The sex that changed my life: Hooking up with a co-worker opened the door to understanding myself

Race Cooper pictured on the left shirtless in a gym. He is taking a selfie in the mirror in the photograph and lockers can be seen in the background. On the right, Race is pictured outdoors wearing a woollen hat and an orange and red plaid shirt.

The year was 1995, and Race was working as a gymnastics instructor at a YMCA. He was 21 years old and, perhaps unsurprisingly given where he worked, found himself surrounded by gay men. 

Up until then, Race – who is now best known for his work as a gay porn star – had thought he was straight. And then, all of a sudden, a young lifeguard caught his eye.

“I was like, ‘OK, this is strange. I really want to kiss and make out with him and maybe have sex,’” he tells PinkNews.

“I initiated it and asked him if it was OK and he agreed. And that first time changed everything.” 

The sex, Race says, was “wonderful” – and that was part of the problem. Afterwards, he was overwhelmed with anxiety as it dawned on him that this wasn’t just a passing phase. 

“Once I’d met him and had sex I kind of went back into the closet again,” Race says. He blocked out everything that he enjoyed about the experience and instead focused on the bad.

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Race Cooper pictured shirtless folding his arms in a dark room.
Race Cooper. (Christine Alexander)

Back in the closet, Race grappled with his sexuality. Slowly but surely, he came to the realisation he was bisexual – and with that came the crushing fear that his parents would reject him.

“All of that just compounded into extreme shame and extreme fear,” he says. “My fearful idea was so strong in my head that I’d be nothing, I would amount to nothing, I’d die alone – all these things.” 

In the end, it was a candid conversation with a gay friend that made Race see there was a way forward and that he could be happy and fulfilled as an out, bisexual man. That friend helped him see that it was society who had the problem – not him. 

In the two years that followed, Race came out to his parents. As he feared, he was cut off, but his siblings accepted him. 

As a newly out bisexual man, Race started experimenting with his sexuality. At one point, he dated a “leather daddy from San Francisco” who showed him how to have “gratifying, exhilarating sex”. 

His life was changing in other ways too – he also embarked on a career in television. At the age of 27, he got a job hosting a gay travel show, which gave him a newfound sense of confidence. 

That paved the way for Race to launch his porn career aged 35.

Race Cooper gay porn
Race Cooper (Photo by Ben Veronis)

“Doing porn was partially for money and partially for the experience of, let’s see what this industry is like, let’s see what my experiences are like in that, and does that challenge me and change me – and of course, it did. It completely changed me.” 

To say Race has lived a glorious, exhilarating life would be an understatement. As he looks back on it all, he’s keenly aware that none of it would have happened if he hadn’t worked up the courage to flirt with that lifeguard almost three decades ago.

Race Cooper’s ‘messy’ first time with a man unlocked his sexuality

That moment changed the trajectory of Race’s life in a myriad of ways. Everything that came after only happened because he opened himself up to what sex could look like.

It’s been some time since Race last had contact with the man who changed it all, but they did remain in touch for a number of years after that first time.

The last time they spoke, their conversation revealed the ways in which their shared sexual experience had stayed with them both.

“He said how proud he was to know me at my stage of not being fully developed or fully conscious of the person that I am, and how beautiful I am,” Race says.

Race Cooper sitting down indoors wearing a white t-shirt. He is pictured in side profile.
Race Cooper established a career in the porn industry at the age of 35. (Supplied)

“He said some really sweet things, and I admitted to him [that I was sorry] that my first time was kind of messy, because I was a mess. But he said, ‘No, it was a great time, I always look back at it fondly.’”

As he looks back on that time, Race is glad he took things at his own pace and found himself sexually – even if it wasn’t always an easy process. 

Throughout his life, there have been countless occasions where he’s felt grateful that he discovered his sexuality when he did. He recalls a comment a friend made when they attended a party in Miami and found themselves looking out at a sea of beautiful men.

His friend leaned in and whispered: “Why would we ever want to be straight?” 

“That was one of those moments that I definitely was thankful that I had the [first] experience and thankful about how much it changed me.”

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