I had the privilege of growing up with a second wave feminist/reformed hippy mother. Before I sprouted my first pubic hair she handed me a mirror and a flashlight and told me to get to know my vagina. I was raised to believe that my body was mine to share with whoever I chose, whether that was one man, a couple of women, or a whole bunch of people over the course of my life. My mom home schooled me for most of my childhood, and the parts of history that most excited her were the struggles for social change. When I was in 4th grade we drove down to Atlanta and took a tour of an old plantation. Afterwards we stood on the giant lawn and my mother’s bright green eyes turned an unsettling shade of yellow from emotional overstimulation as she educated me about the history of -isms in America and how important freedom and tolerance are.
A year or so later we found this book, ‘The Movers and Shakers,’ in a used bookstore outside of Charlotte. It was about activists in the sixties. The black cover with orange and yellow writing made the contents seem urgent but the dust and used book smell made it seem old and historical, like something important had happened in the distant past. This book prompted my mother to share her own experiences of being a young adult in the early seventies. She’d fought for civil rights, she’d celebrated when Roe vs. Wade was decided in favor of reproductive rights, and she’d been the only woman working in the engineering department at a nuclear plant when she got pregnant with me. I was ten or eleven when I first heard these stories. I thought my mom was positively ancient and I had little contact with other kids or the outside world. I believed she’d helped make the world a better place a very long time ago and thought that everyone was accepting of everyone else now. I thought that all the battles for human rights had been won already and I imagined prejudice as a relic of the past; if it still existed it must have been decaying next to a gramophone or ice box in a junkyard somewhere. I saw the effects of the sexual revolution and the right to abortion as gifts that my mother’s generation had given mine.
The first time someone tried to shame me for sexual activities, I thought they were the cultural equivalent of the missing link. It took me years to really understand that there are at least as many anti-equality, anti-sex work, anti-homosexual, and anti-all sorts of other things people in the world as there are people who think like me. Sometimes I still forget. For instance, when I said in my first article for Vice that “I’ve been pretty successful at avoiding pregnancy.” I was surprised when people assumed that meant I’d never had an abortion. What I should have said was that given the amount of sex I’ve had (and without doing the actual math) three abortions seems statistically low. In the same way I feel entitled to have the kind of sex I want to have, purchase condoms, leave the kitchen, wear shoes, and put my body through attempts to find a hormonal birth control method that works for me, I feel entitled to have an abortion when necessary. They’re a last resort and I do try to avoid them, but an abortion is still a better option in my opinion than an unwanted child. All three of my abortions were medication induced. Taking RU-486 to end a pregnancy is more painful than my worst period but less painful than a burst ovarian cyst.
Just like I prefer to avoid getting pregnant at all, I’d prefer to always catch unwanted pregnancies as early as possible and avoid the more invasive aspiration or dilation and evacuation procedures. I will take a pregnancy test if I don’t see my period for 29 days or if it’s suspiciously light. I’ve been on Loestrin 24Fe (a kind of hormonal birth control) since January 7th. I take my pill every single day between 7 and 9 am. I missed one of the placebo/iron supplement pills about a month ago and took a double dose the next day. I’ve heard that this pill occasionally causes women to stop menstruating entirely, but I haven’t seen anything resembling full-on menstruation for a suspiciously long time and I have actually taken pregnancy tests when I haven’t even touched a penis for months just to see the little minus sign or the “not pregnant” and be happy that there’s at least one thing that isn’t currently a problem if I’m having a bad week. So I went to the drugstore a couple of days ago and got a pregnancy test from the family planning aisle.
