The Awl Interviews Stoya; “I recently got into professional wrestling as a spectator”

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from – At the 2013 Adult Video Awards, I had the good fortune to meet the woman who calls herself Stoya. She’s mercurial, striking, and staggeringly smart—by turns a writer, lyra acrobat, and wildly successful adult performer. She’s also a busy bee. The other day we talked about privacy, sexuality, the Internet, feminism, pizza delivery guys and doing porn when she’s 50. Her Instagram is entirely cat-related.

The Awl: So, how long have you worked in the industry?

Stoya: Mm…since late 2007. So, six years?

The Awl: What are you doing in LA right now? Are you shooting stuff or just visiting or…?

Stoya: Well, it’s gonna be a tangent-y complicated kind of thing. My boyfriend works like, every day. And he works in the kind of sense where he has to be physically in Los Angeles. But now I’m going to go into the weird tangent… we’re both kind of sensitive about talking about each other in a press way, just because it’s always weird to be, like… someone will ask, “So, how did you feel about The Canyons?” I can’t go on record telling you how he felt about anything! I can give you his email address, and you can talk to his press person about setting up an interview, but this is just awkward! So we’re kind of super awkward about it still—at least, I’m super awkward about it still. My boyfriend is really awesome, and I would totally talk about him, except then, things that I say will get quoted. And then things might get awkward. So, as a policy, it’s like, my boyfriend: “Is it James Deen? I’m not telling you.” Which then in itself is awkward, because everybody knows that we’re dating. I’m still navigating how to set boundaries without being a dick.

The Awl: You guys are like the Jay Z and Beyoncé of the industry!

Stoya: He’s the Beyoncé. I’m the Jay Z.

The Awl: In other hilarious news, my mother just called me…while I’m on the phone with a very famous adult actress. You can’t make that shit up.

Stoya: Does your mother know that you went to the AVNs? [laughs]

The Awl: Nope. I was going to let her find that out via this article.

Stoya: I had a roommate when I was, 18, 19, 20, and every time we’d move, she’d say that she didn’t want me to tell my mother what our new address was because I like to do things like take my clothes off on the Internet. And then pretend she’s not going to find out. And she didn’t want my mom to show up at the door looking for me. [laughs] [imitating her mother] “WHAT HAS MY DAUGHTER DONE?!”

The Awl: Yikes.

Stoya: I think now, if you don’t want the whole world to find out about it, then you just shouldn’t do it. But it definitely took me a year to work up the courage to tell my mom that I was… taking my clothes off on the Internet. And in the interim my roommate did not want to be the first one to have to deal with her when she found out.

The Awl: How did she deal with it?

Stoya: My mom was… a feminist. She’s the first woman working in the engineering department of the nuclear plant that she eventually started working at — and she raised me, like, “You can do whatever you want! Any job you want. You are not constrained by your female-ness, or your vagina, or anything like that.”

“And she struggled for a few years—or at least, seemed to struggle—with the idea that her daughter, who she raised to do whatever she wanted, then wanted to go do porn. And not just do porn, but do super mainstream, commercial, fake-eyelashes, high heels…My first two movies I had pigtails! And so that was a little bit of a thing. But she’s come around!

The Awl: That must have been a hard conversation to have! I was actually about to ask you about the intersection of porn and feminism, and if you think there’s a place for it.

Stoya: That is such a complex thing! My career in porn is in no way a feminist act. That’s my job. I like my job. But I’m not doing anything to contribute to the furtherment of the feminist cause by showing up and being made up and styled to look like a very conventionally attractive woman and then having sex on camera.

“There’s nothing feminist about that. But I’d also argue that pornography is entertainment, and therefore it’s no more anti-feminist for me to go and do my job—and do the high heels and the fake-eyelashes and makeup and all that stuff and have heterosexual sex with men, that’s redundant—but it’s no more anti-feminist than being a female actress showing up to a red carpet event wearing a dress. Women like to wear dresses. It’s okay. Feminism is such a complicated thing to me, because the parts of feminism that I encounter a lot seem to be the extremes of it.

“And I feel like it’s not fair to judge feminism on its extremes, just like it’s not fair to judge porn on the extremes. But in my experience with feminism, things like “All sexwork and porn is bad, and it contributes to rape culture, and keeps women down!”—which I don’t really think is the case—or it’s more specific and more positive, but it’s stuff like ‘Stoya, you don’t do things that you don’t want to do on camera, so that means that all porn is ethical and great and wonderful!’

