The Establishment - Lorelei Lee
Once You Have Made Pornography
The world will view you as an object — but you cannot be broken.
Pornography will change your life. There is no way to fully convey to you the absoluteness of this. The magnitude with which this is true. This is not the kind of job that recedes softly into the rearview after you quit. This is not the kind of job that you do once and then forget. This job is not forgettable. Once you have done it, anyone who knows you have done it sees a mark on you — believes there is a thing about your personality or life history that is revealed.
After you have made pornography, it will be viewed as a part of you forever, and because it is viewed this way it will be a part of you forever.
If you are very lucky — if the exact intersecting set of circumstances allows you to have a significant amount of control over the sharing of your experience with others — you will still have to decide every time you meet someone whether to tell them. You will have to calculate the likelihood of their finding out anyway, and figure out the number and complexity of lies and omissions that would be necessary to conceal this fact. You will have to estimate the expected intensity and impact of their reaction and the power they are likely to have over you if you do tell them. You will have to do all of this very quickly, for your own protection. You will have to wield this information like a sharp, double-sided blade.
After you have made pornography, it will be viewed as a part of you forever.
Even if you are lucky enough to have some modicum of control over who knows and who doesn’t, you will still probably be outed. You will be outed again and again. Your naked images will be found and sent to your brother by his friends. They will be emailed around by your classmates. A local news station will do an expose on the studio you work for — they will wait outside to film you as you are leaving at the end of the day, and they will show this footage on the evening news.
A documentary film crew or a mainstream art photographer or a writer will unexpectedly be on set one day, and will convince you to sign a release without really explaining what they want from you — you will be young and they will seem friendly and you will not yet have enough experience to be cynical about your public image. You will not even have considered yet that you have a public image. Their film or photo or book in which you appear will go on to win awards, be shown at festivals, hang in a museum.
You are not famous. You are an exhibit. But famous people, people with credentials, will, at length, critique your image, the few sentences of your voice that were recorded and edited by someone else. That someone else will be an authority. A “real” filmmaker. A “real” writer. A “real” artist. They will call the person who used your image for their own narrative fearless. They will make claims of shining a light. They will say they’ve explored a subculture. That they’re lifting the veil. People who have viewed these few seconds of tape or this single still image will say they’ve seen your humanity. Lucky you, you’ve been humanized. Prior to this, your humanity was unviewable.
Lucky you, you’ve been humanized.
You are not famous. You are material. A national news station will be at AVN or XRCO or Exxxotica or Bondcon and you will talk to them, thinking that they are some small fan blog, not realizing that those few sentences are about to be broadcast on CBS This Morning because their parent company is airing the awards show on cable and wants to use the morning news to cross market.
You are not human, you are an advertisement. You are currency. You are a performer, but the public sees no line between when you are performing and when you are not.
To the mainstream media and to the world, you are an object. They will tell you this, and they will tell you it’s pornography that has turned your body into an object, and all the while they will be the ones calling you porn star and forgetting you have a name. Meanwhile it will be the people you work with, your sex worker friends, who will be asking you about your relationships and your side projects and how is your new apartment and do you want some of these pretzels and what did you think of that Jonathan Lethem book you were reading on set last week.
If you continue to do this job, it will become harder and harder to have a life outside of it. More and more, it will be the people you work with who will understand that your work in pornography doesn’t tell them who you are, and it will be civilians for whom the knowledge that you’ve been naked for money will be a kind of flattening — a thing they cannot see around.
They will tell you it’s pornography that has turned your body into an object, and all the while they will be the ones calling you porn star.
There will be days when the work itself will be hard. There will be days when you will be tired or your muscles will be sore or you just had a fight with your boyfriend and the last thing you want to do is pretend to be sexy. Or your rent will be due and you will need this money in a way that makes everything harder and that will be the day you work with someone who you actually can’t stand to be around and you will turn your face away from them during the scene — you will allow only the necessary parts of your bodies to touch. Or it will be winter and you will be so damn cold the last thing you want to do is take your clothes off. All of these things are likely to happen, maybe all at once.
If you tell your sex worker friends that you’ve had one of these days, they will tell you they’ve been there and that it sucks and they are sorry and do you need a hug or a sweater or a drink. They will tell you that your boyfriend is being a jerk and you deserve better. They will say that it fucking sucks to be poor and hopefully the work will pick up next month. They will make searing jokes about the person you both can’t stand to work with and they will sit next to you wearing sweatpants on the couch in your messy apartment eating microwave dinners and laughing. They will offer you solidarity of every kind.
What they will not do is say, “What else do you expect if this is what you are doing?” They will not ask, “What kind of trauma in your childhood is making you do this to yourself?” They will not say, “What is wrong with you?” They will not intimate that your bad day is evidence of your failing.
Pornography will change your life, and there will be no way to know, when you start, all of the ways that this will happen. Maybe you will start by taking a job that is offered to you by your boyfriend’s friend who has a website and then, once you are already naked on the internet, you will find that you might as well take another job, and then you will start answering ads for more jobs because the work will be much more lucrative but not much more physically difficult than the work you were previously doing. After a while you will realize that for the first time in your life you have money in the bank after your bills are paid. For the first time in your life you can buy groceries on any day of the week, not just on payday. For the first time in your life you can eat in the kind of restaurant where you used to bus tables. After a little while longer, you find you can pay for other things, big things — past debts, car payments, medical bills, tuition, a plane ticket to see your grandmother. In many ways, your life will be easier.
But then you will have to move and in order to get an apartment you will have to find a way to explain to your new landlord what your source of income is. You will want to go back to school — you have the money to do it now — but you will be afraid of being recognized. Afraid of even having to talk to civilians.
"I would no more be a Master than a slave. It does not conform to my idea of Democracy." Abraham Lincoln 1856.