Oriana Small is a gross girl. Picture a feisty Kathy Acker heroine peeing standing up with white knee-high socks, pigtails, and a smart mouth on a painfully beautiful face.
It’s possible that I first met Oriana Small at Literary Death Match in Los Angeles, where she was my favorite sarcastic judge—so mesmerizing, she made me lose interest in the competing writers. It’s also possible that I first met Oriana Small when I drew the blood of porn stars at AIM Healthcare Foundation, the clinic that used to cater to the adult industry. But, neither of us remembered each other from that time. She was on coke. I was depressed.
After Literary Death Match, we spoke about her porno memoir Girlvert, and I was dying to interview her about it. The tone of her book is frenzied with a dead aura like a Boogie Nights orgy with Philip Glass’s “Powaqqatsi” playing loudly in the background. Girlvert is not only a journey into Ori Small’s eroticized grossness as porn actor Ashley Blue. Sure, we see Ashley Blue suck. We see Ashley Blue fuck. We see ass-rupturing and fist-swallowing. But the most glamorous thing about Girlvert is Oriana Small’s unbreakable hopefulness in the face of sketchy circumstances. Small writes, after nearly being choked to death, “I am capable of being wrong and naïve and savagely hopeful over and over.”
And I think, Fuck. Kathy Acker would have loved Oriana Small.
The Rumpus: While reading Girlvert, I kept wondering about your childhood. For instance, how did you feel growing up as a little girl in your family? Were you aching to be seen? Why do you think little Ori was so eager to please? Why was she so hungry to be grossed out, and how did that transfer into eroticism? What did little Ori want more than anything?
Oriana Small: I didn’t want to dwell on my childhood because it would have taken away from the real story, the stuff I did as an adult. The chapter in my book about my mother includes both gnarly and nice things about her. I did learn the “fuck you” attitude from her, and I’m grateful that she was a rebellious teenager, even one that never grew up. What I wanted so badly was to be free and different—special, artistic somehow. I figured out that I couldn’t be a painter, because I didn’t like being broke all the time. That transferred into eroticism because I could live recklessly as a sexual circus performer, no problem.
I was never sexually molested. I like to be challenged and gross myself out, so that I come back for more, to see if I can raise the bar. I smashed bugs as a kid. I read Henry Miller as a teenager. It was my idea to try anal sex with a guy, way before I had ever seen it done in a porno. The first porn flick I ever watched was called Bridgette the Midget: Mighty Migdet. I think I just have an advanced sensual palate, or my mind has always been a blown-out mess.
Rumpus: The reason I never got into porn was because you can never hide. It’s out there for everyone to see: nieces, nephews, brothers and moms. I was always blown away by the courage porn stars had—to be revealed in such a permanent way. At the same time, I always wondered how it played out in families. Like, what happens if your brother or mom is alerted to your acting on the Internet? In Girlvert, you negotiate that moment with your mom and it made me cringe. Tell us about the phone call from your mom and the creepy boyfriend moment.
Small: My mom called and said she’d just seen me on the Internet with a “mouthful of cock.” Her boyfriend had shown her. I decided never to speak to her again, until Tyler forced me to call her a month later. We went over to her boyfriend’s house to see her, where Leon [Small's mom's boyfriend] proceeded to ask for help getting into porn. I said no.
Rumpus: Sexual power is a drug. While reading Girlvert, there’s something about losing it and reclaiming it. Losing it looked like disassociating while performing painful sex in scenes, leading a double life and the degradation you experienced—like the dry ass rape. But the part that made me ache the most was the love story between Tyler and you. He acted as a relentless and manipulative vehicle to drive you darker into your most primal erotic desires: to feel totally controlled. At the same time, you often wanted to control Tyler. Tell me about your relationship to power and pain.
Small: I feel powerful when I can take the pain. It’s just like when you can fist your own ass, which is a chapter in the book. With Tyler, I thought that going through pain would mean that we could be happier—drug happy, Ecstasy happy. There were moments of excruciating agony that seemed like the end of the world, and wanting to die. But I let him control me because I loved that excitement. I felt like I was living my life to the extreme, emotionally and otherwise.
Even though he was irresponsible and bad with money, I felt like he was rescuing me from being boring and ordinary. I let him make all the decisions, and at the same time, protected him from things that I knew he would completely handle the wrong way. For example, my first box cover shoot ended up an unwanted anal penetration, but I could never tell Tyler. He was too impulsive and passionate, therefore wouldn’t understand how I would just act like nothing happened. The things I loved about him were also the things I wanted to protect him from.
