“I’ll be the one who is ten minutes late and doesn’t look like a pornstar.”
The message had come while I was pacing in the men’s room of an old bar. What can I tell you? I was there at the bar to spend my evening with two of the most famous pornstars in the world, and I couldn’t remember if I had brushed my teeth. We had agreed to meet at one of those stark and crumbling affairs you will sometimes find in the older parts of historical, important cities: all dark wood and beveled mirrors, with gaslight fixtures casting light onto all the life that is no longer there. The urinals themselves were these monstrous, boxy numbers from the turn of another century, giving the steady impression that at any given moment you were pissing into the molars of a vast, prehistoric animal. The pub and its grand halls had been at the peak of fashion during the twenties and thirties, but by now we were all eating nachos during happy hour and living off its corpse.
Stoya’s message was a retort to the only identification I had given her: I would be the writer who did not look like a writer. What I did not mean was that I looked better than a writer. What I did mean was that I had spent significant time on the grounds of fancy upstate campuses and been mistaken for a yardman or at best a plumber’s assistant. That’s not anyone’s fault. My collection of Dickie shirts is considerable. All my best pants have paint along the edges and wither at the cuffs into webbing and fray. But in other ways I had all the old signs: My pockets were filled with paper scraps and antacids. What you would find in my bank account amounted to about seventeen dollars.
I went out to the street to wait for a pornstar who did not look like a pornstar, hoping that she would recognize the writer who did not look like a writer. It was one of those melting summer days you will sometimes find in the city in which the sky is a swampy gray and all the poodle dogs walk addled and low. You’ll look up at night to find mosquitoes in lamplights, and there is a concrete veil where the moon and stars should be. But it was early. And what I mean is that this is all beautiful. I began to sweat politely through the cloth of my underclothes. I smoked cigarettes with a shining face and hoped that my hands would stop shaking. This is nothing new. At various times I’ve been mistaken for a coward or diabetic. My class presentations were all questionable. I tend to spill drinks and make a fool of myself at parties.
Stoya walked down the curb, holding true to her textual promise. She had a loose top that flapped idly around her shoulders, and at once I could see both her collarbone and ribs. She wore black sequined pants that cut around the pelvis to ride low across her body. Her hair was turning from a brown into a burnt auburn, and I could make out the light bumps where her chest would be. What I noticed was that she was very thin—not gaunt but wiry, some thin muscle across the shoulders and back that popped like a rubber band. This is when eyes are more accurate than a perfecting camera. She did not look like a famous pornography starlet. She had a remarkable face and a nice smile, but she looked more like a Williamsburg hipster…or possibly an expatriate tightrope walker from the backwaters of some broken European country. Her shoes were a thin-fitting model that you might expect to see on a ballet dancer, but they were coming off at the heel and threatened to trail behind. This is not to say that she was not beautiful. It is to say that I would not have been surprised if she had introduced herself as the ambassador from the sun.
“Hello!” I said to Stoya, like someone who had masturbated to her.
“Hello,” she said to me, like someone who knew I had masturbated to her.
“So I guess those are pants,” I said.
She admitted that they were pants.
She began going through her bag, which was large and empty, something fit to stow away a small body. She shuffled things around. She was frenetic. “I need a moment to smoke a cigarette in peace,” she said. I did not know if this meant that I should be quiet. She pulled out a pack of Parliaments, and you could say I liked her better for that. I offered her a light, but she waved it off and pulled out a Vivienne Westwood lighter with a rhinestone safety pin. It made my red lighter look ho-hum and unbedazzled. I smoked and waited. Some wordless truth of the world seemed visible in the light of our separate, deviating fires.
The pressed-tin roof held as a decaying remnant of those woman-and-child times, and in this case I was to play the role of the child. I’d been warned by informed parties not to let Stoya see any hesitancy or fear, but it was too late for that now.
“I ran into someone I knew on the street,” she said. She began to explain, and I did not know if I was supposed to respond or whether we were still in her moment of peace. I watched Stoya as she talked and smoked her cigarette, and I watched in my quiet and dumb way. She had a nice smile, with a little tooth jutting out ever so slightly from the others to give her an endearing asymmetry. (She smiles a lot, and I don’t think it’s forced.) The calluses on her hands were spectacular. She’d been spending a lot of time training with her hoop for her circus routine, and I figured the calluses were largely a result of that. What else? Everything I can say about Stoya’s eyes is embarrassing. They are gray. Or green. Or blue. If the combination of words did not already exist for a different context, you might call that color a witch-hazel. Her eyes are sharp and alert and moody. Fans of her work talk ad nauseam on online message boards about their fixations on her eyes—common terms among her fans are “intense” and “alive” and “striking”—but this is where even the soft light of the camera gets it all wrong. If Stoya’s eyes were not her eyes and were instead—say—stones in the forest of some medieval legend, those stones would imbue the pure-hearted seeker with the ability to commit unspeakable magic…and that magic, in turn, would be his undoing.
My heart quaked with the old fears. I had forgotten to take the assemblage of pills I use to make myself imitate the gestures of a normal human person, and I realized that I did not want her to know I was nervous.
“I’m nervous,” I said. My heart went dead. I knew this would please my therapist for years.
“Don’t’ be nervous,” she said. “She flicked her cigarette into the street. “When’s Kayden coming? Let’s go inside.”
We went upstairs and found a booth. The downstairs had been designed for gentlemen only—sometime before Prohibition—and we were seated in an area that at one time was set aside for women and children. The pressed-tin roof held as a decaying remnant of those woman-and-child times, and in this case I was to play the role of the child. I’d been warned by informed parties not to let Stoya see any hesitancy or fear, but it was too late for that now. She’s been known to cat-and-mouse people until such time as she is bored, and it was important to stand my ground. That may have been a good strategy. I planned to do as much once my hands quit shaking and the blood returned to my face.
