Book Review: Coming Out Like a Porn Star (Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy)

What does it mean to ‘come out’ in modern society?

Is it just related to queer society or do we all have our own coming out story?

What about porn stars?

When the adult performer Jiz Lee found themselves suddenly confronted with their own coming out story it suddenly occurred to them that many other sex workers may have their own stories to tell. As it turned out Jiz was right.

Coming Out Like a Porn Star (Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy) is the result of Jiz’s revelation but it’s also so much more than that—this isn’t just Jiz’s story. It’s the story of over 50 different porn stars, each with their own experiences to share.

It’s also the story of an industry long-plagued by the stigmas and pre-suppositions of a society that reject the radical ownership of one’s own sexuality—whether it be on camera or in everyday life.

The resulting anthology is a seminal piece of sex writing for anyone interested in sex, porn, and the navigation of personal agency in a world determined to see the latter two topics as best kept in the closet.

Coming Out Like a Porn Star (Essays on Pornography, Protection, and Privacy)

Words do not do justice to just how influential a read Coming Out Like a Porn Star truly is. I was given this book to review in .pdf format but, upon reading its foreword by Dr. Mirelle Miller-Young I immediately purchased my own copy on Amazon via next day delivery.

You might ask ‘Why would you spend money on a book you already own digitally. To which my response would be ‘How could I not?’

I'm pretty sure this is the most amazing cover known to humankind.
Just as an aside: I’m pretty sure this is the most amazing cover known to humankind.

Going in to this book I was already enthused to be reading something compiled by my favorite porn star, Jiz Lee, but even my high expectations could not prepare me for what I was about to discover.

An intelligent read from start-to-finish, Coming Out Like a Porn Star is the kind of book that deserves to be read as a hard copy. Its discussions are so compelling—so full of significant societal and cultural discourses—and its personal accounts to intimate that this book deserves to be physically touched while being mentally consumed.

The .pdf vs. the Physical Copy

Coming Out Like a Porn Star is currently celebrating its first anniversary since publication and is enjoying a second print run, which I’m overjoyed to hear. But as a result I can’t vouch for the paper or cover quality of the new edition. What I will say, though, is that the first print run also works perfectly to enhance the reading experience.

There is something to be said about the value of material culture and the tactile experience and this is definitely true of the Coming Out Like a Porn Star paperback. The cover for my book had a beautiful velvety-matte surface which almost reminded me of many of the luxury sex toys that I stroke way too much. The pages were easy to turn and the book well-sized. This is the type of object that you can slide comfortably in to your bag and take with you on long journeys (as I did). It’s a book that is best read in fancy coffee shops or at home, wrapped in your favorite blanket. Its physical form exists much like the content inside as inviting and intimate in the most relatable manner.

How could I not buy this book?
How could I not buy this book? (In fact the real sin is that I didn’t hunt down a signed copy)

The cover art for this book is also absolutely stunning (although it did make reading this book on public transport its own little demonstration of just how prudish people’s attitudes towards sex can be).

Reviewing The Lives of Others?

I thought long and hard about how I wanted to approach the review for this book—a massive anthology which allows so many different amazing people from all walks of life a chance to share their wisdom and personal experiences.

I did, at one point, consider highlighting my favorite sections and presenting them to you, but that would be impossible because every single story in this book is of worth. Every recollection and personal tale is of note. Each one is beautifully written while still maintaining the distinct character of the performer involved. There is not a single story in this anthology that didn’t illicit an emotional response in me—ranging from joy, to sympathy, to blind rage, and everything else on the spectrum.

Much like Porn Panic!, I could pretty much land on any page in this book and find something quotable, or something that would make my expression noticeably shift for those who would observe me while reading. Because of this I considered picking out some key quotes but I thought that, too, was a misstep.

This book contains the words of people such as Jiz and many other wonderful porn stars. They're not mine (nor anyone else's) to claim ownership over. Photo by Sophia Wallace.
This book contains the words of people such as Jiz and many other wonderful porn stars. They’re not mine (nor anyone else’s) to claim ownership over.
Photo by Sophia Wallace.

What ultimately makes Coming Out Like a Porn Star so significant is that these are the lives and experiences of performers in the adult industry as told by them—in their own unique style and using their own unique voice. Too often when it comes to pornography are the voices of porn stars assumed by our societal stereotypes. We construct a narrative of the damaged or otherwise flawed porn star and then parrot out a set script for them which matches our preconceived notions.

Coming Out Like a Porn Star shatters this act of cultural puppetry by putting all agency firmly back in the hands of porn stars themselves. In this each individual comes out in their own unique way but also as a powerful collecting—openly and defiantly displaying the lives of sex workers for what they truly are. It is not my place to speak for them, simply to guide you to them as best I can.

The resulting stories don’t always have a happy ending, but life is never that straightforward and neither are people. And that’s a key word.

The Three Four P’s of Coming Out Like a Porn Star

There are many ‘P’ words that the word ‘Pornography’ musters, and many of them can be found in Coming Out Like a Porn Star: Pornography (obviously), performance, privilege, privacy, pride, pressure, parents, prudence, publicity, permanency…the list goes on and on.

