“All I can say is that I am my happiest when I have my hands in 10 different pots… ” says Andre Shakti over a long, intense but no less fun Skype call. “I don’t sleep a lot although I love sleeping. Also I don’t spend time with my family as they’re not local.”
These aren’t the words of somebody who has given up on the world and has retreated into solitude. Quite the opposite in fact. Andre Shakti is the New Jersey-born alt/queer/whatever porn performer, former stripper, private domme and wrestler, activist, educator and diarist. Or, as Andre herself puts it on her website: “I’m one of the busiest (& queerest!) gals in porn.” Any more strings on that bow and we could call her an archer too. Her statuesque build, picturesque beauty and penchant for wild hairstyles are further evidence of a mind less ordinary.
Andre is a representation of what can happen when the individual decides not to just simply carve their own niche, but carve it wide enough so others can follow you. Be it in the ground-breaking and breathtakingly erotic filmed work she does with likes of TROUBLEfilms and others, the fastidious adherence to sex and sexual health education, her tireless activism and campaigning to make the lives of others better or her writing – documents in time to be used by future generations – Andre has quietly positioned herself as one of the industry’s totems.
Andre’s mission – having already chosen to accept it – is to change the perceptions of not just simply the biz but of sexuality, disease, gender roles and the concept of what is and isn’t ‘taboo’. Hers is a wild ride and we’re simply grateful she’s stopped to give us a lift, if only for the briefest of journeys. But – as ever – where to begin?
“I grew up on the east coast of the United States; New Jersey” she tells me in a clear and calm voice that regularly bursts into peals of welcome, warm and loud laughter. “I went to college in Baltimore, Maryland and have always kind of been… I had a pretty laid back family, I have always been pretty open minded. I was sexually active at a pretty early age too.
“I was pretty self-motivated in terms of getting information about safety and information for asking for what I wanted and I kind of generally described myself as being pretty ‘sexually precocious’… so I always had a lot of confidence in that area!”
In terms of making the first step towards the sex industry, it was engineered by that one constant element. The need for the almighty dollar.
“When I was in college I was looking for supplemental income – as so many of us do – and I also grew up doing theatre and studio dancing, so I love to dance, love to be in front of people in a performance-oriented way. One day I answered a Craiglist ad for a Burlesque-style strip club in Baltimore County called The Crazy Russian and that place ended up being the root of my sex work identity and my sex work development.
“I ended up working there for about three years from age 18 to 21. They have just closed too, it was very sad. They got bought out. It was legitimately owned by a crazy Russian woman and her husband and they just had this vision for the club that was a lot like the infamous Crazy Horse club in Paris. It never got there for a million different reasons but it was a really wonderful, close-knit, eclectic kinda place to start my sex work career.”
But it was events many years before her first forays into sex work that laid the foundation for the person we see before us today. A childhood spent in rural New Jersey – where time probably seems to slow down each and every day – kickstarted her passions for sex and all of its consequential off-shoots. Andre’s roots as the woman who travels all over giving seminars, lectures and advice to people of all ages and specifications came from this isolated part of the United States.
“When most people think of NJ they think of The Sopranos, Bruce Springsteen, NJ as an industrial wasteland, a distressed and densely-populated area. But in reality there are parts of NJ – primarily in the south – that are mass areas of farmland. I grew up in a very small town and we had no sex ed. And when I say ‘no’ I mean we didn’t even have a gym teacher to sit us down and show us how to put a condom on a banana. There was NOTHING. It might as well have been nobody was expected to copulate at all during their lives.
“I was really appalled by this and when I was a junior in high school I didn’t know that there were careers I could even pursue in something like sex ed. Obviously I had no role models for this kind of thing at the time but I petitioned my school board to implement a sex ed programme and a comprehensive, educational and sex positive system – which was a long shot with having nothing – but I did a ton of research. I took elements from a lot of the other programmes that were working well elsewhere and I got a lot of petitions signed. I wrote about it in the school paper, got local press to write it up.
“The school didn’t implement one for three years from my campaigning but the year after I graduated I got a phone call from some of my old teachers asking for all of my research and they came and took it from my parent’s house and now there is a sex ed prog at my old school and that is awesome. That was the first time I realised I was so passionate about this line of work.”
Spending large amounts of time dealing with issues some rarely – or never – discuss is one way of throwing yourself into the deep end; which appears to be one of Andre’s trademarks. The world is such that discussing sex, sexual health and contraception is considered totally out of bounds. Is it any wonder the Earth is the fucked up sphere of madness it can truly be sometimes? As we discussed with Cindy Gallop earlier this year, the reality of sex is often swept under the rug. The boundaries are as clear as mud. It’s no wonder people get so confused and find themselves in dangerous and regrettable situations. A lack of education leads to the total breakdown of those elements that are missing out. Sex in itself is almost taboo to millions… nay, billions… across the globe. We don’t know Andre’s middle name… but if she’s ever looking to add one, may we suggest ‘Taboo’? Because Andre sees such terms as flimsy barriers and oh man, she is charging like a rhino at them.
“When a lot of people read and see phrases like ‘taboo’ – particularly when aligned to sex acts – people automatically think of the worst-case scenario. Especially people who aren’t familiar with the industry and who aren’t sex positive in general… they’re looking at that and thinking ‘Taboo? What’s she gonna do? Like…have sex with a cow?! Is she gonna slather herself in cake icing?!”. It’s crazy but that’s the approach I’ve had from some people – asking similar questions – and while we think ‘taboo’ automatically means something crazy it could be something as simple as depicting sex acts in pornography where women are in charge of their own pleasure.
