-hour days. “I get up, I drive, I work, then I go home and probably work some more,” he says. “I’m not a stressful workaholic, I just like getting stuff done.”
As he speaks, a man pops into the office to give Benny a kiss. “I’m Adrian,” the man says.
“My boyfriend,” Benny adds. “One of them.”
And here lies a second explanation for Benny’s—and, by extension, CockyBoys’—microfame. Adrian explains that he is driving upstate to the house that he shares with Benny, who is now puppyishly tugging on Adrian’s hand, and Jason, who is the CEO of CockyBoys. The three men have been together for just over four years—a “throuple,” Benny calls it, putting air quotes around the dumb word. Their throuplehood is more or less a permanent domestic arrangement. The three men work together, raise dogs together, sleep together, miss one another, collect art together, travel together, bring each other glasses of water, and, in general, exemplify a modern, adult relationship.
Except that there are three of them.
It began in 2008, when Jason went to get his hair cut at Bumble and Bumble. The stylist’s assistant was cute, and Jason asked if the cute assistant could wash his hair. The assistant, who was Benny (he’d quit Starbucks), agreed, and the two exchanged numbers. That night, Benny went over on the pretext of meeting Jason’s dogs and wound up spending the night. He woke up the next morning to find Jason’s boyfriend, Adrian, shirtless in the kitchen cooking eggs. Jason had already left for work. Adrian, who is almost satanically good-looking, was polite to the stranger on his couch. Benny was intimidated by Adrian and didn’t know what to do, so he ate a plate of eggs and went home.
At that point, Jason, who is 40 and from a conservative southern background, and Adrian, 32 and from a non-ritzy L.A. neighborhood, had been together for nine years. They had property and savings together, as well as a permissive sexual relationship. Benny’s affiliations were precisely the opposite. He was squatting in an abandoned building, had no clear ambitions, no career, and no serious relationships, past or present. He was unmoored—and, being 21 years old, happily so.
A week after their first date, Benny and Jason hung out again, and this time Adrian joined in. “I’ve had three-ways where there are limbs everywhere and it’s really awkward,” Benny remembers. “You come out of it like, ‘God, that was stressful.’ But not with them.” A sexual relationship began, and continued, and although none of the men can isolate a specific moment when the couple turned into a throuple, there was a point, they all agree, at which everyone became sufficiently in love with each other to give it a name.
For several months after the three met, a cloudy sense of shame about porn-brokering kept Jason from telling Benny exactly what he did for a living. When he eventually sat Benny down to admit his sins, the younger man just blinked and shrugged. He’d figured it out weeks earlier. You don’t care? Jason asked, anguished. Of course not, Benny replied. He thought it was cool.
Benny was not the first to say I love you. “I’ve always been selective about who I let into my emotional reality,” he says. “I don’t talk a lot. I rely on myself; I’m pragmatic, and I don’t romanticize things.” A dynamic developed among the men where, as Benny recalls, “I was their precious ward.”
Jason had hired Benny as Adrian’s personal assistant so the youngest could have a job while he figured out what he was going to do next. As Jason explains it, the throuple’s power structure began along the lines of Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Little Bear: “I ran the business, Adrian made sure the pups were fed, and Ben had his chores.”
Over the months that followed, the original boyfriends watched as their new lodger went about teaching himself how to code. The dynamic shifted again as Benny osmosed into Jason’s business, training himself as a developer and designer. “He took over one of our sites, which was a DVD retail site,” Jason recalls, “and then, from the ground up, he turned that business around in a matter of months. Everything he couldn’t do, he taught himself. There was nothing that he wouldn’t learn.” In the last couple years, Benny has taught himself how to play violin, make pottery, design lamps, build furniture, and appreciate cigars.
These days, the balance of power changes every day. One of them will be the older brother, one the middle child, and someone else a younger sibling. “At some point I became an equal partner,” Benny says. “With some families, you have the mother, the father, and the child. This is our own version of a family—three boyfriends.”