The waitress came by and took our drinks, and Stoya got a Coke.
“I don’t drink a lot of alcohol these days, but probably a drink will make me stronger,” I said. Stoya offered a glib smile. Her eyes were glinting now. We both knew I was the child, that I was the mouse. “I sort of like this place,” I said. “To be honest I haven’t been here too much.”
“Hey, how have you been? A gin and tonic double, sweetie?” the waitress said. You got the impression that the waitress and I were high school sweethearts who were separated by the fallout of the Great War. I hadn’t been to the place more than three times in my life. It was true! And I didn’t drink that often, either. Maybe I just drank a lot. Apparently if you drink over twenty or thirty glasses they start looking to put a plaque on the wall. It was very embarrassing. I sifted through my notebook. I’d jotted down some hasty notes, but they were nowhere to be found.
“I hope you’re not one of these people who has to go straight from your script,” Stoya said.
“I just have a few things written here or there. I’m not a planner. It seems like when I plan I end up getting out-planned.”
“That logic doesn’t follow for me,” Stoya said.
“That logic doesn’t follow for me. If you’ve got notes, you’ve got a plan.”
How could I argue? But I did anyway. For a while Stoya ran her fingers across the table—almost an inborn habit—clearing the table of salt or napkins or the occasional moisture. I flipped through my notes while I stuck a tape recorder on one side of the table. Stoya picked it up, looked at it, and moved it to the opposite side. She smiled. The trap was getting tighter. Like a child, I fiddled with the buttons and hit record.
Stoya: This is a life problem that I keep running into. I make people nervous, and they act nervous, and then they get really agitated because the nervous behaviors waste time, which then makes the whole thing spiral out of control.
DL: Yeah. That’s where we’re going. I sort of hoped you wouldn’t notice that.
Stoya: There was a photographer a couple of months ago who needed one shot of me on my hoop. We had the location for an hour. She was nervous, so she forgot the cards. Retrieving them took forty-five minutes of the hour, so then we only had fifteen minutes. I had explained beforehand that the hoop was on a swivel and that I could take the swivel off but that it would still rotate. I tried to tell her, “It’s kind of high up, so you’re going to have to make sure you can get up to get the angle you want, and you’re going to need someone standing by to rotate me back where you need me once I’m in position,” et cetera. Forgetting the cards screwed up her whole day, so she was in this frantic state like, “BWAAAA!” (Stoya laughs) I was like, “Okay. All you have to do is do what I tell you to do and then push the button, okay? Ready? Go.” (laughs)
DL: Why do you think you make people nervous? Let’s get the dumb questions out of the way.
Stoya: I don’t know. It’s strange. If I understood it, I might be able to at least turn the behavior on and off so that I wouldn’t make the person behind the counter at Starbuck’s nervous.
DL: Don’t mind me. I’m nervous by nature. On the off chance I’m asked to do a reading, it’s a personal nightmare. I have to take this little cocktail of pills just to create the illusion that I’m a functional, working human.
Stoya: Years ago I was doing stage performance where I wasn’t speaking and doing still photography where, again, I wasn’t speaking—there’s a huge safety net with still photography because you can look at it and say, “Did we get it? Did we not get it?” You can tweak it later in post, it’s not that big of a time investment to Photoshop one image or even sixty images, nothing compared to video—but when I switched to doing interviews and scenes with dialogue, it made me nervous. I think you eventually get to a point in which you just stop caring. Everyone is going to screw up a script every once in a while. Everyone is going to say something dumb. As long as you say anything with confidence, usually people are just like, “Okay!”
DL: One of the things I found fascinating in reading your Tumblr is that you’ve made a supremely conscious effort to find your truest self and to be as honest as you can in all circumstances. You talked about how inevitably most people carry themselves very differently around their parents than they do their coworkers and differently around their friends than they do their significant others, et cetera. That’s a pretty well known premise of developmental psychology, but I liked your take, this melding.
Stoya: When I first started with Digital Playground, they didn’t know what to do with me. They had their tanned blondes with big boobs, their girls-next-door, a couple of exotic girls here and there, but they wanted in on the alt thing, so they hired me to do hardcore. Then they looked at me and didn’t know what to do. So then they tried to shape me into a professional, and I was like, “Okay! I’m going to try to do my job the best I can and to do what you want me to!” (gleeful) But then I’d be in the middle of an interview and someone would say something like, “So how much do your parents hate what you do?” and I would try…I would try to keep my emotions in, but they would force themselves out like word vomit. I would say, “You know what, sir? You can go the fuck away and come back when you can approach this from at LEAST a neutral angle. I’m not expecting positive, just neutral.”
The reporter would leave, and I would think, “Oh my God, my career is over!” After a while you start to realize that those same people come back, and they come back because you were honest. They’re like, “Oh. I didn’t realize that I was kind of being an asshat. I respect that you were doing something genuine, that you said something that came from a genuine impulse.” I found out really quickly that you can’t do an event like the AVN Awards—back in the day it was five days straight, and you had to be on 100% of the time—and keep a mask up for that long. Nobody can. (laughs) Nobody. I’m really bad at it, anyway. I’m better at being myself all of the time.
DL: As a writer, I find it very important not to censor myself in real life because I always have this fear that it will leak onto the page. I feel that if I concede in my life and my dealings with people, I’ll also concede in my art. It makes for hilarious, regrettable times.
