The weekend of Molly Crabapple’s Shell Game opening I was being followed by a reporter. The reporter was writing a profile on me for a NYC based publication, and it either started shaping up into a cover story or was intended to be one from the beginning. They’d chosen that weekend specifically because I was performing at both Molly’s event and the Box, so there were plenty of exciting activities to write about. They were interested in the story of me as a whole person, an adult performer living in NYC, performing, doing most of my costuming for stage shows, and writing. There were two days of lengthy interviews. Combined with preparation for signing and performing an aerial act at Exxxotica Atlantic City, all the emails that come in daily, and trying to give Daddy the attention necessary for anything resembling a healthy relationship, it was a hectic week.
This profile is how I ended up posing for a photographer known for her portraits of babies, monkeys, and celebrities. We’ll call her Jane. I told the publication commissioning the shoot that I was available the 15th through 17th. Jane was unable to pick a day and time until right before the close of business on the preceding Thursday. She chose Monday, by the way. Then her assistant called to ask if I could do my own hair and makeup. I said no, but I’d be happy to provide a competent hair stylist. One of those people who stand on street corners with dried shit on their pants ranting at pigeons could probably do a better job on my hair than I can. My friend Lizz manages to poop in the toilet, refrain from picking arguments with birds, *and* do incredible things with hair. The next day, Jane or her people decided that they weren’t sure about my hair stylist because they hadn’t seen her portfolio. I contemplated showing up with a pigeon ranter or at least asking Lizz to smear excrement on herself and carry a pigeon on her shoulder. Instead, I firmly reminded them that they’d asked me to do my own hair and insisted that they keep Lizz on the shoot because she’d already rearranged her schedule to do me this favor. Then I hustled them off the phone, let the reporter into my apartment, and started frantically slapping on appropriate makeup for my first gig of the evening.
Around this time is when Jane contacted Daddy (who lives in Los Angeles) and asked him to bring a suit on Monday. She didn’t ask the publication commissioning the shoot, she didn’t clear it with me, she didn’t even ask if he was going to be there that day. That kind of assumption bothers me. See, Daddy and I haven’t even scheduled the appointment to have ourselves surgically conjoined. As much as we’d like to crawl completely into each other sometimes and ignore the world, we’ve been known to go to work by ourselves, attend social gatherings by ourselves, and even travel to whole other cities by ourselves. We spend entire weeks apart and manage to somehow avoid death by emotional withdrawal. That said, Daddy had planned on being in New York that day and I had planned on asking if it was ok for him to come along. Daddy told Jane that he would love to be there to spend time with and be supportive of me, but he had no interest in taking focus from my shoot.
Lizz, Daddy and I were ten minutes early to the building in Midtown where Jane’s studio was. We figured out how to get into the elevator and then crept through a short hallway covered in shoes. I opened the studio door. We had taken a few steps in when Jane ran up. She exclaimed that it was so nice to meet Daddy, grabbed his arm, and began dragging him towards a doorway while talking rapidly about ways that she wanted to work with him. I spotted a man holding a bunch of little brushes and guessed he was the makeup artist. I introduced myself and then he and Lizz started their work. Jane and Daddy came back. She was asking if he wanted breakfast, or would prefer lunch. A cup of coffee or maybe some eggs? I said I would love a cup of coffee. She didn’t even take the time to look in my direction before continuing to list various items of breakfast food in the hopes of piquing Daddy’s interest. He finally accepts yogurt. When Jane came back with his yogurt she asked him if he was sure he wouldn’t like coffee. I interjected again saying that I would really like some. My request was ignored. A few minutes later she announced that coffee was brewed, asked Daddy again if he wanted any, and then left the room before I could finish my third request. I’d been in her studio for an hour, she had refused to acknowledge my existence much less look me in the eye, and she was withholding caffeine. My jaw fell open. My eyes did hateful things that I wish I could get them to do on command in front of a camera. Oddly enough, when Daddy asked for a cup of coffee it immediately appeared. He then made a production of asking me whether I wanted cream or sugar and handing it to me.
I completely understand being captivated by Daddy. He’s handsome, charming, witty and fun. He has a quiet confidence that fills whatever space he’s in. He’s kind of a big deal, especially for an adult performer. He is definitely more recognizable and famous than I am, and I could see how someone could be so struck by him that no one else in the room exists. However, I do feel like any professional photographer ought to be able to keep themselves together long enough to greet the person whose portrait they’re being paid to take. Finally, Jane turned towards me and started explaining her concept for the photograph that was supposed to visually convey who I am, or at least this one publication’s angle on who I am for their profile: her concept was a pretty young girl in a pearl necklace. I laughed out loud. When my laugh started to turn into a cackle I excused myself to the makeup artist and ran to the roof with my coffee and cigarettes. The art director had emailed asking how the shoot was going. I replied saying that Jane was insulting and rude but that it would be ok and I was sure we’d get a beautiful shot.
