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Porn Stars are People, Too

An Interview with Christi Lake

by LAURA NATHAN

"If sex is supposed to be a bad thing, then why did God make it feel so good?" Christi Lake asks as she puts on her mascara and gets ready for work. If you didn’t know Christi, her remark might sound like the battle cry of the 1960’s sexual revolution rather than the adage of a 21st century woman. But for Christi, who is readying herself for another day at the office–that is, nude before a video camera, where she will have sex with one or two other men or women–this maxim cannot be repeated often enough.

Despite the prolific number of people who use pornography–or as Christi prefers to call it, "adult materials"–and the virtual disappearance of cultural norms shunning the expression of female sexuality, women who earn their living through sex continue to be stigmatized. Subjected to a double standard that regards men who work in the adult entertainment industry as "real men," women in the industry are typically characterized as inferior, powerless, and morally bankrupt–at least by outsiders.

Inside the industry, though, the women tell another story. As Christi and her colleagues suggest in Australian filmmaker Louisa Achille’s documentary, The Naked Feminist, just because women like sex and do it for a living doesn’t mean they’re oppressed. It would also be shortsighted to believe that these women were just getting paid to have sex, or that men were directing their every move. In fact, many women, including Christi, are executives, directors, actresses, mentors to other women in the industry, and advocates for safe sex, public health, and free speech. In the wake of the recent HIV outbreak in the industry, many of these women have been promoting condom use and safe sex, encouraging the temporary shutdown of film studios, and calling for change in the industry.

Christi, meanwhile, has taken a leave of absence from her work both in front of and behind the camera. But when I spoke with her recently–over two months after I first met Christi and her mom–her determination and her commitment to her colleagues, her fans, and the right to make and watch adult materials was as strong as ever.

Working Girl

Why did you choose this particular line of work?

Purely [out of] curiosity. I was a connoisseur [of adult entertainment]. I had watched adult videos for my own pleasure for a long time, but this became my profession purely by accident It wasn’t a chosen direction; it just happened. I was a dancer; I went to a convention, went to some photographers, went to New York and did a photo shoot, and then after the photo shoot, I went to another convention where I met the videographers, and they asked me to come out and do a video for them. So it was really just a chain reaction, not planned. To be honest with you, when [a colleague] and I discussed how many videos we thought we’d do in a year, I thought, "I don’t know–8? 10? 15 at the most?"

It’s 75.We were very new at this and had no clue what we were getting into. Little did I know.

So it wasn’t a chosen [career path]. It was destiny. I was destined to [be an adult entertainer]. Maybe somewhere down the line, someone watching one of my films sees that I have safe sex with a condom, and next time she is getting ready to have sex and her boyfriend wants to [have sex] without using [a condom], she will say, "No, I saw that film, and Christi used a condom."

Many of the women in The Naked Feminist argue that one of the reasons adult film is so empowering is that it enables creativity. Is it simply that you’re acting, or do you think there are other reasons why you consider it to foster creativity?

Well, we love ripping off movie titles from the mainstream and doing parodies. But we also feed the mainstream in a lot of ways. [For instance], when you get a really bad movie, and they’re all talking about the pizza delivery boy–back in the 1970s, almost every other scene was about the pizza delivery boy–we play into mainstream parodies and make fun of their movies.

[HBO's] Six Feet Under is a classic example. When I got the script [for an episode of Six Feet Under (Season Two)], I remember it said, "cheesy porno music playing in the background, female star moans and groans " They were making fun of bad adult films, and I just kind of laughed. And when I did my read for them, I think the reason I got the part was because I have been in these sorts of films, I know what some of the cue words are When it said "V.O."–voice over–"moans and groans," I said, "Is this where you want me to do ‘oh oh oh’ [imitates moaning sounds]?" And I started doing it really loudly and was really funny, and they all laughed. They couldn’t believe I went to that next stage. That had to be the reason they hired me for the part–because I made people laugh I realize they’re making fun of us, and it gives them something to laugh about, and it was cool.

