Edited by queer porn performer and LGBTQ activist Jiz Lee, Coming Out Like a Porn Star is a wide-ranging compilation of answers to questions only sex industry pros seem to get. (And if you guessed, “Does your mother know?” to be at the top of the queries you are correct.)
Since the announcement of the book early last year, the sex worker-penned anthology has been named to Reason’s list of “Best Sex-Work Books of 2015,” and has even made it onto the syllabi at college campuses. (You can read an excerpt from the anthology here.) And now contributor Stoya—a global porn star and prolific writer whose trademarked name probably signals that she needs no introduction—agreed to chat with me soon after COLaPS’s CineKink NYC launch.
The Rumpus: When I first became involved in the (S&M) business I often got frustrated, and sometimes angry, at having to explain/defend my choice of how I made money. I mean, what other professionals are expected to do that? Only sex industry workers seem to have this obligation. Did you ever resent having to “come out” in the first place?
Stoya: I’ve been through the whole cycle. Sometimes it feels frustrating; other times it can be interesting to see how different people react: what they ask, what their preconceptions are. Sometimes there’s hope that eventually it’ll only be as potentially fraught as telling someone you’re a professional anything else.
Rumpus: It’s obviously become more difficult for a porn star to keep their job a secret in the digital age, but I’m wondering if the Internet has also made it easier to come out. I’m thinking that because porn has become so ubiquitous online, perhaps there’s a growing acceptance and understanding of the creators and performers as well?
Stoya: I think social media has made the humanity of porn performers a little more apparent, in the same way tabloids made movie stars into the kind of people strangers know intimate details about. At least to some amount of people who probably never would have met a performer outside of a work context otherwise.
Rumpus: The book includes a delightful description of your coming out to your pretty hip grandma—and coming clean that you’ve appropriated her name for your career. But were there people in your life who you had an especially difficult time discussing your work with? Does coming out get easier the more you do it, or does it always depend on the person you’re disclosing to?
Stoya: Absolutely. Not all of my family members were as easy to tell—which is easier only in the sense that once it’s done, it’s done. As for telling new people—acquaintances, strangers on the train—it has gotten easier and depends on the person. It’s easier to get a read on how to be precise without upsetting them. (Will they have an easier time with “porn star” or “adult performer in videos”?) But if, say, your seatmate on the train works for the 2257 department, it’s still going to be rough.
Rumpus: I remember back when Diablo Cody won her screenwriting Oscar, and a lot of the talk surrounding her accomplishment seemed to me to be outrageously condescending. Like, “Wow—a stripper who can write!” When in fact, strippers who can write—or paint, or act, or are in a band—are basically a dime a dozen. (Which is usually why they’ve opted out of an unstimulating, 9-to-5 life in the first place). As a writer yourself, do you feel that, nearly a decade after Cody’s win, you still have to knock down the “bimbo myth” and other misconceptions? Or is an intellectual porn star no longer considered an oxymoron these days?
Stoya: I’m. Um. Pretty much everyone I interact with day to day would never have thought intellectual porn star to be an oxymoron in the first place, you know? I don’t do freelance gigs very often, so I only pitch editors I already know. Hard for me to get the tone of the room, culturally speaking.