#TheSexRadicals – A new blog series about sexual thinkers who can change our world.

20 Jul

IMG_1301 (1)Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting short essays on sexual thinkers who have changed my perspective on sex, who, I believe, could be instrumental in helping us remake Western sexual culture. It will include some bits about my own life, some history, and some controversial claims. The series also appears on RealitySandwich.com

The idea here is to cultivate new growth in our thinking about sex, by looking to people who have laid down some of the groundwork.  This first entry explains some of of current sexual climate, as well as my rationale for creating such an incomplete list, why names like Michel Foucault or Dr. Ruth don’t appear while others do. It explains why I stick primarily to Western thinkers, even though I draw heavily on non-Western thinkers for my perspectives as well.  Please comment with your own favorite Sex Radicals, I’d love to hear more.

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The Sex Radicals: Seven Thinkers Who Can Revolutionize Sex in Our Culture

Introduction:  Who Should We Invite to the Orgy?

Sex is everyone’s own creation story, everyone’s personal Big Bang.

Before you looked at this website, before you got up this morning or the day or year before, before you read or said your first word, two people you’d never met — couldn’t have met, since you weren’t a you yet —went through a series of intimate or strained or casual or confused or loving series of movements and gestures that created you.

That means that your being, along with everyone else’s, is literally composed of sexual motion and desire, because the cells that split and aggregated to make your body were set into motion by sex.  When people have sex, the laws of biology and form pay attention.  Sex weaves itself in and out of our daily thoughts, the art we encounter, the feelings we have for each other.  Is it any surprise that we think about sex so often? 

But if sex is a fact of life, the fact of life that life springs from, why is our culture so screwed up about it?  Why is sex so legislated, one might say legislated against, misunderstood, and confusing, culturally?  There are hundreds of laws set up by the state, regulating sexual content, sexual behavior, sexual freedom.  And there are the unspoken laws, often just as constricting, in every relationship we have.  Sex shame in our lives and sex shaming in our cultural sphere are intimately tangled.  Instead of telling you the right way to put a condom on or how to please your lover, this series will examine the lives and theories of thinkers who were interested in pushing sex forward in some cultural way, in bringing what they’d learned from the mystery of sex to the cultural sphere to transform both.

The good news: 

Brilliant people have been working on improving our sexual culture for a long time.  If we want to have a more thoughtful sexual culture, a healthier one that respects sex and sexuality in its infinite forms, we have some powerful, radical thinkers to choose from.  These are people who have led the way, pushed the boundaries, cared enough about the darkened realm of sex to illuminate it for us.

The bad news:

You probably haven’t heard of many of these thinkers.  And you probably haven’t heard of many of them because the powers that be discredited them or provided them with unpleasant ends.

The other bad news:

WR

Wilhelm Reich

Everyone, even the radical researchers and thinkers in this series, absorbs the sexual prejudices, shames, and confusions of their time and place.  They might deftly avoid one bias and passionately speak out against it, all the while carrying around a whole host of others that they’re totally blind to.  Of course, I’m guilty of this too.  Since the current conception of sex is contaminated, getting new seeds requires, at first, growing crooked plants from polluted ground.  It’s going to take some time.

The other other bad news:

Some of the most important thinkers are kind of crazy.

This, in fact, is a large part of what makes them important. To come up with new possibilities for the world, you have to hang out in the impossible and the imagined quite a bit.  You have to say outlandish things to see if they’re true.  To stand outside the depressing weight of our reality requires deep and intense encounters with your own imagination and seeing things that others don’t see.

But who to invite to this orgy of sexual/cultural renewal?

To explain why I’ve chosen these thinkers and stuck mostly to our culture, a digression:

Christine Helliwell, anthropologist, lived in Borneo with the native people of the region, the Dayak.  One morning, she heard a group of elderly women laughing outside of her apartment.  She found them reenacting a scene from the night before: A man had snuck into a woman’s bedroom through the window, and the woman woke to find him gripping her shoulder. 

“Be quiet,” he said to her. 

The woman sat up in bed and pushed him away.  He fell back and when she started to yelling at him, he escaped back through the window with his sarong falling down.

But why were the Dayak women laughing about it, Helliwell wondered; the woman had almost been raped!  This community of Dayak had no word for “rape,” so Helliwell tried to explain, “He was trying to hurt you.” 

The woman’s reply stunned the anthropologist. 

“It’s only a penis,” she said.  “How can a penis hurt anyone?”

Indigenous people, as well as anthropologists like Christine Helliwell have been reporting deep cultural differences like this to us for years.  In the case of the Dayak community, sexual assault was so far removed from the understanding of sex and gender roles that it was inconceivable, laughable.

In central Africa, the Aka and Ngandu people have sex two to five times every night, and view sex as work, not recreation.  There’s also no known homosexuality among the Aka, belying the commonly held Western truth that homosexuality is universal and inborn.  There’s simply no word or concept for it.

In Tibet, some villagers practice fraternal polyandry – brothers will share the same wife.

Many Native American nations have traditions of Two Spirited people who express cultural gender fluidity, living with the other members of the community in one form, but understood as another.

But a list of indigenous sexual practices, or people from non-Western cultures who uproot the foundations of our understanding does not figure into the selection here. There are blog posts, books, internet videos and TV shows that highlight modern-day sexual differences between Western and indigenous cultures.  Usually, they have a check-out-these-wacky-natives feeling.  Instead of helping us question our own sexual ideas, these news-of-the-weird soundbytes reinforce our prejudices at the expense of indigenous people.  It’s cultural appropriation, because it ignores that the entire cultural context of that practice is different.

