Penis Talk Undercuts Groundbreaking Gay Muslim Sex Scene at American Gods Q&A 

Cock Conversation Undercuts

This Sunday, viewers of Starz's American Gods will see a groundbreaking episode of television — a love scene between two Middle Eastern men.

In it, Salim (Omid Abtahi) and the Jinn (Mousa Kraish) — the latter is a genie, in keeping with the fantastic premise of the series — have sex in a moving and passionate encounter, which achieves an almost religious quality, in part thanks to stunning CGI effects of stars, space, and fire.

Much credit should also be given to Neil Gaiman, author of the novel American Gods, on which the series is based. The scene is faithfully taken from a chapter of the book, written over 17 years ago, which meshes myths of gods with modern-day stories of immigrants — many of them LGBT or people of color.

At a Q&A following an advanced screening of the episode Wednesday at the Paley Center in Los Angeles, Gaiman marveled at how relevant his story remained in a time when the rights of many members of these communities are at risk — and what it means that a sex scene between Muslim men is still a groundbreaking moment in television.

"I’m continually surprised by how relevant and appropriate [the stories] I wrote 17, 18 years [ago] feel right now," said Gaiman, who is straight, but cited writers like Edmund White and Armistead Maupin, and also the homoeroticism present within a translation of Arabian Nights, as influences in crafting the epic moment.

"This is a book about immigrants," he said. "This is a book about all sorts of cultures. It’s a book about all sorts of people. Obviously, there will be LGBTQ characters in here because there are LGBTQ characters in life and in my family and amongst my friends. So I’m gonna put those stories in here." 

Gaiman spoke with reverance and intelligence — appropriate for an event cosponsored by GLAAD, an organization that advocates for positive representations of LGBT people in the media. However, other panelists — among them showrunners Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies, Hannibal), Michael Green, and actors Abtahi and Kraish — were not always so highbrow. Conversations about the sex scene often devolved into gay jokes and crass comments about anatomy, which diminished the emotional and historical achievement of the scene.

Fuller, who is gay, set the raucous tone early, when Gaiman praised the accomplishment of translating the scene for the camera. "Only a madman would have written this, and the fact that they’ve pulled it off..." Gaiman began, to which Fuller interjected, "and put it in!" Afterward, Gaiman expressed apprehension about how the scene would appear in the final edit. He ultimately called it "beautiful," to which Fuller quipped, "He was waiting for the cum shot."

The "cum shot" in question is a moment described by Gaiman as a "fiery ejaculation" — a cosmic moment of emotional, physical, and spiritual catharsis for the characters. It's also been dubbed by a Paste Magazine critic as "the hottest gay sex scene I've seen on TV since Sense8, maybe ever."

"We wanted to make sure that it was undeniably beautiful for even those who were uncomfortable with same-sex romance. That was our goal," Fuller confirmed in a serious moment. However, he once again steered the conversation back to sexual innuendo after Green, his co-showrunner, said, "We shot it twice." "We came twice," Fuller rejoindered.

The uneven tone of the Q&A continued when the moderator, Marc Snetiker, a staff writer at Entertainment Weekly, asked the scene's actors, who are straight, how they knew each other. "Was it Grindr? I was 10, so MySpace back then, right? You asked if I could blow you," joked Kraish, in his first public remark of the evening. 

The actors, who translated the scene brilliantly on the set, seemed unsure how to commit to a serious discussion of gay sexuality once faced with an audience. Both did express respect for the material. "Sex scene aside, just seeing two Middle Eastern men represented in that way with humor and love and joy, that? It’s taken me 11 years to get to that. And I want to see more of that," Kraish said.

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There was also honesty about apprehension. "I was really nervous watching this scene with my wife," said Abtahi, adding, "I was like, God, I hope it’s not raunchy. I just hope it’s not two guys going [three grunts]." He was relieved it wasn't. "It was just so fucking beautiful. I’m so proud to be a part of it. It felt like a huge weight off my shoulders."