“I do a lot of fetish content so when you think of the more ‘traditional’ definition of taboo I am often participating in films and scenes where things are being eroticized and made desirable – whether they be objects or parts of people’s bodies – that maybe traditional society would never think to be sexual i.e. someone who has an armpit fetish. Most of the world does not go walking around sexualizing people’s armpits on the street but people in the industry know that it has an entire sub-genre attached to it. So everything from celebrating women and other oppressed communities taking control of their own sexuality to eroticizing parts of the human body to natural reactions to arousal such as female ejaculation and objects people may not ordinarily look at twice – especially in a sexual way – that’s all part of the work that I do and the work that I want to do.”
That on-camera work has been done mostly with Courtney Trouble and TROUBLEfilms: pushers of boundaries and openers of eyes and ears to a wonderful world of sexploration. TROUBLEfilms’ world is one of “radical body, ethnic, gender and ability acceptance” – among many other things – and remains some of the most powerful and beautiful sex committed to film.
“Courtney Trouble was one of the first people in the porn industry that I was introduced to. I started out working for Kink.com and their Ultimate Surrender website. The first director or producer that I worked really closely with that wasn’t involved in the mainstream porn industry was Courtney. They’re local to me and Courtney is the one director that I have definitely worked most consistently with. I probably do a project for and with them every two months or so.”
But then there’s always the risk that such a busy, interesting – presumably fun! – life could be lost like Roy Batty’s ‘tears in the rain’ if there’s nothing or nobody to keep track. Andre – as it happens – is also quite the keen writer.
“I’ve always kept a journal and while I’ve never been one for writing fiction – prose, poetry, etc – I’ve always enjoyed the idea of memoirs (especially ones of a sexual nature!). Not so much erotica but I just really enjoy writing about my life and my experiences.
“I started out initially by writing about my strip club work. And I’ve always been extremely ‘out’ in terms of my identity. Everyone in my life – teachers, childhood neighbours, my family – everybody knows what I do. So I would write about the sex I was having, new things I was discovering, places I was going and I just kind of… kept going and going!
“Sometimes I just can’t believe how long I’ve been writing and publishing these insane stories about my life. I tell really good stories, it’s one of my key strengths.”
But the stories always need to be added to. Andre’s isn’t a book you could read once and put down, feeling satisfied that you have learned enough. It’s a book with an infinite number of chapters yet to come. The questions remain: when, why and HOW will they be arriving? In layman’s terms, who can we hope to see cuddled up to Andre on camera next? Who else is she going to put through their paces? What other people are going to walk into her life and be dommed, dom her, be pegged, fucked, kissed, cuddled, hurt, loved and all the rest? Do you understand now how gloriously interesting and vital Andre and her associates’ work is not just to porn but to the world at large?
“I’ve been trying to connect with Jennifer Lyon Bell. Her film Silver Shoes won best film at the 2014 Fem Porn Awards but she’s based in the Netherlands which may make things a little difficult! She and I have been going back and forth for months trying to work out when we are in the same place at the same time.
“As it happens there’s also an actress she has used in multiple films of hers named Leandra Doll who – as a performer – I’ve been dying to work with. It’s my goal to find her and work with her!
“I really admire Wolf Hudson. He’s a male performer based in LA who has been around for 6 or 7 yrs. There have been very few performers who have been able to straddle the divide between gay and straight porn with a degree of success, recognition and just do it really seamlessly. Wolf is a mainstream performer but he really just…weirds it up. He sneaks the indie-fetish-gender-fucking themes into this mainstream work and before you even know what you’re watching there it is. Christian Wilde is another one who works very actively in gay porn as much as straight porn and just does it flawlessly.
“I would really love to do a forced feminisation (FF) scene with a male performer where I dress him up and put make up on him and parade him around. The idea of FF is definitely not a new one but the way that it’s done at times – if I can get on my soapbox for 30 seconds – is that when you dig into what makes a person want to undergo FF and they say it’s about humiliation and ridicule, there’s a horrible misogyny present.
“Some men fetishize it because in their minds being turned into a woman means being weak and helpless and submissive, right? And so it stops being sexy when you really break it down, but the way that I approach FF when I see clients of mine is that I dress them up, I actually make them look beautiful and don’t intentionally try and make them look ridiculous and then I stand them in front of a mirror and if they want that humiliation aspect I tell them ‘Look at you. You’re so beautiful, you did all of these things, you put on your make up, put on your high heels, you tried your hardest and you STILL can’t be a fraction of what a woman actually is’” So I do this fairly regularly with different clients but I have yet to do a film like that.”
And that is Andre to a tee. Sweet, thoughtful… but when the switch is flipped and she goes full Amazon Sexdeath Warrior on you, you’ll be picking up the pieces of your soul from the floor and out of your hair for months afterward.
“What I would really love is – and this is like, my two year plan – is to launch a members-only website that is entirely devoted to fisting. Because in the work I do I also do a lot of sex and sexual health education. I speak at conferences, seminars, public health facilities and meet a lot of students willing to learn and go on to educate themselves but what I really love to talk about is fisting!
“Now, there is NO other members-only site that is predominantly about fisting because of the opinions of mainstream credit card processors not wanting to handle that kind of content. The whole fisting ban in the UK aside, back in the US we have a lot of issues – often with fisting – especially if you’re talking about bringing a fisting scene out on DVD.
I’m sure I’ll be doing a lot more wacky and amazing and sexy things in the foreseeable future but that’s definitely my own personal two year plan.”
… and after less than two hours in Andre’s company I’ve learnt more than I ever bargained for and – frankly – you feel like you’ve made a good friend into the bargain too. Two years in her company and you’d be willing to give it all away. Now that’s power.