For example, it’s not uncommon to find non-indigenous LGBT activists evoking Two Spirit people as poster children for LGBT political/cultural messages, since same sex relationships and gender change are not (at least traditionally) frowned upon in cultures with Two Spirit people.  But while there are similarities, the differences are deep.  It’s not about “gay” or “straight” or “gender fluidity” as we understand it, since the multiple roles — such as iskwehkhan (“fake woman”), ayahkwew (“man dressed/living/accepted as a woman”), and more — are varied, nuanced and more complex than that.  They’re embedded in a different understanding of spirituality, cause and effect, communal connection, and more.  What’s more, these roles are often chosen for members of the community by elders.

Usually, at best, indigenous sex and relationship traditions are appropriated by well-meaning activists.  At worst, they’re dismissed as oddities or demonized as backwards. 

There’s a lot to learn from other cultures’ approaches to sex. In fact, some of the thinkers mentioned in this

Amber Hollibaugh

Amber Hollibaugh

series have learned quite a bit from other cultures…or have made the mistakes I’ve just outlined.  But learning can’t take the form of cultural cherry-picking.  Both brilliant individuals from Western culture and indigenous practices can be inspirational for us, but the former allows for a presumed understanding that the latter does not.  The list of who we can learn from and listen to when it comes to sex and culture cannot be complete without the voices of people from other cultures.  But this series is in no way meant to be complete. So to avoid appropriation and to create a reasonably understood framework of thinking, I’ve chosen Western thinkers.

So who should we turn to?  It can’t be just anyone.  The Marquis de Sade, for example, will have to stay in his Chateau; for all the sexual spelunking he did, he came up with too much grime to be desirable.  Recognizable faces like Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault or pop culture reformers like Gloria Steinem aren’t adequate for our current situation precisely because they’ve had their ideas permeate our culture in a such profound way, but we’re still here, needing more.

So the strategy: Seek out thinkers on the margins of Western cultural consciousness (particularly US, since that is my vantage point, which explains Jacques Lacan’s inclusion, even though he is popular in select Western countries) who are leaning all their intellectual weight against our boundaries.  Express their radical ideas in an unfortunately incomplete but hopefully useful and understandable form.  Recognize that these they all have flaws.  Think about how they could intersect with our lives, including my own, so that they’re not just distant or academic.

Edward Carpenter

Edward Carpenter

And most importantly, perhaps, consider their work not as dogma, not as something we cannot be critical of or question,but rather, as a challenge.  What happens to our sexual consciousness and culture if we confront these thinkers with our intellect but also sit with a listening ear and open mind?

Next up:  The sexologist who married an angel and defended women’s right to pleasure.

Sources

Helliwell, Christine.  “‘It’s Only a Penis’: Rape, Feminism, and Difference.”  Signs 25:3

(2000):  789-816.

Wade, Lisa.  “Is the Penis Dangerous?”  Jezebel.  October 9, 2013.  Web.

Zevallos, Zuleyka.  “Rethinking Gender and Sexuality: Case Study of the Native

American ‘Two Spirit’ People.”  The Other Sociologist.  September 9, 2013.  Web.

They’re Not Here To Help: How Anti-Sex Work Activists Use the Tactics of Homophobes, Racists, and Islamophobes

24 Jun

bwMy latest essay, “If You’re Against Sex Work, You’re A Bigot” is up at The Stranger as part of their queer issue.  It’s the first (and hopefully only) fuck-you piece I’ve ever written.  The essay compares the tactics of anti-sex work activists (I refer to them more accurately as “anti-sex bigots” in the essay)  with the tactics of racists, homophobes, Islamophobes, and misogynists.  It’s a pretty one-to-one comparison, and that they are in fact basically bigots was a sentiment that concretized over the writing of the essay.

I don’t generally like writing from a place of anger, but the overwhelming weight of discrimination and stigma, not to mention misguided legislation and confused conversations, that sex workers face every day inspires a lot of, well, rage in me.  I wanted to give sex workers and allies a toolbox to dismantle the anti-sex activists’ work.  Too often, we find ourselves enmeshed in debate with them, defending ourselves against phony facts, fabricated statistics, shallow ideologies, and more.  Really what we should see is they have nothing to their arguments but hatred.  So rather than respond, the essay urges readers to dismiss, protest, shun, and shutdown.  They don’t deserve debate anymore than the KKK, skinheads, or the Westboro Baptist Church.

Here are some excerpts, and you can read the whole essay by clicking here.

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I should start an essay like this by telling you about how great sex workers are, how important sex workers’ rights are. I should “create sympathy in the reader” for anyone who takes their clothes off and performs sexuality. I should show you porn stars saving cats stuck in trees, sex workers volunteering at soup kitchens, strippers just trying to make it work for their families.

I should tell you about how it feels to deal with anti-sex-work stigma every day.

But this essay isn’t about us.

It’s about the demand to prove we’re worth sympathy. It’s about how if that sympathy shows up, it’s wrapped up in deliberate misunderstandings. It’s about the people who make the demand. It’s about how “Show us your humanity!” is more belittling and damaging than “Show us your tits!”

It’s about the people we should no longer respond to with anything other than protest or dismissal.

In other words, it’s about bigotry. It’s about bigots.

*

I’ll refer to anti-sex-work and anti-porn campaigners here for clarity and honesty as “anti-sex bigots.” When that word gets tiring, I’ll call them “anti-sex activists.”

