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      How to Tell Your Parents You're a Porn Star

      By Elyssa Goodman

      October 18, 2015

      'Coming Out Like a Porn Star.' Book cover design by Jamee Baiser

      On the cover of the forthcoming anthology Coming Out Like a Porn Star, Jiz Lee emerges from a pastel pink vulva, t-shirt rising seductively, pants sunk to the ankles. It seems to be a metaphor: The genderqueer porn star (who prefers the pronoun "they") emerging from the depths, in porn and in life.

      To date, Lee has starred in over 200 porn films and websites, earning respect as a queer porn legend. "Porn is one of the best things I've ever done, but there were so many stigmas I didn't know how to tell my family about it," Lee said in an email. "That's how I began asking others their stories."

      Coming Out Like a Porn Star, which will be released October 20, features over 50 stories from some of the biggest names in porn—Joanna Angel, Stoya, Annie Sprinkle, Nina Hartley, Conner Habib, and many more—all telling the tales of when they came out to their family, friends, and loved ones as porn performers. "While there have been articles on porn performers telling their parents, or being outed at their vanilla job, the mainstream media usually sensationalizes stories that only further stigmatize," said Lee.

      Read: What We Talk About When We Talk About Porn

      This book, by contrast, seeks to share an honest portrait of porn, with some contributors citing its liberating features and others denouncing it on moral grounds. As Lee writes in the book, "If we are to overcome these cultural roadblocks and gain rights for sex workers, it is precedent that we create a dialogue that stands firmly on the fact that people who chose to perform in porn are no different than anyone else," positive or negative experiences and views included.

      I spoke to some of the book's contributors about their coming out experiences, the changing sexual culture, and what they hope the book can achieve.

      Photo by Rishio

      MILCAH HALILI

      VICE: When did your career get serious enough that you felt you had to "come out" as a porn star?
      Milcah Halili: When people were reading my interview [on The Rumpus], that's when I started coming out. My friends actually all knew going into it, so it wasn't really that much of a come out, but eventually my family would ask questions about my job and that's when I would tell them. My dad was a little patriarchal, my mom was very capitalist about it—she was like, Oh, well, you'd make a lot of money! I feel like I only consulted with my best friend about it and she said what I feel like a lot of people tend to say which is, "Are you sure? You know this is forever, right?" I said, "I know, I know." But the rest of my friends were kind of just like starstruck or they had this idea that it was super glamorous, like, Wow, you're doing this thing now!

      "Coming out can be a terrifying and alienating experience. I want people to know it's OK to have those hard experiences and that they're not alone." — Milcah Halili

      Who was the most difficult to tell?
      My mom. Her initial reaction was pretty cool, but then just recently we had another conversation where I think she was just triggered. We were talking about what I do for my work and my mom already knew but she started interrogating me about it, like, "Why do you need to get tested? What do you do?" It became kind of almost like a class and a race issue like: My mom said, "I'm a Filipino mom, I don't want to hear about this kind of thing," and that was really hard for me. I was just in tears. It got to the point where my mom was like, "Well, why don't you just find a different job?" And I just told her, "This job allows me to write, so... I wanna keep on doing it."

      Before [that fight with my mom], I felt that porn was just a job. But after I had that conversation and how deeply and emotionally I was affected, I was just like, wait, no, this is a part of my identity. I really identify and resonate with what I do and when I thought about getting another job at my mom's suggestion, it just didn't really fit.

      Why did you want to share your coming out story?
      I feel like it's part of my personality, I'm just naturally a very open person. I'm kind of an edger—I like to push people past their comfort zone—and also just because I didn't feel like there was anything wrong with it. I didn't feel like I had to hide anything or that I should be ashamed.

      Sometimes coming out can be a terrifying and alienating experience. I just want people to know it's OK to have those hard experiences and that they're not alone. Jiz contacted me—they were in the first porn I ever watched, so just from that I was like, "I'm down!" [After reading the book], I hope people will see performers in a more humanized way and I feel like that's important because we're a very pornographic culture. Porn needs to be seen as something that's OK to watch, not so taboo. Because is it really that taboo if everybody's doing it?

