In The New York Times Opinion section this weekend, porn star Stoya expounds on that age-old question of what, if anything, is in a name.
Pegged to the discussion surrounding the "real" identity of Belle Knox, otherwise known as the Duke porn star, Stoya remarks in the Times that using "Stoya" as her work name was a decision she made less because she was trying to hide her true self and more because she wanted to differentiate between the areas of her life:
My stage name is less about withholding parts of myself or maintaining privacy than it is a symbol of the idea that I am more than just my job or any other isolated slice of my identity.
She goes on to describe the utterly gross way some people who have seen her work and know her given name approach her, whispering it to her as if it is valuable information they've managed to dig up:
The strangers who call me Jessica at publicity appearances lean in far too close. They hiss it as if they have top-secret information. All they're doing is letting me know that they had 30 seconds to spend on Google and no sense of propriety — which may sound funny coming from a woman who flagrantly disregards it herself. They're often the same people who refer to my orifices as "that" instead of "your," as though the body part in question is running around free-range instead of attached to a person with free will and autonomy.
Stoya has written before about the fascination Americans have with the "real" people behind the porn they consume, as well as the harassment she's received as a woman in the adult entertainment industry. "It's easy to look behind the curtain and see the multifaceted reality of both adult entertainment as a whole and most individual performers using any device with internet access," she wrote last May. "Social media has given the world a window into the real lives of all sorts of people in a way that ten minutes of a documentary or a couple of photographs cannot duplicate." And yet, despite how much they know about their favorite stars (in porn or in the rest of celebrity culture), now more than ever before, fans find themselves drawn to this "secret" information. Does this information reveal something new about a person I know I don't really know but feel like I do? Wouldn't that be cool if it did?
When fans learn the real names of celebrities, those names are often mentioned more as a "fun fact" than an actual secret that's been dug up. With porn stars, the importance of the real name takes on a bigger role because they're known for doing something scandalous. Even though their job is clearly about performance, the idea that a porn star is keeping anything to themselves appears at odds with the usually private thing they're doing publicly. The fixation on Belle Knox's real name and identity became even more extreme because she gained notoriety as both a student and a porn actor. Her dual lives were immediately visible, and they seemed like they couldn't exist in harmony with one another. But as Stoya points out, even if we're not famous, we all have dual lives. It's just only the lives that belong to the famous and sexy that we care about.
Image via Pascal Le Segretain/Getty