I met Mandy Morbid while working at Cheetahs in Hollywood, a bikini bar that attracts broke slackers with a soft spot for suicide girls and strippers who don’t think they’re strippers. They think they’re White Zombie video quality or Dancing with the Stars material. But they’re better.
Cheetahs may be a far cry from the Palace of Fine Arts, but it’s the only sixteen-year old locally owned bikini bar that has a Lady Pac Man video game. The lighting is dreary. The stage is floor level and it’s so narrow that our legs spill out onto customers. I’ve nicked chins doing the helicopter move on the pole more than once. The crowd arrives late so the dancers wait around for hours to extract pocket change from the tattooed pool players and occasional IT guys. Recession Cheetahs girls pull around two hundred bucks a night if we’re lucky, but the entertainment is top shelf.
I was deep in the ritual of peeling off my pedestrian Jay Brands and pulling on super sparkly spandex armor when I saw Mandy Morbid. She looked like a Barbie version of Pris, the replicant from Bladerunner, in layers of black fishnet, studded metal belts and a zebra print bra that showcased her organic breasts the size of luscious cantaloupes. She had swirly black tattoos up and down her thighs. She pulled on stacked, buckled bondage boots. Her tiny hands were gloved and her cartoon eyes were huge and innocent. She was fierce and fragile; two great tastes that taste great together.
Mandy grew up sick. Her hands shake. She has asthma. But like any pleasure model, she could leap across the room and have you in a headlock in seconds if you failed to tip her. She pointed to the new tattoo on her forearm. Her nervous eyes spotted cracks on her skin.
“It’s infected. I’m on antibiotics,” she said with an off-world smile. She is always worried about infection because Mandy Morbid is almost always dying. – Antonia Crane
The Rumpus: Where are you from and when did you know you were sexually different from other people?
Mandy Morbid: I grew up in Montreal and later Ottawa. Montreal is like a smaller more French version of New York, and is full of strip clubs and hookers. It was a famous hot spot in the 20’s and 30’s for its brothels. I sensed the erotic atmosphere there when I was ten years old. The French Canadian cultural influence I grew up with, in music, tv, French Canadian and French film, the sort of artsy, sophisticated, mellow attitude towards sexuality in all that stuff made it seem like sex was natural, not scary or bad. I didn’t think I was different from other people, but in hind site, my sexual fantasies were imaginative for an eight-year-old kid. I drew pictures of half-naked girls from comic books. I let my friend take digital pictures of me when I was in high school. I was always looking for a way to express myself.
Rumpus: How did you get into the sex industry?
Mandy Morbid: I always thought stripping would be a fun, glamorous and sexy thing to do, but also I had other interests, like I tutored autistic kids then worked as an aid in a foster home for medically fragile and severely special needs kids for a couple of years. I found the Suicide Girls while researching adult websites on line and I thought, “I want to do this.” I sent in pictures and began modeling for Suicide Girls. That’s how I met Zak Smith (“We Did Porn”) a painter who does alternative porn, which is what I wanted to do also. A month later I went to New York to visit him. In the summer of 2007, we moved to Los Angeles. I started doing mostly girl/girl porn and began stripping in fall 2007. I took some pole dancing lessons from a fellow Suicide Girl when I first moved to LA and then I checked her out at Crazy Girls in Hollywood and started working there in the fall.
Rumpus: Where does sex work end and your personal desires begin?
Mandy Morbid: Basically, I do both because they both fulfill some of my personal desires. I enjoy feeling wanted. Dancing is a great and obvious way to accomplish that. Also, I like seeing myself in the mirror, kind of a “is that really me moving like that?” thing, and then I get turned on. I’m narcissistic and fascinated by my own reflection. It’s affirming to see myself do these things. I also really enjoy watching the other girls. The porn I make myself, the DIY mandymorbid.com stuff, that’s what I want to do and see. I just want to see myself fucking when it’s all over, or see myself reacting to who I’m working with. I get excited when someone like Kimberly Kane gets all excited about something about me, or what we are doing. I know where the line is: sex work fulfills certain desires but not all of them for me.
