A PORN STAR IS REBORN
Gay adult-video legend Tom Katt reclaims Christian faith and retires from erotica.
Re-emerging as David Papaleo, he identifies as straight but is sickened by right-wing Bible-thumpers who preach anti-gay hatred.
Papaleo’s next stop — the pulpit
BY DANIEL KUSNER
In the mid 1990s, Tom Katt began regularly appearing in gay porn videos. The versatile bodybuilder made at least 15 sex flicks in his first two years. Handsome and talented, he started earning a lot of money. And for what it’s worth, Tom Katt became famous — in the world of erotica.
Over the years, steroids and growth hormones augmented his physique. Cocaine and pot made the good times seem happier, but the party train kept crashing. Inside, he felt something was missing. And in 2003, he walked away from the biz. Katt, who now goes by his birth name, David Papaleo, had found God.
In January 2006, Papaleo appeared on “The Gravedigger Show,” an Atlanta-based Christian TV program where he renounced the adult video world and said he was heterosexual. On Internet discussion boards, fans of the porn legend posted messages. Some were outraged. Some felt duped. Some encouraged his spiritual adventure.
Through a Christian bodybuilding website, I emailed Papaleo and requested an interview. Two weeks later, he called and said he wanted to discuss his newfound faith, his sexual identity and a spiritual message for gays and lesbians.
MOM, CHURCH AND DEATH
The first four years of Papaleo’s life were spent in suburban Atlanta where his parents raised three kids. When he was 4, his parents divorced. For the next seven years, David lived in a rural area of Massachusetts with his mother and stepfather. Although he also lived with his brother and sister, only David and his mother attended a nearby Catholic church.
“But my mom was what you’d call very clinically depressed,” Papaleo, 36, says after finishing a shift as a personal trainer at a suburban Atlanta gym.
He faced death and grief at an early age: When Papaleo was 11, his stepfather killed his mother.
“A lot of people blame God when bad things happen. I was pissed off at everybody — everybody in my family for letting it happen. And I walked away from God. I didn’t want anything to do with him,” Papaleo remembers. “If he was going to let that happen, then I’m staying away from him. Of course, this was the judgment of an 11 year old.”
GROWING UP AND GETTING BIG
Papaleo moved back to his dad’s home near Atlanta, and he carried around a lot of anger. Homework wasn’t high on his list of priorities, and he was a loner. In high school, Papaleo joined the wrestling team, but he couldn’t tap into the notion of “team spirit.” At 16, he discovered bodybuilding, and results came quickly. Lifting weights allowed him to release pent-up emotions, and it was something he could do alone.
“I developed a strong distrust of being able to count on anybody. Bodybuilding was something I excelled at that was under my full control,” he remembers.
In 1986, he competed in the Teenage Mr. Atlanta contest and placed third. Papaleo was hooked. He graduated from high school in 1988 with the dream of becoming a professional bodybuilder. To make money, he unloaded trucks and worked as a personal trainer.
PORN = MONEY
“I always dated girls,” Papaleo says, remembering his early adulthood. “But I didn’t play the field too well. If I dated someone, it would be for two or three years.”
Through a friend of a friend, he got his first offer to appear in an adult video — from Fox Studios, a gay erotica company that specialized in bodybuilders.
“When I realized I could make in one day what I’d earn in three months, it was like, ‘Sure, where do I sign?’” he remembers.
Papaleo was 21 when he made his first film. And back then, he was competing in at least three bodybuilding competitions a year.
“That was the beauty of doing porn,” he says. “The movies and personal appearances at clubs enabled me to spend all my time just getting ready for competitions. And preparing for competitive bodybuilding takes up all your time.”
At 24, he won his first regional title at the 1994 National Physique Committee Eastern Seaboard Bodybuilding Championships. For a while, everything ran smoothly. Because he had a title under his belt, Papaleo could demand more money as a personal trainer. His porn rates increased as well.
His family eventually figured out that he was moonlighting in gay erotica. Papaleo even showed them a few magazine covers. But in 1996, the sale of adult videos became legal in Georgia. A video store opened up near one of the Atlanta-area gyms where he trained. In the store’s window hung a life-sized cut-out of Tom Katt promoting Falcon Studios’ “Total Corruption 2.”
“It didn’t make me cringe with embarrassment,” he says. “In fact, the porn stuff never seemed to faze my family or friends at all.”
But once his Tom Katt cover was blown, most of Papaleo’s personal training clients dropped him.
STEROIDS, BOYFRIENDS AND THE BIBILE
For his first 17 bodybuilding shows, Papaleo competed as a “clean” contestant. After winning the Eastern Seaboard title, he started hitting steroids.
“Ironically, all the years I competed taking steroids, I never won,” he says.
Only 5-foot 7-inches tall and at one time bulking up to 255 pounds, the steroids detracted from his aesthetic appeal. He was too big, too thick. From 1997 to 2003, Papaleo would live in Los Angeles for a few years, then return to Georgia. After a couple of years, he’d move back to Hollywood.
Dating sex workers isn’t for everyone. And Papaleo’s sexual identity was murky at best.
