If there’s one thing the UK government hates, it’s wanking. Numerous failed attempts have been made over the last few years to crack down on porn screen-time, the most recent of which is the now-delayed ‘porn ban’ (described by Wired as “one of the worst ideas ever”). It’s not just MPs, either – even Tumblr, a site known for its porn GIFs and shit erotic fan fiction, has filtered out all adult content and essentially destroyed its hopes of survival in the process.
We’re told that censorship is good and porn is bad, but what about the porn performers caught in the crossfire of this hugely oversimplified narrative? Performer Jiz Lee released an anthology entitled Coming Out Like A Porn Star back in 2016, to glowing reviews. The book told deeply personal and often laugh-out-loud hilarious stories; they were burdened by stigma, but ultimately they spoke of resilience and the value of porn.
A lot has changed since 2016, but sites like Lustery and MakeLoveNotPorn are hosting progressive amateur clips to prove that porn can be realistic and intimate. Elsewhere, directors like Erika Lust are making beautiful films that prove that sex can have artistic value. But there’s still stigma to be eroded, so we reached out to five porn performers with wildly different experiences to discuss what happened when they ‘came out’.
Andre: “My mother wept and insisted I was putting myself in ‘danger'”
When I first came out to my family about sex work in college, they had a relatively predictable response. My younger sister was supportive, but the rest of my family either refused to acknowledge my disclosure or outwardly expressed disgust. I was coming out as queer and non-monogamous too; some of my family saw this trifecta as a callous rebellion or a temporary phase. My mother wept and insisted I was putting myself in danger, but she could never articulate the ‘danger’.
Fast-forward a few years, I remember standing in my California bedroom after moving 3,000 miles away from my family – a blessing, for sure. I had been shooting porn for over a year, so in the hopes that she would come around I called my mother. I told her I was happy and healthy; that I had met a beautiful, powerful group of adult performers, many of whom are human rights activists like myself; that the money was great. I told her I was proud. I wanted her to be proud, too.
None of it mattered. After years of bending over backwards to be treated with the kindness, compassion and respect I deserve, I severed ties with my family in 2017. It was the best decision I ever made. In fact, I wish desperately that I’d done it sooner. Now I routinely make myself available to other folks in the sex industry; those who are struggling to disentangle themselves from similarly unsupportive familial relationships that just aren’t serving them.
Paulita: “You never know how someone will react”
‘Coming out’ is an ongoing process. I first performed in porn almost ten years ago, and now I work as full-time porn producer – I’ve collected thousands of ‘coming out’ stories in that time! There’s the common bar scenario, when people ask what you do. I casually respond: ‘porn’! I’m lucky to live in my Berlin bubble, because people tend to react positively. They’re curious and want to hear more, which is great – although I don’t always feel like explaining my existence.
Generally speaking, people talk more openly about sex in public. But you never know how someone will react – you always have to evaluate the situation. However casually you frame it, a porn career isn’t ‘normal’, and even well-meaning people often react childishly.
Telling my mother is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. We love each other intensely, which is maybe why confronting her worries, judgment and lack of acceptance was so painful, as much for her as for me. Over the last years we’ve had many ‘coming out’ conversations. She acknowledges me, asks questions – sometimes we cry in each others’ arms. The last time I screened a film I had produced in Spain, she wanted to come and see it. “But it’s porn,” I told her. “You know that.” “I know,” she replied – “surely I’m old enough to see it!”
NB Jupiter: “My younger sibling literally shrugged and said: ‘cool.’ Mum had lots of questions”
I started sex work at 18, when I started university. As someone who is queer, disabled and living with mental illness, it seemed like a good way to support myself and maintain independence while following my passion as a performer and creator. I fell in love with the community and the job, and I fully intend to continue after graduation.
I first came out to my younger sibling, who literally shrugged and said: ‘cool.’ That’s the golden seal of approval from them! Six months later I told my mum. I’m lucky that we have an extremely close bond, but she also lives with anxiety. She had lots of questions, so I explained and she said that as long as I wasn’t doing real meet-ups (like sugaring and escorting), she would be proud of me. Full service is something I know I can’t provide, so we left on a tight promise to keep it online.
Two years later I called my dad, who had been wanting to see my solo performance ‘From My Bedroom’, and anxiously described my job. A transgender model selling clips online – all while dressed in cosplay? To him, it sounded great! I was filled with joy. I know I’m one of the lucky ones; my parents’ support and unconditional love has allowed me to create performances charged with activism. I have hope for the future; that I can use my voice for Sex Workers (and yes, we deserve the capitalisation!) and secure the equality we deserve.
Mercy: “Mum’s advice was if you’re proud of your work, I support you”
I started sex work when I was 18 years old. I met photographers at a local kink club who wanted to shoot rope photography. I ended up loving it, but I didn’t know how I felt about having my tits on the internet forever, so I asked my mum. She was a stripper in the 90s; she knows sex work can suck, but it can also be empowering and fun. Her advice was: as long as you’re proud of the work you produce, I’m happy to support you. So that was wonderful!
My parents are separated, so while my mum’s side were fine with it, I knew my father’s side wouldn’t be. One of my sisters found out around two years ago; she accidentally saw a photo online. In her words, she was “mortified.” She burst into tears, couldn’t even talk to me. They threatened to disown me if I didn’t quit; they were asking me to abandon my full-time job of six years without showing any concern, or offering any help.
Later my dad would tell me he didn’t approve, but that he was proud of me. Still, he refused to stand up for me; he told me to keep trying with my sisters. I realised he was essentially telling me to continue being verbally abused, disrespected and treated like less than a human. I can’t accept that. The last time we spoke I told him he could either stand up for me or leave me be. I think he’s choosing to leave me be.
Siri: “I was outed early in my career and my parents’ reaction hit me hardest”
I lied to my family about why I’d moved to Los Angeles. I planned to tell them once I achieved success in the porn industry, but that didn’t go according to plan. I was outed very early on, and my parents’ reaction hit me the hardest; they questioned my sanity, and at one point even said it felt like I had died.
I had a few successful, rewarding years as a performer, but I had minimal and very strained contact with my family. They were the main reason I retired – being close to them was ultimately more important. I’ve been retired for four years, but they still don’t acknowledge or understand my experiences. I’ve faced stigma in other aspects of life too, from employment to dating and inappropriate comments, even from healthcare professionals.
We need to do better as a society to recognise that sex work is work; that sex workers are worthy of support, love and acceptance. I’m privileged to live relatively unscathed in my ‘civilian’ life now, and most people just have tonnes of questions. So I take every opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation; I think every one of those discussions helps build greater understanding, caring and safety for sex workers.