Stoya: I think that as children—in the formative years, especially in kindergarten and first grade—we spend all of this time being told to control our impulses. But anyone who goes into the arts finds a way to return to those impulses and to be true to what he or she is feeling inside. Improv is all about not thinking. Yes, you use your brain and actively listen to what is going on, but you just respond to it. You don’t filter it. And the best writing is when people have the honesty to say, “This is how I see the world.”
DL: I think writing gets overbilled as this deeply cerebral act. To some degree it is, but I think that when I’m doing my best writing—however seldom that is—I am writing mostly from my gut, which means going largely by impulse. When I try to over-think myself, everything goes to hell.
Stoya: Then when you cave on that because you have all of that early training to control those impulses—all we do in high school, college, all of that extra training we go into—all we do is try to root those impulses out. Every time you cave, you are backsliding so much. The openness it takes to create art is very hard. Making yourself naked and vulnerable, even on the page, can be really scary.
DL: One of the things that excited me about the interview was the fact that I’ve had so much fun reading your Tumblr. Even when you’re talking about business or promoting a sex toy, there still manages to be some thought-provoking shit in there. Where’d you get your writing prowess?
Stoya: I was homeschooled. My mother is not a teacher. Her background is in civil engineering and accounting, so when it came to science she was like, “Hey! I’ve got some chemicals and some test tubes! Let’s go play in the backyard!” (laughs) English didn’t really even happen. It was all just picked up by osmosis from reading. If I didn’t know a word, I would try to figure it out by the context and then look it up in the dictionary to see if I was right. When my mother decided to teach me French, she gave me Les Misérables and had me learn directly from it. I was probably in what would amount to the third or fourth grade at the time.
Socially there were huge drawbacks to being homeschooled, but I think it taught me how to be creative and how to figure things out for myself. It made me very active in my own learning process, and I think that’s carried over into my adult life.
DL: God, reading is so important. Whenever I’m teaching, it becomes really obvious how hard it is to patch up reading skills and critical thinking skills that have been ignored, in some cases, for decades. Some of my most intelligent students are at major disadvantages in how they view the world because the lack of reading deeply stunted them.
Stoya: I assume you have an extensive background of literature, and I bet if I had my reading list for the past year and you matched it up with my Tumblr, you could probably see the ways in which whatever I was reading at the time deeply colored my subject matter. That curiosity and love for learning is very important to me. Most of the girls in the adult industry—it’s changed slightly in the last couple of years—but most of them are much different than I am as far as hobbies and interests. I love Jesse [Jane] and Riley [Steele], but we have nothing in common. I remember one time we were doing signings at adult stores to promote Pirates II. We went through Seattle and did some radio programs, and on the way from one radio program to something else we passed by the Space Needle…and there was a science fiction museum! I was scratching the window and pleading, “Let me out! Let me out!” And then Jesse said, “Can we go get Pinkberry? And I think I want to go to the Coach store.” That’s the point I was at in my life when I met Kayden, and I was like, “Oh my God, you read!” So few people in the world read to begin with, but you have to understand that most people in porn go straight from high school into adult films because it is such a youth-oriented business.
Stoya is dying for a cigarette. She has been wiping condensation from the table in a repetitive cycle, and little coughs come from her chest. She is beaming as she steps onto the seat and swings to the ground from the coat rack built into the wooden booth. The whole show is a celebration of collarbones, ribs, and hips as her top settles itself onto the body. Stoya makes getting up seem like a delightful Olympic event, and there seems to be a glee in her heart. When we had been in the conversation, I said to myself, “Does anyone really ever smile this much?” And then as she went on, my feelings changed: It’s not that other people don’t smile this much. It’s that very few people can smile this much in a way that feels sincere. When Stoya is happy, she is completely endearing. You can watch her eyes bounce as she moves from subject to subject, and the pace gets feverish and euphoric. When Stoya is not happy, the eyes change: She is no longer seeing with you; she is seeing through you. But for now the eyes are happy, and she glides toward the stairs with her shoes threatening to come off. She turns around to make sure that I am following, so I leave my things and head out the door.
So much of the stuff we see here is almost purposefully obscure. A lot of the art stuff that people in New York really get into…it’s just such a tiny world with so many levels of self-reference going on that nobody outside of it can get a toehold to even want to understand it [...] At that point, you’re just masturbating with your brain.
We go downstairs, and Stoya immediately leads me down the block. I hope I will come back to my gin and computer, but at this point there is nothing to be done. Stoya is out of cigarettes and not interested in any of mine, and you could say I liked her better for that, too. We take off toward the corner drugstore, Stoya gesturing and talking wildly the whole time. Stoya talks about the nature of economics and artists. More precisely, she is telling me about how for every musician she knows who is making good money, there is a talented musician who is revered by his or her peers who is low on cash and renting a room or the basement of a house. She asks me what I want to do with my writing, what my price is. I tell her that if I can choose only between making money and making something beautiful that I would rather make something beautiful. I tell her that it would be nice if I could have both but that it is not hard for me to imagine either way. She gets a new pack of Parliaments. She thanks the woman behind the cash register and wishes her a good day. She tells me that creating one beautiful thing is worth any amount of money. It is easy for me to believe this since I have no money to speak of and because she has money and means it. I think to myself that I will never create anything beautiful but that I have taken my vow of poverty and want to see it through. I am no longer religious, but I do believe that it is easier for a poor man to get to heaven. He cannot be stripped of anything, so he need not fear the truth. Stoya smokes three or four or five cigarettes and flicks them into the road. I see that she is ahead of me. She has a lovely shape to her back, and I see that she is beautiful.
I remembered Stoya telling me in our early emails that she thought she was a muse. This evening was the first time I knew I believed her.