Jiz made a very apt choice when they chose the three ‘P’s’ for this publication’s sub-heading—namely pornography, protection, and privacy—as these seem to be themes that are prevalent throughout each coming out story.

Pornography 

Each performer seems to have their own relationship with the word ‘porn/pornography’ and what it personally means to them. Some find it to be empowering whereas others would rather veer away from it—seeing it as too bogged down by disapproval outside of the industry. Whatever their approach there is a general consensus that the public’s assumptions and social rhetoric when it comes to ‘porn’ is perhaps the most daunting aspect of coming out as a porn star in modern society.

Where it not for a whole slew of negative presuppositions that come with the term ‘porn’ many performers would not have had anywhere near as many issues with their own coming out stories. Then again this is true of many marginalized groups and it part of the reason why Jiz first saw a parallel between the conventional use of the term ‘coming out’ (in a queer setting) and that of other stigmatized groups. Porn stars are one such example but this book also shows the intersectionality that exists within pornography, as many performers are also queer, POC, trans, or otherwise grappling with another form of coming out.

The more one reads Coming Out Like a Porn Star the more one realizes that this doesn’t come from an inherent disparity between sex workers and the rest of society. In fact it ultimately ends up speaking volumes about just how similar the struggles of many porn stars are and how relatable the notion of ‘coming out’ is to all of us. If you’ve ever had to reveal anything to someone you cherished and wondered what their reaction might be then you will most likely empathize with the individuals in this book. If you are queer or have struggled with some other form of stigmatized identity then these stories may feel even more pertinent.

Protection

Protection is another issue that reads true in each of these stories, and often this protection is linked to the above mentioned societal judgement against pornography. When an entire society decides that your profession is worthy in some way of denigration then your personal safety and how you choose to protect yourself becomes a high priority.

In one particularly chilling instance a porn star is only saved through their original state of out-ness, which meant they had performed at first with their legal name and decided to simply keep that name for porn and change their legal name instead at a later date. This eventually protected them when a selection of cyber antagonists decided to try and hunt them down. Sadly it seems like protection from outside the industry is sometimes more necessary than protection within it (which seems to be rather well-maintained, by most of the accounts depicted).

There’s also an overwhelming sense of emotional protection in this book—not just the protection of one’s own emotions but also those around them. Many porn stars recount coming out to parents, children, and other people that they deeply and truly love. Their fears and apprehensions are typically linked to not wanting to hurt or disappoint the people they care about, which is something I think we can all relate to.

Privacy

Privacy, being Jiz’s last selected sub-theme, is, of course, the fundamental element that allows porn stars the position to ‘come out’ in the first place. Unfortunately with perceptions of porn jeopardizing many performer’s safety not every performer gets their fundamental right to privacy. Some performers face a real risk of being outed. Some have experienced it first-hand. Those accounts were always the most disheartening reads because they represent (to my mind) the ultimate violation of these amazing people.

And there’s that ‘P’ word again. The elephant in the room that many anti-sex campaigners refuse to truly engage with: People.

People (& Final Thoughts)

I place emphasis on this word because (despite the simplicity with which mainstream media would wish us to see) the industry pornography is an industry made up of people—some truly wonderful, others absolutely abhorrent.

Perhaps the most significant contribution of Coming Out Like a Porn Star to the world of adult writing is that it suddenly confronts its reader with 50+ people who simply choose to live their lives (and share their stories) in the porn industry. These people are intelligent, accomplished, complex, and full of emotions—just like anyone else—and this simple fact does more to shatter people’s preconceived notions than anything else.

No book is perfect and some stories will resonate with a reader more than others. And, of course, it’s worth noting that Coming Out Like a Porn Star speaks only of those who were willing and capable of sharing their story. As such  Coming Out Like a Porn Star is not truly representational of the entire industry, but it doesn’t pretend to be. Instead Coming Out Like a Porn Star offers up a wonderfully addictive and extremely thought-provoking compilation of personal tales, useful anecdotes, and tender moments. For this I am truly grateful and cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Recommend to:

Anyone interest in sex writing.

People who want to know more about porn.

People who want to challenge their view of adult performers.

Do Not Recommend to:

People who are willfully anti-porn in every instance.

People who prefer single-authored accounts.

People who prefer audio books (yeah, I’m stretching here).

Coming Out Like a Porn Star was provided to me in exchange for an honest review (and then I went and purchased it anyway, because this book deserved my money). Get your own copy here or via Amazon and please do leave a review of your own when you’re done reading it. Among other things this book inspired me to write with every read so maybe it will get your creative juices flowing too.

On that note—and if you’d like to celebrate the Birthday and second print run of this book—why not post your own ‘coming out’ story below if you’re comfortable doing so? I’d love to read the various ways in which you have owned your identity and revealed it to those around you.

If you’re feeling even more empowered you could also check out this article on Proposition 60. Why it’s terrible news for porn starts such as Jiz Lee and why it needs to be stopped.