This preamble is so long winded, still crowded with more silences than I can gesture to, in part because it was not, prior to the events of this week, my intent to narrative my own experience at this moment in time. I recognize quite clearly I’m simply not yet in any place to do so. So what […]
Reflections: How Porn Changed My Life (because it is inevitable)
I survived my freshman year of porn and I do accept congratulations. It was a rough year.
Or you can just wish me a Happy Pornniversary.
I’ve had a lot of struggles over the last year, which we will visit in time. But, as I sit on a beach in Malibu chugging water and intermittently staring at my glittery toenails, I feel the need to preface this long list of complaints with the message I feel it’s most important for you to remember:
I AM BETTER THAN I’VE EVER BEEN.
I have no plans to tell you what a great industry this is and how everyone is so close and we’re like a family. For all of the civilians reading this, your employers might say the same thing- and you know as well as anyone that it’s bullshit. Sure, people may look out for each other, but in this overpopulated field on this overcrowded planet, that’s a popularity contest just like anything. I bought the lie about performers being accepting and kindred and I was terribly dissatisfied with my purchase. I certainly won’t perpetuate it. It’s an industry full of real, actual human beings just like any other- and that variety of personalities pretty much guarantees a variety of experiences.
And- since I’ve used the word- when I talk about porn, I am speaking specifically about my personal experiences as a black female in her mid-20s in the world of Los Angeles heterosexual &/or “lesbian” pornography. Yes, I am pointing at you, Porn Valley. I am not qualified to speak about anything else. People may snidely remark I’m barely qualified to speak about this, but let me remind you: Fuck your opinion; this is my life.
If you read my piece in Jiz Lee’s Coming Out Like a Porn Star then you are already aware of two things: i) how impossible I am to discourage, ii) how obnoxious I probably definitely am. (If you haven’t read it, don’t bother; my piece was outdated before the book was even published. You should absolutely buy and read the rest of the book, however. There are much stronger voices.) My entry included criticism of some awful porn reality show (hopefully not the future of porn, but likely), a lot of whinging about racism, and some weak assertions about not allowing others to define me or decide my path. It’s powerfully boring in that try-hard inspirational way. I also spoke about my more intimate reasons for pursuing a career in adult film. I mentioned my excitement to be a part of a sex-positive community.
As much as the more vocal activists in the community try with heartwrenching futility to shout down anti-porn feminists, there are at least a dozen women per activist sneering while slut-shaming each other. And, of course, it’s not just the women. Twitter confronts me daily with derisive comments toward women who suck producer cock for more work. This was made known to me as condemnable behaviour my very first week in Porn Valley. And, though I’ve heard little whispers from dark corners, no one wants to make disparaging comments to producers for offering work for sexual favours. What do you think that means?
And can a girl not just love sucking dick? I can not fathom why so many people trust this industry as currency-as-motivator. Everyone loves to talk about how much money there is in porn. How porn stars just rake it in and bathe in champagne, caviar, and cash they ran through a blender. It’s not true, not in my opinion. There are too many workers and not enough work. If I shot two scenes a month through my agent (which was about my average last year), I’d be making just as much as a minimum-wage job- and I’d have to pay to come to LA, get tested, get appropriate whore clothes and makeup (because I owned nothing porn-appropriate, and wardrobe and makeup are only a thing if you’re shooting with the types of companies willing to put in that effort), pay agency fees, and get back home. And I have no shame in admitting I lived in poverty before I came here; I sold my car to move to California and I’m very particular about the work I’m willing to do- and it always seems to be very intensive and consuming with mediocre pay. As pretentious and old-fashioned as it is, I am an artist and I have never cared about money. I’m the type of asshole that gave birth to the “Pay with Exposure” trend by being excited for the opportunity to be put on display to starve. I apologise to all of you on my behalf, and on the behalf of those like me. But if you’re thinking of getting into porn for the money, you’re not terribly bright and you should definitely reconsider.
Gifted, quick-thinking people have figured out how to perpetuate their careers, but it has very little to do with sucking a director off in hopes he’ll book you. It’s almost entirely about branding yourself &/or being a hooker- and I’m not talking about privates, I mean building relationships with your fans predicated on them paying for your time, attention, and work. They sign up for sites like Dream Lover or Cam Models (phone and webcam). They open their own Clips 4 Sale stores. They start shooting customs. They sell their panties. They ask for gifts. I truly wish I were any good at maintaining and pushing my Amazon Wish List. And, sure, some girls do privates and that’s somehow more condemnable than fucking in the hopes of landing a scene- despite the attitude a lot of people (in porn!) have that “everyone does it” (untrue). But… and don’t get lost, here… SO FUCKING WHAT IF THEY DO. I know girls that do privates. Of course. We all do. There’s a shame there and they’ll lie about it, but WHY? This is a baffling and upsetting hypocrisy. Is it because it’s illegal? Yeah, jerk into the wind, so is shooting here without a condom, which is also a bullshit ordinance. If they’re being conscious of what they are bringing back to the industry, why is it a problem? People can’t even be conscious of sexual health when they fuck for free. Does it make porn look bad? How so, and again, WHO CARES.