Stoya talks to me about directors she admires and people who are at the top of their art. A couple on the sidewalk watches as she gestures passionately about a director to the point that I am passionate, too—passionate about people I may never know. We talk about her work for the circus, how she spins and plays and becomes a spectacle in the air. She shows me her calluses and talks to me about how her childhood goal was to be a dancer. I try to picture Stoya, the little dancer. She describes the damage it has done to her feet and her knees, talks at length about the state of her metatarsals. I tell her that football was not worth my ankles and knees. We agree that when nights are rainy or cold, we ache in these old places. I admire her for this. In this we are kindred.
At one time Stoya had wanted to go to a special place to train for the circus, but her parents did not think this was the best thing to do. All of these activities seem fitting. Something to know about Stoya is that she is always in motion. As she talks and smokes she is like a locomotive burning on quick thoughts and nicotine. It is then that she looks most happy. I have known cocaine addicts. I have walked around in meth houses. You haven’t lived in New York City long enough until you’ve watched good people fly high and break down on cocaine. You see that their whole world is beautiful and spinning and pirouetting in the air, and then you’re trying to talk them down from a ledge at two in the morning on a Tuesday. Stoya’s energy is not that energy. I don’t know what her energy is, but her eyes tell me that it is important and breathing.
The whole world is breathing.
We try to figure out when Kayden will come. Neither of us has told her when, and she may be porn’s smartest woman except for directions and time. The reason we are all meeting together is purely about timing. Stoya and I decide to do the interview before she goes to lube wrestle film girls in Chicago. Kayden is in town for the week doing yoga and working on her writing, and she has become one of my favorite people to talk to about literature. She is kind and thoughtful and talented in that staggering way you forget people can be on their own. A week before, I had walked Kayden to her hotel room because she was lost and all turned around. She read my work aloud on the way because she knew it gave me the fear. She did not like to watch my hands shake, and I did like the way she said my things. We ended up in Times Square at one of those neon hours when the tourists are packed away and the street workers have come out to make it all new. Under a neon billboard fifty feet in the air Kayden recited all of the books of the Old Testament in less than twenty seconds. She started and then I joined in. It was a race. When we were done it made me want to stand up and sing the Star-Spangled Banner. You would have liked to see it. She was America all lit up.
DL: Let’s talk about Kayden before she gets here. I have some opinions on her, mostly revolving around how she is great. She’s especially easy to talk with since we love a lot of the same authors…
Stoya: David Foster Wallace! (scowling)
DL: (laughs) No, I’m not a David Foster Wallace guy. Kayden knows this. You aren’t a David Foster Wallace person, either?
Stoya: Nooo! (laughing) My stepsister—one day this is going to get back to her, and she’s going to strangle me in my sleep—was an English major at a nice, fancy college in upstate New York. She married old money. He proposed to her on Valentine’s Day. Her entire closet is pastel pink, baby blue, and neutral. I don’t think she owns a pair of heels that are over three inches in height.
DL: If that were my brother, I would choke him out.
Stoya: No, she’s so nice! She’s very sweet, very inquisitive, and very accepting. My dad and her mother didn’t meet until we were already older than eighteen and out in the real world. I landed in their lives with bright blue hair, patches of it shaved…completely insane. Thanksgiving dinner we were talking about cock piercings or about how Johnny Hazzard didn’t want to talk to me when I did the red carpet for Jackass 2. (laughing) It was a whole lot of worlds colliding. But she’s really sweet. For Christmas one year she gave me A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius—which is by Eggers, of course—but it’s the same kind of thing where you read and think, “Fuck, this is so painful.” I wanted to be able to talk about it since the one thing we had in common was reading, and she was really trying to meet me halfway and extend some topic that could spark conversation. For two months I just banged my head against the middle section of that book and thought, “I can’t do this.”
DL: Well, I’ve read a lot of good work by David Foster Wallace—especially his nonfiction and a few of his stories, at least for my tastes—but in New York City you get inundated by all of these fans or wannabe fans reading Infinite Jest on the subway, most of them lurking around in their ironical moustaches, hoping to score smart pussy. I’ve gotten ugly about the whole subject. I’ve started telling people, “If he could have hanged himself twice, he would have been twice as famous.”
Stoya: So much of the stuff we see here is almost purposefully obscure. A lot of the art stuff that people in New York really get into…it’s just such a tiny world with so many levels of self-reference going on that nobody outside of it can get a toehold to even want to understand it. That kind of sucks. At that point, you’re just masturbating with your brain. With some writers and artists, it’s almost as if they don’t want people to appreciate it. If you’re that pompous and self-absorbed, why publish? Why put it out there? I know it’s not on the same level, but sometimes if I’m writing a piece and the exact right word is super obscure and nobody would catch it except a very small section of my audience—and remember that a large portion of my audience doesn’t speak English as their first language, anyway—I have to ask myself, “Is that word really that important to me?” No. It’s more important that my fans understand me and that I don’t intentionally make them feel stupid.
DL: At heart, writing is a seduction. You want the reader to become your partner. You want the reader to become your accomplice.
Stoya: Exactly. You’re trying to communicate, and I think there’s a way to do it that is friendly and smart without being overwhelming. I’m turned off by writing that is purposefully overwhelming. It would be like me going to have sex with a civilian [a sex partner not in adult film] and being like, “Okay, so I’m going to really need you to put me in the pile-driver,” straight out of the gate, right after the first kiss. It would be like me requesting this really crazy shit that would really freak you out. (laughing)
DL: I want to make sure we talk about Kayden before she gets here.
Stoya: I think one of the reasons Kayden loves me is my brutal honesty, but go ahead.
