My dear internet travelers,
This blog post comes to you from New Haven, CT and more precisely, Yale University where I have been invited to speak at Sex Week 2012. Tomorrow afternoon, I will be a part of a round table panel with Professor Gail Dines and Professor Carolyn Bronstein and then I will be speaking with students about sex, sex on camera, and the porn industry in a dialogue moderated by Cindy Gallop.
It’s an incredible honor for me to speak here. I am a smut peddler which is low culture at its finest and here I am in the hallowed halls of the prestigious Yale University Campus. Apparently, my presence here is somewhat controversial as is Sex Week, itself. Reading the news coverage reveals the paradigm of “porn star” at work in the American imagination.
Maybe, just maybe, those who oppose my presence here have a reasonable reason to be concerned but not for the reasons they have articulated. There’s something dangerous about letting someone who has chosen a counter-cultural occupation in a stigmatized profession speak before young people who have lived within a distinguished institutional incubator on the political intersections of pleasure, labor, revolution, and autonomy. A whore with a library card has the potential to be a rhetorical assassin in the intellectual arena.
When you have been repeatedly dehumanized to your face, you start to cultivate a steely reserve that exceeds your nerves. What can anyone say that I have not heard or read in my inbox already? That I should be raped to death, brainwashed by the patriarchy, that I am in-human, that I am a traitor to feminism, that I am deluded, that I am a fucking stupid cunt? It’s the redundancy of these phrases that grates less than the punch that the prose emits.
I am the fearsome porn star. Rather than copulating my way across the campus, I have gone on something of a journey throughout the streets of this town and it’s co-dependent relationship on the exclusive institution in its midst that might possibly own more land than the city.
You see, sex is one manifestation of the tightly controlled madness in my brain. I have always followed the beat of my own drum, always on the outskirts of my cultures and communities, large and small. I don’t know what I’m looking for as I wander these streets as a veritable tourist but somehow I always manage to find at least one thing I was looking for without the conscious awareness that I was seeking it.
As I walked the streets, I noticed a striking number of video surveillance cameras. It was just a side observation and I began to snap cellphone pictures as I walked to help tally them up. Well, there may perhaps have been the knee jerk reactionary desire to take pictures of those taking pictures of me. Regardless, there I was snapping pictures of the video surveillance outside of a retail front office for a city district manager who was very curious about the pictures I was taking before inviting me into his office. There, he delivered a diatribe on how notions of a panopticon are just moronic liberal hogwash as well as his plans to get even more cameras onto the streets of New Haven.
Well, there you go.
My wanderings took me also to Occupy New Haven. As a resident of Oakland, CA I know firsthand how these camps have been received. Even as the weather is frigid and hypothermia is a legitimate risk of camping outdoors (especially when open flames of any kind of forbidden by law), the camp still stands and the protesters have a pretty reasonable relationship with the city and its police. Their greatest disruptions so far have come from students at the university. Erected on October 15, 2011 the camp is situated in between the city hall and a campus dormitory building, both of which look down upon the encampment in the park.
The punchline to this layout is the fact the city hall building of New Haven has a gorgeous and massive skylight that creates something just short of a literal glass ceiling. Looking down upon the city hall with a clear view into the building and its hallways and offices is Bank Of America.
Upon seeing the camp, the chill in the air hit me a little harder along with the reminder that the homeless lack even the minimal shelter of a tent to protect them from New England winter. There they are, holding the space, reminding people that their investment in cultivating change is serious. Although the number of campers has dwindled there is still a strong and consistent presence and individuals who have been there camping for 118 days without interruption.
What I love about the Occupy Movement is the easy access to political think tanks across the country. The culture shock of Yale has been striking to me. I did my undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz, home of the banana slugs, which is relatively well known for being a hippie school with a solid University of California accredited education. I take my experiences in education in a weird little town where the surf meets the forest for granted, sometimes. Not everyone read philosophy texts at the top of 60 foot redwood trees? Not everyone hiked 20 minutes through a forest between classes? Not everyone has a tradition of running naked at the first rain of the academic school year?
The prismatic walls of my liberal bubble have been shattered by the prevailing Yale culture. The Occupy camp here in New Haven has been my primary means of assuaging my homesickness and working on my long-range goals for systemic change as well. Here I am, talking smut with the heirs to America and tactical politics with a group of crusty protesters braving the freezing weather to speak up for what is right and ethical.
