When Spencer Keasey picked his porn name, Spencer Quest, it was because he felt as if he were actually on a quest — for sexual and spiritual freedom.
For a man who had been in a monogamous relationship from the age of 18, freedom from shame and fear during the age of HIV did, at the time at least, feel like a spiritual journey. But he’s been out of the porn business for more than a decade now, and looking back, he realizes that calling his four years as a gay porn star “spiritual” was not entirely accurate.
“That would be pushing it,” Keasey says, chatting about his life at the Bakker Gallery, an emporium of classic Provincetown art that he has managed for the last seven years. “It was more like an adventure. It really was.”
Keasey, who is tall, square-jawed, and still buff at 51, came to porn relatively late in life — he was 36. He had already been an English teacher at an inner-city Pittsburgh high school. He was living in the Northeast Kingdom, the most rural and poorest region of Vermont, where he had moved with his longtime boyfriend. But when that relationship was coming to an end, he decided that “I was too young to retire to the Northeast Kingdom.”
He was ready for a change — he wanted to pursue a creative career, maybe be a writer. But his next move was radical.
His longtime partner had often told him that, if the two split up, Keasey should become a porn star. Keasey had never quite understood why he said that. “I don’t know if it was that I was too body-conscious or if I stared in the mirror too long,” he says. Whatever the reason, it gave Keasey an idea.
“My partner was a poet,” Keasey says. “He’d been struggling for years to get a book out.”
Not wanting to be in the same position, Keasey liked the idea of having a gimmick. Being a porn star might be a way to stand out.
The next day, Keasey’s partner took some photographs of him and sent them off to TitanMen, a gay porn video company with a strict safe-sex policy. A week later he was in Palm Springs, Calif., for an audition. And two weeks after that he had an exclusive contract.
This was in 2004, a few years before the internet turned the porn industry into a streaming free-for-all in which “everyone became a porn star,” Keasey says.
And so the adventure began.
The change was fun at first, but it filled him with conflicting emotions. He was still reeling from his breakup, and Palm Springs strangely reminded him of South Africa, where he had spent three years with his family when he was a boy. “It felt like home, which was weird,” he says, “though I quickly figured out it was not the place for me.”
He tried to find a way to make his porn experience a springboard for a creative pursuit. He spent a month in Joshua Tree trying to write a book between shoots.
As Spencer Quest, meanwhile, he grew into a porn sensation, winning Best Threesome at the GayVN Awards for his performance in Titan’s Cirque Noir in 2006 and Best Supporting Actor for Lucas Entertainment’s La Dolce Vita in 2007. (GayVN magazine is a publication of Adult Video News.) TitanMen even created a series based on his character — Spy Quest I, II, and III.
During his porn years, Keasey learned that people who worked in the industry are not all that different from ordinary people, except maybe better looking. One man he worked with had a regular job at Microsoft.
And he learned that the trick to becoming a star in porn — to create a persona that people are into — is skillful acting. Another technical note: Viagra is key. It allows men to perform on camera despite all of the distractions and interruptions of filming. And there are other tricks, Keasey says, such as not having sex for a week prior to a shoot.
Another outcome of his porn years: during some dark times off-camera, Keasey contracted HIV.
As his career came to an end — and he lasted longer than most — “I became filled with shame,” Keasey says. “I thought everyone would see me as a washed-up porn star. In fact, no one has treated me like that.”
Quite the opposite. His porn fame turned into the gimmick he had hoped it would, leading to an offer to headline Naked Boys Singing off-Broadway in 2006. In the show, he had to perform the solo “Perky Little Porn Star,” and was working alongside kids who had spent their entire lives preparing for a theater career. “That was a surreal experience,” he says.
Keasey’s own acting and singing résumé until then was limited to high school shows and some jazz singing in Pittsburgh nightclubs. Not surprisingly, being naked onstage was the least of his fears.
His work in the theater brought him to Provincetown, where he was in a 2009 production of the play 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night, produced by Adam Weinstock at the Art House. It was directed by David Drake, now artistic director of the Provincetown Theater. This is why Keasey likes to say he’s partially responsible for bringing Drake to Provincetown.
In Provincetown, Keasey found a new home and career. The AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod hired him as director of its Men’s Health Project, where he worked for four years. “One of the reasons ASGCC hired me is that I’m positive and a porn star, and I can make it mean something,” Keasey says.
He was named king of Carnival in 2008, where he wore a loincloth and an “HIV Positive” tattoo on his chest. “I was a bit of a poster child,” he says.
Though he has continued acting while working at Bakker Gallery, it’s become harder to accommodate the hours. This has led him farther offstage than he’d like. Keasey says his happy place remains singing at his piano with his ginger cat, Ruby, “who is obsessed with me.”
He remains a little conflicted about his porn-star past.
“Would I do it all over again?” he asks himself. “I’m not sure. I’m not going to say I regret it. I just wish I’d have been able to integrate it into my life and not have it start as a secret” — there were many people whom he didn’t tell at first — “because then it has a negative connotation. I want people to know me for my role working with Jim Bakker, as someone who runs the gallery and auctions and who cares about the history of art. And I think that’s happening.”