“I had a headdesk moment, because I kind of have to put my foot down, and say no, I don’t do that. I am not comfortable doing that. I do not want to do that scene. Or, you know, it’s less of a hard-line thing. It’s like “Hey, it makes me feel uncomfortable to play these roles.” There’s a movie where everyone is cheating on their significant other. And it makes me feel weird. So I’d prefer not to do that anymore. And there are definitely—like all industries—there are people in porn and companies in porn that aren’t ethical.

The Awl: Right.

Stoya: The whole thing is so complicated! [laughs]

The Awl: It’s definitely a nuanced thing, at least the way I see it. The way that you’ve described it, as porn inherently in the act itself being anti-feminist, is a lot different. I think third-wave feminism has sort of come back around to the idea. And I think you can see this in, for example, the new journal Porn Studies. That in itself is saying that porn is worth a critical examination, and that cultural studies has sort of failed in its duty to really closely read the issues. But I think you’re right, I think it’s very interesting. And it’s funny because your mom is—technically, according to Wikipedia—a second-wave feminist. It’s a fun career path, I’m sure. I’m sure you get into heated arguments about it all the time.

Stoya: We used to. When I was a child, and an asshole—I still kind of am—my mother and her mother and I would sit around and arguments about the right to abortion would happen. And the three of us all believed that women should have a right to abortion. And that the right to abortion is a very important thing. But we’d sit around, and I’d kind of poke holes in their arguments; and because I was a kid—and also a dick!—I’d say things like, “Well, none of us here have fertile wombs!” [laughs] Like, “Maybe our roles should be less heated, and more of a supportive thing—like, have a fertile womb!”

The Awl: Oh my.

Stoya: My opinions at that age were extreme, and not very well thought out, as is common with kids. I look at stuff I said three years ago, and I’m like, “Wow, that is really oversimplified, and I should think about what I say more!”

The Awl: That’s what growing up feels like.

Stoya: We just kind of both like to debate things, so we would debate anything.

The Awl: So are you matriarchs? That’s a weird question, but, you know….

Stoya: I would say I see more of that on my dad’s side of the family. I’d also say that it wasn’t a joke, because it was true, but I made a comment that was meant to be light-hearted on The Huffington Post recently. And word has come down from my family that they would appreciate it if I thought about the fact that they did not choose to live a public life! [laughs] And think maybe they don’t want to get teased at work because of something that I said, now that I’m doing interviews with, you know, actual media. Not that the porn media isn’t actual media, but media that more people see more often?

The Awl: So when did you start doing real—and by “real” I mean not porn—interviews and stuff in the media? I saw the Village Voice profile of you recently. How’s being a public figure, and not just for having sex on camera?

Stoya: It’s weird, is what it is. Press people and stuff—and sometimes random strangers—will ask, “Does it feel weird to have a fleshlight and know that all these people are having sex with a replica of your vagina?” And I always thought that was cool. But what is weird is the position that I’m in now: it’s like, now that I’m definitely—I’ve been on the cover of the Village Voice!—the places I’m being talked about more recently are not age-verified. They’re not aimed at a market that’s 18+. For instance, the latest piece I wrote for VICE, about ethics in porn—I feel like that’s an important thing to say. Or the “So you want to be in porn” one. Because, realistically, I know—I hope that there aren’t (just because it’s illegal) kids under the age of 18 watching my videos.

The Awl: They are.

Stoya: Oh, I know they are! [laughs] It’s like okay, before you get stars in your eyes, and think you’re going to show up in the Valley the day you turn 18, and people are just going to throw Louboutins and press and compliments at you, let’s talk about the reality of it a little bit. Because I do have the reach that I do on social networking and stuff, I can talk about things like condoms. Condoms are a really good thing! The reason you don’t see condoms in a lot of pornos, the reason I feel comfortable having sex without condoms in porno, is because we’re all tested all the time. But you don’t see that. So, if you and your partners are all going to get tested every 2-4 weeks, then you’re taking the same risks that we are. But that’s probably not the case!