Rumpus: Tell me about almost dying and how it relates to sex work?
Mandy Morbid: I have had severe asthma and allergies since I was six years old. When I was eleven I had an asthma attack that worsened suddenly as I waited for my parents to take me to the emergency room. We got to the hospital nearly too late. I was unconscious and turning blue. That time, I was hospitalized for two weeks. After that, I had frequent asthma attacks and was always being rushed to the emergency room. I learned that life could end at any time and there’s nothing else. When I’m in pain, not able to breathe or having sex, it takes me to a place of extremity. I want intensity in all aspects of my life and I want to see it happening. Being in adult film is proof that it happened. It’s as if growing up fragile gave me this extreme drive to feel alive.
Rumpus: Why does Zak Smith have your illnesses tattooed on his arm and what are they?
Mandy Morbid: Zak has my illnesses tattooed on him so if there’s an emergency all the important info he would tell the paramedics is right there and he doesn’t have to worry about remembering them. The tattooed ones are: endometriosis, ovarian cysts, (cluster) migraines, stomach problems, fibromyalgia, asthma and allergies, arthritis and intolerance to morphine and codeine. Because of the steroids used to treat asthma, I am more susceptible to infections, like I’ve had pneumonia four or five times already, I get sinus infections, bronchitis and strep throat at least once a year and I just got over a double eye infection. I get viral infections often. I’m allergic to everything all the time and I have tiny feet because my growth was slightly stunted from the asthma medication. But, on the upside, I get to wear really cute kids shoes.
Rumpus: Have your illnesses interfered with your ability to support yourself in the sex industry?
Mandy Morbid: I can’t go anywhere where there’s smoke or cats. Also, the endometriosis is painful during sex. I can’t work with a porn agency because I have to have a lot of control over who I work with and when I work. So, it’s hard to be reliable. I have to travel with my nebulizer in a backpack to work. Once, a director let a bunch of people smoke on the porn set, and I did the scene. I thought I was okay, but the next day while I was in makeup I had an asthma attack and I didn’t have my nebulizer so I had to cancel my scene. I cried in front of Ava Rose and was in bed for a week. Being ill is one of the reasons why I haven’t done any boy/girl porn yet that’s not with Zak. I need to rest a lot. I need to go to some doctor for something every two or three weeks. It’s difficult to focus on self-promotion, which is the stuff you have to do to be an independent adult performer.
Rumpus: Have you ever quit and come back to sex work?
Mandy Morbid: I’ve never quit entirely. I’ve taken breaks for medical reasons. I work when I’m able to. A while ago, I broke my foot making lasagna when the glass dish full of noodles and cheese fell on my foot. So, I had to take a break from dancing for few months to let it heal. I want to work more often but, I’m still recovering from the surgery I had for endometriosis. Being able to dance now is a definite step forward for me because it’s good for me to exercise my lungs and joints and it’s also good for me to get out. Dancing makes me feel healthy.
Rumpus: Is they’re anything you’re waiting to do until you’re healthy?
Mandy Morbid: Yes. A few things but they’re secrets.
Rumpus: Do you prefer porn or stripping and which is easier on your body?
Mandy Morbid: It depends on my mood. They’re fun in different ways. Doing hardcore sex scenes everyday wears down the immune system. Porn is far more invasive physically. Obviously. Stripping frequently is exhausting and I get bruised and banged up, but it’s less invasive. I could get injured stripping but it’s less risky over all than porn.
Rumpus: How has the current recession affected the porn industry?
Mandy Morbid: The recession hit stripping faster. Tipping is a luxury. I’ve noticed that fewer movies are being made, especially ones that are unusual. They just aren’t being funded. A lot of porn girls have either started stripping or have gone back to it to make ends meet.