I follow a porn star on Instagram. Not because I’m into porn – I mean, I’m not not into porn, I’m just not into it more than your average person, like, I don’t know a bunch of porn stars’ names and stuff about them and try to meet them at porn conventions – but because I’m into cats. And this porn star posts a lot of pictures of her cats.
I knew about Stoya before the cats, though. I think I used to follow someone on Tumblr who was really into her, and at the time I thought “huh, she’s pretty.” Then she did this video, and it’s practically science that almost anyone having an orgasm while reading literature is smoking hot. Then she was in an Amanda Palmer video, and then I found her Instagram and its one-eyed cat, and that’s why I’m interested in Stoya, pretty much.
This weekend, Stoya had an opinion piece published in the New York Times titled “Can We Learn About Privacy from Porn Stars.” It’s a very good read, especially if you – like a lot of people I know – struggle with understanding that a) porn stars are actual human beings, b) being a porn star and being a private person are not mutually exclusive, and, to whit, c) Stoya’s point can be made about nearly anything that goes public about anyone from one of the most famous porn stars in the world to the lowliest Internet user.
Now, I am obviously not a porn star. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. Like any sex work (or any job if we’re being honest with ourselves), porn has its advantages and its disadvantages, as well as people who experience more of one than the other. If you want, compare a really good porno (acted in by big names with good skin and endorsement deals on sets that don’t look like somebody’s dorm room) with a good strip club (staffed by people who make decent money with actual skills and who aren’t caking on foundation to cover track marks) with a good escort (ahem, not a street walker or sex-trafficked kidnapping victim). They’re all examples of sex work with advantages, and they’re considerably better than the alternatives, which are depressing, gross, and dangerous.
It’s just that, in addition to the above, I’ve come to an understanding about sex work, which is that I’ve done some pretty degrading things for money without ever taking my clothes off, and I’ve done them for a lot longer than it would have taken to give a few bj’s.
So while I am not a porn star or sex worker, I want to point out that I’m neither marginalizing these professions nor insulting them when I thought the following after reading Stoya’s NYT piece:
Being a porn star is kind of like writing things on the Internet.
Stoya’s piece spends a lot of time talking about stage names and the way people use them to create or protect their identities. People have been doing the same thing on the Internet since the beginning. I’ve used a small handful of names in the past ten years, but for the time period when I amassed the most views and a fraction of attention, I used The Rocket Queen.
From probably 2004 – 2007, I wrote as The Rocket Queen, and although my last RQ-attributed post happened more than five years ago, there are still people who like to tease me about the pseudonym. Possibly because, since my blog was on my MySpace page (which means I’m uncool enough to be over 30 but was once cool enough to introduce the site to all of my coworkers and to my closest friends, hey guys, you’re welcome), The Rocket Queen was also my profile’s name.
I did this for a few reasons. For one, I grew up during a time when we were warned not to reveal too much about ourselves online. We weren’t supposed to give people our names, birthdays, addresses, or anything else that could identify us (believe it or not, there was not only a time when a/s/l was considered risky, but also a time when people typed a/s/l to begin with). While I wasn’t really afraid that/narcissistic enough to think that people would take my first and last name and stalk me, I did know that I didn’t want my MySpace page to be private. I wanted to write and I wanted people to see it. I just didn’t want people to see it chiefly because of my name and its search results.
For two, as far as a person who had no writing career, no bylines, and no portfolio to my name at the time, my name meant nothing. Nobody cared about my first name and last name strung together. Even though I wrote about stuff that was going on in my actual life, my name wasn’t a persona and therefore was not very interesting. Not to readers, anyway.
For three, The Rocket Queen sounded cool. It’s just…I mean, go listen to the song. The last minute and a half of Guns N’ Roses’ “Rocket Queen” is pop brilliance reminiscent of Queen, and if you don’t get that then I feel sorry for you.
And even though I didn’t use my actual name back then, people still found me. Partly I wasn’t as guarded as I am now, which is pretty typical of reckless youth so at least I can hang my hat on that. And while most of these people were okay – a few of them even became my friends – there were others who didn’t really know me in real life but had found me on the Internet, and who took a sick pleasure in sort of outing me in public.
“I found your blog,” they’d say with this strange haughty attitude, as though I’d been trying to hide behind that name. Or they’d fake smile and sneer in way of introduction, “Hey, uh, Rocket Queen.”
To those people, I’d roll my eyes. Or tell my friends to keep them away. Or tell them to find their own fucking name and style and quit ragging on mine. Because all of those things were easier than explaining to them that I was a person who wrote a blog, and not some word-generating robot open to ridicule for no reason other than I was doing something they were either too afraid or uncreative or bored to too on their own.
And I was allowed to have whatever name I wanted. I still am. I choose to have a pretty mild pseudonym now, and anyone with half a brain can find actual me on page one of a Google search. But just as fucking for money under an assumed name while giving interviews with another and filing yet another on your tax return is a sex worker’s prerogative, we are not so terribly different, because writing on the Internet is what I do, and choosing the identity for that is up to me.
I just keep my fat pants on while I’m doing it.