Why? Because sex is what makes sex work so special for them. Sex makes this line of work a singular profession, mystically distinguished from other jobs. But their analyses and understandings of sex lack depth. There is no substance to their arguments. Their tactics are strung together not with understanding or data, but with hate. Their bigotry is visceral, and their goals are clear:

1. Distort and destroy consent.

2. Create a framework of good vs. evil.

3. Cherry-pick voices.

4. Play the victim while holding the power.

5. Create apocalyptic urgency.

This list might sound like an exaggeration to outsiders. To sex workers, it’s exhaustingly and overwhelmingly familiar.

*

Wait a second, wait a second, I can hear the fumbling voices of protest. Stop talking about bigotry. I mean, after all, we’re not talking about race, right? We’re not talking about something people can’t change. That’s what makes speech against those groups hate speech. Sex workers, well, they…

What? Were you finally going to say we choose our careers?

*

Does this rant from an anti-sex activist sound familiar?

“The insistence that there’s nothing unusual in ‘work’ that involves male strangers penetrating your body and ejaculating inside of you goes right along with the ‘sex positivity’ popular with young Leftists. Women are likely to sustain injury (vaginal tearing) during heterosexual intercourse if we are not genuinely aroused (rather than performing for an audience); we are more likely to contract infections and diseases than our male partners; we are more likely to be harmed by male sexual partners (who are almost always larger and stronger than we are); and we are 100% more likely than our male partners to face unwanted pregnancy.” —Anti-sex bigot (5)

Compare that to this, from a video called “Medical Dangers of Anal Sex” posted by Christofer L, an antigay Christian You-Tuber:

“Let’s look at some simple biological truths… The rectum… [is designed] strictly for the removal of waste, moving it outward away from the body. This is why the blood vessels in the rectum break when a phallic object goes against the natural flow of movement by its muscles. Believe it or not, this causes rectal/anal damage. Many sexual experts and medical personnel discourage anal sex because of the danger… Safe sex? Mechanical damage to the rectum will happen regardless of the safe-sex measures.”

Same gesture, same hate, same simplifications.

*

What’s more dehumanizing: showing your butt cheeks to an audience or having someone tell you that you don’t blackoutexist?

We need a varied, active, and dynamic picture of sex workers, not a muffled, stunted one. I started porn after going to grad school for writing and biology and being a college English instructor. I know plenty of porn performers with other jobs: meteorology, fashion design, dairy farming, law, freelance writing, directing, nursing, nonprofit organizing. Those are just off the top of my head. Yes, there are porn performers who—like many writers, actors, etc.—have no other job and are struggling. And there are other sex workers working out of various causes of necessity. The point isn’t that doing sex work out of need doesn’t exist. Nor is the point that we have to absolutely love sex work to do it. Not everyone loves their job, and sex workers should not be singled out and forced to simply because of the “sex” in their work. The point is, your picture of who sex workers are must be multifaceted. It’s a picture that’s ineluctably complex, yet anti-sex activists want us to hear one voice and will symbolically kill the rest of us to achieve the effect.

*

“Pornography Is What the End of the World Looks Like,” reads the title of one anti-porn rant.

Whose world is ending?

What world are they talking about?

Like almost everyone who wants to save the world, anti-sex bigots have to fabricate a fake world that’s being destroyed first. KKK members fabricate the idea of a pure white race that’s being destroyed, fundamentalist Christians fabricate pure heterosexuality corrupted by gays, US warmongers fabricate pure democracy threatened by Muslims, and so on.

The end is near! Anti-sex activists create a world in danger from sex work, though our world without sex work never existed. To make sure the end is always near, they shift the goalposts. It’s not the porn, goes one argument, it’s the distribution!

The 1965 anticommunist, antigay, anti-porn video Perversion for Profit states:

“Pornography and sex deviation have always been with mankind. This is true. But now consider another fact… High-speed presses, rapid transportation, mass distribution all have combined to put the vilest obscenities in the reach of every man, woman, and child in the country.”

In 2015, an anti-sex activist proclaimed with the certainty she was saying something new when she said that “porn 15 years ago is basically Playboy andPenthouse, which as sexist as it was… those are the good old days. Today pornography has shifted rapidly, and it’s shifted because of the internet… [the internet has made porn] affordable, accessible, and anonymous…” (9)

We must act urgently! To save our neuropathways from online porn! To save young men’s desires! To save women! To save anyone we want to control!

All—yes, all—of the adverse conditions sex workers face are created or exacerbated by anti-sex bigots who directly harm sex workers or indirectly harm them by silencing them, spreading misinformation, blocking paths to sexual health education, and cultivating stigma.

“We’re here to save you!” sounds promising, until the statement is completed honestly: “We’re here to save you… from the damaging conditions we’ve created and continue to perpetuate.”

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read the whole essay

So I’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Hurray!

2 Jun

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 3.23.37 PM

SYBPS

MEDIA APPEARANCES

A lot of great stuff happening lately.  First, I want to give a shout out to my shout out in bestselling author Jon Ronson‘s new (and excellent) book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.  It’s about the rise of shaming culture on the internet, and its repercussions.  The book is funny and poignant, and having been a huge Jon Ronson fan since his first book, Them: Adventures with Extremists, I’m thrilled to be included in it.

