Thursday, November 17, 2016

Parker (Part 2): On Being Organic

Parker is taking a "legitimate" (his word) acting class so that he can make better porn.

When we talked a few weeks ago, he was engrossed in a scene from the play Edmund by David Mamet, which he'd been working on for class.

He described Edmund as "born on third base," which he had to explain to me because I immediately went to the baseball-sex metaphor, which doesn't even make sense here. He likened "born on third base" to "born with a silver spoon in your mouth." Ok, got it.

In the course of the play, this family man (you get it: picket fence, office job) "in a flourish of self-centered, willful badness, casts off all of these trappings." Those are Parker's words, too. He's doing some casting off of his own these days.

The first fifteen minutes of our conversation was dominated by Mamet's play: the storyline, the description of the scene Parker is working on, and a little background on the class. Most of the other students are recent university graduates looking for connections, help with their showreel or insight into their portfolio. They're not sure if Parker is kidding when he says he acts in porn.

He's taking the course for two reasons: to get more skills as an actor and to make better porn. He wants to push himself to create something that's a little more beautiful.

"I would say that 99% of the time, the sex is just improvised," Parker said. "Just let it roll. Do what feels good, do what feels natural. If there's narrative involved, you'll get a script. If there's not, you just arrive and fuck."

Here was my chance. "There should always be a script!" I interjected. "I think most women would agree with me." Finally, I had the ear of someone in the industry. Why don't they all know this?

They do. "I think most people would agree with you," Parker said. "But here's the thing, they're not going to pay for a script when they can just say, 'ok, here's the set. You're fucking him. These are the positions. And um, yeah. Go for it.'" 

Sonia, who was making breakfast in the kitchen as Parker and I spoke on Skype, disagreed with me about the script. She told me later that she found it incredibly sexy, the idea that porn could be that natural. But of course, so much of what we've seen looks neither natural nor particularly enjoyable. As a result, it hasn't been a big part of our sex life.

Can porn be life-affirming? Yes, and! If it's going to be, we need smart, articulate people in the industry with a nuanced understanding of gender, sexuality and the cornucopia of possible acts of sex (Happy Thanksgiving!).

He talked about the challenge presented each day by his work:
Because the scripts are so loose, as loose as they are, the challenge is the big thing for me. I really enjoy being in that place and not being comfortable, and then being like 'I have to figure this out. This is difficult. How can I make this as good as it can be? How can I bring this to life?' I enjoy the creative elements of it: going through the script, seeing what I can put onto this. That's fascinating. Then, I really enjoy the physical performance side of fucking on-screen. That is terrifically enjoyable to me. 
He also talked about the path that led him to porn. The serendipity reminded me of the early days of my nonprofit organization: one person led to another led to another, and eventually you sat down across from the person who would help you realize your dream. But that explanation is too neat for Parker.

He described his continual progression -- from BDSM and a realization of gender politics, to the end of a relationship, to a party where he met a director, to other directors and eventually someone who would show him how to become an escort in a safe way -- as "little grains of sand that build the steps that I'm climbing up."

He wants me to resist neat stories, and warned about the easy meta-narrative that would do his story a disservice. "I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now without all those little details, and swimming my way, stumbling my way through gathering them up."

Parker is a philosopher who is still unsure whether words can serve his journey. He lives with depression and anxiety, half-imagined careers, memories of relationships that went from dynamic and challenging to stuck. Everything pulls him away from the trappings of Edmund at the beginning of the play.

"I've come to the realization that that's not how life works, you can't just will yourself" to have a certain career or life, he reflected. "You can't take the resources you have and decide to go from here to there. 'I'm going to go there, be that.' One of the reasons porn worked for me is because it's been organic."

I'm pretty sure Parker meant by organic, natural development or growth. But organic also connotes, "relating to living matter." The body. That rang truer. 

This man is a thinker. I remembered why I liked him so much, why we never ran out of things to talk about when we were nineteen and our world was just beginning. 

Although he's thinking about porn, and thinking about it in nuanced and artistic ways, the act of it may provide a little relief, an opportunity to be pure flesh. I wonder how often most of us live in our physical bodies this wholly. 

Sex or not, the experience of being wholly physical must produce an afterglow.

"When you come away from a day of filming and you feel like it's gone well, you're so buoyed up, it's so great. Teamwork is oftentimes really enjoyable...when the teamwork is working, it's kind of buzzing. You're in it together and the engine is rolling. That is exhilarating."

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Open Letter to Trump Voters

I know who you are.

You are the Italian, male partner of my cousin who owns a small pizza shop in a dying factory town. You're ambitious but always complaining that you can't find good help. Sometimes, you note the race of your employees that don't work out, and I remain silent. I never questioned to your face that you might not be a very good boss, especially to people who don't look like you.

You are my white, male cousin who served six years in the Navy and had a young marriage turn to dust. By the time you found your second wife and fell in love, you were no longer motivated to explore the world or move out of your comfort zone for a job. You moved back to the county where you were raised and got a job at the paper where your dad worked.

When you were traveling the world with the Navy, you imagined more greatness for yourself. Now you work 9-5, struggle with health issues, and find comfort in the evangelical church. I truly don't know what to say to you. I don't understand why you would look the other way when faced with a hate-spewing monster, or worse, vote for him.