The Awl: That’s really interesting! I had one other question about the fleshlight, but we can get to that later. I was on your Twitter earlier, and you have almost 150,000 followers. I think the reason why a lot of people enjoy your social media presence is because you’re a porn star who actually cares about people’s well-being. Speaking of, the porn sex vs. real sex thing—

Stoya: Oh God.

The Awl: I read that piece in Medium, and I wanted to get your take on it. What do you think?

Stoya: Well, here’s, um…Well, the Internet is a Thing That Happened. And thanks to a combination of the perceived anonymity on the Internet, and the ability to connect with people all across the globe—oh and the search indexes—it’s pretty obvious now that this concept of “normal sex,” which is two people having sex in a handful of not really very articulately specified positions, to completion, and by completion I mean the ejaculation of a man; I think one of the serious problems with this concept is that it doesn’t take into account lesbians.

“Or it doesn’t take into account two people who have vaginas, who like sleeping with women, but who are not lesbians. Because so on and so forth. It’s this very concrete, narrow idea of sex—it’s not the kind of sex that a lot of people are interested in having. And I’m sure there are people who do like their sex very, for lack of a better word, vanilla. That’s great and that’s wonderful, and they like things simple, I guess would be a good way to describe it? And that’s great for them. But there are also all of these other people—there are whole message boards and stuff devoted to kinds of sex that we legally can’t show in pornography! Or at least, pornography that we produce in America. Like, Google watersports. Not at work. See what pops up.

The Awl: I’ve been on the Internet for a while, I’ve encountered these things….

Stoya: So you know what I’m talking about! [laughs]

Stoya: If you look around on the Internet now, it’s really difficult to deny the fact that there are many different kinds of sex that people engage in. And it doesn’t necessarily end with a man ejaculating. It doesn’t necessarily even involve an appendage going into a hole. So real sex—I understand why they would say porn sex vs. real sex.

The Awl: But it’s not a nuanced enough argument, right?

Stoya: Yeah. It’s just a very basic “I bet you got a lot of clicks out of that. Good job.”

The Awl: We’re also talking to gay male porn star Dale Cooper. In our interview, he was talking about the fact that gay porn—or, at least, male-male porn—is very underrepresented when you talk in public about porn. You think of men and women. And at the AVNs, I thought the same sort of thing; there was only one gay porn booth. How do you think we should proceed in not-marginalizing those groups? Like people who fall outside the spectrum. And is there anything that we can do to help that?

Stoya: There’s definitely something to be said for talking directly to a wide array of people; for instance, you won’t see much discussion of gay porn, or even queer porn and feminist porn when I do interviews, because I’ve never done it. I might know a couple of people in it, but I’m not gonna talk about it very much because I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about!

“If someone asks me about cars, I’m gonna go, “Look, I have ridden in cars, I have never had a driver’s license! I am not qualified!” And then, the other side of that needs to be framing of who the people who are being spoken to are. So, you know, you talk to me, and it would be more proactive about admitting that it’s not inclusive to frame it as “Porn star that works in the commercial-oriented, heterosexual porn industry.” And then you talk to the guy in male-on-male porn and you frame it as—whether he works for a smaller studio, or one of the “big ones”—he’s whatever his job description is, he’s “the gay male porn” or whatever it is that he identifies as. And then at least it’s like, hey, here’s one aspect of porn. When you’re talking to a doctor, you mention that they’re a podiatrist, or an endocrinologist.

The Awl: It’s specialties. So maybe, do you think the porn academic journal can bring this to light?

Stoya: That could be really interesting. They haven’t put anything out yet, so I’m curious to see where they’re going to go with it.

The Awl: Would you ever contribute?

Stoya: Maybe… I don’t know if I’m, like, science-y enough? [laughs] My only experience with colleges has been very art school focused, so…It’s not like I’ve ever taken a course in journalism or something. It’s like when people try to tell me that I am an actress. It’s like “Well, there are these people who are actually actors, and they’ve devoted a lot of time and effort to training and classes and stuff.” I don’t know if they would be insulted, but I feel like it’s kind of insulting to the idea of actors, to say yes, call me an actress! I go to work and have sex for a living, and try to do the best job at delivering some lines that I can. You know?

The Awl: [laughs]

Stoya: I’m sure there’s actual journalism stuff that you learn, whether you’re being trained on the job or you take classes in it. [laughs] So for me to submit something to an academic journal, like… But I have a blog!