Hilariously (perfectly) enough, Jon Ronson mentions my asshole.  And then Jon Stewart praised the book as “wonderful.”  So I’m just going to go out on a limb and pretend that that somehow means that I was on the Daily Show.  Or, um, my asshole was, anyway.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.12.31 PM

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Me with Brad Kalvo, David Anthony, Dirk Caber, and a funny porny mustache.  From After the Heist

Me with Brad Kalvo, David Anthony, Dirk Caber, and a funny porny mustache. From After the Heist

I’m featured in two new Buzzfeed Video videos: “Men Watch Porn with Porn Stars” and “Women Watch Porn with Porn Stars.”  Basically, I watch one of my scenes — from Joe Gage’s & Ray Dragon’s excellent and bestselling porn, After the Heist (link NSFW) with Buzzfeed staffers.  So they’re just sitting there watching me, you know, have lots and lots of sex.  It was a hilarious and fun experience.  In the “Women…” version, I hang out with my friend, comedian Gaby Dunn.  Always a pleasure to have your friends watch you get a facial (?)  In the “Men…” version, I watch with a very handsome straight guy named Dan De Lorenzo.  He was sweating, curious, and funny.  I have to admit the experience was arousing for me.  And maybe for him, too.  “There’s a lot of tension between us,” he said afterward, “and not in a bad way!”

Looking at my buttcrack while Gaby Dunn cracks a joke.

Looking at my buttcrack while Gaby Dunn cracks a joke.

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I appeared  on the Grimerica podcast with Skeptiko host and author of Why Science Is Wrong about Almost Everything Alex Tsakiris.  Along with weirdness/occult writer Red Pill Junkie and hosts Graham and Darren, we cover a lot of ground: Psychoanalysis, what to do about climate change, virtual reality models of the universe, how to fight conspiracies, and more.  These sorts of boundary-less conversations often have a Burning-Man-meets-The-Matrix thing going on, of course.  But they also have the more serious function of pushing me (and hopefully listeners!) into a creative and speculative way of thinking.  The alternating currents of playful and thoughtful do something interesting when they collide.  So listen and take it very seriously and also don’t take it seriously at all.

MOVIES

After over a year hiatus, I finally have some new adult work coming out.  It’s a sequel (yes, a real SEQUEL sequel) to Dad Goes to College, one of my most popular films.  I wrote about taking a break –and how porn performers can gracefully take a break or leave the industry — earlier this year.  It took legendary porn and Z-List science fiction director Joe Gage to coax me out of my donut-eating bliss.  The conversation went something like this:

Getting stared down by my

Getting stared down by my “dad,” Allen Silver in Dad Goes to College.

Joe: Hey Conner, I want you to reprise your role as Kyle in a sequel to Dad Goes to College.  It’s called Dad Out West.

Me: That sounds great, but I’ve been off for a year and a half.  I weigh 185 lbs. I have a different body now.  Not sure if I’m right for it.

Joe: Send me pictures, let’s take a look.

Me: *sends pictures*

Joe: You’re perfect!  Have you ever seen Boyhood?  It’ll be just like that!

Me:  Okay, sign me up. Just don’t make me stop eating donuts.

To watch a very NSFW teaser of Dad Out West, click here.  If you want to download the movie, stream it, or buy a DVD, click here (NSFW and also: it’s not up just yet but WILL be available later this month).

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WRITING

Quite a bit of stuff coming out soon.  Including

my horror comic with Amit Elan,

an essay, “The Name of Your First Pet and the Street You Grew Up On,” in the anthology Coming out Like a Porn Star

an interview in the academic journal Porn Studies

a collection of conversations with sex therapist and radical thinker Dr. Chris Donaghue

an essay about the connections between anti-sex work/anti-porn bigotry and other forms of hate speech

and more (phew!)

As always, if you want to hire me to speak to your college or organization about pornography, sex, and culture, you should!  Click here for more info/to hire me.

Okay, phew, that’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by.  Love!
CH

The Horror! (Comic)

23 May

My short graphic horror story, “Hex Change,” co-created with artist Amit Elan will be out later this year in the anthology Horror International.  I couldn’t be happier to be amongst the amazing contributors, including such luminaries as Diamanda Galas and Joe Lansdale!

I’ll be posting updates on the anthology as well as where you can get a copy as the publication date draws closer.  For now, here are a few sample panels and pages I co-created with Amit (some finished, some unfinished)

Looking forward!

CH

sketch no text p11

sketch with text p2sketch no text p7 (1)sketch no text p4

I Signed the PEN Dissent Letter (or: I Refuse the “Support Our Troops” Version of Free Speech)

3 May

LetterA recent controversy has erupted over 204 PEN members — including myself, Joyce Oates, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Kamlia Shamsie Teju Cole, and more — disassociating themselves from PEN’s decision to award French magazine Charlie Hebdo with the Freedom of Expression Courage AwardThe situation has been framed again and again by other writers, so I won’t restate it here.  For a good introduction — when there were six rather than 204 of us — click here. And for the full text of the letter, click the image to the left.

I wish to address, for those familiar with the situation, why I support the letter.  I would like, also, to express what sort of reassessment took place in light of the response to the dissenters.  I also wish to address how all of us, myself included, are responsible for deepening our understanding of freedom of speech and expression, rather than condoning a “support our troops” version of it.

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I signed the letter with a sense of relief.

It came from an anonymous sender and echoed statements I’d thought but not voiced.  It was a challenge I may not have taken up on my own.    

Will you sign this?  Do you agree?  Will you disassociate yourself from the award?

Here was a small group of writers who felt compelled to say something about the Freedom of Expression Courage Award confusion.  These were writers I knew and respected.  Some of them are among my favorites.