A few minutes later I stepped in front of her camera. Jane kept adjusting things and then told me she’d borrowed it from a friend the day before and had no idea how to use it. I resented being her guinea pig, but I didn’t say it. Halfway through the actual photograph taking part of the shoot she lowered her camera. In a rude and condescending tone she asked me why she was taking my picture. I told her that I was being photographed for the cover of this publication because they were doing a profile on me. Then she asked why I was being profiled. This is where my claws came out. I knew she’d tried to book Daddy to pose as a peacock recently. That’s actually how I first heard of her work. I started listing my bio and credits rapid-fire, using the kind of self absorbed pseudo-intellectual voice you might hear at coffee shops in Williamsburg or bars in Hollywood: “Oh, I’m an adult performer with one of the top production studios in the business. I was given Best New Starlet by almost every award show in my industry. I’m also a working aerialist. I handle my own costumes, sometimes I dabble in things like corsetry. I’ve been photographed by a list of fashion photographers starting with Steven Klein for Richardson and ending with my recent spread in POP magazine by Sean and Seng. In addition to having been published on the Guardian’s website and Jezebel.com, I also have a column on Vice.com. My last article was about the similarities between Vegas Casinos and Megachurches. It actually started with a discussion of bowerbirds and bonobos… you know, all those sexual selection theories about how humor, moral codes, art, etc are the human version of a peacock’s tail.” Basically, I gave her the snottiest rendition of “Hi I’m Stoya and I’m six and a half times better than you.” that I could muster. I acted like a fucking bitch.
As soon as I said the word peacock, she latched onto it and said it was funny I should mention peacocks since she’d wanted to photograph Daddy dressed as one. I rolled my eyes and told her that I was quite aware and it was only slightly less obvious than her female porn star in a pearl necklace idea. She replied that she’d thought it was interesting because humans and peacocks are the only species in which the male is more flamboyant than the female. I told her she may want to read a couple of books before she goes making that statement. Stunned by the ignorance of that sentence (apparently she’s never heard of lions, chickens, or any other species of bird aside from the peafowl) I went back to trying to give her facial expressions other than “Oh god when is the wrap time her people put on the call sheet going to come.” and “This is the first time in my career that I’ve been bluntly treated as unworthy of professionalism or even common courtesy.” My angst roiled harder when I realized that this is exactly the sort of dehumanization that people try so hard to find examples and stories of in the porn industry when they want to paint us negatively.
Sure, the ball gets dropped often enough in porn. I held six weeks last summer for Digital Playground’s big feature, but the people running the company and producing the show were genuinely apologetic about it. We use plenty of superficial jokes in our plots, but they’re tongue in cheek. We *know* we’re catering to the lowest common denominator of entertainment at times. I’ve never been asked to do my own hair on an adult photoshoot or film set, but I have been asked to provide my own wardrobe. The difference is that they asked nicely and were happy with however I was able to help add to the production value. When our camera guy is using new equipment and having problems with it, he says he’s “having technical difficulties” rather than make it obvious that he cares so little about his job that day that he couldn’t be bothered to give something a test drive before putting me in front of it. I’ve never felt an insinuation from anyone in the adult industry that I should feel indescribably grateful for the chance to be in front of their camera, and no one has ever acted as though the photographs they are being paid to take of me are an annoying distraction from their lovely breakfast date with my boyfriend. If this is “mainstream” than no thank you.
Jane didn’t have time to have her signature cartoon photoshop treatment done to the samples, but when they landed in my inbox that evening the raw photos were just lifeless. The makeup and hair were awesome, but my dad could have taken the same shot with his iPhone and his 1978 semester of photography 101. Actually, Lizz *had* taken a better shot with her iPhone and uploaded it to instagram. Over the next couple of days, I was told that while this kind of treatment is unacceptable it is not unusual. It’s apparently common for a fashion model to be treated like furniture or a trained animal, and this particular photographer has shown flagrant disregard for both the wishes of her clients and the well being of the people in front of her camera. I requested that the cover be reshot by a photographer whose work I respect and got everything I wanted. Including coffee… and good pictures.
I know that plenty of people have put up with behavior from me that is at least as rude or obnoxious as Jane’s was. I’m also aware that my reaction was immature and just as inappropriate as her treatment of me. I allowed her to get to me because I was already over scheduled. Tired. Doubting my ability to juggle everything and doubting how much of the positive feedback on my aerial work and writing is because I’m actually good and how much is just because I’m naked on the internet. Wondering how much of my success in life is based on merit and how much is just beauty privilege. Unable to figure out how to even discuss these concerns without coming off like an egotistical asshat for calling myself pretty or beautiful in the first place. It’s also probably immature to ignore her email of non-apology while publicly airing the reasons why the 15th of April was so crappy for me, but I just don’t think I care.