And then there was the research required to prepare for the scene. When asked by an audience member how he went about doing this, Abtahi began with a serious tone. The "sad melancholy" of his character, a salesman seeking out purpose, was rooted in the "hardest moment of my life" — a situation he compared to Jimmy Kimmel's recent announcement that his child almost died shortly after birth. For "the rest of it, the gay part of it," Abtahi said he watched gay porn for research. Skeptical of the evidence presented there, he asked a "dear friend" for "all those embarrassing questions about how it works, like, 'Hey, man, can you have an orgasm without jacking off?'"

Fuller, his curiousity piqued, asked, "What did he say? What did he say?"

"He said, 'I can make a man cum without having to jerk off.'"

In response, the audience member who asked the original question tried to steer the conversation back to the scene's emotional impact. She praised the connection between the characters and how they "comforted each other in your loneliness and isolation."

"I just wanted him to fuck me," Abtahi joked, missing an opportunity to discuss this aspect of his character's relationship. His remark sparked this from Kraish: "I literally said to him, 'I’m gonna fuck the shit out of you.'" According to Kraish, he made this remark to his costar multiple times while preparing for the sex scene, hinting at it with lines like, 'Guess what I’m gonna do tomorrow!'"

The audience replied with uneasy laughter — a sentiment that was heightened when the next person to speak from the crowd was the president of Muslims for Progressive Values, who prefaced her praise for the show with, "I learned so much about gay sex tonight!"

However, the most uncomfortable remarks made during the event came in response to a moment in the scene, when the Jinn removes his towel to show a full-frontal view of his body. His member, which was added through CGI, was discussed in great detail.

"I just wanted to talk about the cock!" said a breathless woman who was the evening's first questioner from the audience. "Is that really CGI? How did you do that? How do you do that?"

The question opened Pandora's box — and responses that took up a large part of the 50-minute discussion.

"We had a lot of cock conversation in post [production] with the visual effects team," Fuller said.

"It was professional but giggly," Green said.

"It was very giggly," Fuller clarified. "For some reason, our [visual] effects supervisor who was handling this show lost his head. And Michael and I for the life of us cannot determine where he got this number from, but he got in his head that it was going to be an 11-inch cock. He even said, 'You said 11 inches!' And we said, 'No!'"

They kept the larger size. But according to Fuller, the laughter when editing the scene was hard to contain.

"There was one visual effects sequence where the shot came on and he dropped the towel, and it swung," Fuller recounted of the member, adding, "Everybody was trying to keep a straight face in post, and I’m giggling because … we can’t have him drop the towel and laugh because it’s so large. And as a joke, I sent it to Mousa, with the subject line, 'How’s it hanging?' Thinking he was going to be like, 'Jesus Christ! That’s ridiculous!' And his response was, 'Looks good, should be darker.'"

Kraish confirmed that the penis was pink in color, but called it "a match" in size. Size resolved, Fuller moved on to the specific moment of penetration.

"As lovely and spiritual and beautiful as the scene is, there was a lot of giggling going on," Fuller continued. "We had to shoot it twice because our gentlemen here are heterosexual. The director was heterosexual, and there were some positions that were just not conducive to anal penetration. So, I remember we had a conversation afterwards about certain moments that we should capture of like the moment of penetration, where you’re like, 'Oh, shit! This is a bad idea … and then, maybe not such a bad idea.'"

Overall, the conversation skewed to sophomoric humor and surface-level observations that reduced the scene's subject matter to gay sex as conduct — the who, what, and how of filming the physical act — versus the trickier and deeper implications of broadcasting such a scene to an international audience in a volatile era for global LGBT rights. 

Gaiman touched on this earlier in the talk, when he discussed how issues like penis size and CGI are irrelevant when considering audience members who will boycott, protest, or otherwise react negatively to the show purely for its gay subject matter.

"I don’t think anybody [who] is going to be upset by that penis will be made any happier by explaining that actually, that may not be Mousa’s penis," he said.

"There was a moment early on before Mousa would agree to drop the towel, which we had to have a conversation about  — what was the intention of the sex scene?" Fuller said just afterward. "And it was wonderful because he just wanted to make sure that it was not exploitational, and we weren’t just showing cock because Starz loves cock."

Starz announced Thursday American Gods was renewed for season 2.

Starz and GLAAD have not responded to a request for comment.

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