Last week, I conversed with a few performers and educators in the adult industry about their lives, their hobbies, knitting, dogs, and the apocalypse. Each chat was pleasant and jovial; I left those imaginary Skype boardrooms thinking I’d made a new friend, or at least friendly acquaintance. However, a few days later I realized I had committed an error in how I communicated with these pornography folks.
The most sagely words I’ve ever heard on the subject of human (and puppet) equality are as follows:
“Only peoples. Peoples is peoples. No is buildings. Is tomatoes, huh? Is peoples, is dancing, is music, is potatoes. So, peoples is peoples. Okay?”
Those words were spoken by the character Pete in Muppets Take Manhattan, an exceptionally wise film and part of a franchise that proved that a frog and pig could fall in love. I think about these words now because they’re the solution to how we tend to put people in boxes and communicate with them solely based on the parameters of the encasement we as a culture have constructed. More than this, though, the idea that we’re all “peoples” and “music” and “potatoes” together is a cure for the self righteousness that comes from believing we’ve transcended, and overcome putting people in boxes.
While I was chatting with the adult performers, I was actively trying to ask them questions they wouldn’t normally be asked based on the journalism I’d read prior. Part of this is valid: it’s unlikely that a porn star and/or sex educator will be asked about the heat death of the universe. That assumption, though, is problematic. I thought I was working to humanize an industry that many spend far too much time demonizing, but really, behind that, I was reinforcing barriers as well by choosing the aforementioned interview tactics.
The porn world and the mainstream world don’t communicate very well. Many people believe that pornography should be wiped from existence, and that shows a lack of empathy and understanding. Creators and performers in adult have to walk about with the porn label constantly attached to them; from my observations, they are regarded as porn people before people. And by actively trying to uncover the human side of the people I was interviewing, I was helping to bolster the dehumanizing myth, as I was feeding into the idea that it takes a civilian from the mainstream to prove porn isn’t somehow bad.
I still believe my conversations were honest and compelling, and there were some truly lovely nuggets of truth and humor. The next step, though, would have been to stop trying to dispel mythology about porn and simply treat it like any and every other career done by “peoples.” It’s not some shadowy world that needs a wholesome light cutting through it. That’s just being inconsiderate to a whole community of folks who truly enjoy their jobs.
So I apologize for not recognizing that next step, and not getting to a communicative place where we could have spoken like “peoples.” My hope is that American culture can get to that place as well, but there’s a whole lot of stigma still orbiting the collective conscious and subconscious of much of the country. Maybe a solution would be to remove the distinction between adult and mainstream from the conversation altogether and just openly talk about sex and life and animals and impending doom and books as highly varied equals. If a frog and a pig and a bear comic – and whatever the heck Gonzo was – could do it, so can we.
As Kermit said, “Maybe we’ll find it, the rainbow connection, the [civilian], the [pornstar], and me.”
Then we’ll be able to recognize that no matter your life trajectory – whether you have sex for the world to wank to, or live a completely sexless life – we’re all dreamers and lovers and “tomatoes.” Hopefully before the sun explodes, at least.