      Photo by Victor Jeffries II

      Dale Cooper

      VICE: When did your career get serious enough that you felt you had to "come out" as a porn star?
      Dale Cooper: There was a period of my life when I was relying solely on my sex work money to support myself. You meet someone out somewhere, they ask you what you do—and I was very honest about it when I was asked. I don't think it's anything I should be ashamed of or that anyone should be ashamed of so I try to be a good ambassador in some way, be above board in terms of being honest about it. So that was really the time when I was oddly the most "coming out-y" in my experience.

      I've been relatively blessed. All of my friends are very supportive. I did some events fairly recently that people came out for, so I have a strong community of non-sex workers around me who are super cool and super accepting and are proud of the work I do, which is great. Also, it's great to be connected with people like Jiz and the other authors in Coming Out Like a Porn Star. There's a lot of work that needs to be done [to remove stigma] so it's great to see there are a lot of really smart, capable people out there.

      At what point in knowing someone do you feel like you should tell them you work in porn?
      I don't think the sort of calculus I go through in my head is all that different from what I think a lot of people probably go through in terms of how they deal with someone about work status or whether [you're] seeing someone or not right now, and so on. You always run these sort of questions through your mind when you meet someone, like, Does this person recognize me? How much does this person think that they know of me? Which I think comes with having any public images of you out there whatsoever. I think we're kind of entering a phase of life where everyone needs to scrub their Facebooks and present their best faces on their Instagrams and yada, yada, yada.

      Being a porn actor, there's a concern for my own personal space, my own sexual space, that I want to make sure is very firm with someone... I'll be very upfront and honest about it. I feel like you decide how much you reveal about yourself when you're meeting someone.


      Watch: VICE meets Belladonna, arguably the biggest porn performer of the new millennium.


      Who was the most difficult person to tell?
      Probably potential significant others—and again, it's not so much telling them [as it is them accepting that I'm a porn star]. I mean, obviously anyone who I would date would have to be supportive of my work because I feel very strongly about it. I can say I've at least had pretty good luck in terms of being able to date pretty cool people who are pretty cool with it, so that's a blessing.

      What about your family?
      Family doesn't know and I prefer they do not, hence the stage name. I'm not ashamed of the work I do, but I don't think we're at the point in society where any parent would be like, "Good for you, son, you spread your legs on camera." I know I would [say that] to my kid, but you know, it's always been kind of a side hustle for me, so I pursue a very full life not as Dale Cooper, which is kind of nice.

      Why do you think there hasn't been a book of coming out stories like this already?
      I feel like what makesComing Out Like a Porn Starso special is that we're coming on the cusp of Amnesty International's Board of Trustees approving the rights of the sex worker, to make sure those [rights] are folded within their umbrella of human rights. That's a major move for them. It's a very interesting timing and more important now than ever that sex workers have their voices heard and be given dignity and to have a showcase for some of the amazing experiences and talents that exist within our community.


      Photo by Christine Dengate

      GALA VANTING

      VICE: When did your career get serious enough that you felt you had to "come out" as a porn star?
      Gala Vanting: I made a pretty big life change and an intercontinental move when I started working in production, so there weren't really so many options not to be out. There was the option of making something up and I did that for some people, but it's kind of always been something that I've wanted to make part of my identity. Since I started performing that has been very true for me.

      There was a very quick period of time in which I made that decision, and it felt like a hasty one, but it was something I had been working on for quite a long time. By the time I actually started to get behind the camera I had been performing for three years and formulating a whole lot of ethics and politics behind what I was doing, so it was a very natural thing for me to do.

      What were the reactions of your friends and family?
      Generally I've had a pretty supportive set of chosen family and biological family. I guess even when people don't quite understand or have some stigmatic questions or whatever, I feel like there has just been a general confidence in my ability to make decisions for myself and for those decisions to be right for me. At this point, acceptance of or enthusiasm for the work that I do is a prerequisite for being in my sphere at all. I have managed to construct a pretty nice bubble of sex positivity around me in my social space, so any of that stuff that was grating has fallen away now.