DL: Yeah, I think so. She LOVES you. She makes you out to be some interstellar unicorn with tits. She promised you would talk circles around me, and I guess you mostly have. She had me quaking in my heart about meeting you, which was bad enough since your work has gotten me through a lot of lean times. You and I were partways in love for a couple of years, though it was mostly one-sided and for only seconds at a time. But I’m not alone in that. You’re getting to be a worldwide phenomenon.
Stoya: (laughs) We should talk about Turkey! Can we talk about Turkey for a second?
DL: Let’s talk Turkey.
Stoya: Turkey has taken a serious liking to me, especially the Turkish version of 4CHAN. At first I was like, “What the fuck is up with all of these Turkish fans?” I thought about it for a while and realized, “Hey, I’m part Serbian.” These guys are pretty much genetically wired to want to rape and pillage me after doing it so relentlessly to my ancestors. Naturally they’re fans of watching me get fucked. (laughing) Obviously. But now that some of the Turks are in a twitter over me, I also get the religious ones who are sending me messages like, “You whore infidel!” which is really kind of driving me insane. I don’t want to look at the Internet because I know it could be something from one of my awesome fans in Sacramento who has loved my work from the beginning, or it could be some Turkish man screaming at me about how I’m going to Islamic hell.
DL: (laughing) So you’re not into that? I guess that’s not your thing?
Stoya: (laughing) Noooooo.
DL: So let’s get back to Kayden. She’s a really smart, tremendous writer. Definitely a big-hearted person. She sent me a few stories the other day, and I teared up a bit over one of them.
Stoya: To be honest, some of her stuff is over my head. The story she did for Cal [Morgan]’s thing, for example [“Plank” from Forty Stories by Harper Perennial]. I really like the parts of her memoir that I’ve read. When she went into super-literary mode, I sort of…eh.
DL: But I think that’s the direction she’s going, right? Maybe not for the memoir, even though I think she’s rethinking her angles on that, too.
Stoya: In general, yeah.
DL: If I understand, you introduced Kayden to Cal Morgan, yes?
Stoya: Yes. I was a fan of Chad Kultgen’s books, and one of the characters in his then forthcoming novel Men, Women & Children was obsessed with me. Harper Perennial sent me a galley because they wanted a blurb for the back cover. I got the email over Thanksgiving saying that they wanted to send me a galley, and I was at my parents’ house. I was on the front porch and squealed so loudly and shrilly that my dad came down from the upstairs office to check on me.
Harper Perennial wanted to do a viral ad campaign, and I had thought that it would be more like the viral promotions for his first two novels—sketches and that kind of thing—but they ended up wanting to do a book club. I started asking myself, “Who in the industry would be into this?” The only person I could think of was Sasha Grey. Fuck Sasha Grey.
I asked Kayden if she knew any other women in the industry who were from New York and who liked to read as much as we did, and Kayden immediately shot back, “I can go to New York! I love Kultgen’s work. Sweet!” She came in and helped, and Cal was involved throughout the process.
DL: Kayden’s more well-read than most of the full-time writers I know. With the work of Kayden and you and a few other adult film stars here or there, I don’t even know if the stereotype of the pornstar still exists. It’s at least fading out.
Stoya: Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago have always been aware and have embraced us. This is going to sound terrible, and there’s no good way to put it, but I think there’s a higher percentage of people from these cities who are good at critical thinking in comparison to your average American. When you get into certain parts of the Midwest and the South, it can get ugly. I grew up in North Carolina. The last time I was down there I had a conversation with my uncle, my dad’s brother, and the whole time I couldn’t believe how closed-minded he was being. It’s not stupidity. My uncle probably has close to the same amount of raw processing power that my dad does, but he’s never done anything with it—so it’s stagnant and atrophied. He acts like he’s stupid, and he thinks like he’s stupid. That kind of way of approaching life makes people very fond of stereotypes. We’re very fond of stereotypes anyway, but areas that foster this unwillingness to think critically are just too far behind. I’m never doing another signing in Texas again. It’s not to say that there aren’t intelligent people everywhere or that a lot of my friends from these big cities didn’t migrate from other areas. Unfortunately, though, active intelligence has a lot to do with starting early. Brains are still forming when you’re young, and if you’re not building good habits or being exposed to things that stretch you into learning, it’s usually too late if you start when you’re 25 or 30.
DL: There’s some truth to that. I’m from Oklahoma, and there are days I’ll get these giant Facebook feeds about how Obama is really a Kenyan or how global warming is a liberal myth. I don’t mind people being passionate about what they believe, but some of it gets too hard to stomach. I’ll have people on there who are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriages, and some of the content is just too painfully bigoted for life. And the evolution stuff kills me. I thought that discussion would be over by now.
Stoya: Have you ever run into the situation where the creationists try to work in the fossil evidence? Isn’t it amazing? (laughing) The level of non-scientific craziness is better than reality TV. I don’t own a TV, so that’s the next best thing.
Stoya is smoking and stretching her arms as we watch the slow descent into evening. She is looking at her phone and pining for a response from her darling Kayden. Stoya’s smiling still and talking about how difficult it was to live in Philadelphia just as she was advancing in her career. The city was smaller, and she was getting hounded by people wanting to know where she was eating or where she was drinking or where in general she would be. An errant tweet could ruin a birthday. We agree that it is different in New York City. I tell her that one day I went to hear the Dalai Lama and that Martin Scorsese ended up right in front of me, exiting with me down the aisle. If he had been in any other place I might have acted differently, but it seemed more appropriate here to let him go in peace.
She tells me that one time she was at the airport, and a guy wearing a brown shirt and brown sweatpants walks by her eating a chilidog. She sees the signs of porn recognition. She mimics him walking by and spotting her while he’s eating the chilidog, almost like a telescope zooming her into his sights. She’s getting into it now. She keeps walking by me with her faux-chilidog telescope, and I’m laughing so hard I want to vomit. She says that he goes, “Stoya! Stoya!” She walks on. “Stoya! Stoya!” She is trying to wheel her luggage through the corridors while he is in hot pursuit, but she finally stops and says, “Okay. Fuck. Yeah, it’s me. Stoya. Okay. What?”