It’s liberating to sit with them. I came today with some bags of food containing fruit, bread, cheese, yogurt, and granola. Experience has taught me that most of the food donations to Occupy Camps tend to run along the lines of junk food which is certainly tasty but not always the best possible option. As I cracked open a sourdough baguette to pass and share with some goat cheese, several of my new acquaintances commented that they had never tasted goat cheese before.
The street outreach worker in me still lives. Although some people have homes in houses, experience has taught me that whether or not someone’s home has visible walls does not mean that you are any less a guest in that space. It is a long and international tradition to offer gifts of food as a sign of friendship and good faith when entering someone’s home. Sharing lunch turned into an opportunity to visit the New Haven City Hall for some research on resources, public meetings, and tax assessor maps. Having packed a wardrobe of largely “straight drag” items, I pulled my fancy notebook out and put my camera around my neck and followed behind to support their information seeking process.
Having someone who looks straight and makes it a point to confidentially and actively observe a situation with visible documentation tools changes the tone of a dialogue between a protester and a city official. The scandalous porn star invited to Yale somehow managed to slip into city hall and pass as someone legitimate based on presentation and accouterments alone. At no point did I lie, I just made it a point to sit back silently from the conversation and conspicuously take notes and maintain strong eye contact on the city officials at all times.
The conversation itself was immensely positive. As I said before, although there may be tensions with what many call crusty hippies the camp does not have a negative relationship with its occupiers and has been maintaining an open door for communication. The alderman that the occupiers spoke with demonstrated his skill as a politician when he worked quickly to find the common ground and establish rapport by discussing his local work around issues such as corporate personhood. He made it clear he was listening, he made it clear that he agreed that great changes to the political process should occur.
Finally, his curiosity broke and he inquired as to who I was. I was honest; I told him I was invited to speak at Yale for the Sex Week events and that I had been talking with the occupiers and was taking notes for my writing. Politicians, even the best that I’ve ever encountered, have some fairly consistent behavioral quirks. They are well practiced in their handshakes and eye contact and quite a bit of what they do to win your confidence is detailed in pick up artist manuals. They do everything they can to establish a connection so strong that the person they are speaking with really does feel heard and special.
I walked back to the camp and chatted with the occupier who instigated the 3 person field trip about how long he had been at the camp, what he was working on, and what his vision for action was. The occupiers I spoke with were all immensely warm and all in possession of a type of authenticity I do not see with most of the Yale students who seem to be consistently anxious and ill at ease with their abundance of un-embodied knowledge.
The other night I sat in a dorm room with many of the sex week organizers and shared stories and histories. Somehow in the cramped social space that had been designated as safe for off-the-record discourse about sexuality I could see some of them finally relax just a bit and begin to speak from their hearts. As the night wore on, their tone changed. There is a the palpable presence of pretension and privilege in a “Yalie,” but it is truly a facet of the institutional culture here. As their tone relaxed, I realized that mine was as well.
Even I had been making it a point to be strategic with words and topic matter in a way that revealed an acute anxiety about how people will judge me by the way I speak and the composition of my rhetoric. Is it the Neo-Gothic architecture? The sheer number of churches and security cameras looking out and down and that people? Is it everything that you have to deny yourself in order to be a “Yalie” of distinction.
They wear more drag at Yale than they do in the gay bars of San Francisco and they don’t even know it.
Tomorrow, my dear internet friends, I undertake this crazy venture of contrasting the views of two women who possess infinitely more cultural capital than I in regards to scholarship in the arena of pornography. A student actually articulated the situation precisely when he said, “Tomorrow, they’re going to be able to get away with murder and you won’t. That’s just how it is and you have to be that good.” I guess that’s cost of admission if you have the audacity to fuck, think, and speak.
I don’t know what I can hope to accomplish tomorrow at the panel. I don’t know what people are willing to hear when I’m framed as a porn star rather than a curious stranger with infinite questions about the politics and philosophy of the spaces I enter. Perhaps I have so fervently pursued them because it may be more effective to have constant conversations in which I can show someone, at the very least, that I am capable of human thought and emotion and that I have come here of my own accord and on my own journey. I do not ask for the blessings of an institution but I do demand that my humanity be recognized.
I’m here less to be a groupie and more to look these young heirs to America square in the eye and show them that there are greater truths beyond their paradigm. It seems that I have had great successes on this front from my smaller dialogues and I will continue them so long as someone is there to listen, respond, and share their thoughts as well.