It is important, perhaps, that each pair within the throuple has a private bond: Jason and Adrian have their history, Jason and Benny work together, and Benny and Adrian are close in age. Benny tells me there is zero jealousy among the three. “That’s probably the thing that leaves people the most incredulous,” he says. “It just doesn’t exist with us. If it did, then our relationship sure as hell would not have lasted as long as it has.” Sometimes there are pangs of jealousy over guys outside of the relationship. But that, Benny says, is rare.
Most of the men’s parents are not aware of the arrangement (and so I have agreed not to include Jason’s and Adrian’s full names). In a way, they’ve eloped.
The throuple’s house upstate is a rambling place with rooms for every mood and plenty of lawn for the dogs to run around on. There’s a pool, a formal garden, a sunroom, a balcony, and a veranda—throwbacks to a genteel era of differentiated leisure zones. The place is capacious enough to be spooky in winter and guest-friendly in summer. When I show up for a weekend visit, Benny pours bourbons and takes me on a tour of the throuple’s art collection, of which Jason is head curator. We start with a pair of photographs beneath a Warhol print in Jason’s office.
“Here are some photographs by Annie Leibovitz,” Benny says.
“Diane Arbus!” Jason calls out from the living room.
“I mean Diane Arbus,” Benny corrects himself, visibly uploading the correction to his absorbent self-taught mind. (Jason is careful not to use words for which he doesn’t know the exact dictionary definition, because he feels caught when Benny asks for the word’s meaning. “I used to be prideful—if I didn’t know the answer to something, I’d make it up,” he told me, laughing. “Now I can’t get away with that.”)
Opposite the photographs is an array of antique silver boxes lined up just so, one of them filled with golden dollar coins. “Jason’s treasure,” Benny explains.
When the tour is complete, we have delivery pizza in the sunroom, and afterward Jason sets up an ice-cream bar with all the trimmings: whipped cream, pecans, pints of Baskin-Robbins. The throuple’s four dogs whiz around underfoot while we eat sundaes in the kitchen, and after a while Benny passes around perfectly prepared hot toddies and I go upstairs to bed.
The guest room, it turns out, is a bedroom that Benny keeps separately for himself. Jason and Adrian share a master bedroom with a king-size bed big enough to contain both men plus three dogs and (occasionally) Benny. Benny’s bed is a queen, and it is scaled to fit Benny plus one dog and (occasionally) Adrian, who likes to cuddle. Jason has a tougher time getting a good night’s rest if he’s not sleeping on his side of the bed.
When the relationship started, the three would have sex several times a week. The arrangement offered a titillating enhancement of sexual permutations. These days, as with most long-term relationships, the lovemaking has slowed. “Sex is somewhat sporadic,” says Benny. The throuple rarely has sex as a threesome any more. Instead, “it’s evolved into more individual relationships between the three of us,” he says. “We all go through our sexual phases, and appetites change.” Now, when the three men pile into a car and one of them sits in the back, the choreography feels less erotic than familial: Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Little Bear, with Little Bear commandeering the iPod.
As I fall asleep, I can hear the men laughing at a TV show downstairs and playing with the dogs. It feels like a celebratory night (pizza, ice cream, bourbon) but also, internally, a destabilizing one. Does throuplehood raise or lower the stakes of being in a relationship? If one of the men defects, do they all break up? What’s it like to inhabit a category of relationship that is entirely different from that of everyone you know?
Still, the impression I have from spending time with Benny, Jason, and Adrian over the past months is that the men are glisteningly, boringly happy. This seems to be the consensus. “No matter how hard I try, I can’t wrap my head around it,” says Paper’s Elliott. “It’s amazing. It’s modern. There’s nothing sensational about them—the relationship isn’t theater. It just works.” Maybe the best way to understand how a throuple functions—or at least how this throuple functions—is to imagine a healthy couple, then factor in the sexual variety of a third partner, and then factor in the stability of a third partner. It’s strange but true: In tripod manner, a third leg appears to be a good method of favorably distributing tension.
