Review of Coming Out Like a Porn Star edited by Jiz Lee
Both my wife and I were in a porn movie. She has been a centerfold and cover girl in an adult magazine. My wife is bisexual, we are both swingers, and we have dabbled in BDSM. Neither of us is out to our families, with the exception of my brother, whose response was “That seems like something you would do.” We never came out because I do believe we would have been rejected. She has to lead a double life at work where she is considered quite the prude. That is the world we live in.
Coming out about your sex life, especially when it involves doing porn, is a difficult thing to do. It is even more difficult when you do gay, lesbian or bisexual scenes. You face double rejection in that case. In the Jiz Lee edited book Coming Out Like a Porn Star, 57 adult performers share their experiences of coming out to family and others. Each essay is short, around 3 to 5 pages, but still powerful.
It includes Joanna Angel, Annie Sprinkle, Nina Hartley, Betty Blac, Candida Royalle, Zak Sabbath, Conner Habib, Dale Cooper, Christopher Zeischegg, Cindy Gallop, Drew DeVeaux, Erika Lust, Gala Vanting, Casey Calvert, Lorelei Lee, Stoya, Papí Coxxx, and many others you have probably never heard. It is a diverse group- men, women, different ethnicities, gay, straight and transgendered, porn performers and directors, strong writers and weak ones. Only a few prefer to remain anonymous, and for good reason. What they all have in common is a compelling story that will be outside of most people’s experience.
The subtitle is Essays on Pornography, Protection and Privacy. Doing porn is not dehumanizing, but society’s attitudes about porn and sex are. Adult performers face not just ostracization from their family, but loss of a job, threats from their community, and potentially dangerous stalkers. On more than one occasion, lawmakers have introduced bills that would have made adult performer’s home addresses and real names publicly available. Those lawmakers are are a direct threat to the safety of adult performers. A number of the performers in this book have been outed against their will.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is a depressing book, however. It is far from that. There are stories that are positive as well as those that are negative. It is also enlightening, especially in areas where most people have limited understanding, as with the several transgendered people who share their stories.
As a writer about the porn industry, I have had the chance to hang out on porn sets and with porn performers. One of the things that always struck me was how ordinary most adult performers are. Hanging out with them before they get into makeup and put on their “porn face” and get into the character of the highly sexualized fantasy creature they portray on screen, you mostly would not know what they did for a living from just talking if they were not talking about work. Besides the fact that they have sex on camera, they are mostly like anyone else. Most are of average intelligence, a few are really dumb, and more than you would imagine are surprisingly intelligent, even brilliant.
I know of a few people in the adult industry in it just for the money, but most do it because it is fun, exciting, they love sex, and they get paid to boot. Some do struggle with drugs, but that is a societal problem, not specific to porn. Some struggle with issues of self esteem. I also worked in mainstream entertainment for 15 years, and the people and the personal issues are not that different.
Even so, society and specifically anti-porn advocates like to portray adult performers as troubled victims who need to be defended from the evils of their chosen career. Reading these essays from those on the inside will give you a very different perspective. They are victims in a way, but the victimizer is society, not porn.
The adult performer you see on screen is acting. These essays reveal the very real people behind those facades, and humanize them in a way that is important to better understanding their choices and their life experiences.