You are my aunt, the stay-at-home, Christian wife of my mother's brother whose interests and hobbies are limited to scrapbooking and other forms of nostalgia. Although you take a passing interest in my work with urban youth, I don't correct you when you frame our conversations about my work in terms of "us" and "them."

I never tell you, "If this is how you see the world, then I'm not on your team."

I wasn't always silent. In my early twenties, the end of college and early working life, I engaged each of you in conversations, some of which ended in tears. The tears were always mine. These were the Bush years and the first Obama election.

What will I do about Thanksgiving and Christmas this year? My black friends on Facebook are inditing me to engaged in a deeper way with my racist family members, to point out hate speech when it comes up, to speak up. Despite the fact that I have so much more knowledge now, I'm reluctant.

Facts and passion may not be enough to change the minds of my relatives, who have decided that we are living in a subjective world, that objective truth and objective justice do not exist.

I don't want to relive the tears of my young cousin's wedding, my aunt going on and on about the number of new Hispanic mothers she sees in her work, always on welfare, always having more children. Her cheerful judgement of their worthlessness. Then, I did speak up.

Her husband, my uncle, doubled down. "You don't know what we see," he said. "You might see something different where you live, but you can't see what it is like where we live. And we're paying for them."

I think that's when I left the room. It's not that I couldn't see; it's that I have different eyes.

The nurse is my godmother, the one who was supposed to be responsible for -- I don't fucking know what -- my spiritual understanding, my enlightened upbringing.

This week, a black woman I know was walking down the street and was trailed by three white Trump supporters. "You'll be under ownership again soon," they said, and laughed.

They laughed.

In South Philadelphia, there were at least two instances of pro-Nazi graffiti.

At the University of Pennsylvania, black freshmen and others were personally, directly threatened with lynching by an online troll who texted threats to their phones, possibly from the University of Oklahoma.

If you voted for Trump, here is what I need from you: denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today. Do not wait. If you voted for him because you believe in the same God as Pence or because you're dissatisfied with your possibilities for the future, denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today. If you voted for him because something he said resonated with your lizard brain and you really believe he's going to be a positive change for America, denounce his sexist and racist rhetoric today.

And if you voted for him because of his sexist and racist rhetoric, dear God, don't you DARE call yourself a Christian.

In either case, read a book (something not by Sarah Palin, please). Make friends with someone who doesn't look like you. Get some new eyes. You've made a mess, and we're all going to have to clean it up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Parker (Part 1): New Frontier

When I first met Parker, we were 19-year-old undergraduates at the University of Westminster in London. 9/11 had just happened.

A few days before, I'd been sitting in a London hotel room with my mother the night of September 11, 2001, and I came out for the first time -- as agnostic. Through her careful protests, I shared my ideas about how the universe might work, based largely on James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy.

Then I put my mother on a plane back to the States. I was on my own for the first time.

Parker and I met in a drab college common room on the ground floor of a narrow building in the heart of the Victoria neighborhood in central London. A hundred undergraduates were crowded in for orientation, the anxiety and excitement palpable. We all sat in uncomfortable chairs in a circle around the edge of the room, international students and first year Brits. Our lives were just beginning.

I remember looking around the circle of faces, deciding whom to befriend. In my newly empowered state, with mixed results reinventing myself in my first two years of college, I was determined to do this study abroad thing right. I chose Parker, a gorgeous boy with the cheekbones of a god, and a young woman with a tie-dyed shirt and a pierced labret.

The three of us processed the aftermath of 9/11, ate mushrooms for the first time, head-banged in grungy basement bars and danced all night in cavernous clubs. We also ate meals together, watched movies and wondered about the world. By the end of my four months in London, they were my closest friends.

My senior year of college, Parker asked me with some reverence for a phone date. I was sure he was going to tell me that he was in love with me, which meant he was probably going to come out to me (that was usually how it worked).

Instead, he told me that he was exploring BDSM, that it was a part of him. He could share magazines to help me understand, if I wanted. It seemed important to him that I understand.

This was a new frontier, but I didn't flinch. It was like my friends from high school who came out as gay or admitted to abortions despite our years of Catholic education: I knew their hearts and knew all of the pieces of their decision-making. I could not find fault with them; instead, I needed to expand my perspective.

Something similar happened a few weeks ago. I shared my blog with Parker and he had some things to share with me, too: he'd taken up acting in porn in Berlin and working as an escort. I suspected he was queer or bisexual, too, so I asked if I could interview him.

Parker went to school for architecture and pursued careers in art writing and video game design before embracing a life of sex work within the past year. The new frontier for me here was not the fact of the sex work -- I've known anecdotally that there are plenty of people doing sex work who choose it and enjoy it.

The new frontier was that I hadn't loved anyone in the industry. I hadn't had the chance to see how the work fulfilled them in a way similar to how I feel fulfilled in my own work. I hadn't explored big questions like love, ambition and satisfaction with someone who is both a fantastic critical thinker and has found peace and presence in sex work.

I haven't let Parker speak in this first post, but you'll meet him and read his careful analysis and irreverent skepticism in the few that are coming.

It felt important first, to say: I love him, and I'm unsure if we can ever be truly fair to a subject we love. I'll do my best.