The gin has worked into my body a little bit, and she says that he—or another guy, I can’t keep it straight, the gin!—walks right up to her and hands her a script. He’s been waiting for this opportunity his whole life and keeps the script right there with him. She tells him thank you but that she is already under contract. He pleads with her, and she takes the script and goes on her way.
He—The man with the chilidog? Without? The gin!—contacts her later because he has gotten a hold of her email address. He starts asking about the script, and she tells him politely that she considered the script but that it would not be a good fit for her right now. She thanks him for letting her take a look. The man begins to send her a series of follow-up emails, mostly referring to her as a whore. She’s begun to wonder why the first name they throw at her is whore. Stoya is upset that he begins to use her real name. She is less concerned about her safety—her real name is common—than she is annoyed by him using that power ploy and air of familiarity.
Gender identity is so tied up with any power struggle. I don’t know if that’s evolutionarily built in, but Geoffrey Miller in The Mating Mind proposes that things like morality and humor and art and music are the human version of the peacock’s tail [...] I guess even the very beautiful things in life boil down to just trying to get laid.
Stoya stretches with her hands above her head, and her shirt pops up to her ribs. What I do is look at a place that is not her ribs. What I do is call her Stoya. She smiles and twists her hair with a mischievous smile. Her eyes have a glint. I do not think it is for me.
DL: You have good points about the shortsightedness that plagues much of mid-America, but clearly the people are watching. I read an article the other day that said adult films in the United States account for thirteen billion…
Stoya: Let me cut you off right now. That’s not true.
DL: After I read the article, I tried to verify the number but the figures I found were too varied to be believed. The supporters of adult film inflate the numbers and the detractors…
Stoya: …also inflate the numbers.
DL: You got it. One side wants you to be viewed as mainstream and the other has cast you as the whore of Babylon.
Stoya: Adult film companies are private and don’t disclose their figures. Information moves so fast today that fact checking is out the window. The numbers were probably pulled out of someone’s ass at a magazine like Forbes.
DL: Probably. What a lot of these places do is hire someone like me, and we just make it up so we can go back to our emails. But it’s clear that if you’re not getting support outright, you’re certainly getting your share of viewers. You have a lot more Twitter followers than a lot of household names.
Stoya: Hypocrisy’s not really that new.
DL: I thought hypocrisy was from the ‘80s. I think I read that in Forbes.
Stoya: Acid-washed jeans and hypocrisy! Fuck you, 1980s! Oh, and asymmetry in fashion.
DL: You design your own clothing in a pinch, yes? Little Betty Pornmaker.
Stoya: When I started doing things in and around the naked lady business, I needed skimpy clothing that looked good on me, and most of it is made for people with huge implants, that or the clothes just aren’t sexy. I ended up having to modify a lot of stuff, and then from there I could spend thirty bucks and modify the hell out of it, OR I could spend twenty bucks in materials, spend a little bit more time, and make it myself. Now I do my costumes if there’s something that I can’t purchase. It’s a question of free time at this point. I don’t make nearly as much as people think I make, but when I started I was on a Wal-Mart and Target sort of budget.
DL: What’s this Stoyaville business (www.stoyaville.com)?
Stoya: Molly Crabapple is awesome, and she did a portrait of me that’s on the cover of Devil in the Details, the one with the lace over the eyes. She wanted to do that, and Clayton Cubitt wanted to photograph me, but I had just finished the whole Steven Klein experience for Richardson Magazine. Whenever Clayton said, “I want to work with you,” my first response was, “Pay me.” I ended up really enjoying him as a person, then it turned into a thing where Molly was going to draw all of the stuff and then Clayton was going to find venues to place it. I get weary to talk about it in a public forum while it’s all still in the works. Basically Clayton takes pictures of me and Molly draws on me, and it’s fun.
DL: Let’s talk about story. Novels and short stories often have this traditional rollercoaster pattern where the new situation leads to tension and rising action, leading to a climax that quickly resolves. It may seem daft, but there’s a clear dynamic there that we also see in adult film or sex in general. That shape seems to describe a lot of human behavior. Do you care to talk about those correlations?
Stoya: Well, when I read fiction I try to keep in mind what Jim Butcher often says: As soon as you finish the climax, get the fuck out as soon as possible. I think with porn, I approach it by getting Robby D. [director at Digital Playground] to set me up with whomever I am going to be working with, and I try to have as awesome a time as possible. The thing to understand is that the male performers work every day, so they have the mastery of the medium. A contract star never will. By the time we’d actually clocked enough time, we would be fifty years old…and only Nina Hartley can really pull that off. In contrast, I work mostly when I feel the urge because I don’t want to shoot a scene that I’m not fully committed to. The men know what position you need to be in, how to keep you open to the camera and at an aesthetically pleasing angle. If you see my scenes with James Deen, you’ll notice that he will move me into position. He’ll pull me over here for a bit, and then maybe he decides I would look better if my torso were down. I sort of get thrown around like Gumby. The male talent does the thinking, and that allows the females to go on instinct. It helps create that balance between instinct and technique within the medium.
Now let me ask YOU a question. What do you think about when you have an orgasm?
Stoya: (laughing) That was fast! Have we played this game before?
DL: (laughing) I don’t know. Have we?
