The Accidental Voyeur: School of Hard Knox

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Are porn stars real people too? Us industry scribes might scoff at that kind of question, but you’d be surprised how many in the civilian world wonder about that. I thought about it recently when I came across the opinion piece by Belle Knox in Rolling Stone, posted online November 5, 2014 under her real name of Miriam Weeks, entitled “Prostitutes Are People, Not Criminals,” which succinctly summarized her latest position (pardon the pun) regarding her situation after some so-called friends at Duke University had publicly outed her, having slut-shamed her as a porn star.

That happened back in March and I couldn’t (and still don’t) understand what the fuss was all about. Sure, she was 18 and using sex work as a means of paying her massive tuition bills, but it was just her way of getting through that rite of passage called university. Eight months on, I hadn’t weighed in on the matter in this column, mainly because my own views were already better stated by Stoya in her defense of Belle Knox, via her op-ed piece in The New York Times of March 8, 2014, entitled “Can We Learn About Privacy From Porn Stars?” For those of you who missed it, here’s what Stoya said that really hit home for me:

“I expected my orifices to be viewable in high-definition by anyone with an Internet connection. It would be ragingly narcissistic to assume that over 150,000 people would follow you on Twitter because of your work in pornography. But eight years later, that’s exactly what happened. Yes, there’s a paradox here in that I willingly engage in work that reduces me to a few sexual facets of myself but expect to be seen as a multifaceted person outside of that work. I participate in an illusion of easy physical access, and sometimes the products associated with that illusion – the video clips and silicone replicas of my sexual organs (seriously, and they’re popular enough to provide the bulk of my income) – do, in fact, exist without attachment to a person with free will or autonomy. “

She ends with two thoughts well worth considering: “Whether you portray yourself as a professional sex symbol or a morally upstanding member of the PTA, we all do this kind of self-branding now” and “Maybe we should remember that our first glimpse of a person is just one small piece of who they really are.”

Really, is that last bit not true? Just this past week, I engaged in a lively email exchange with a colleague from AVN who told me that if a certain girl did anything to turn him off in real life, he would lose all sexual interest and not even watch her movies anymore. I told him I could still be turned on sexually by those with less than stellar reputations as human beings but I did make exceptions if certain pledges were made and promises then broken. Two cases immediately came to mind, where appointments were pre-arranged yet the actual interviews never took place. (Sunny Leone and Nikki Tyler, you know who you are.) What were those girls afraid of, that my questions might hit some raw nerve and scare them away? How could a porn star be scared of anything?!!

I’ll never know, but I can say I’ve followed the Belle Knox controversy enough to know that Miriam Weeks would probably not freak out from fear, for she apparently has the courage of her convictions (also best reflected in her piece in the Huffington Post with the exemplary headline, “I Don’t Want Your Pity: Sex Work and Labor Politics”). And I can share here an episode from my own life that illustrates my defense of girls like her.

Years ago, when I myself was in grad school at the University of Southern California, I spent a week up in the state capital, Sacramento, doing some research for my dissertation. One night I found myself living out a particularly memorable tryst with an escort I’d ordered to my hotel room. It wasn’t my first experience at commercial, recreational sex but it was my very first with a girl who told me she was doing it to pay her way through college. She told me she was 18 going on 19, and called herself Sandy (perhaps because she had sandy-brown hair, which is how I remembered her name) and in present-day porn star terms she resembled Jenna J. Ross (as I implied in my column on Jenna this past January).

I found her refreshingly friendly in that open-minded, California-girl kind of way, and I was quite taken by how unguarded she was, how easily she played the fantasy girlfriend. And so, when she began with the obligatory blowjob, I mustered the bravado to spontaneously whisper what must have sounded like a clunky porn movie line. “So Sandy,” I asked, “how do you like my cock?”

She took my cock out of her mouth for a few seconds and regarded it, encased in the palm of her right hand. “I like it. It’s pretty,” she said. “You have a very pretty cock.” And she then gently reinserted it in her mouth, closed her eyes, and continued sucking.

I immediately gasped, which she must’ve thought the result of her oral skills but it was really from my sheer surprise at her candid answer. No one had ever said that to me before. I was admittedly needful of sexual validation back then, because I secretly lived on those words for a very long time. Young Sandy from Sacramento, she haunted me for years to come.

Yes, she was a part-time prostitute, financing her college tuition that way, but I saw her as very much a professional, with an expert eye (from sheer experience, of course) on the aesthetic beauty of the male genitalia. I clearly scored high in her book and I could only assume she was getting pleasure out of what she was doing, too. She made me realize what it must be like to give your body to a stranger, in exchange for money, yet the transaction can sometimes reap a mutually satisfying reward.

Sandy wasn’t exactly Belle, of course, since she worked not on porn sets but amid the privacy of hotel rooms, but that’s really just a difference of degree. Both of them are heroines in my book. If some Americans remain so repressed and ridiculously prudish about the existence of escorting, porn and all the other realms of sex work, that to me will always be their loss. This being November, with yet another Thanksgiving around the corner, I’ll raise a toast to Sandy from Sacramento, my memory to cherish forever. And score one for Belle Knox and her sorority sisters.

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Drew McKenzie was previously the "Cinema Blue" columnist for Penthouse Variations and also wrote for AVN Online, Fox (from Montcalm Publishing, New York) and Guld Rapport (from Stockholm, Sweden). He is also the author of seven books -- three on porn stars, all done under his real name.