Noteworthy Nellies / Sexuality

Q&A: Porn star Kayden Kross on feminism, sex and stigma

Pornography has never been more accessible or arguably more pervasive in modern society. Researchers from the University of Montreal were confronted with this reality firsthand when they launched a study on the effects of porn on men – and simply couldn’t find any men in their twenties who had never consumed any porn.

For many, watching porn has become a social norm, yet it is still not talked about enough in many different ways. We wanted to talk to a female porn star directly in order to get the perspective of what it’s like as a woman in the industry. We wanted to learn how being a porn star would affect her views on feminism and pornography, and what challenges she faces for being a woman in such a stigmatized industry.

We decided to interview Kayden Kross because she’s an award-winning porn actress who has written for numerous publications, such as Complex, Salon and The New York Times in addition to directing and starring in over a hundred films. She is engaged to fellow porn actor, Manuel Ferrara, and recently gave birth to their daughter. Kross is currently working on a project with Stoya, a fellow porn actress.

Adult film star Kayden Kross, 29, is a mother of one and has written an autobiography about her experiences in the porn industry.  By Michael Dorausch from Venice (Kayden Kross AEE 2013) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Adult film star Kayden Kross, 29, is a mother of one and has written an autobiography about her experiences in the porn industry.
By Michael Dorausch from Venice (Kayden Kross AEE 2013) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

McClung’s: People look at what’s done in porn and they see a lot of behaviours and actions that would be considered sexist or misogynistic. How do you reconcile being in porn as a feminist?

Kross: Honestly I hate the label “feminist,” because the moment I wear it all of my actions are judged through the filter of that lens. Porn is entertainment. There is no reconciling. I am an actress paid to perform in projects I choose to participate in.

Porn is finger-wagged to death about various issues and largely considered to be the more idiotic cousin to mainstream entertainment, yet the female performers in porn are held to a much more stringent standard when it comes to the roles they can and can’t perform without being labeled a sellout or somehow a detriment to the feminist movement.

M: You said porn stars are held to a more stringent standard of what roles they can or can’t take, without being called a sellout. What are these standards?

K: What I mean by that is that a female actress in Hollywood can take any role she feels will propel her career forward, or even any role that she feels will simply pay the bills or strengthen her reel while she’s trying to “make it.”

For the most part, the public views it as a role, knows intellectually that the character she portrays is not her in real life, and doesn’t expect her to filter the characters she will play based on personal beliefs. Porn actresses are not given the same treatment.

M: Do you have any personal experiences of people reacting to you based on this standard?

K: If a porn actress isn’t seen working with a certain race on camera, for example, then fans extend that to her personal life, and accuse her of being personally racist.

If she works with sites that support any sort of stereotype, then fans assume she either agrees with the stereotype or falls into the stereotype, and if not either of those, then they assume that she is doing an entire group a disservice by cashing a check from the company that supports the stereotype.

The porn actress is not given the same consideration as the mainstream actress in this regard. She is not allowed to separate from her characters.

M: Why do you think female performers in porn are held to a harsher standard of what roles they take compared to male performers in porn or mainstream actors, particularly mainstream actresses?

K: Male actors in porn are also held to this. What they do on camera is often assumed to be who they are in real life. Why? That’s an entire social study in its own right.

M: Are there any challenges with being a porn star who cares about feminism? For instance, maybe there are certain scenes you won’t do or things you won’t say because it goes against what you stand for?

K: There are things I won’t do because I feel physically uncomfortable doing them. Other things I won’t do because it will hurt my career rather than advance it. Still other things I won’t do because I’m lazy and don’t want to sit in traffic. Again, I am playing roles on camera.

There have been projects I’ve turned down, but on-screen it is not because I feel I am personally heading any sort of movement. Who I am and what I say to the media, at public events, in my writing, et cetera, is where my belief system comes out.

M: Do you think porn is sexist or misogynistic?

K: It can be. So can mainstream movies and television, the lyrics of many popular musicians, the narratives of more than a handful of great writers. And then sometimes it isn’t. That is a broad question about a broad industry.

For me, porn is not misogynistic, sexist or anti-feminist when I’m on set and I am respected and given a comfortable environment in which to lay out my do’s and don’ts, paid according to the agreement, and not undermined or treated as if I am in any way inferior simply because I am female. The viewer doesn’t see this side of the product, though.

M: Some porn stars in the past have said that being a porn stars feels empowering to them. Do you feel the same way?

K: I feel that I have a large amount of control over my life. Sexually, I have learned what I like and don’t like. I know the circumstances under which I would feel comfortable to explore know. I feel comfortable saying no. I know I have a relative amount of freedom in the form of time, money, and options. These things have been earned through porn. I would call that empowerment. Do I stand up after a sex scene and feel some inflated sense of self? No. I head to the craft table.