Stoya: (laughing) I don’t know. Usually it takes people a minute. They’ll usually say, “Well, I think about…” and try to arrive at some intelligible, thoughtful answer. I say, “No, when you’re having an orgasm, precisely when,” and they try to get out of the question for a little bit longer. Eventually they admit that there is no intellectual thought going on. Well, unless it’s bad sex. And then there’s a lot of thinking going on. You start saying to yourself, “Ugh, what am I doing wrong? How am I going to save this? I’m going to really hurt this guy’s feelings if I say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working,’ but I’m pretty sure it’s going to become obvious, so maybe it’s better just to discuss it.”
DL: For all of its physical glory, there is a sort of tapestry or set of motifs built into adult film. We see the plug-in plotlines/fantasies of teacher versus student, secretary versus boss, nurse versus patient, and on down the line. A lot of these obviously involve power dynamics. What are your thoughts on how some of these elements work within your medium?
Stoya: I can’t speak for the world, but in the industry we’re constantly aware of the fact that men are visual creatures. Costumes fit that bill. People generally like simple, easily digestible things. To some degree that’s why I love sci-fi novels. I can rip through them quickly and easily, blending my need for fantasy with my need for escape. After a long day, it’s nice to go somewhere else. But especially when we’re talking about porn and the lack of thought we just addressed, the cheerleader/nurse/teacher/whatever gives a visual cue that is simple but still plays on an established fantasy. Men respond well to that. When you start thinking about the power dynamics on the other hand, this might be a post-civilization thing because most of modern society has been dominated by men. Then there was the feminist push in the sixties, which further translated into the feminist push for female domination in many cases.
Gender identity is so tied up with any power struggle. I don’t know if that’s evolutionarily built in, but Geoffrey Miller in The Mating Mind proposes that things like morality and humor and art and music are the human version of the peacock’s tail. They exist for the female to find suitable breeding partners. Then you have to wonder, “Why do women possess these qualities as well?” Well, you clearly have to have a sense of humor to evaluate someone else’s sense of humor. You have to understand musical prowess in order to recognize musical prowess. Things like this suggest that evolutionarily speaking, women are always in a position of judging for suitable mating partners, whereas men are generally stronger, larger. For all of these reasons, you already have an inherent power struggle built in. (laughs) I guess even the very beautiful things in life boil down to just trying to get laid. [Marilyn] Manson told me one time, mostly joking—although things are really only funny if they are true—that he started a band because he wanted to get laid. That may be far more accurate than we really think.
Kayden arrives to the bar, fresh from the shower. Stoya and I are both happy to see a familiar face and rush to exchange our pleasantries. Stoya puts her arms around Kayden and squeals. Her callused fingertips stretch out to feel the moistness of Kayden’s hair. Kayden and I hug and give pecks on the cheek, and the smell of that shower lingers with me, too. I suspect that none of us have a brassiere.
Sometimes we hold women hostage with our dim nature. They can be noble and good but still come in a shape our minds can’t understand. They are mothers and daughters who kiss one another on the hair, but we are petty and small and make schemes in our hearts. Our minds change a woman into a survival exercise. We take a nice dinner and try to bend it into a threesome with our minds. One time I had dinner with a woman I loved. Her mother was there, and I looked down her shirt.
Kayden slides over into the booth next to me, and the two of us order drinks. Stoya makes a broad smile over her empty Coca-Cola and holds it there until the waitress comes by. We order a pub dinner. Stoya and I order cheeseburgers—medium rare—and I am surprised to see that she is keeping up with me bite for bite. This is no small feat. I have her by a good one hundred pounds. I’ve spent large parts of my life getting handshakes from waiters and being told that I must not have been hungry at all.
Stoya is thin but chews at the meat like an animal. She wants ketchup with her fries, and that is best of all. She holds the bottle up to the light and sees the stuff all stuck at the bottom, as it is famous to do. No matter. Stoya takes both hands and wraps her fingers around the base of the bottle. She holds the bottle down to her plate and gyrates the ketchup in a manner that is vaguely (overtly?) pornographic. The bottle is on vibrate between her hands. The bar is full of drunk young men, but none of them notice but me.
Kayden and Stoya catch up on business. They rank movie sales and talk about the current state of adult film. They talk about coworkers and family and people in their lives. The protection Stoya shows for her friends is enormous. Kayden talks sweetly about her sister, whom I have never met but think of fondly. The sister had once read my work patiently before nodding approval, and that note being passed on was like honey to me. For Kayden there is a great power in the blood. She loves her sister to a mothering degree and would cut the throat of any person who would suggest her sister should follow in her shoes. My favorite story they share is of Stoya going to Max Brenner. She read that Brenner had wanted to be Willy Wonka, and when she saw wallpaper with fruit print, she politely licked the wall.
Stoya swears to Kayden that I had called Stoya a muse in an old email. I think about the Greeks and the poets with their ladies, but I laugh and say that this is not true. A debate ensues, and Stoya searches through her phone before frowning.
“I told you,” I say.
“Fuck you,” she says.
“No, fuck you,” I say. I may be the only man all day to not call Stoya an infidel whore.
“Okay,” Stoya says. She points at the recorder. “Whatever we say from now on is just between us. No print.” And I agree.
What can I tell you? That I listened for hours? That regardless of the topic, Stoya would smile and nod to pull me in? I believe that I am listening to the most intelligent women in the naked world, and I like to watch Stoya dip her fries into her ketchup before smearing them across her plate like a rainbow. Her hands are careful, thoughtful, except when they are in the air. At one point we look at all the book covers framed on the wall and decide the pub’s taste is no good. I pull out my wallet, and Kayden throws a fit until she picks up the check.