Rumpus: Your one-liners are poised and sharp. For instance, “I wanted to be the most beautiful thing that ever fucked.” While your toughness felt guarded, your insecurity and people-pleasing made you a flawed, sympathetic narrator that I wanted to root for. Do you think your people-pleasing and codependency made you an easy target for sociopaths in the porn industry? Do you think that sexism is more rampant in the porn industry than in other work places? Was it a relief to find your physical and emotional limits? When you drew the line in the sand at gangbangs and heroin usage, did you feel liberated?
Small: Thank you. I didn’t want to come off like a self-righteous victim or saint. I hate that more than anything! The easy target was an adornment I wore with pride. It was a stamp of youth that faded in time. It goes hand in hand with non-cellulite thighs and collagen. These are all things that I wish I could keep forever. I’ll always cherish and glorify that deer-in-the-headlights age. Not giving a fuck really worked for me, career-wise, but I never thought like that. I truly didn’t want to know about the world besides my boyfriend, porn, and partying. Someone back then asked me who the Vice President was and I didn’t know. I truly didn’t have enough room in my clouded brain to be concerned with politics.
Besides, I was experiencing the opposite of what sexism in the workplace was for everyone else. I was being paid four times as much as the men in the same movies as me. When I refused to do a bukkake and was fired from my movie contract, I felt extremely liberated.
Rumpus: One admirable thing about Girlvert are your unromantic descriptions throughout the book, especially the psychological disconnect that happens when our bodies are doing things our minds are catching up with. You embody that so well when you write, “My racing mind shut off, and my body came alive.” I loved your discoveries about yourself. It seemed like Pro Trusion and other horrid creeps were out to hammer out that innocence, but there it remained, even after you were choked out. Is it still there? Where is it now?
Small: I’m pretty jaded now. No one person has the credit of taking my innocence, certainly not Pro Trusion. I learned a lot about myself from the experience of being choked out by an ugly guy. There are creepy people in society everywhere, not just porn. Pro Trusion was a good place to practice how I could deal with other bad situations throughout the rest of my life.
Porn is very honest and “in your face.” It’s a safe place to just be yourself and confront disgusting personalities. As for my innocence, it looks like the butterfly tattoo I got when I was fifteen. Faded into something unrecognizable, but technically still in existence.
Rumpus: Although I could see you perform the acts of your porn and love life in a cinematic frenzy, I wanted to know the heart of Oriana Small. What did you learn about humanity in your decade debut of porn? How did it transform you as a person?
Small: I learned tremendously from my decade working in porn. I am still fascinated by everyone. The human experience within porn is so fucking interesting. I’m on a quest for more. I’m now writing for Hustler Magazine and reviewing for AVN. Porno people inspire me to write and connect to the raw, raunchy, and specific details of life. My mind is open. If not for being part of pornography, I would be such a scared and powerless woman. Embracing sex gave me the reason to reject the life of limitation and ignorance that I was born into. Not everyone needs to be in porn to realize this, but this was my education. I needed those experiences to grow.
Rumpus: I loved the part about AIM Healthcare foundation and Sharon. I worked there with Chloe, Laurie Holmes, Paul Pardo, Helen, and Karim. Maybe we met there. I was trying to stay out of the sex industry but got pulled back into doing private “shows” with some pilled-out funny girl. But my intention was to help the adult industry folks stay clean, and I really liked the people I met. Do you think we should pass the condom law? Where is the adult industry going? Are actors still being paid well? How has the porn industry changed over time?
Small: The condom law is a bullshit reason for the Christians to finally shut down porn in Los Angeles. It’s disguised as the “Safe Sex” law, but it is a final blow to strike down this industry. The AHF [AIDS Healthcare Foundation] people and church activists worked really hard to close AIM, and they accomplished that a couple years ago. AIM kept all the testing in one place and was the only thing performers could really rely on. Now it is between different labs, and there is less of a sense of community than there was at AIM. The next step is to move the producers out of California. It’s really bad for business to enforce condoms on porn performers. No one will want to buy the product, since it is legal to shoot non-condom in other places (Florida, Arizona, Nevada). A lot of regular people are going to lose their jobs, too, not just the actors that are fucking. Office workers, graphic designers, warehouse workers, etc. will lose, as well.
Rumpus: I know this was no feminist manifesto 2.0, but how has your book been received by sex workers and other pro-porn feminists?
Small: My book has been well received by feminists, more than I could have ever hoped. I’m very happy about the praise it’s received from women inside and outside porn. I’m very lucky to have my book published by Barnacle Books. I didn’t have to change my voice at all, or seek some phony redemption in the end. I hope that this book is empowering to anyone who reads it.
First author photograph © 2012 by Dennis McGrath.
Second author photograph © 2012 by Dave Naz.