So [adult filmmaking] is art. It might not be high art, obviously, but some of it can be very creative I just met a friend who did some of the most beautifully artistically done work with the foot fetish, pouring chocolate over a woman’s toes. And I [said], "You need to put this on somewhere. You need to have people see this; this is beautiful." It’s so artistic because of the way it’s done. You don’t have to appreciate a foot fetish to appreciate the eroticism of it. So I think we have a very artistic way of doing things

Many people argue that pornography is oppressive to women because it is used solely for men’s pleasure. What is your response to that criticism?

First off, I hate the word "pornography." I prefer the term "adult entertainment" because [people typically associate the term] "pornography" [with] little kids being abused. They don’t remember or think that it’s adult entertainment. They just think of child abuse.

So when people argue that adult material is made for men, well, that’s just not true. I was a viewer myself before I got in the business. I meet more female fans that say, "My boyfriend and I just had a great time. We watched your movie–well, we sort of watched your movie, we watched it for five minutes " It’s not oppressive to us. Women watch it all the time. I have a huge following of females, so I don’t believe that [adult entertainment is solely for men's pleasure]. I’ve had women say, "Of course we enjoy watching it. We like looking at the hot guys."

People use [adult materials] to stimulate foreplay; they use it to spice up their sex lives. Women watch it. They might watch different types of things–maybe–but not necessarily all the time. Because of the internet and mail order catalogues, there are at least as many women buying adult materials as there are men [buying adult materials].

Many critics of pornography deem your line of work as misogynistic, as degrading toward women, and as targeted at securing pleasure solely for men’s purposes. As a woman in this industry who considers herself a feminist, how do you respond to these charges? Where do you draw the line between misogynistic and non-misogynistic pornography?

Christi: [If the entertainment is] degrading toward the woman, [if it] manipulates [the women involved, then I consider it misogynistic.

If you’re in this industry, you’re told in advance how to approach this. You get an AIDS test, you watch Porno 101, and it is in your hands to decide whether you want to do this particular job or not. When the phone rings and someone says, "I want you to work for me, and I’m going to pay you this amount, and I want you to do this, that, and the other," you have a right to say no at any moment in that conversation. And I’ve said, "No, I don’t do that type of work."

[There's] a man I enjoy spending time with–Max Hardcore. I have not ever worked for him as such, but we’re connected, we joke around. I support him insofar as he has the right to free speech and the right to make whatever he wants to make. Would I work for him? No. Why? Because I don’t enjoy the type of things he provides [for audiences]. He interviewed me to work with him once; he showed me his films. He told me exactly what he expected of me, and he told me he wanted me to do "this, this, and this," and I looked at him and said, "Oh, no. I don’t think so. I don’t think I can do that. Let me sleep on this."

I left, went to my boyfriend, who is wonderful, and called the guy the next day and said, "Thank you for the job offer, but that’s really not my thing, and I’m not comfortable doing that." End of story. I’ve seen him many times since then, and there’s nothing different.

Unfortunately, people who are in this business for the money often make bad choices and then regret [making those choices] later on. And I feel bad for them, but it’s the same thing with someone going into a construction business when s/he had a bad back already. Well, that’s a bad choice, and you made it, and you have to pay the price.

So [for me] it’s not about doing something for the money. Yes, I do this for a living, but you have to draw the line somewhere in your value system. And most of us do, we really do. We have to. [But] you always hear the stories about "Well, that’s not what I agreed to." If something makes you uncomfortable, then you should have stopped the film from going on and say, "Stop, that’s not what we agreed to," and walk away or back it up, and say, "This is what we originally agreed to, and this is what I will do and either we do this, or I stop."

I know girls who enjoy those types of choking holds and all that other stuff. Those are the types of girls who need to work for those types of people. But if you’re not doing it in your private life, you shouldn’t be doing it for your job. Period. That goes for everything. Unless you’ve done it at home and enjoyed the hell out of it, don’t do it for the camera because it’s not worth it.

Christi’s mom: Nightline [did a] documentary following this girl when she first started in the industry, and I was so upset when I saw that. She was into drugs and violence. She was a very extreme case. I had to call Christi and say, "This isn’t true, is it? This is horrible!" It really scared me.

Why do you think those sorts of negative characterizations of women in the adult entertainment industry are more prominent than positive representations of women like yourself, Christi?

