Before we begin, this essay makes the assumption that pornography educational, culturally relevant, and, best of all, lots of fun.
However, I am told that porn is apparently still controversial.
This is not an entirely unfair claim. Some female friends, and at least one family member, have told me about how exploitive exploitive the Straight porn industry can be. It apparently promotes patriarchy by making the 'male gaze' both normalized and celebrated. Female pornstars are often coerced and face economic disenfranchisement. It implicitly supports rape. The arguments are endless.
While valid concerns, I really don't know how true any of these are. To me they seem to come from a sense of sex negativity. No one (at least no one I'll take seriously) will make the argument "porn is against God" or "watching porn means you're disrespecting your partner(s) and yourself" so they actively seek out other reasons to justify their own internal stigmata.
For example I had one woman who told me that any conversation about porn even gay (male/male) porn had to be about women. This is suspect, but fair. She then told me the only porn she supports is queer porn because it's outside the industry and thus patriarchy standards. Again, fair and commendable grounds for discussion. She then told me that she didn't really see the male/male porn industry as 'queer' (since it was structured in similar ways to the straight porn industry such as promoting the 'male gaze') and therefore should probably be dismantled.
Even in the most liberal environments people are looking to self-censor when it comes to sex. As a result you get a lot of shame and aversion to he subject. Worse yet people who 'have done the deed' aren't suppose to mention it, and if they do, it is with the expectation that they are treading into muddy watters. The above argument masquerades as both a feminist one as well as a queer one but it actually limits sexuality rather than celebrates. Furthermore the limitation of sexuality is the limitation of societal expression outside of anything that has to do with sex at all. To give a really banal example Queer Eye for the Straight Gay wouldn't have existed if gay sex or even sex in general, could never be acknowledged. And then we'd missed out on a lot of early to mid 2000's styling tips.
But enough about stigma. Let's look at some porn stars that have fought it.
I discovered Conner, when I read his essay called What I Want to know is Why You Hate Pornstars. It's fascinating. Incredibly personal and moving, he shows how biases can end up utterly destroying otherwise perfectly happy relationships and the chance for interconnectivity. Worse yet he shows how society perpetuates those biases. It's a very very good read.
What makes Conner a good advocate both in and out of porn is that he's an academic. No really, he's a bona fide former English professor at UMASS. He even one the distinguished teaching award. Furthermore if you read his writing it definitely shows. Nor did he ever really stop writing, really. He still pens essay after essay, is invited to speak at several schools, and even offers coaching on his website for would be writers. The stereotype is that you're stupid if you act in porn, but Conner's very existence challenges that.
To be honest, I wouldn't mind having Conner's life. I think no one would. Write well and make highly enjoyable films for when you need to get away from your desk? I'm surprised more professors don't do it. Sadly his profession is respected which is a damn shame because Conner makes no compunctions about it being difficult! Having to orgasm on command? Staying aroused for eight hours? Playing to the camera while having sex? Those things seem nearly impossible and kudos to Conner to be able to do them.
Probably the most famous person on this list, Sasha Grey started her career shortly after turning 18 in 2006 and started to win awards within a year. So yeah, she's definitely talented when it comes to her job. However she makes *my* list because she crossed over to film, advocacy, writing, modeling and very very weird music. Not only did she cross over, she found success using the porngraphy as a springboard.
The best part? She acknowledges this and is grateful. No she probably wouldn't have been famous without doing porn, and no she wouldn't have had access to pursue all the projects she does but that's not a bad thing and she doesn't think you should it's a bad thing either. This is fascinating because she's doing something that women don't normally do: get praised for her prowess as an actively sexual beings. Sure women can be seen as sexual objects, but Sasha wants you to know that she performed the act, and she wants you to know that she performed it well. This strikes me as incredibly courages and incredibly feminist.
He's on this list because I want to sleep with him.
Putting that aside though, he's really on this list because this man has managed to challenge notions of gender, sexuality, porn, celebrity, masculinity, femininity both from within and from without porn just by being inexorably, unabashedly himself. Who's that? A muscled out, bald, bearded tatted out man's man who does some of the more raunchy, dirty, and awesome scenes then any of the other porn stars I have here.
He's also a trans*man.
Here's some quick vocabulary for those who need it. He was female-bodied, but since he's a dude he transitioned into a muscular male-coded body with a some really awesome tattoos. He kept the pussy though.
Yeah. When you transition you go as far as you feel is appropriate. That didn't stop Buck though. in 2005 he made his own porn studios and released his films with the moniker "the Man with the Pussy". His words not mine. It was a hit, since finally there was some mainstream female to male trans* representation in porn that was hot to, well, everyone. Even gay men with gynophobia (fear of vaginas usually stemming from misogyny) could get behind behind Buck, figuratively and literally. He even did a scene with a trans*woman that was so popular new and refreshingly representational that it won awards. Now he still does porn, but he's a respected speaker, founder of a dating site for transmen, and activist.
The late Masaki Koh (真崎 航) was a famous GoGo dancer, pornstar and model. Simple enough man, simple enough life. To my knowledge he didn't write anything, or participate in any kind of influential business that allowed him to use his porn as a springboard. He was just a very very good porn star. So why is he on my list?
To answer that you've gotta understand the state of gay Japanese porn at the time he started. In a lot of ways the stigma of being a pornstar is worse there than here (especially if you're not acting in straight porn). Therefore you see a lot of people performing in surgical masks, or other things that obscured their faces and the performers would do there best not to comment on their work. Not so with Masaki. He very publicly had a boyfriend and was very very open about everything he was doing all the time with everyone.
Furthermore, he challenged racial stereotypes in porn for a western audience. There's an unfortunate effeminization and enforced passivity of gay east asian males in porn. Masaki Koh, being a scruffy masculine top offered an alternative. I'm sure a lot of Asian Americans thank him for that since there is more than one way to be gay and that way is not always what society codes you as.
I should say that he died at 29 in 2013. We're still not sure why, though admittedly his death does call into question some aspects of the porn industry. While it was probably suicide I contest that it was less the porn itself and more society's reaction to the porn that may or may not have driven him to it. Regardless, he was much loved and will be missed.
The liberal internet erupted when it heard that this nineteen year old pornstar was being harrassed, threatened, shamed, and stalked by her peers. No, not other pornstars. Fellow Duke University students.
That's right, she's a student at one of the most prestigious and most expensive schools in the country! From what I can gather she started doing porn to pay the bills. However this doesn't mean she does it entirely out of necessity and no other reason. As steep as bills are, there are always other ways to make money. No she does it because she genuinely has fun doing it as her twitter can attest (NSFW).
This and the fact that she's serious about her studies tends to break people's brains a little. A girl who really really likes sex, who's also actively pursuing a degree seems to be a contradiction of terms. Like Conner Habib, the assumption is that smart people cannot also be deeply invested in their porn. However in her case the situation is more extreme because she's a student and thus (wrongly) still seen as a child, thus the fear is that she'll corrupt all the tender young minds of her classmates. She's also female and women aren't expected to be so effervescent about they want sexually.
Unfortunately, a lot of media, even media that is largely sympathetic in tone, has spread rumours that she was thinking about dropping out. This is a problem because it presents porn and college as an either/or dichotomy. Either sexual liberation or scholastic enlightenment. The two are not diametrically opposed and Ms. Knox is a trailblazer for those of us that want to fight stigma.
In conclusion? Enjoy your porn. Talk about it. Talk about it with other people. Reassure each other that it's okay to be sexual. Because when we don't do that, we miss out on wonderful professional people, and we make the ways in which we're able to change the system around us a little worse.
*(as always you are encouraged to comment in the comment section)