After a few hours we descend the stairs. It is evening. There was still a little bit of light out when Kayden had arrived, but by now it is over and gone. We stand in front of the old bar with its grand fixtures and crumbling beauty. I say goodbye to the urinals and the stained glass, the etch of the old tin ceiling. The three of us stand in front of the doorway and smoke cigarettes next to a group of drunk young men, and they never looked our way.
“That guy is wearing a Mariah Carey t-shirt,” Stoya says.
Kayden and I look. He has rocker hair but the shirt of an eternal diva.
“That guy is wearing a Mariah Carey t-shirt!” Stoya says again.
We are watching the guy with the amazing shirt, and a family of Japanese tourists comes to stand between us and the street. They are taking a picture. The crumbling bar had been famous for a time, and perhaps the family is squeezing in for one last photo before folding up their maps for the journey home. Stoya and Kayden continue to marvel in the other direction—the longhair in the effeminate shirt—but I look at the tourist’s flashing camera and smile. Somehow I want to wave. What I like is for people to remember. I like to think that one day some family in Osaka will be going through their old photo albums and realize that they inadvertently took a picture with two of the most famous adult film stars of their time—and one nondescript writer, who looked nothing like a writer, hovering curiously between them all. Where do you reside in your vow of poverty? The lonesomeness and the beauty comes from hovering between worlds.
“Oh, we’re in their picture!” Stoya says. “We’re so sorry,” she says and smiles to the family. It is always a nice thing to watch Stoya smile, but I am glad this is not on film. She nods and says something to the tourists in their native Japanese, and I know that I will never understand. We step to the side, and while Stoya smokes she talks about how much she had loved Japan. She liked the warmth of the people there. You get the feeling that no matter where she is, Stoya can always feel in her heart how the people are and what will creep them out of their shells.
We walk toward one of the popular parks in the city, one of those Sunday gathering spots where young people dance or ride skateboards or hold hands in protest. Where watermelons and kumquats are sold. Where old men feed birds and hustle chess in the park. I had sat there before with a beautiful girl. She walked out toward a taxi and I will not admit that I never reached for her hand.
I think of this as a streetlight changes and the grand fog of memory lifts itself from the containing vessel. Kayden is looking for a yellow cab to head to Times Square. Stoya plans to catch a cab heading east and then south into Brooklyn. I am going to the subway to catch a train up north for the evening, to write out my recordings and think about all the places I have paused. Sometimes a cab is not just a yellow car. Sometimes a callus speaks to the way we let ourselves burst in an effort to heal. I watch Stoya’s shoe catch and then flap as she settles back onto the broken feet of an old dancer. She stops to talk to a pair of dogs and asks the owner if this is okay. The porkpie man nods but seems impatient by this surprise of the secret pornstars. Kayden reaches to pet the heads of the dogs, and Stoya lowers her hand below their muzzles so they can get comfortable and steady within her scent. Stoya and Kayden talk to the dogs, and they are giddy when the tails begin to wag. My boyhood crawls out from the inside of my heart and I want to stroke and pet them, but I nod and shrug my shoulders in my odd way.
Dear Stoya: There are calluses on your hands. I never called you by your real name. Your smoking is awful, and the whole world has seen your clit by now. But your eyes are your eyes. And there is electricity where your blood should be. And I think if my hands had ever stopped shaking, I would have liked to just talk a little while. And dear Kayden: I like that you are good to your sister. And that you are a special writer. And that you are beautiful and kind in your heart. Sometimes I think you would be good with a child. But that is what men do. We make you our darlings, and I hope in the end you don’t give a damn for any of it. I don’t think that you do. One time a friend told me that everything I wrote came out like a love letter, and somehow that became okay to me right now. Fiction has made me an old great liar, but no one ever doubted that I meant it at the time.
In one of our earliest correspondences, Stoya had called herself a muse. She told me that one of the things she had accepted about herself was the fact that maybe she would never accomplish a work of great artistic merit but that perhaps she had a gift for inspiring those who could. I don’t know what Stoya will accomplish. Who knows what will come of her adult film career, which is nebulous and not yet fully expressed? And I regret having never seen Stoya spinning above the circus crowd, balancing on a hoop at the end of a string. What I can tell you is that if Stoya were a novel, she would be called The Art of the Spectacle. If she were a movie, she would be The Art of the Gaze. If I could take her essence over an evening and make it a thing to hold for you, it would be like one of those great tuning forks that has been struck against a mallet, thrumming and deep and calling out the tune. Or she is the string of the instrument being strummed out as a body in motion into sound, and that frenzy is manic and contagious and calls to the lesser strings at rest. Physics suggests to us that the whole world is composed of tiny oscillating strings vibrating against one another to form the tangible order, and if Stoya is not the tuning fork or the strings, she at least resides in that place where motion and sound intertwine into the living music, the place where content and form collide to create an inexplicable whole.
The dogs had moved on, and I stopped to watch a cellist carry a trunk like a human body. “Come on,” Stoya said. “Come on.” The ladies walked me to the subway, right there to the edge of the stairs where the subterranean winds bite you with their heat or their cool. The city at night was trapping the moisture and the heat into an invisible bowl, and you could not see the moon. Stoya’s hands were flapping. Stoya’s shirt was flapping. Stoya’s shoes were flapping. She was smoking and talking into a pleasant sort of mellow as we stopped to say our goodbyes. Her hair was a mess. She had that little tooth jutting out just so. I pulled out my ticket to go down into that great industrial underworld, but I wanted to turn around one last time. I wanted to watch Stoya walking alongside Kayden, naked to all but anonymous and hidden in her alien light. I did not turn around. In my mind I could see the dancer’s body with its laboring bones and those eyes making up for where the stars should be, but I knew from the old books that if I faltered or moved, she would crumble before my eyes—would disappear.
Volume 2, Issue 4 Back to top