Interview: Jiz Lee

Some people in life have such a presence that the moment you encounter them in any way, shape, or form they instantly draw them to you. This is how I felt about Jiz Lee when I saw their interview with Oh Joy Sex Toy.

Jiz seemed to me so candid, engaging, and witty that I pretty much became a fan of their content from that point onward. And, yes, that includes their pornographic content. Admiring a porn star may seem like an alien concept to some (and to those people I ask: how the hell have you continued to read my site for so long!?) but to me it seems entirely intuitive.

If I admire a person, appreciate the passion that they bring to their work, and have respect for the ferocity with which they fight to defend the rights of what they believe in (and the people around them) then how could I have anything but appreciation for that person?

Plus Jiz is an absolutely amazing performer. Just sayin’

Nowadays I consider Jiz to be a valued business colleague and feel honored to be acquainted with them and to have reviewed their edited publication, Coming Out Like A Porn Star.

Check this book out instantly, then read this interview.

As a compliment to this Jiz also agreed to be interviewed and…well…you can imagine how thrilled I was about the whole arrangement! Of course I’m a professional first a foremost but I’ll admit it was hard to play it cool. Having encountered Jiz through an interview I never once thought I’d be the one asking Jiz questions down the line. But I’ve rambled enough (apologies Jiz!)

Let’s let Jiz talk about their fantastic publication and a slew of other interesting topics.

Thank you so much for agreeing to speak with me Jiz. I can’t believe it’s been one year since your book was first published (and in its second print run!). Tell me, what is it like knowing that you’ve reached such a significant milestone?

WOOOOHOOOOO, right?! Phew. Creating a book is such a huge endeavor. I had no idea what to expect, having only been a contributor to a few books prior, but I learned so much more happens when you’re an editor. It’s an incredible feeling to bring all these stories to paper, and then see the book take on a life of its own.

I will occasionally search social media for the book and am always surprised to find it on other performers’ wish lists and to see people I don’t know recommending it to other people I’ve never met. I gained so much from having created it, that it feels like such a gift to see it being helpful to others. It has even found its way onto University syllabi for courses such as “Global and Survival Sex Work” along side canonical books on the topic, which is monumental, particularly being the largest collection of published works by professionals in the adult film industry, and in consideration of its inclusion of wide-ranging experiences from further marginalized voices of queer and trans performers, people of color and performers with disabilities. I’m extremely proud of this book and its writers!

Of course for your readers this book has only been a year-long experience but for yourself and the other contributors this must have been a mammoth project. Reflecting on the editing experience what were some of the biggest challenges of getting this publication to print?

I had been planning Coming Out Like a Porn Star for years prior to locating its publisher. In the beginning I thought it could be a self-published project, however after sitting down to meet with several self-published author friends, I quickly realized the learning curve would have been too large an obstacle. This book would not be my full-time job, might be my only publication, and despite the popularity of crowdfunding, would have been far too expensive for the 50+ contributors I wanted to include. I was fortunate to find the perfect book deal with ThreeL Media; granting contributor payment, placement on the shelves of major book retailers, and a distribution line that extends further than my solo reach.

This was a project years in the making. Photo: KarmaPervs

What has the overall reception been? Are there any bits of feedback that stand out in particular?

My favorite feedback is from performers who have found passages from the book helpful in their own process of dealing with the stigma of having performed with their loved ones and family members. I’ve also been pleased to hear from some curious readers that it challenged their previous uninformed perceptions about the porn industry and the people who work in it. Both were high goals for me in creating the book so I couldn’t be happier to hear such responses.

This anthology gives the impression of being an extremely validating experience for many of the performers involved.

It is my personal opinion that people often disregard the agency and humanity of sex workers in preference of addressing easier-to-navigate stereotypes. Do you feel like your book has changed anyone’s minds or shattered anyone’s preconceived notions of the sex industry?

I believe the book offers relatable stories that people outside the industry can identify with, humanizing our experiences. First-person narratives provide strong individual voices, ones that can paint a more complete picture than a stereotype, and reveals very intimate fears and desires. It’s hard not to be impacted by stories like these. But you have to want to read the book, first. On a whim, I’ve sent copies to folks like Gloria Steinem in hopes it can be a stepping stone to change her opinions about sex work and adult film. You never know what can effectively reach a person.