Respectability politics are a weapon of destruction to every community that adopts them.
And the respectability politics found in porn are asinine. If you are a respectable whore, so am I. I don’t care about your education or what you did before you became a sex worker or what you’re planning to do once you “get out.” This isn’t a prison- and there’s no Hierarchy of Whores in the real world, so why do you try to build one in your already-marginalised group? Stop it. Seriously. STOP. Respectability politics are boring and self-fellating. THEY ALWAYS PUNCH DOWN. You do so much worse for your community by highlighting the people and behaviours acceptable to society than you would by forcing outsiders to look at your humanity. PLEASE STOP.
And, on the topic of humanity, don’t criticise my Twitter for showing all of the facets of my being while crying to the public about how you are a real person, not a character. I don’t mistake that for nuance and professionalism.
Yes, the reality of porn has stared into me and destroyed my previous illusions, but you know what I will not dismiss from the snorefest piece Jiz Lee graciously published?
PORN IS FUCKING RACIST.
Maybe it’s just that my exposure to racism was limited to the Midwestern, institutionalised kind or the polite, Southern brand, but holy goddamn is porn racist. An elderly woman in The Middle of Nowhere, TX spat in my face and called me a nigger, once. That’s about a 10 on the Racist Scale. Porn is off the chart.
And I’m not just thinking of the stereotypes and tropes that are filmed, or the way things are marketed for the pretty-goddamn-racist general public. I’m not being bitter about how white women (and some much-lighter, ambiguous women of colour) specifically get higher rates for funneling black cocks, while everyone else gets paid the same rate no matter what colour dick they’re sheathing, and black men certainly do not get paid more for pork-filling white women. Of course the institution of porn in America is racist- what American institution isn’t? I mean people in porn are fucking racist. I never knew I needed to be reminded so much of my skin colour and ethnicity, particularly since I’ve owned mirrors and I am myself, but thank you for letting me know; I’ll be sure to keep that in mind. People look at me and expect me to be “ghetto trash” (actual porn trope!)- and that is a thing I have never experienced before. I’ve never been made to feel so anomalous because of my race and interests, even when I was the Black Friend in a group of white people, because they never really shared my interests, either. The amount of praise I’ve received over the last year for being “so articulate” makes me want to cut everyone until I am the only person left standing. Porn Valley harshly judges books by their covers, except they don’t even look at the covers, just the colour of the books’ spines, as they shrug and slink away, proud of their cultural illiteracy. I understand that this is not a Porn Problem, but just a heavily-concentrated dose of reality, and I know it’s useless (and a lie) to say, “We’re better than this,” but it is awful and I want it to stop. Porn is really uninviting to women of colour, and there is no reason for it.
I shot my first scene for Crash Pad with Nenetl Avril and everything about it was a dream. It was easy. It was fun. Nenetl is brilliant and adorable and sweet and understanding. I couldn’t have had a better time.
And I signed a year-long contract with my agency and I was sent to Vegas days later to shoot my first LA porn scene. It was a bisexual cuckold scene for Kick Ass Pictures. I remember exclaiming, “This is what I’m into!” The men didn’t fuck. It wasn’t really bisexual. But I thought nothing of it and I had a great time.
Of course, the money wasn’t steady, and I did spend two months living out of a car in Los Angeles. I took a job growing marijuana to support a porn career that left me broke- and, as a result, I was anally violated and lost the use of my dominant hand. I’ve lost a lot to sustaining a life in porn, and not the things people typically lose. I descended as far past rock bottom as possible- and, in my brief disappearance, no one bothered to check on me. It cemented my expendability. And I persevered. Why? I WANT THIS.
Because, despite well-founded accusations of racism, homophobia/transphobia, violence, and a very grey definition of “boundaries” (immense gratitude to everyone who has countered the tired argument of, “You can tap out whenever you want,” with, “Yeah, but then no one gets paid and everyone hates you,”- now can we please have serious conversations about the implications of that and possible solutions?), I must admit I generally enjoyed my freshman year in porn and I had very few bad experiences on set. This is the best, most important job I’ve ever had. As much as I hate myself for cringing inside whenever I hear a woman talk about porn helping them figure out their sexuality, I do- and I cringe equally when I admit to myself that porn- my last bastion of hope, as an orphan of the world, for a family that would accept me- has been crucial in my learning who I truly am and what I truly want. No, that’s just more feel-good garbage. The real thing porn has given me is the ability to shrug away the opinions of people who think I’m not good enough and trust and be comfortable in myself. I spent my entire youth fueled with angst for being misunderstood. It is no longer a priority, to have people understand me, and that is freedom. Porn gave me freedom.
As for the professional reason for joining porn- to use as a platform for my writing- that’s where I count my success. Even if no company ever shoots me again (please shoot me again, I love you), I must say… This Porn-as-Adversity thing? Killed it.