      Watch Out: Your Porn Is Watching You

      Why did you want to share your coming out story?
      I think that sex worker-generated media is the single best way to deal with sex work stigma. Also because I think it's important for sex workers to put forth those stories themselves rather than for the media to construct them for us. There is this cultural fascination at the moment with sex work and porn and the choice to be in that identity or to be in a body that does sex work or does porn performance. Those stories are often constructed from the outside and by people who haven't lived them. For me it's important to contribute, and this is the same reason that I started making porn.

      I also think [the book] is just a really nice way to just identify this populous as one that has something to say and one that has something to say beyond the performances we do or the publicity we do or the money we make or whatever it is. This adds dimension to the cultural understanding of what it is to be a sex worker or a porn performer.

      Photo by Julian Cash

      Annie Sprinkle

      VICE: When did your career get serious enough that you felt you had to "come out" as a porn star?
      Annie Sprinkle: In the 70s there was no internet, so a lot of people who did porn could lead double lives. I wasn't able to do that because I'd always get caught lying, so [leading] a double life was not an option for me. Although all those people who did do the double lives, now with the internet all the old films are coming back—so they may have done porn in the 70s and 80s and they're just now having to come out to their families.

      What was it like coming out in the 70s versus what porn performers experience coming out today?
      Coming out in the 70s was very different than coming out in the new millennium. The internet being an obvious [reason], because there's so much more exposure. Also, while making porn in the 70s and early 80s, if you got caught you'd be arrested. We were outlaws. If you were shooting a scene of walking on the street, you couldn't say, "Oh, we're making a sex film!: You'd have to say, "We're making a student film," because if people found out you were making a porn film, you could be arrested. They usually dropped the charges but you would lose a lot of money, you'd have to maybe go to trial, it was bad. You'd go to jail.

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      How did you balance being honest about what you did with the legality of the time?
      It was kind of like smoking pot. Pot was illegal, too. If you got caught with a joint, you'd be put in jail, but people kind of accepted the fact that people were out there with joints and you didn't judge people for having a joint but you knew that they were taking a huge risk. It was more dangerous; it was more risky. Making porn is now considered creative expression. I'm reminded of in the 70s or 80s—we protested Ms. Magazine because they had a roundtable discussion about pornography but they didn't invite anyone from porn. Ms. Magazine was very anti-porn, so the idea of sex-positive feminism didn't even exist in the 70s. It was considered shameful and taboo.

      How did your family respond when you told them you were doing porn?
      I think everybody was pretty shocked because I was really shy, but they were relatively smart and open-minded people and there were a lot of artists in the family who understood the creative impulse. I think people were worried about if I was on drugs or if I was an alcoholic but I clearly wasn't. I did it to make movies and try creative things and for the sexual adventure.

      What effect do you hope the book will have on the sex work industry and how it's perceived?
      I think so many people are in the sex industry now and have to come out that I think this would be very helpful. There's a lot of people making a living doing adult entertainment. Jiz Lee is the now, the future, and present. I'm more the history and the past. [Laughs] I like when we support each other and we're together. The sex industry can be really cliquish and competitive, or critical of different factions, and it can be pretty ageist. So it's wonderful that [the book] is intergenerational. I appreciate that this is going to be a historical document and it already is. Words can live on, it kind of creates an immortality and just a snapshot of the times.

      Sex workers work in fantasies. They are creating fantasies and acting out fantasies and making creative sexual expressions—but this book is more in the reality, it's not fantasy or a fiction. It's always fun to look into the closet. I love the cover of Jiz coming out of the vulva. It's like you're trying to look inside the vulva into the secret, behind the scenes of the pussy.

      Coming Out Like a Porn Star will be released on October 20. Pre-order your copy here.

      Follow Elyssa Goodman on Twitter.

      Topics: porn, coming out, the porn industry, adult film industry, porn stars, sex work, sex, watching porn, porn performers, Coming Out Like a Porn Star, Jiz Lee, queer porn, feminist porn, telling your parents you're a porn star

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