Illustration by Sibel Ergener

Porn Stars Are Trying to Make ‘Pussy’ Great Again

Can performers rescue the word after Donald Trump ruined it?

For months now, Lily Cade has been tweeting photos of her pussy to the president-elect. “What do you think of this one, Daddy?” she captioned one sexually explicit photo addressed to @realdonaldtrump. “Another day, another pussy grab,” read another. Each was captioned with a set of hashtags: #grabembythepussy and #lilycade4president. The latter hashtag, she told me, is a joke about how she feels she is more qualified to be president of the United States than he is.

“If Donald Trump is president, then I can be president,” the adult performer who bills herself as “Porn Valley’s gold-star lesbian” told me. If a reality star who talked openly about groping women had secured the highest office in the country, then theoretically, why couldn’t she? “You can find my ass on the internet. Who cares? Donald Trump is president. The president is a worse person than me.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t7PM9kwFwnc

Cade is one of a handful of adult entertainers trying to reclaim the word “pussy” months after a leaked 2005 videotape showed Trump talking about grabbing women “by the pussy” without their consent. In the aftermath of the tape’s publishing, political commentators, politicians and journalists grappled with whether or not to use the word “pussy” in print and on television. Some friends even told me they stopped using the word in their own sex lives because they felt Trump had ruined it, forever associating it with sexual assault. But if there’s one industry where “pussy” has become the norm, of course it’s porn — many of whose biggest stars are going to great lengths to rehabilitate the word.

“I think it’s making a mistake when people are like, ‘Now we can’t use that word,’” Buck Angel, a transgender performer and activist, told me. “When we don’t reclaim words such as pussy, we’re enabling people to use them against us.”

For Angel, using the word pussy to describe his genitalia is inherently political. When he first started out in the industry in 2002, he began calling himself “the man with the pussy” for shock value. The savvy marketing move worked, giving him an edge in the gay porn scene and allowing him to help carve out a niche for other trans performers. But the word pussy doesn’t just make for a powerful slogan — it’s also personally empowering to use as a man who owns one, Angel said.

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So to all of the #transmen who call my #fucktrump poster #toxicmasculinity tell that to all us #activist and #feminist who actually use our voice to create change not work on tearing apart our #community by thinking that your ideas are the only ideas! Sometimes #activism is #not #pretty! This piece will be for sale and all the proceeds go to @aclu_nationwide SURVIVING TRUMP: THE ART OF RESISTANCE ART AND POLITICS COLLIDE AT THE WORLD OF WONDER STOREFRONT GALLERY JANUARY 18, 2017 In preparation of the world bracing for the presidency of Donald Trump, World of Wonder’s (RuPaul’s Drag Race, Million Dollar Listing, Not Today Bianca) co-founders Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato announce “SURVIVING TRUMP: THE ART OF RESISTANCE” a brand new World of Wonder Storefront Gallery collective art show. The exhibit launches two days before the Inauguration and will feature 50 pieces from dozens of emerging and iconic artists displaying their wild and twisted visions of the current political climate. The gallery will feature work from Iconic artist Kenny Sharf, RAJA (winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 3) and one of the famed, nationwide naked trump statues** presented in-person by its creator, Ginger from INDECLINE. Artwork can be viewed and purchased with proceeds being donated to the ACLU. “SURVIVING TRUMP: THE ART OF RESISTANCE” marks a milestone in the World of Wonder Storefront Gallery’s fast and furious history. Since its inception in August of 2007, the successful pop culture-themed shows, such as Just Britney, Golden Gals Gone Wild, I am 8-BIT, and Dollypop!, celebrate the democratization of art in the heart of Hollywood Blvd club scene. Wednesday, January 18th What: Surviving Trump: The Art of Resistance Art Gallery Where: World of Wonder’s Hollywood Storefront Gallery 6650 Hollywood Blvd First Floor – Street Level Hollywood, CA 90028 When: 8:00PM – 11:00PM* (We can schedule advanced looks earlier that morning/afternoon for press that is unable to attend the 8PM showing) Who: World of Wonder co-founders Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato, Ginger from INDECLINE (naked trump statue), #fuckyou

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“It is very much reclaiming a part of my body that I was always told wasn’t masculine,” he told me. “I’m speaking to you as a man that has a body part that has basically been historically female. That’s the other thing that I want everyone to understand: Pussy is no longer associated with just women.”

