SELF-SUBJECTIFICATION, PART 1
Like many female viewers, I had difficulty relating to the women in these films and their sexual preferences… they seemed to embody a sexuality that was foreign to me, one of extreme femininity: vulnerable yet hypersexual, passive but sexually desiring, ready for any sex act but without the impetus to make it happen. It seemed as if sex was happening “to” these women rather than with them or because of their choice or motivation.
–Dylan Ryan, How I Became a Feminist Porn Star
Growing up, I always sensed I was a sexual freak, a deviant. Queer was the only category that could contain my non-normative desires and concomitant identity. While there is a certain cachet in being a non-conformist as an adolescent and letting one’s proverbial “freak flag fly,” there is comfort in connectivity. I longed for representations of sexuality that resonated and, in the absence of positive female role models, depended on my male friends to ground me. Their sexuality seemed easier, less complicated. More in line with their desires and less constrained by societal expectations. They appreciated my directness and acuity in expressing myself. My female friends acted more judgmental, feared being guilty by association, accepted a more passive role in having their desires met, were boundary-makers rather than boundary-breakers (see: Josh Ackerman & Doug Kenrick study), and were quite frankly alien to me. They fell prey to the ‘be sexy but not sexual’ dichotomy, and it seemed like they weren’t in on the joke: Guys who are worth your time like women who like sex and who are unashamed of expressing their sexuality; those who fear being emasculated are too wrapped up in their egos to prioritize pleasing you. I wanted my sex life to be about pleasure and exploration, rather than regret and reputation. Yet women are taught how to say “no” before learning that it is okay to say “yes.” Sexual safety is not limited to the ability to protect yourself against unwanted advances or unintended consequences; it includes the freedom to share and enact your desires without shame or social sanctions.
I recall watching porn and thinking that I had something to offer to it. With very few exceptions, the porn I had seen felt empty, inauthentic, and not representative of my sexuality and the kind of sex I was having. I honestly thought that I could change to movies for the better.
–Dylan Ryan, How I Became a Feminist Porn Star
I’ve never been able to pinpoint whether I’m unique in my sexual needs or my need to express my rather tame sexuality. Are others afraid of diverging in a way that renders them ruined or are they simply cookie-cutter automatons who don’t think critically about their sexuality in relation to social standards? All I know is, I depict myself in a way that gives people pause and enables them to open up to me. When I talk about sex, people respond. And I don’t think it’s because I’m a cute girl talking about dirty things; it is because I’m a cute girl asserting that sex isn’t dirty. That the ubiquitous shouldn’t be forced underground. This blog has been an outlet for me and a sounding board for others. While it doesn’t come across online because no one comments, people do approach me in person. I’m always surprised by how much friends-of-friends and acquaintances are willing to share—and that more often than not I can relate. One sexually wild, socially conservative friend-of-friend offered, “You know how sometimes you make a mistake with a guy, then you do it again because you figure you might as well GET YOURS?” Yes, yes I do. Exchanges like this make me feel as if I am providing a public service: empowering people to be authentic with themselves and, ideally, to connect with others. To find community in confession.
On the dawn of her first film release, a facebook friend crowdsourced on what she should name her burgeoning “educational smut” company. Multiple commenters implored her not to use her legal name—for protection and privacy. She cleverly countered, “Well, the idea is to de-stigmatize the industry, therein [lies] the philosophical/sociological discussion that we should have.” Let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that is it unsafe—physically, professionally, and in both custody and rape cases—for a woman to express her unadultered sexuality. Wow. Fuck the world.
It disturbs me to think that I have the freedom to detail and critique my sex life publicly, but my face is off limits. A woman can’t be a body and a brain, pretty and smart, sexual and taken seriously. The fact that I can only post headless pics on my blog demonstrates how little ownership we have over our bodies. The act of putting a face to my name would be considered making a bold STATEMENT, instead of letting a cohesive identity breathe. I’m worried that by being closeted, I’m reinforcing the very stigma I’m fighting to negate. Fragmenting our sexual and real life identities—separating higher order cognitive functions from animalistic urges—is the ultimate dehumanization.
Once upon a time, I posed for some “tasteful” nudie pics and submitted a version of “my pillow buddy: sad but true” for publication in C-Spot, my school’s sexual literary magazine. Had the publication actually hit the presses, my naked body would have been cloaked in—justified by—the following mission statement:
Our mission is to create a sex-positive revolution across college campuses. What do we mean by sex-positive? Students are encouraged by the mainstream to openly debate politics, religion, philosophy, etc. while the subject of sex still remains taboo. Western culture relegates sex to the same category of vices as drugs and alcohol. We are living in the 21st century and we think this matter needs to be addressed. We want to bring sex out of the private sphere and into the public sphere. We believe that sexual expression is a positive, healthy force in our lives, and it is necessary that universities also adopt this approach. We want sexuality to be treated as any other subject that we study in class. We want to apply the academic to the erotic.
Let’s take a minute to acknowledge this, too: An educated woman must intellectualize her sexuality to dissociate herself from its base implications. As if mind and body are disparate matter; as if the food we consume isn’t converted into the energy that fuels and the tissue that comprises our brains. One day I hope to cease the charade of academic distance without reneging the credibility that intellectualization affords. Fuck Canada; let’s move to France where we can seamlessly fuse our profesh and personal identities, or at least allow them to remain separate. My blog doesn’t even make sense without physical context. Like, sorry not sorry, it is relevant that I am cute, little, white, and attractive by mainstream standards. A few years ago I received a solicitation in my comments:
i’m a fan of your blog, and I’m writing here because i miss your postings. it has been 2 months since your last entry, and i’m tormented with the idea that you might have lost interest.
i’d also like to add that I would love to be a character of your stories. i’m male, 32, skinny, dark hair, live in boston but travel often to ny. i really hope to hear from you.
How does Simon know I am not ugly? Granted, I don’t behave as if I am hurting for sex, accepting pity fucks. But still, everyone has his/her preferences.
Here is the fucked up thing about pushing porn underground, assuming that we can distinguish between content and means of production: Ideally, we’d want performers who are empowered, love to fuck, and understand the cultural implications of what they are creating. As opposed to performers who are sex trafficked, desperate for money, or otherwise limited in their choices. Unfortunately, those who have the privilege to choose how they represent themselves sexually tend to have prestigious careers to protect. “Respected” or “productive” members of society are pressured to dissociate their “sex lives” from their “real lives.” Therefore, sexual stigma and secrecy increase the likelihood that the porn we consume is made in an exploitative way. The “lower class” and non-White do not have to worry about safeguarding their images; they were never afforded the assumption of chastity and virtue in the first place. (See: How to Lose Your Virginity for historical context on the exotification of POC.)
I’ll leave you with a quote on the false dichotomy between our personal and professional lives:
[We] insist on maintaining some kind of a priori divide between the fact that porn performers engage in on-camera sex and their humanity — their intelligence, their ambitions, their academic interests. “If I were a porn star and weren’t in school, people would hate me and say I have no future, while when financing school by doing sex work I’m getting told that I can’t do both,” Belle told The Cut. “So basically the narrative is you can’t be sexual and intelligent; you have to choose one.”
The implication is that even performative sex should be integrated into our humanity.