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Peter Berlin, Retired Gay Porn Star and Selfie Pioneer, Thinks You Work Too Much

Photo: Peter Berlin/Damiani

When the press contact for the artist and gay porn star Peter Berlin sends you a pre-9 a.m. email that instead of meeting in a café for breakfast, Berlin would rather you “meet him in his room” it is hard to know what to expect.

Berlin starred in the 1973 film Nights in Black Leather, a deadpan German in distinctive tight leather or sailor-boy looks, the bulge always prominent, who became friends with Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol, but never rose to their level of fame. Instead, he’s spent much of the last 40 years, by his own account, watching TV in his apartment in San Francisco. And this is what I found him doing — MSNBC was on — when I arrived in his room the morning after his biggest comeback moment in years: a party, at fashion’s current favorite restaurant L’Avenue, to launch a book of his erotic self-portraiture, Peter Berlin: Icon, Artist, Photosexual. He tells me that he’d been worried that the event would be a flop — “My God, who in the hell comes to a Peter Berlin thing?” But in the end he was pleasantly surprised by a turnout of a certain “caliber of people” (not “simple people,” as he says his mother would say), including Kembra Pfahler, Jeremy O. Harris, Mario Sorrenti, and Marc Jacobs, who “flew in from Paris” to join and hosted a book signing at Bookmarc.

Berlin celebrates with a mask of his younger self at at Le Chalet at L’Avenue in New York. Photo: Jocko Graves/BFA.com

Berlin is 76, a slight man who toggles between being courtly and impatient, grandiose and self-pitying. He no longer dresses like a Tom of Finland character (whom he also knew and collaborated with). His real name is Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene, and all his friends call him Armin. He has a certain distance from playing the erotic avatar “Peter Berlin.”

The night of the party, he carried a photo of his younger face tacked to the top of a wooden tongue depressor. He’s still holding it when I meet him the next morning. “That was Peter Berlin, right? And now there’s this old man there.”

Aging, to him, is the “big flaw in the creation of mankind … something that should have been the other way around. You start out sort of bad, and you end up gorgeous instead.”

Photo: Peter Berlin/Damiani

Despite the success of the night before, Berlin is, he says, “sad.” And it’s a big-picture kind of sad. “The world goes so much in the wrong direction. Not only the political scene but the whole mess with the warming of the planet, and the poor animals … And I feel guilty! I could be your father, or your grandfather even … I see so much darkness, and I don’t even see the rainbow over the hill because we are a big boat, going, going, and still the wrong direction.”

At the center of all of this concern and unhappiness, however, is Berlin’s true crisis of faith: the reality that the world never embraced his utopic idea of sexual freedom, cruising, and sex. He sees the world as being robbed of pleasure by politics, jobs, and responsibilities. “I never had a drive but getting laid,” he says. “Getting out and having a good time. So, I had a fabulous life.”

Photo: Peter Berlin/Damiani

But it was always sex on his very particular terms — sex as much as anything as the image of sexiness, stoking desire of himself by others. He actually didn’t have all that much sex in the way most people think about sex, which also explains why he survived the AIDS plague, which killed almost every gay man he knew of his age.

What Berlin would like most is to send us a message. “Give me five minutes, and I want to talk to the planet. With the technology, it would be possible. Where everybody says, ‘Oh! Peter Berlin wants to say something tomorrow at 5. What does he want to say?’”

The answer to that question: “Tomorrow don’t do what you are planning to do. Just don’t. That’s all you have to do. And by the way, don’t talk … Don’t do what you’re planning because what you are doing tomorrow is hurting the planet — building another car, another iPhone.” Except doctors, who should do their surgeries, he says.

Photo: Peter Berlin/Damiani

In Berlin’s ideal world, we would abandon work and fulfill the horny needs of society. And to him, his image exemplifies what he believes to be our society’s sexual appetite. “My wish didn’t come true that I would inspire people to the point where I see hundreds of Peter Berlins running around on the street. I don’t see one,” he says. In Berlin’s sexual utopia, we wouldn’t be “desensitized” and “robotic” but rather libidinous animals in tight white pants. When he looks at People’s “Sexiest Man Alive,” he finds “nothing hot about it,” he exclaims.

And all of this explains why his photographs have meant so much to his persona, his politics, and his way of life. They have been an act of narcissistic self-love, a frozen instant in his life, an erotic “diary.” “Who is a sex symbol for me?” he asks. “There is none. There is only Peter Berlin … At one point I said to myself, ‘My God, I wish I would look like that,’ to my own picture.” He’d prefer that all of us believe the same about our own self-images, in a world of blatant sexuality.

Looking to the future, Berlin’s single remaining fantasy is to make the Peter Berlin film — a complete account of his life stretching back to his mother fleeing from Russia. In terms of the man to play Berlin, he hopes it would be a newcomer, who he knows would become a “big star” because of the portrayal, and he’d like to pick the actor himself, from a lineup of sexy men.

And also, for the record, he’d like you to know he’s not just a “big dick.” In fact, he finds it to be a “normal” one.

Peter Berlin: Icon, Artist, Photosexual

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This Retired Gay Porn Star Thinks You Work Too Much