A great deal of their success, I am sure, rests upon the fact that traditional biological parenthood is off the table. (The only other throuple I’ve known was a trio of lesbians who walked their dogs together on the beach.) It may also owe thanks to their immersion in a business where unconventional sex is exempt from moralization. But another part surely has to do with how unpolitical—how unremarkable—they take their situation to be. As with his upstate bedroom, Benny keeps an apartment of his own in Williamsburg, apart from Jason and Adrian, where a tiny lofted room serves as an analog of his brain. (“I have my mind, and my mind is private to me,” he explains. “It’s where my thoughts exist.”) For his part, Jason describes the whole arrangement as feeling perfectly normal. “We rarely all three fight at the same time,” he says.
The morning after our pizza party, an auction of the late Valentino Liberace’s belongings is scheduled to take place at a venue in nearby New Windsor. “We get obsessed with people,” Adrian tells me. “Jason’s a history buff, so he researches and researches, and then we all go through the same phase together.” Past obsessions have ranged from the Tudor family to Holly Woodlawn; the current fixation is Liberace. Everyone hops into the car to check out the goods.
The event has been set up at a venue called the Continental Room, which is located between a sports bar and a storefront labeled REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS. Inside, arranged on tables atop one of those floral carpets designed for maximal stain concealment, are hundreds of pieces of Liberace memorabilia. Benny and his boyfriends scatter to examine customized goblets, crèches, a lorgnette, and crystal biscuit jars. They take notes. At the center of the room, two old ladies weep before a clip of Liberace playing “Send in the Clowns.” Jason finds a gold brocade vest and calls Benny over. “Want to try this on, Little One?”
Benny slips into the vest, which makes him look like a circus monkey, and places a bid of $20.
An e-mail from Benny arrives one afternoon. “Hi Molly, it was a pleasure to have you! We’ll be filming an orgy scene here at the office on Friday, so you’re more than welcome to attend.” The e-mail includes a CockyBoys.com login (user name: molly; password: unicornrainbows) in case I want to familiarize myself with the material.
The orgy is scheduled for 2 p.m. When I arrive at CockyBoys, somebody’s office has been cleared of work materials and stocked with a leather sofa, lighting equipment, and six nude models. The models sit quietly on the sofa, stroking, and we introduce ourselves but do not shake hands. The director of the shoot, Ray Dragon, parks me in a corner of the room where I can sit cross-legged without appearing in frame. Benny pops in to say hello and then vanishes into his office. Filming begins.
The scene starts with Tommy Defendi leading Marc Dylan, who is wearing a leather mask, down a hallway and into the main room. Marc, the star of the scene, is a sweet Mississippian who has tanning-boothed himself to the color of a hot dog. “Sit,” Tommy orders. Marc sits. “Don’t take off the fucking mask.”
Dragon and a photographer slide around in socks to avoid making noise, their cameras trained on the scene. The other four models watch as Tommy unbuttons Marc’s vest.
“Talk,” Dragon directs.
The cheerful formality, the moving parts, and the sock feet make it feel like a game of Twister.
“Bring some dick into this,” Dragon says.
For the next scene, the group divides into pairs and Tommy performs oral sex on Kennedy Carter, who has mastered a porn convention that we might call the “sex-aficionado face.” Kennedy stares down at the action around his crotch with a kind of evaluative grimace—brow furrowed, lip curled. This expression is one thing that gay and straight porn have in common.
“Okay,” Dragon says. “Let’s do magic pants.”
Marc takes off his pants during a pause in filming. Magic pants, Dragon explains, is “when the pants come off in a scene but the shoes magically stay on.” Another porn convention.
Marc returns nude, wearing boots. “Everyone ready?” Dragon asks. “Phenix, you hard?” Phenix Saint is hard. Roll camera.
At 3:15 the models take a break to text and snack on rainbow Twizzlers. Then it’s time for the gang bang. I go back to my corner and sit, relaxing into the categorical uselessness of my presence. A half-hour later, Benny emerges from his office to give me a questioning “You okay?” gesture. Then he disappears again, returning to his quilts and lists and code. Jason and Adrian, meanwhile, are planning a dinner to celebrate the shoot. Benny will join them soon.