Jiz continues to try and engage people in interesting and enthusiastic ways. Photo: Feminist Porn Awards

Even in the past year we’ve seen a massive leap in the popularity of social media and its capabilities. What implications do you think has for sex workers?

Social media has immense capabilities to bring about cultural shifts in public opinion about sex work. I think there’s a level of ‘normalizing’ or de-stigmatizing the playing field that happens when so many of its participants are ‘out’ about their work and freely share their obstacles. This kind of shift can bring positive change to the laws that prohibit our freedoms.

And, thinking more broadly, do you think the rising popularity of VR and sex tech will have any impact on the challenges that porn stars face when deciding whether or not to ‘come out’?

Though explicit media is still excluded from tech with apps unable to access iTunes, and limited payment platforms, a rise in popularity through things like VR should support the industry, broadly, and spur larger conversations about pornography. Ultimately, I would like to see more sex tech around sexual health and education. Other interesting things are happening as performers navigate online identities: digitalizing older adult films has proved an unexpected obstacle for many retired film performers who are suddenly finding their older work (previously only available on VHS, for example) now online complete with performer profiles and sometimes searchable alias connections to their legal names. And younger performers, most of whom are digital natives having come of age with the Internet, find themselves having to choose one identity through the rise of open-auth platforms. The development of facial recognition software is evolving at a faster pace than our society’s tolerance or education around sexuality. We have to catch up.

Reading through the many amazing pieces included in this anthology I was happy to see the intersections between coming out as queer, coming out as a porn star, and generally taking ownership over one’s identity when existing in a cultural or social minority group.

Personally I saw a lot of parallels between the benefits of coming out as a porn star and opening up about mental health.

Do you think these stories will be equally relatable for those who have no interest in the lives of sex workers, or do you feel that the personal stories involved have a universal appeal?

I’m fairly certain most readers of the book will be attracted to it due to a curiosity about the porn industry, however the topic of ‘coming out’ is quite universal so there’s a lot of opportunity to draw other parallels in ‘coming out’ and the alleviation of struggles in their personal lives.

Something that struck me throughout the book was the various ways in which performers navigated the word ‘porn/pornography’ and what it meant to them personally. What are your opinions on the term? Do you think that it is irrevocably linked to social stigma and shame or can sex workers (porn stars) reclaim it?

I generally favor adult film industry as a term because I think it’s more encompassing — it can include erotic, ‘softcore’, and non-explicit films in addition to ‘hardcore’ videos many think of when they visualize pornography. In practice, however, I end up using them interchangeably. The word ‘porn’ has a favorable informal tone that can be playful and eye-catching.

The term ‘porn’ can be playful and cheeky.

What are the biggest challenges that performers currently face in the industry compared to when you first began compiling this anthology? What’s changed and what has stayed the same?

Challenges remain then and now: discrimination in housing, financial institutions, fights over child custody, and other social and familial ostracizing. Even things like AirBnB or PayPal accounts terminated despite not being used against Terms of Service. In the UK we’re seeing further restrictions against adult websites and in the US we will likely continue to face morality-based battles over freedom of speech.

As someone who is currently struggling with their own decision to become less anonymous this is perhaps a selfish question, but it seems pertinent: What advice would you offer to sex workers thinking of coming out themselves?

Much of the advice I would give depends on an individual’s assessment of their personal safety and worse-case-scenarios of what might be impacted by their decision to come out. If one has the security to do so, there are a number of age appropriate ways to talk with family members and various levels depending on a person’s safety and comfort. You are your best advocate. And I recommend reading the book! It continues to be a source of validation for me, even a year later.

Amazing, right? Jiz has so much to say and does so with such eloquence. I highly recommend following their Twitter, checking out the Coming Out Like a Porn Star page, and looking in to their work with CrashPad

You can also get on their Christmas list here (like I totally did). 

No doubt Jiz will continue to champion the adult industry and will keep on being a strong advocate for all of those within it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this interview.

Until the next review!