Still, the word carries strong feminine associations; genderqueer performer Jiz Lee prefers not to use it at all, relying instead on more neutral words like crotch, or even clit, when appropriate. Queer and transgender-focused porn production companies like CrashPadSeries.com, where Lee works as a production assistant, may choose not to use the word pussy in marketing and advertising out of respect for performers’ gender identities.

“We invite performers to write their own star page profiles and to include words they prefer,” Lee explained. “You will find performers themselves referring to their own bodies — often using the word ‘pussy ‘— during behind the scenes video interviews; however, we don’t include it in tags or categories unless they include it or reference it during their CrashPad episode,” Lee told me that viewers of the queer-oriented website more frequently searched for terms like “anal,” “strap-on,” “fisting” and “squirting” than they did for “pussy.”

The history of “pussy “— and how it came to be the most popular English-language slang for the vagina — is one that even linguists can’t agree on. Last year on an episode of the etymology-driven Slate podcast Lexicon Valley, host Mike Vuoloa dated one of the first written reference to pussy back to the early 1500s, when the British Puritan Philip Stubbes used it deridingly in a pamphlet he’d published called “Anatomie of Abuses.” Writing about the sins of a so-called “saucy boy,” Stubbes argued that he had no respect for morals “so long as he have his pretty pussy to huggle, for that is the only thing he desireth,” according to Vuola, who added that “huggle” was a combination of the words “hug” and “cuddle.”

About a century later, the word “pussy” appeared again, Vuola said on the podcast — this time in a song by the English writer Thomas d’Urfey, in which it was used as a double entendre referring to a cat but also clearly alluding to the vagina. The Online Etymology Dictionary, a project organized by the historian Douglas Harper, puts the first usage of pussy to describe a vagina as occurring much later, in the 1800s, and likely derived either from the Old Norse word puss meaning “pocket, pouch,” or potentially instead as a riff on the English definition for a feline as a “soft, warm furry thing.”

No matter its origin, the word has continued to dominate Americans’ sex lives. And yet, there remains a degree of uncertainty about what to call female genitalia, especially when in the midst of engaging with it. Men’s magazines have long attempted to aid in this linguistic gray area. Two years ago, for example, Maxim published a humorous piece of service journalism simply titled “What to Call Her Lady Parts” — cooter, muff, and beaver were several unhelpful suggestions on the list. Citing the article, then–Jezebel writer Tracy Moore (now a staff writer at MEL) declared there were only two acceptable options: “pussy,” and on rare occasions only between seasoned partners, “cunt.”

“You don’t want to say ‘vagina’ or ‘vulva,’” Cade said, suggesting those words are too clinical. “It’s a little bit more taboo, but I like ‘cunt’ or ‘fuckhole,’” she said, offering alternatives for the more adventurous. “If we’re being romantic, you can say, like, ‘I want to be inside you.’”

She admitted that before she got into the industry nearly a decade ago, she never embraced the word “pussy” in her private life. “I thought it was kind of gross,” she said. “But in porn, it’s really standard, and it’s what most people seem to refer to it as.”

Angel sees no problem with that. In the aftermath of Trump, he believes there’s even more reason to use the word “pussy,” just like the queer community reclaimed that word after it had been used to malign them. Like Cade, he’s been tweeting photos of himself to Trump in attempt to fight back. One meme he created shows him standing in a white tank top, exposing tattooed biceps folded across his chest in a look of defiance. “Hey Trump, grabby my pussy,” it reads. “I dare you.”