The phrase family planning hanging on a sign above the pregnancy tests and condoms irritates me because it implies that everyone plans to have a family at some point. As the cashier was ringing me up another woman behind the counter asked me how my day was going. I told her that I was on birth control, pointed out that I was purchasing a pregnancy test and a bottle of Aleve, and said she probably didn’t want to hear the actual answer. She chuckled awkwardly and wandered off. I usually go for EPT or Clearblue, but this time I went with First Response. When I pulled out the test and instructions, a cardboard gizmo fell out. First Response has taken the presumption that everyone wants to have a baby one step further by including a congratulatory contraption that tracks one’s due date and has a helpful form on the back for “Moments & Milestones” including possible baby names, birth time, and weight. I’d hoped that the asterisk next to “A general guide for your enjoyment.” would lead to a footnote saying “You know, if you’re interested in having a baby.” but it was a disclaimer stating that only a physician can determine due dates. I grumbled while I waited three minutes for the results and seethed when both tests came up with error messages.
Inferior products aside, the thing that makes me angry is the insidious suggestion that all women want children and the subtle shaming of people who exercise their reproductive rights. This is part of the reason women feel the need to say things like “I only had one abortion” or “a baby at that point would have ruined my college prospects.” I resent the way this sneaky societal pressure has wormed itself into my brain enough that I feel the need to explain my mild latex allergies and issues with hormonal birth control or follow the number of pregnancies I’ve terminated with a reminder of how many sexual acts I’ve engaged in when talking about my own abortions. I’m uncomfortable about the way that I’ve allowed these messages to undermine my belief in my rights enough to feel defensive about exercising them. Every time that a woman like Molly Crabapple or Chelsea G. Summers vocally stands behind their decision to abort, it’s a drop in the bucket that maintains balance against people like Todd Akin and Jack Dalrymple. It reminds me that the freedoms we do have are precarious and that a sizable chunk of America sees women, homosexuals, and anyone who is different than they are as lesser beings… and that sucks.
There’s an American tendency to accuse those who want social services of entitlement. Who are you, the thinking goes, to demand college? To demand food? To think that you should work fewer than 12 hours a day, or not die of untreated illness, or have a dignified old age? The Cooper Union students are getting their share of that. But they make a particularly poor target. They are largely bright working class kids who passed brutal admissions to attend a school whose reason for existing is to educate them for free.
Cooper Union students are the paragons of that most sacred American myth: meritocracy.
Stoya and James Deen in my studio, Brooklyn
I love this picture.
Photo by Nate “Igor” Smith
There’s a frequently repeated anecdote about 20th century ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky from one of his early shows in Paris. Someone asked him if it was hard to perform one of his celebrated leaps—to stay suspended in the air in a way that appeared superhuman. His reply was “No! Not difficult. You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.” Full story
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.
…and Clayton’s shots look fucking awesome.
The GIF remix
We also have Las Vegas, which is the sparkliest money-sucking pit of debauchery I’ve ever set foot in. Gambling is a thrilling way to hand your money over to a casino in exchange for an all natural and completely legal norepinephrine high. Sure, sometimes you might win a game here or there but at the end of the day the house always gets the better half of the deal. The “What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas” slogan tells visitors to let their ids off the leash. It says there’s a whole city that encourages the average person to indulge all their impulses until their money runs out. Vegas casinos are fueled by capitalism and excess of all types, and that is precisely why I’d argue that they are one half of the pinnacle of human achievement to date.
“What’s your number-one tip for giving the best blowjob?”
This question drives me insane. I usually pause to shoot murderous looks at whichever PR person has set up the interview before responding. I have two sound-bite-sized answers: “Don’t chomp down on the dick unless the person it’s attached to has expressed a desire for that sort of thing,” and “Experiment, communicate, and pay attention.” Usually the reporter doesn’t like either answer. They want to hear something about Altoids or strawberry-flavored lube. They want to know some secret for controlling a man through his orgasm, as though making your boyfriend ejaculate at will is some sort of way to turn them into the perfect mate. They want a detailed description of the magical three-button move that works on everyone. If something like putting slight pressure on the taint with my left thumb while using the fingers of that hand to gently cup the balls and slurping on the head of the cock with the exact suction tension of my mom’s twelve-year-old Hoover worked like a charm on every single penis, I would never, ever spend 45 minutes of my life on a porn set trying to be understanding and sensitive, while the male talent I’m working with struggles to maintain an erection or ejaculate because he’s having a really bad day.
read the full article on vice.com