I am not one of the widely celebrated writers on the list.  I, like many of the 204 signatories, am not a household name.  I am not wealthy or luxuriously free to sign petitions.  I someone doing my best to sort through information to understand the truth.  Like most of us, I often fall short in this task.

One of the ways I look for truth is through the act of writing. 

That is to say: I write mostly because it helps me understand and feel more compassion for others.  Truth and compassion intertwine, are dependent on one another.

I replied to the email quickly: Yes. 

The list of supporters grew.  Though each signatory issued support for the same letter, we all, no doubt, have different takes on it, and inwardly emphasize different aspects.  And though we are all members of PEN, we all have different feelings about freedom of speech.  This controversy should, if nothing else, make clear that there is no monolithic view of what, exactly, PEN membership means, nor that there is a single version of freedom of speech among PEN members.

That said, below is how I read the letter, why I supported, and continue to support it.

First, it is important to state: the letter is a letter of disassociation. 

It is not a letter, as some critics have stated, to revoke the award or to end the ceremony.  I did not wish to be part of the honoring of Charlie Hebdo.  I would not have signed a letter that demanded shutting down the ceremony.  This may be how some interpret the letter.  That is not in the content of the letter.  There may be other PEN members who signed the letter because they wanted the award ceremony canceled.  That was not my feeling.  Instead, I simply wanted to say, I am not a part of this award.

The cartoons in Charlie Hebdo appeared racist to me.  They appeared Islamophobic.  They appeared anti-Arab. They appeared cruel.  I do not speak or read French.  I do not know much about French culture.  They appeared racist, Islamophobic, anti-Arab, and cruel nevertheless. 

When the letter was made public, some bloggers and authors wanted the signatories to know: these cartoons are not racist.  They are not Islamophobic, they are not anti-Arab.  They are, instead, complex cartoons embedded in a French context I could not possibly understand.  I don’t know how these bloggers could claim to understand this counter-truth without themselves understanding French culture, but I paused.  Perhaps they were right.

Then there was an anti-racism organization in France – a “leading anti-racism” organization, I was told – stating Charlie Hebdo was itself anti-racist.  Short, translated blurbs from the organization circulated.  Again, these were mostly circulated by non-French-speaking people not embedded in French culture.  This was touted as proof that I and the other signatories were fools, or worse.  It didn’t matter that many of the circulators had not heard of the organization – SOS Racisme – until the PEN controversy.  The statements held the puzzling but irrefutable might of a magic bullet.

I was confused.  On the one hand, I was supposed to not trust what I saw of Charlie Hebdo cartoons, because I didn’t understand French culture.  On the other, I was expected to completely understand the complexities of this organization, SOS Racisme.  Many of the bloggers likely understood both no better or worse than I.  I looked up what I could.  I communicated with French-speaking people.  I discovered that SOS Racisme itself holds a contentious position and has been criticized by French leftists and French Muslims for some of its actions and policies.  I also was told that Charlie Hebdo is racist by French people. 

I was left, therefore, in a more complicated version of where I started.

So I tried to imagine analogues.  For SOS Racisme, I imagined the HRC, a gay and lesbian rights group in the US that has a rocky relationship with many marginalized people. They have neglected trans people, they have paired with conservatives, they have divided a progressive cause, and pushed a largely mainstreamed and too-cute version of “gay rights.”  I’ll bet many people in non-English-speaking countries think the HRC represents all queer people.  They do not.  They do not represent radical values.  Perhaps this is a false analogy.

For Charlie Hebdo, I wanted to recognize the limits of my knowledge and assume, for the time being, that they are not, in fact, a directly racist publication.  I tried to imagine their US counterpart: TV shows like Family Guy or South Park.  These shows are irreverent, offensive, silly, angry, harsh.  Sometimes they make me laugh. They use racism to make fun of racists.  I’m not sure it’s a worthwhile trade-off.  They attack religion, not just religious institutional hypocrisy. They are the subject of debate amongst American leftists.  Again, perhaps this is a false analogy.  I am trying my best to understand.

No matter what else is said about Charlie Hebdo, it is true that secularism is used as a weapon against deeply held religious identity.  Secularism is being used strategically – by Charlie Hebdo in total lockstep with many members of the French government – to “banalize” Islam. No one, whether disassociating from the award or defending the magazine, questions this.   No one at Charlie Hebdo can deny this: “banalize” is a quote from one of its murdered staff.  That should be kept in mind. 

I do not mean to ban dissections or critiques of religion.  I and my many communities – queer, sex worker, Arab – are frequently attacked by certain religious institutions and people.

Charlie Hebdo does not just attack power, but identity.  Whether or not this is “racism” is murky.  But we can see clearly: demanding what many find sacred be turned into profane, be “banalized,” is not an attack on power, it is an attack on identity.  In the case of Charlie Hebdo, it is – as the letter indicates – an attack on the identities of marginalized people.  Perhaps because I am not French, I fail to understand? 

The struggle for a more secular world does not need to be imperialist.  But if you replace “kill the marginalized person” with “kill the marginalized identity” then it surely is.

Perhaps, then, it is not a surprise that the PEN member who most supported Charlie Hebdo for the award also supports liberation wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, a combination of kill the person and kill the identity.

When the criticisms of signatories came, we were attacked, Charlie Hebdo-style. 

We were called “pussies” and “stupid” and “pro-terrorist.”

“The struggle between the two worlds can permit no compromises,” said Mussolini.

“Either you are with us, or you’re with the terrorists,” said George W. Bush.

Now we are being told the same thing by “leftist” writers who care about “freedom.”