“During the period of the movies, I had two boyfriends and a couple of girlfriends. I felt I had to stay away from women because, ‘Hello?!’ I was doing gay porn. No woman was going to have anything to do with me,” he says.
For a while, he identified as bisexual.
“But when I leaned more towards trying to date a guy, it just didn’t click. When you’re in a relationship with somebody, it can’t just be a physical thing. You have to have an emotional-spiritual connection or it’s not going to work. And I never really found that I could have that connection with another guy,” he says.
During this period, he said he wasted huge amounts of money and didn’t have much to show for it.
“I made a lot and spent a lot. I thought I was having the time of my life. But I started partying with my money — constantly altering my mood with chemicals to convince myself I was having such a good time,” he says. “But deep down, I was miserable. And I knew it.”
When he was a kid, Papaleo crossed Jesus Christ off his list. So over the years, he investigated other faiths: Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. But in 2003, he found himself drawn back to Christianity.
“I didn’t hit rock bottom. And I didn’t turn to a particular church. I just started praying. I prayed and asked God for help,” he says. “I asked him to help me with what my life was becoming, and what my life should become. He truthfully helped me in my heart and showed me that what I was doing wasn’t correct.”
So he began studying on his own. And get this.
“I remember being on a … [porn] set, and the guys all laughing at me because I was reading the Bible,” Papaleo says.
GOD, LOVE AND GAYS
He didn’t blow all his money. Moving back to Georgia in 2003, he focused on his spiritual awakening and realized that blaming God for his mother’s death was immature. Papaleo seems genuinely passionate about studying the Bible. And he’s still not affiliated with a particular church.
“I’ve been very unimpressed with a lot of churches. Many of them don’t study or teach the Bible in the depth that it should be taught. A lot of churches pull one or two verses out of the air and make up their own interpretations of instead of really studying the book itself,” he says.
The debates over morality and sexuality identity have fueled his research.
“What I found is that so many people — including myself at one time — believe those crazy, so-called Christians who say, 'If you’re gay or bi, God doesn’t want you.' That’s a big piece of crap,” he says. “They are misconstruing and giving twisted interpretations of Biblical scriptures. I’ve extensively studied the scriptures they try to base that on, and it’s just not true.”
Papaleo has a boiled-down thesis regarding the “men not lying with other men” verses.
“If you look at it historically, culturally and you’re not pulling things out of context, the Bible says, ‘Don’t to go against what's natural.’ If you are naturally heterosexual and you’re having sex with men, well … First, you’re treating that guy unfairly,” he says. “But the Bible’s not saying heterosexual is natural as far as from nature’s point of view. It means going against what’s natural for yourself.”
As far as same-sex relationships and marriage, “They’re not wrong,” he continues. “The most important thing is to love God with all your heart. The second thing, is to love your fellow person that same way. I don’t know how loving someone of your own sex in that manner is considered wrong.”
SO NOW YOU'RE STRAIGHT?
“Yes, I identify as heterosexual. There was a time I thought of myself as bisexual, and I never hide that fact,” Papaleo says.
A couple of years ago, after moving back to Georgia, he met a woman. On their second date, he told her about his history as Tom Katt. Although it seems like heavy news for a second date, she seemed to accept it.
“Being completely honest and transparent about things is an important part of the way I live now. I have to be completely up front about everything,” he says. And last month, the woman’s name became Mrs. Papaleo.
YO, REVEREND. WEREN'T YOU A PORN STAR?
Although Papaleo’s gone back to competitive bodybuilding, the main thrust in his life is studying the Bible. Last week, he and his wife relocated to Florida so he could enroll in a seminary. Does he hope to be Reverend Dave one day?
“I believe He’s pulling me toward the pulpit,” Papaleo says.
But what if he makes it to the pulpit and someone turns on a DVD player showing Tom Katt in all his former glory?
“If someone wants to draw attention to that, I’ll help them put the spotlight on it. I am not ashamed. If they’re going to judge me, I’ll tell them to read Matthew: Chapter 7 a few times and get back to me,” he says. “God is the judge. For someone to judge me, that’s wrong.”
He might not be ashamed, but Papaleo doesn’t have anything positive to say about working in adult video.
“I don’t think that erotica or sexuality is a bad thing. I believe that sex is the strongest physical expression of love to another person. But porn is not an expression of love. It’s empty and cold,” he says.
“There’s nothing at all wrong with sex,” he continues. “God made sex, too. He gave us these things for a reason. When it’s not an expression of love, that’s when you’re demeaning it into something less than it was meant to be.”
Can sex be an expression of love-at-first-sight?
“I don’t think so,” he laughs.
As Tom Katt, Papaleo participated in many gay pride celebrations. And when you have a pride parade, you have Christian fundamentalists preaching against gays. And that might be the battlefield where he launches his crusade.
“So many people are shunned or feel like they’ve been pushed away from God — that God doesn’t want anything to do with them. I want to tell as many people I can that that is an absolute lie,” Papaleo says. “God loves everybody. He made you the way you are. All He wants is for you is to turn to Him and to love Him the same way He loves you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re less than anything in God’s eyes.”
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