“Overall, people responded well,” says Aiden Shaw about the reaction to his 2006 memoir, My Undoing. “But some didn’t appreciate it being so true to life in that I had no epiphany, and [the book] had no neat conclusion.”
Or perhaps it had something to do with the story’s main character. The portrait Shaw painted of himself was that of a lonely, insecure person on a quest for emotional intimacy, who deals with depression by drowning himself in whatever intoxicant he can score using money earned as an escort-slash-adult film star.
It was a sad portrayal of an outpoken and otherwise fascinating man’s descent from fuck-flick stardom to a broken, hollow shell — literally. (Shaw was temporarily paralyzed after being hit by a car during a stupor.) Labeled by one reviewer as “the Judy Garland of porn,” Shaw as a protagonist didn’t make for particularly uplifting reading, despite the author’s thoughtful, well-constructed prose and an insightful — at times, even amusing — ability to self-analyze.
In the just-published Sordid Truths, Shaw gives us a prequel to My Undoing that takes us from his London days as an art student and fledgling rent boy to his entrée into the porn worlds of L.A. and San Francisco. In sharp contrast to his previous tome, Sordid Truths is a fun, sexy, and uplifting tale of a young man selling his innocence (and oversized member) for a taste of stardom, all of which is told in captivating — and highly titillating — detail. “I used to keep an obsessively detailed diary,” he explains of his ability to vividly recall events from two decades prior, “including names, prices, lists of sex acts, even Polaroids when I got the opportunity.”
The book gives readers a fascinating inside look at male prostitution in the late 1980s and early ’90s, a world of nightclubs, bathhouses, hotel rooms, and dodgy lodgings in the first decade of the AIDS epidemic. And unlike the Aiden depicted in My Undoing, Shaw the character has a few epiphanies in Sordid Truths, and the first one forever altered the course of his life. It comes during his initial rent boy gig, when he realizes that having his cock sucked isn’t a bad way to pass the time, that he likes orgasms, and that he can actually be paid to receive physical pleasure — all of which make prostitution “without a doubt a sensible job.”
As a writer, Aiden Shaw is top-notch: introspective, witty, even heartbreaking at times. Full of characters that pop descriptively and fascinatingly from one intriguing scenario to the next, Sordid Truths is a veritable page-turner with plenty of amusing revelations, among them the author’s sex-for-money relationship with Oliver! composer Lionel Bart. Aiden says in this particular case he had no qualms about kissing and telling: “There were people much more famous I didn’t write about,” he says. “But I know Lionel would get a kick out of it. He had a real cheeky side to him. Also, he had a big soft spot for me. He would have laughed about me using him in the book.”
While revisiting one’s past in such detail can either be torture or an incredible learning experience, Shaw says the journey through Sordid Truths was a good one. “I learned that I have a lot of affection for the kid I was, and I’m proud of the choices he made. Without him I wouldn’t be who I am today. And I love being me.” As for the interpersonal type of love he so craved in My Undoing, Shaw says he still hasn’t found it. “I’ve had a couple of attempts and discovered I’m just not boyfriend material. On my own I’m healthier, mentally and physically.”
Healthy is good — especially if it means we’ll one day be treated to more sordid stories. “I’m guessing I have lots more life to live,” he says when asked if he’ll ever make his memoirs into a trilogy, “and hopefully it’ll be interesting, so maybe.”
We’ll be waiting.
Unzipped magazine, December 2009