Nobody is as familiar with the rigid boundaries of mainstream sexual progress as sex workers. Because even on the eve of 2019, they’re still easily ostracized, alienated and unfairly judged by members of both major political parties. In fact, a lot of sex workers who are otherwise satisfied with their job say their biggest discomfort with their career choice surrounds what other people will think of them, particularly their own friends and family.
“In my own experience, when you love someone so much, your biggest fear is that you’re going to lose them, right? That they’ll be disgusted by you, and that they won’t talk to you anymore, and that they’ll completely cut ties,” says porn performer Jiz Lee, who wrote an entire book called Coming Out Like a Porn Star. “To have that be the possibility then going into that, it’s terrifying. It’s silencing. I’d rather be lying the whole time than risk that.”
But does every sex worker feel that way — i.e., that lies are almost better than honesty? And if they choose the truth, how exactly do they break it to mom and dad, old college classmates and potential romantic interests? In other words, how do they come out as a sex worker to the support network that life is almost impossible to navigate without?
For answers, we spoke to three porn performers in particular:
- Mimosa was a fetish model and massage therapist before fulfilling her nearly lifelong dream to perform in porn for Kink.com. She also works behind the camera in casting and as a performer advocate in both adult and mainstream film.
- Lotus Lain is a porn performer, writer and activist who works with the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade association. She began doing porn in her 30s and was outed to her parents without her consent.
- Christopher Zeischegg began his porn career under the pseudonym Danny Wylde when he was 19. James Deen had recently introduced the twink as an archetypal lover in straight porn, making space for Zeischegg, who then started working on a number of MILF projects. With the exception of some jerk-off videos still available for sale, Danny Wylde is now totally retired as the 33-year-old Zeischegg develops his career as an author and film production professional.
Here’s what they had to say…
Mimosa: I have eight brothers and sisters. When I was about 10, I asked my mom, “What if one of us did porn?” because she found my brother’s porn stash. She was like, “Oh, haha.” But I pressed her on it: “What would you do? Would you hate us? Would you disown us? Would you never talk to us again?”
She just said, “I wouldn’t want it around my house, but of course, I wouldn’t disown anyone or anything like that.” In my little 10-year-old head, I was like, “Great, thanks for the answer. That will apply forever.”
Still, I’ve never really sat down with my mom and been like, “Hello mother, I do porn.” She does, however, know. There’s no way she couldn’t. If anything, though, we’ve become closer because of not talking about it. That sounds weird, I know, but it’s almost like a respect thing. I’m respecting her boundaries by not talking about it, and she’s respecting mine by not judging me or forcing me to talk about it.
With my siblings, I believe all of them know. But they don’t care, and they don’t worry about me. My whole life I’ve kinda been like, “I’m gonna do what I want to do because I’m the one living my life. I’m the one in this body.” That’s probably why I’ve never had to worry about my family abandoning me, or anything like that. It comes from my ability to say, “This is me, take it or leave it.”
Lotus Lain: In my 20s, I stripped for a little bit, and thought to myself, “Should I do porn?” But I was like, “No.” This was the early 2000s, and there was still the stigma that porn was bad. “I can’t do that to my family, my friends and the people who knew me growing up,” I reasoned.
So I didn’t do it, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it either. Finally, I made a pact with myself — like the way people make pacts with their best friend to get married at 30 if no one else wants them. I vowed, “If I’m not marrying a politician, or if I’m not going to be like some school teacher extraordinaire by the time I’m 30, I should do porn because I cannot get it out of my mind.”
When I turned 30, I moved to L.A. and said to myself, “I need to make a stripper friend who’s doing porn so that she can get me into porn, too.” Which is exactly what happened.
As for the coming out factor? I was outed. I don’t know who the fuck outed me, though. At one point early in the first year of my career, when I honestly wasn’t even taking porn that seriously yet, someone showed my dad. Then my dad told my mom. She was like, “What?!?!” Growing up, on my mom’s side, I was Catholic, so for things like this it was always, “You’re evil. You’re damned. You’re fucked.” When these are the thoughts you grow up with, it’s so hard to look at it any other way.
Obviously, a lot of conversations and discussions followed, during which I kept saying, “This is who I am; this is who I’ve always been.” I felt sad that my mom felt a sense of, “What did I do wrong?” I just told her, “You didn’t do anything wrong. You were the perfect woman. That’s how I’m able to be who I am. I’m not pretending to be someone else.”
I didn’t care too much about my dad’s reaction because he was part of the reason I found sex so confusing. There was an ongoing joke in our family about him being super sexual, but at the same time, there was all this shame about looking at sexual things growing up and him telling me, “You’d better be a good girl.” I didn’t know who I was supposed to be.
So coming out was more about de-escalating the situation to get to where it is now. And today — five or six years later — I’m happy to say it’s definitely better. In fact, when my mom recently visited me from out-of-town, I disclosed to her that I’d a really fun time at my best friend’s 30th birthday orgy. Even better, both of my parents saw it as a big honor when the New York Times interviewed me earlier this year about who gets to be sexy. Difficult stuff can be overcome, thank God.
Not that there isn’t more difficult stuff to work through. In social situations, when people find out I’m in the adult industry, all they want to do is talk about it. I essentially need to let them know what my life is about so they feel comfortable treating me as a human. It sucks to have to educate people at every turn of my existence.