M: Do you think you would have this amount of freedom and control in your life if you weren’t in porn, or is this something unique to being a female in this industry?

K: I may have found it through a number of other industries. Ultimately, the freedom I have comes from time available to spend as I wish and a lack of any intense sort of financial pressure. Winning the lottery can provide that. Founding a successful business. Investing wisely. Any number of vocations. An inheritance.

For me, it was porn. People of other genders who are successful in porn can also achieve this. It is not limited to females and it is not limited to the adult business. I found it here and I’m happy for that. I’m not sure how happy I would have been in many other vocations. I’m definitely not in anyone’s will and I don’t buy lottery tickets. For me, this worked out well.

M: What were some of the biggest challenges for you as a woman while you were growing up?

K: I think the thing that stands out for me most growing up, from the perspective of a female trying to make sense of where other females fit in the world, was watching the intense struggle my mother went through from my earliest memories and still to this day.

She got caught up in that middle generation. In the generations before her, women had a defined place in society. It was in the home. They knew what they were growing up to do. Obviously, that system was rife with problems as well, but there was a certain security in it for the women who wanted simply to grow up, get married, and have babies.

My mother was born at a time where women were standing up and really clamoring to be given the choice. She grew up believing that she had the choice. But she matured at a time where the choice was dying. She was never prepared to be both the breadwinner and the housewife. She couldn’t do it all. She had wanted to be the housewife—to raise her children, bake cookies, take them to school.

There is a lot of noise out there from women who say you can have it all—the equal status and pay and career opportunities and children, too. But, having been the child of a woman who tried desperately to manage that, and now with a child of my own, I am aware of one glaring error in this logic: it is that women do not have more hours in a day than men.

I grew up believing that I would forego family and follow the work that I was drawn to, because it was clear that a successful woman could avoid running into a family, but she could not avoid work. I wanted to do one thing well. What I didn’t expect was the emotional change that came later. It’s easy to not want a family when you’re 19, 23, 25… but when you meet the person with whom you could imagine having a family, the perspective flips.

M: How did you manage to overcome this struggle?

K: How have I overcome this? I’ve cut out sleep. Am I happy? Yes. I’m proud of my accomplishments, I’m driven, I’m making more career progress every day, and I can say that it is me who is raising my daughter – not someone I’ve hired, not a daycare center, not a family member I’ve dropped her on.

I’m exhausted. I’m honestly constantly tired. But I’m also happy – happier than I’ve ever been. I feel full. When I look at what I’m juggling, I sometimes wonder what I would change just to have sleep back. I don’t want to give up anything. No situation is ideal, but this is how it settled for me.

M: What has been the biggest challenge for you ever since you became a porn star?

K: Convincing people that I’m still human, doing human things, with similar human drives and fears is probably my biggest daily annoyance. I wake up, I get coffee, I take care of my child, attend to emails, little chores around the house, deal with scheduling, writing, promotions, get the baby down for a nap, and then maybe turn to one of the social networking accounts that I run because it is necessary for promotion, and out of left field some stranger has just sent me a message to tell me he hopes I die of AIDS. It’s not something that shakes me up or cuts at me. It is just that it is wearisome, day in and day out.

M: What are some differences in the porn industry now compared to when you first entered it?

K: The entire economic model has changed in the wake of piracy. Almost nothing is the same. This is too large a subject to go into right now, but, as a performer, I think the thing that is most different is how much of our success depends on our ability to work social media.

When I first came in they told me to show up to scheduled interviews, et cetera, and otherwise keep my head down and out of the way while they ran their promotion machine. Now there are no promotion machines behind performers. It is entirely on us to manage our exposure and our brands.

M: I’m sure there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes of a porn shoot and working as a porn actress that viewers and critics don’t know about. Are there examples of things that happen behind the scenes that would dispel common perceptions and myths about porn and the performers?

K: I think the number of business decisions we have to make would shock a lot of people. We are building brands. We have merchandise deals, subscription websites, appearance fees and schedules and agents. This is not simply prostitution on a tripod. There is an entire industry orbiting the brands that are built.

M: Is there anything you’ve learned from the experience of being a successful and well-known woman – especially in such a unique and highly scrutinized industry – that you think would be important for girls and women to know, whether it’s at a young age or when they’re older?

K: Yes. As a woman, you are expected to quite literally be a contradiction. Nothing has better summed it up than the lyrics, “a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets.”

As a woman, you can either be splintered, so that just the right side of you fits the expectations of each role that you play – and there will be many – or you can shoulder it all off and be exactly the person you have decided you are. Consider carefully which one ultimately will let you live your life in the way that will fulfill you.

M: Thank you so much for your time! Finally, do you have any projects coming up that you’re excited about? Could you tell us a bit about them?

A: I’ve been developing a project with Stoya. It has not launched yet, but when it does you can find it at TRENCHCOATx.com.

By Debbie Hernandez

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