There is no room for human beings or disagreement in a clash of mystified, archetypal ideologies.  There is no room, either, to dissent, even in plain language.

“Us” in the case of this letter means the “free” world, filled with “free” speech.  “Terrorists” were, well, everyone else.  We the signatories were with the terrorists, apparently.  How dare we not share a total (totalitarian?) unified vision — defined by people other than ourselves — of free speech?

I am not used to being told I am with terrorists or that I don’t embrace free speech. 

If I am with the terrorists, if I don’t embrace and support free speech I can’t imagine how.  I have been verbally and physically attacked and threatened by many forms of extremism: anti-gay extremism, anti-Arab extremism, and most often these days, anti-sex work extremism.

As a porn performer for nearly eight years, I have, like most porn performers, risked discrimination, stigma, ridicule, travel restrictions, and threats for doing what I do.  These are risks taken on by all porn performers either intentionally in the name of free speech or as an unexpected consequence of bearing the burden of free speech. 

I portray a sort of expression that many refuse to even acknowledge as expression. 

There is no PEN award for sex workers.  Even “enlightened” and “literary” people, even staunch leftists condemn porn performers. They say we are brainwashed.  They say we are stupid.  They say we are making the world a worse place.  I don’t have space to discredit the arguments here, but it should be obvious that the sex worker community carries quite a heavy burden of free speech, especially free speech about sex and sexuality.  Perhaps, in shouldering that burden, we even help lighten it for others.

The Charlie Hebdo cartoons, whether blatantly or ironically racist, are sex-negative.  They use sex as the punchline to attack power.  This demeans sex in a way that pornography, which actually portrays the sexual act, never can or will.  Porn, particularly bad porn, might make sex simplistic, but it does not sacrifice sex to destroy people.

There is a long tradition of jokingly using sexual imagery to attack people in power. Have I ever laughed at it?  Yes.  Does Charlie Hebdo occasionally contain sex-positive cartoons? Sure.

Do I think it balances the its sex negativity out with sex positivity, or that its expressions of sex as a punchline deserves a PEN award for courage?  No.

This was not in the letter.  I did not feel it necessary to add it, but it played into my decision to sign the statement.

I do not think, as has been suggested, that Charlie Hebdo should be banned.  Thankfully, that idea is not in the letter I signed.  There is a call in the letter for responsibility in the way we treat each other and interact with one another.  There is a call to notice all human suffering and all violence.

In one critique of anti-dissenters, a writer boldly declared that leftists should aspire to be blasphemous.  It is unclear to me whether or not anyone who is not religious can actually blaspheme.  For if to blaspheme is to rail against a God that does not exist or to vulgarize things that have no sacred value, then it is to accomplish nothing.  Either we are atheists with nothing the blaspheme, or we are religious and wish to be kind in the eyes of God.  In any case, I don’t think we should aspire to be blasphemous.

The people who walked into the offices of Charlie Hebdo and shot the staff members were, certainly, blasphemous to the faith of Islam.  Blasphemous by murdering, blasphemous by demanding non-Muslims follow the tenants of (an extremist version of) Islam, and blasphemous in saying there was no room to critique Islam.

Crying for blasphemy when you do not believe in the God you’re insulting is a child’s game.  It is merely a cry for defiance.  Defiance has its values, but I do not think it is courage. I would not try to find allies amongst those who aspire to be blasphemous. Instead I seek to find them amongst the people who aspire to be compassionate.

If we are going to dismantle power, I do not think that we do a good job by aspiring to blasphemy and drawing holy figures with their asses up in the air. That does not strike me as effective.  It strikes me as imagination-less and lazy.

I also don’t think we do a good job dismantling power by creating cartoons so exaggerated in caricature that those who don’t understand every intricacy of context will think the cartoons are racist.

There is an insistence that these cartoons are not racist.  And yet many experience them that way.  Shall we demand they discard their fear, their anxiety?  Maybe we should demand they authenticate their pain to us before we take them seriously?  Shall we call them stupid pussies as the bombs rain on them and the guns are turned on them?  Perhaps they are terrorists for misunderstanding foreign caricatures that portray them with big noses and wild eyes.

Perhaps when someone I don’t know calls me a sand nigger, I should give them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they were critiquing the people that call me a sand nigger.  I will do my best to assess the situation. 

Have I ever slipped into angry critiques that might have been misconstrued, taken out of context, or had unintended effects?  Yes.  Do I think that should be celebrated or honored?  No.

I feel a great sadness for the loss of life at Charlie Hebdo.  I can only attempt — and I will fail in my attempt — to imagine the fear, the terror they felt as they were attacked.  I appreciated the outpouring of grief and support that followed the shootings.

I noticed, also, how it was used by people in power to make whatever point they wanted, to demean whomever they pleased.  And I noticed that the outpouring of grief turned into attacks on Muslims and Arabs afterward. 

That does not mean we should not grieve.

I do not want to be associated with the rewarding of Charlie Hebdo.  That does not mean in any way that I wish to be associated with the censoring of it.  It does not mean I cannot appreciate satire.  It does not mean I celebrate violence, either. 

I understand my perspective is limited by my circumstance and who I am.  It is, perhaps, because of these limits that I want to disassociate myself from the conflict. I am unable to fully understand.  So I must go forward with what I know. 

I know I am not interested in the trap of a “Support Our Troops” version of free speech, one that cannot be discussed. It’s one that reduces human beings and suffering — whether experienced by the staff of Charlie Hebdo by Muslims and Arabs in the context the letter describes — to an unquestionable ideology.