The Awl: It’s funny that you mention not feeling like a real actress, but then you have your boyfriend—who is unnamed and will remain unnamed—

Stoya: [laughs]

The Awl: …Starring in this film, and I just read a review in the New Yorker and it was a very positive review. I think most people who aren’t porn stars would say that—or would imagine that—having sex on camera is really hard and takes some training, whether that’s on the job or off.

Stoya: But even he put serious effort into it, you know?

The Awl: …Do you not put serious effort into your films?

Stoya: I do. But maybe what all actors do is show up and play themselves, but only the parts of themselves that are right for what’s being shot right then. And if that’s the case, then maybe it is kind of similar. It’s the whole process of portraying a character. I don’t really do that in porn. It’s always, “You’re you. Now read these lines.”

The Awl: So how does your actual life conflict with your public persona? As far as not acting when you’re being films.

Stoya: I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking. Is it like, how having sex professionally then affects my personal life? Or is it…

The Awl: I’m just wondering because you don’t see what you do as acting. So how does that translate from your films to your real, personal life?

Stoya: Hm. This could get interesting. I like when I’m stumped in interviews. I did this interview last week with this woman who was writing about pubic hair…

The Awl: [laughs]

Stoya: And we got into the discussion of whether, for instance, wearing lipstick is feminist or not. Then I said I feel like that’s a red herring—we’re arguing about lipstick and whether that’s feminist or not, maybe as a way to process our feelings on the really big issues, like equal pay and stuff like that. Or maybe we’re just getting distracted by something as silly as an aesthetic choice.

“It came out a lot better—and both of us were like “Oooh! That is an interesting idea!” So, okay. I feel like there seem to be two categories of ways of dealing with being a public person. Being a person who performs. I’m definitely not Lady Gaga or Katy Perry or something, but there is a certain amount of public interest in my personal life and things like that. It’s a weird thing. And I feel like people either tend to put on a persona—it’s like, they put on their so-and-so hat, and they do their interviews, and they do their appearances, and they do their jobs, and then they go home, and they take it all off and they’re them. I just don’t have the ability to do that. I’m just gonna be me. If it works out that’s great, and if doesn’t work out, that’s fine.

The Awl: I think that’s a great way to be—I think it translates. I think you can really tell that you’re not trying to be someone that you’re not.

Stoya: But then the flip side of that is a thing sometimes.

The Awl: That was sort of my next question. I was going to ask about fans. How do you deal with crazy fans—have you ever had a conversation with a fan who thinks that they know you from your public persona because it’s not that different from your private one?

Stoya: Well, first let’s talk about the flip side. And then we’ll talk about the fans. The flip side is: if my public persona was a separate persona and a performance art kind of character, then I probably wouldn’t… there isn’t any distance when people have mean things to say! [laughs]

“That’s just a blown-up version of being a real person. Someone at the grocery store might tell me that they don’t like my face. And it would be the same thing, except on a smaller scale. But as far as crazy people—there’s always gonna be crazy people. There were crazy people that I just happened to walk past on the street, before I started doing porn. And they were crazy. And sometimes when I encounter crazy people, it’s just that they’re crazy, and I just happen to be standing near them. And it has nothing to do with who I am, or what my career is, or anything like that. Other than that—other than the ones who are most likely just nuts—I feel like most of the people I attract in a way that they want to consume my work, or follow me on Twitter, or come see me at a convention, or if they see me on a street or out at a place, they know who I am and want to come to say hi. I feel like they’re a little bit better at critical thinking than the average bear? [laughs]

The Awl: As far as we know, bears can’t critically think…

Stoya: So they’re definitely better at critical thinking than we think bears are! They get that just because they saw a porno where the pizza delivery guy came and I had sex with him doesn’t mean that I have sex with pizza delivery guys—or think that I can trade sex for pizza, because I feel like you’d get fired for giving someone a pizza, if you were a pizza delivery boy, just because they had sex with you.

The Awl: Well…I’m sure that they’d be like, “Oh, the customer didn’t show up,” or they’d take it out of their own paycheck. There are ways.