So-called friends aren’t any better. In particular, I had instances of people who I thought would have my back but didn’t — high school friends who I thought would be with me through thick-and-thin. I looked at Facebook recently and was like, “There’s that friend request they still never granted me three years ago.”
Just because I decided to live my truth, they’re ignoring me forever.
Christopher Zeischegg: It’s been roughly five years since I’ve performed in porn, and probably three years since I’ve participated in other in-the-flesh sex work. And so, these days, I only come out as a sex worker during conversations about my past. It mostly comes up with new clients, because my porn is so easily Googleable. In fact, the first thing that comes up when you search my name is porn or something related to porn. That’s why when I try to sell myself or promote myself in a different capacity, there’s often a degree of explanation necessary.
I’ll give you an example: I became an editor at a production company, and the management had to think about whether or not they wanted to put my name on their website. They weren’t sure if I’d deter clients from working with them, even though none of the work I’m doing for them is sexual. It’s a branding issue. Luckily, I tend to work with people who already know me, so it’s not always that big of a deal.
I have several books out, and I use my birth name as the author because the longer I write, the less I have to say about porn. I want to build an audience that’s not strictly reliant on this old name or old identity. But I don’t know that I’ll ever entirely distance myself from “Danny Wylde” as long as the internet is around.
Today, I just use that name for an OnlyFans account, which has some jerk-off videos of me on it. But I only feel comfortable having that stuff behind a paywall. Every once in a while, new fans will message me on social media for sex or escorting gigs, but those things just aren’t available to them anymore.
Is it draining? Not really. It can be obnoxious to open my Instagram account and have new dudes asking me every day, “How do I get into porn?” Or: “Can I suck your dick?” And: “It would be really hot to hire you for this.” I’m always like, “My life is very different now — I’m sitting in an office cutting a documentary.”
I entered my first long-term relationship around the time I got into porn. I was dating a fellow porn performer. We fell in love, and I wanted to introduce her to my family. I knew, though, that if I introduced her to my mom, my mom, like most parents, would ask, “What do you do for a living?” My now ex-girlfriend would have said, “Porn,” because she was proud of doing it. So I wanted to broach that conversation with my mom before she heard it from anyone else, because it would probably come out that I was doing porn too.
My mom is a fundamentalist Christian. I don’t say that to speak badly of her. She’s a wonderful person, and we have a great relationship. I say it to point out that her moral belief system conflicts with porn and what I was doing at the time.
It was a stressful thing. I called her on the phone and asked her to sit down. I broke the news, and she wasn’t mad at me. She was sad. Her initial fear was that I was being coerced, which is a fear a lot of people who don’t have any knowledge of the porn industry have. Second, she thought I was probably going to get some sort of STI. In my experience, a lot of people have this HIV panic when they hear you’re doing porn.
On a personal level, it was difficult for her because — as a parent — she wanted to be proud of her kid. Often times, when parents socialize with other parents, they tell each other what their kids are up to. I imagine it was a difficult conversation every time my mom told her friends that I did porn. She even told me that she was often put in the position of having to defend me or to explain my job in some weird capacity.
My relationship with my dad wasn’t as strong when I got into porn, so it was easier to come out to him. I’d prepared myself for him to be upset. But I didn’t care as much about his response. Initially, he was quiet and didn’t have much to say. He processed it later in his own way.
Specifically, he used to go on walks with one of his friends. The two of them had established a routine where one of them would speak for five minutes and then the other would speak for five minutes. My father told me that he mentioned to his friend that I did porn. He made this effort to say, “I don’t want to hear your response; I just want you to know that I told you that.” I don’t know what that means exactly, but it seemed, in a way, that he was accepting of my career at that point.
Right now, I’m in a fairly conventional, monogamous relationship with a woman. She knows my past, and she was aware that I’d been in porn when we started dating. We met because she’s a photographer. She was in the process of shooting a book of nudes. She’d contacted me on Instagram because she knew about me and wanted me to participate in her book.
We had a conversation at the beginning of our relationship. I decided at that point not to do sex work anymore — other than maybe camming and stuff like that. But I wouldn’t have sex with anyone else. I was at a point in my life where I was pretty happy with that decision.
When I started doing porn at 19, I had some close guy friends who I mentioned it to. They thought it was funny. Early in my career, I did scenes that weren’t necessarily indicative of their sexual interests. My first five scenes either featured me as a submissive to women or as a bottom in gay porn. Most of my guy friends at the time were straight. Their reactions then were more like, “Oh my God, you got tied up and fucked in the ass? That’s hilarious.” My friends didn’t start saying, “Oh my God” in a good way until later, when I was more involved with mainstream porn. That’s when they became more envious.
Sometimes I’ll read an old piece I’ve written about porn and have this fear, like it’s going to be about how amazing porn is. I don’t necessarily feel that way anymore. But I probably emphasized that in the past, at least in part, because of how the work is stigmatized. Both the left and right bash porn for either moralistic reasons or because they believe all sex workers are coerced, and all porn degrades women.
As a result, there’s often a reaction from sex workers to paint this unnaturally rosy picture of the industry. Whereas, now I believe it’s like any capitalist labor: At its heart, it’s mostly mundane. It’s going to work. I’m ambivalent in terms of whether it’s good or bad. I don’t need to tell people that it’s a feminist act or that I’m empowering myself. Most of the time I was just “doing my job.”