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What I Learned About Humanity from Working at a Porn Shop

We need to rethink our assumptions about porn, sex work and sexuality.

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Read morReactions from strangers, friends and family ran the gamut from disgust to pure admiration. Some of the other models and I became friends; the woman who photographed my wedding I had met at an airport on the way to a tattoo convention. We attended each other’s weddings.

At the age of 23 I decided to try my hand at stripping, and found that pole dancing was both lucrative and challenging, physically and psychologically. I showed up on time, drank little, never did drugs, and minded my own business. In short, I behaved as if I was working a job, because it is. I won a couple local pole competitions, and performed in burlesque shows for fun. I watched some of my peers thrive and enjoy the industry, competing in pole competitions and modeling gigs, while others would quietly cry in the backstage area, feeling trapped by their chosen profession.

In television and movies, we are shown stereotypes of men who lurk in strip clubs; gangsters, thugs, and creepy old men. My experience was different.

I met my husband and the father of my daughter at work, and he is the face of corporate America. Rarely a day passes when I don’t see a stranger on the street or on television, wearing some of his creations. Similar to my porn shop days, I meet and interact with many types of individuals and couples. I’m always delighted when a wife purchases a private dance for her husband, or if I have the pleasure of dancing for a couple.

Only last week, an unfamiliar woman waved me down as I approached the stage, and pressed a $20 in my hand. “I want you to take my husband, and give him the hottest dance he’s ever had.” I did so, and afterwards, she thanked me and explained. “I know that he’s going to come home to me, and fuck me like crazy.” It’s wonderful to be such a marital aid!

Of course, not everyone is so secure. My peers and I always shake our heads at the ladies who sit beside their partner, their fingers tightly clasping their drink, teeth set and eyeballs burning holes into our chests. These women have typically visited the strip club at the behest of their man-friend, if only to appear cool, sexy, and if nothing else, to keep tabs on him.

There’s a lot of complaining about the ‘reality’ of porn, with opponents arguing pornography presents an unrealistic representation of sex. Well, duh. True, most women don’t wear six inch Lucite stilettos while doing the dirty, and I’ll wager that most males don’t wax their entire bodies either, but much of this is par for the porno course.

Someone might want to point out that there’s not much truth to any kind of visual media or advertising. The women in H&M ads don’t wake up looking so airbrushed, and as for Victoria’s Secret, most American women won’t look like their runway Angels if they purchase a bra, no matter how miraculous it is. And while the traditional pornography has typically been of a cartoonish and outlandish aesthetic, my feminist and alternative pornographer friends know better, and are beginning to change it. Porn production companies like Abby Winters and Eon Mckai will show you  the girls next door, not just the ladies from Silicon Valley. Director and performer Joanna Angel has produced her own brand of tattooed porn stars, and powerhouse porn star Belladonna has featured and fucked every flavor there is; transgender to typical.

There are women who are diehard feminists; I call them my friends. Some of them are webcam ladies. Most of them are strippers, and a few are pornographers. I listened with delight as my dear friend and adult star Sadie West detailed her love of  filming, especially her enthusiasm for blow job scenes. I can recall clearly the hot, sticky afternoon I spent in the NE Portland feminist bookstore, where queer pornographer Sophia St James explained her drive to create scenes for real people, of all genders and kinks.

 
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