Stoya: Okay, okay. After I did that pizza delivery guy scenario I was curious, because the scenario shows up in a lot of porn. And sometimes, art does mirror life. So I was curious. And I was asking people—I knew a guy who was a pizza delivery guy, and he delivered pizza to this house one time, and the wife answered. They were swingers, the wife and husband. Then he started sleeping with her, and the husband was totally cool with it. But they still paid for their pizza. It wasn’t like an on-the-clock sort of thing.

The Awl: I actually heard a very similar story at the AVNs, from a porn star. She was like, “I wonder if I can do this…” And she did. And paid for her pizza. So I guess paying for pizza is a real thing. So anyway, to change the topic for a little bit: Do you feel like a celebrity?

Stoya: No, but I was actually thinking about that recently. I perform at this place in New York City sometimes, called The Box. And they’re a very special venue.

The Awl: Pun intended…?

Stoya: Yes, the pun is completely intended. It’s a unique sort of venue, and Vanity Fair did a profile on the owner. They pulled a bunch of the performers in for a portrait. I was really excited to be in Vanity Fair! When it came out, I was like “Oh my god, Internet, I’m in Vanity Fair!” That was really cool. And then someone commented, saying something like “Why is everything you do so cool?” And listed some stuff. I guess if you look at it on paper, I do look kinda cool. But I don’t think of it that way, because I don’t have managers, and staff, and an assistant, and that kind of stuff—designers don’t send me clothes…

The Awl: Yet. I feel like this could happen.

Stoya: Thank you! I clean the catbox, and we have three cats, and the cats just sit there and watch me, like “Where are you taking that poop, lady? That’s ours.” And so I feel like I’m just a person. And I’m aware that I am a very quirky person, and that I have chosen a non-standard life. I don’t feel like I’m particularly super-awesome-above-average; every time something cool happens, I’m like “Oh my god, I get to do this really cool thing? That’s really cool!” [laughs] But then I wonder: Every three or four months, I get to do something really cool—like, the Vanity Fair thing came out.

“And before that, I was profiled for the Village Voice, and I was on the cover of it. Further back, other cool stuff. So I feel like maybe because it’s a steady diet of really cool, it feels kind of normal in an odd way? Except not normal at all. I don’t know if that makes any sense. But then I was wondering…Does Angelina Jolie feel like a person? [laughs] Is everybody just walking around feeling like a person without realizing how insanely cool they are? Because Angelina Jolie is one of the coolest women in the world, in my opinion, having never met her, just read a lot of things about her on the Internet. [laughs] Like Supervert. I don’t even know if Supervert is a man, but I think he’s a man. Do you realize how incredibly fascinating he is?

The Awl: That is certainly one way of looking at it. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that The Awl is a very cool outlet.

Stoya: I really love that one column! Does she know how cool she is? Or does she feel like a person? [laughs]

The Awl: I think she knows how cool she is. I definitely view you as a celebrity, so this is kind of cool for me.

Stoya: [laughs]

The Awl: So, to change the topic a little bit: What do you like to read? Other than Supervert, of course.

Stoya: Supervert’s actually kind of heavy for me sometimes. I recently got into professional wrestling as a spectator; I cannot get enough. I read The Rock’s biography, and I’m working on Eric Bischoff’s right now—I have a whole list that the Internet kindly referred me to of other professional wrestling books…

The Awl: You’re joking.

Stoya: I’m completely serious! You know what I watched twice this morning?

The Awl: Wrestlemania?

Stoya: “Total Divas,” the E! reality show about some of the divas. I didn’t just watch it once, I watched it twice. The same episode. [laughs]

The Awl: After porn, what do you see yourself doing? Do you ever see yourself stopping?

Stoya: I would like to continue writing, and see what I can do with that. Because I feel like, at some point, I’m no longer going to be viable in front of the camera. And so I will need to do things that don’t involve being mass-market appealing…

The Awl: I dunno, I think writing is pretty mass-marketable.

Stoya: I guess. I can just sit with my computer and do that! As far as—retiring is, again, complicated. Once you’ve done porn, you’ve done porn. I don’t really see a reason to be like, “I’m done! I’m walking away!” If I were 50 and someone that I wanted to work with was like, “Hey, Stoya, we need someone who looks like they’re 50 (and you look like you’re 50) to play this role in this porno!” I would probably do it, because it would be fun! You know, it’s not really reasonable to expect that I’m going to be working [in porn] twice a month when I’m 50. I’m not going to count on that.

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