I know that I prefer to walk away from that version of free speech and help support, or, if need be, create a better one, one that is truly free.  In the meantime, many are losing site of people, preferring the ideologies instead. 

This is happening on all sides. 

To achieve that one must first destroy love and compassion. This is why the attacks on dissenters become controlling and intimidating, insulting.  The attacks become compulsive.  They become “for us or against us.”  In other words, they become battle cries.  A shouting monologue that leaves no room for real people may be absolute speech, but there’s not much that is “free” about it.

*

Thank you to the writers who signed the letter, and also to those who voiced disagreement with the dissenters in a caring and thoughtful way.  Thanks, also, to PEN, whose work cannot be summarized by this one event, work that I, as a member, will continue to support and try my best to improve.

Further reading:

On the complexities of anti-Muslim sentiments and Charlie Hebdo in France.

Suzanne Nossel, who advanced Charlie Hebdo’s for the award, and military intervention.

Noam Chomsky on the hypocrisy of Je Suis Charlie outrage.

*

Update: the final number of signatories when the letter was turned over to PEN on May 5 was 242.

EVENT: University of Wisconsin, Thursday April 23. Porn Your Way through Life!

21 Apr

If you’re in the middle of the country and want to hang out with me and see me in my underwear (with pants on over my underwear!) then come to my talk about porn, sexuality, and culture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  The event is Thursday, April 23 at 7PM in 204 Ed Sci (that means something if you go to school there).  It’s hosted by the campus’s sex positive group, Sex out Loud, and I’m the Sexual Health Fest Keynote.

Anyway, show up.  Ask me questions.  See if you like my belly more than you liked my abs.  Give me a hug.  Find me idling away the time in my hotel room on Scruff.  You know, the standard stuff.

Madison

How To Be an Ex-Porn Star: 10 Tips on Taking a Break

7 Apr
There's  is no "after porn ends" anymore.

There’s is no “after porn ends” anymore.

One of the most common – and offensive – questions that porn performers get from viewers is, “what are you going to do after this?”  It’s as if porn star can’t exist, be looked at and wished upon, without viewers imagining that same star collapsing.  Or perhaps better said, some fans have trouble meeting porn stars without expressing their anxieties of having watched.  Another way of saying, “What will you do after this” is “I’ll stop watching you some day!” or “One day you won’t be desirable anymore!”

It’s just rude for fans to ask that question.  But it is important for performers to be able to have an answer.  Maybe not a complete one, but some gesture toward an answer somewhere.

Even if porn performers don’t ever retire (some just keep going and going and look great doing it), most will eventually take a hiatus.  Maybe you need to tend to the sensitivities of a new relationship.  Maybe you’ve got a new job you’re focusing most your time on.  Maybe your asshole just needs a break.

In any case, you’ve got that feeling: it’s time to stop making porn.

Having taken over a year off myself (I started shooting again in 2015 with a much lighter and more leisurely approach) and having also watched friends successfully and not-so-successfully disengage from the industry, I’ve compiled ten essentials.

1. Don’t hide the fact that you’ve made porn.

This is the number one on my list for a reason: it’s what gets people in the most trouble after they decide to leave.  Stories about someone’s “porn past” surfacing are always on the tip of the media’s tongue.  Porn pasts “surface” because people tried to bury them.  But there is no such thing as “after porn ends” anymore.  Porn is like that old tattoo you have: whether or not it still suits you, you’re going to (at least!) have to learn to love it as representing a specific mindset and time in your life.  Your porn career will always be available for viewers to enjoy and for potential lovers and employers to discover.  (You should consider this before you get in porn, as well.)

That doesn’t mean you have to raise your hand at the PTA meeting and tell people you were the Queen of Anal, it just means if it is relevant to conversation, a job, or a relationship, be open about it.  Sex worker advocate and all-around amazing person Amber Hollibaugh once said, “Wherever you have a secret, that is where you are vulnerable.”  If you allow your life and history to be open, you will be strong.

2.  Understand that porn has given you skills rather than fearing it as something that will hinder future successes.

For every door porn has closed in your life, it’s opened another, even if you can’t always see it.

Being in porn cultivates many skills (I’ve written about some of these skills before), some of which are marketable, some of which are personal.  These can include knowledge about sexual health, how to work out and eat to maintain a certain kind of body, basic entertainment production knowledge, media skills, and more.  Whether you choose to use any of these skills or not is up to you.  But it’s good to create what new age-y life coaches call an “asset inventory” of them.  What have you learned from porn?  What have you gained from it?  What connections have you made?  What are all the things that you have going for you having had those experiences?  Make a list and you might find yourself writing for quite awhile.

3.  Think about how you’re going to transition out while your career is going well and you have no intention of leaving.

camera

This photo is meant to represent film editing skills or something. (credit: Lavender Lounge)

This is basic preparation for the future.  When you’re in the cummy peak of your porn career, when your twitter followers are jumping by double digits, when you’re getting more dick pics in your inbox than ever, ask yourself, “What next?”  Asking yourself this in a moment when you feel secure will always give you a better answer than scrambling around.  It will also save you from continuing to make porn — because you’re unsure what your options could be — when you’re ready to move on to something else.  It might also lead you to leveraging your position in the industry to learn more skills.  Porn performers often teach themselves camera, editing, directing, and producing skills while they’re spending the majority of their time in front of the camera.  While you’re close to producers, directors, set designers and more, don’t hesitate to ask to learn more skills if you’re interested.

4.  You may have sexual and personal needs that porn fulfilled.  They’ll need to be met in different ways.

Whatever your motivations for being in porn are, you will probably, while you’re making it, alter your sex life, push the boundaries of your sexuality, and receive adoration for your body and sex appeal.  When you’re done, whether you were in it for the pleasure or the money or both, you may have a hard time transitioning back to a life without all that.  You might find yourself missing access to sex with other porn performers, or the role play, or the praise from strangers on your computer screen.  You may also miss the exhibitionism and the pleasure of enduring long sexual sessions.  Your fans will stick with you, but the praise might change or decrease in frequency.  It’ll be harder to dress up like a doctor and give fuckable patients anal exams.  You’ll have to work out new ways to satisfy any sexual and personal needs porn fulfilled for you.

That might mean continuing to be exhibitionistic online in some way.  It might mean staying in the public eye in a different way and finding understanding sexual partners.

Whatever your feelings might be, stay aware of this possible shift, and don’t despair that you don’t have porn anymore to fulfill the need.  Instead, think about what it is that gratified you and see if anything else can give you the similar (if not exact) feeling.

5.  You can continue to make money from your scenes while you’re not shooting.

If anyone has ever been excited to watch you have sex, someone will always be excited and will always be discovering you for the first time.  Make sure you acquaint yourself with your studios’ affiliate programs.  If you don’t want to maintain a porn site when you’re done, you can always start a blog anonymously with affiliate links to make all-but passive income.  You can also continue to sell clips you own, clothes you wore on set, signed photos, merchandise, and more.

6.  Don’t say you’re “retiring” and don’t delete your social media accounts.

Too many performers grandly announce their retirement one day, then, for whatever reason, shoot scenes a few months later.  Don’t announcement retirement. Often, performers announce retirement for themselves.  It’s like someone with a hangover saying, “I am never drinking again!”  If you’re really retiring, you probably won’t have to state anything so dramatically.

It’s better and more realistic to say you’re “taking a break.”  If you have an extremely compelling reason to retire, go ahead and say you’re retiring.  But realize you can only really say that once.  After that, no one is going to believe you.  Studios sometimes hire in a flurry when announcements like this are made, so it can be a good financial move; but again: only once.  It will affect your reputation if you do it again and again.

To make matters worse, in a dramatic I-cut-all-my-hair-off-to-prove-a-point move, some performers announce retirement and then delete all their social media accounts.  Your fans are and will always be an asset to you.  They’ve supported you, they’ve created tumblrs exclusively focused on your penis or vagina, they’ve said sweet things to you in your vaguest single-word status updates of sadness.  Don’t abandon them.  That doesn’t mean you have to interact with them.  But deleting an a whole linked community of people that you might want to interact with, share content with, announce upcoming projects to, and just in general be nice to isn’t a great exit strategy.

7.  Seek relationships with partners who are understanding. 

IMG_3707

Yes, those are my boyfriend’s feet and okay, I am cheesy.

If someone only likes you because you stopped making porn, they’ll probably have some difficulty with your pornographic personality.  That doesn’t mean you can’t date anyone who doesn’t throw confetti every time one of your bukkake scenes shows up in his spam email.  But be reasonable.  If someone gives you indications that he/she can’t deal with the fact that your naked and sexualized body is available to his.her friends, family, co-workers, that will cause some discussions and confrontations.  Ask yourself and answer as honestly as possible what your threshold is for these confrontations, how patient you are willing to be with your partner, and how likely he/she is to reach understanding with you.

8.  Remember that you have allies and remember to be an ally.

The community of people that will be most able to understand and help you once you exit porn is made up of performers and other sex workers.  They will be the people most able to understand avenues to new work, support you, stand with you against stigmas and challenges.  Performers – and other sex workers – are all in this together.  To that end, join and stay in touch with the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC), look into sex worker health and support services like St. James Infirmary, and keep in touch with colleagues you respect.  If you think your perspective can help currently working performers or performers who are leaving the industry, offer yourself as a resource.  Remember to do this without declaring your experience as the definitive one; experiences in and upon leaving porn will vary from individual to individual.

9.  If and when you want to get back in, don’t assume it will be smooth.

The good news is, you will never be starting from zero again.  You can show producers, whether you know them or not, “I know how to show up and perform.”  That puts you ahead of the vast majority of people looking for work.  But it’s not always easy to get back into porn and that’s not usually personal.  Turnover for new performers and staff at studios can be fast-paced, so you might not be remembered.  Maybe the staff at a studio has changed and no one there has heard of you.  Regulations and protocols might have changed for a producer (or on a legal level). Your body might be different now, but you may not be totally aware of it since it’s been a gradual change for you.

Don’t be worried by all this; it might not be difficult at all.  If it is, you’ll get cast again if you are professional and persistent.  And worse-case scenario, you can always produce your own porn, utilizing your knowledge of the industry, employing performers you know, and distributing to fans you’ve made.

10.  Remember you are brave.

Okay, I lied up there in the first item.  This is actually the number one thing to remember. 

Listen, you’ve done something that you wanted to do in spite of the cultural discouragement, potential stigma, and discrimination.  You chose to do the thing that was forbidden because you knew it was for you.

So think about it: how hard can a job interview be after you’ve been fucked on a motorcycle?  How tough can it be to tell a partner about your history after you’ve had oral sex in front of a crowd of people?  You’ve learned how to control your breathing while taking an arm-sized penis up your butt.  You know how to get your body to be aroused and performative with someone you have no sexual attraction to.

The rest of life?  You’ve got this.  You’re awesome.

(This post also appears on the APAC website.)

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