Because that’s what people think it is. You have a right to your opinion, and your opinion is somewhat valid. You’re right. That’s one perspective, but there’s another perspective, and that’s that they want ratings. [Adult entertainer] Jena Jamison has done some wonderful things [helping out with the current HIV crisis in the industry and doing fundraisers], and to me, her work is a true Hollywood story. But you don’t see her on Nightline.

You saw the other girl on Nightline because that’s what the news people want to talk about. Who wants to see a happy porn star? It’s like a car accident. [No one wants to pay] attention to the traffic; [they'd rather stare at the wreckage].

I’ve been asked to do many news interviews but I say, "Unless you can tell me what the questions are going to be in advance and what your tone is going to be for story, I’m not doing it." Because if it’s going to be a negative piece, I’ve been burned too many times I’ve done interviews where I was told this was going to be a positive thing or a mostly positive thing, and it came out negative with very little positive, and I was furious.

Once the guy actually called me to forewarn me that he’d screwed up and that he’d had no choice but to make it this way, and I was like, "Well, I’ll see it; I’ll watch it tonight." I got phone calls from other girls who had seen it [complaining about the story and its characterization of our industry], and I was so angry and called his machine and filled it up twice. I told him, "I’m never trusting the news media again because of what you’ve done to me. You’ve betrayed me and my friends. How can you do this?! You blatantly lied."

So I think that the media tells people the bad stories [about the pornography industry] because that’s what they want to hear, that’s how they think it is. And by [misrepresenting the pornography industry], their poor little children will be safe at home watching cartoons [rather than watching pornography or watching the news features about the positive aspects of this industry] even though most cartoons are more violent than anything I’ve ever seen.

Porn stars are people, too, you know …

How do your parents feel about your line of work?

You know, maybe it’s not the first thing they ever wanted me to do in life–they’ll tell you. Mom?

Christi’s mom: [shakes her head] No.

Christi: But as my dad said when I told my parents what I do for a living, "Why would we be upset about you doing something that we actually watch ourselves?"

And I’m safe. I have a head on my shoulders. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink alcohol in dangerous amounts. I teach a positive thing. I teach people how to be safe. I help people enhance their pleasure.

And I stand up for what I think is a fundamental right for everybody. It’s like the [controversial] Mel Gibson movie, [The Passion of the Christ], that just came out I’m not into religion in any way, shape, or form, but I know the story. I went to see the movie the opening weekend–not to support the Christian bandwagon but to support Mel Gibson as an artist and to say, "You have every right, whatever your audience thinks, whatever you believe, to put this out there." And that’s why I went. I always support other people’s [right] to make art [even though] I might not like it. I watched [The Passion of the Christ with my hands partially covering my eyes], covering the violence and reading the words, and I sat through it. I did see most of it; there were just certain points where I couldn’t watch the violence, where I couldn’t take any more. But that’s okay. He had the right to make and distribute that film.

Tell me a little bit about your boyfriend’s feelings about your career. From The Naked Feminist, I got the impression that he’s perfectly fine with your job.

Yep. When we met, he owned a magazine, and he was interviewing me for his magazine a few years back–five or six years ago. I was already in a relationship, but [that relationship] was on its way out. We had our differences of opinions in terms of the way I wanted to see my career go, and as strong-minded as I am, I decided it was time to go my own way. And it worked out for the best; I’m confident of that. My ex-boyfriend and I are actually now friends and talk as colleagues in the business.

We’re not best friends, but we’re colleagues in the business.
But then I kept running into [my current boyfriend] at charity events so we started dating. And then the magazine wasn’t doing so great, and we were getting more serious. So then I asked him to work for me, taught him how to run the camera. He already did photography for his magazine, so I taught him how to do the videography part, and he became partners with me.

He was already in the business when he met me, so there were no surprises. I wasn’t trying to say, "by the way, this is what I do." He already knew, and he accepted it. He looks at me kind of like my mom [does]. I’m an actress. Whatever my job entails is just part of what I do. When the camera stops and the paycheck comes, I go home to him, and he knows that.

One of the things that struck me about The Naked Feminist was that all of the women ­ all of the adult entertainers ­ interviewed in the documentary seem to be very close. Tell me a little bit about your relationship with the other women in the industry.

I’m not sure if I told Janie Hamilton that I was interviewing with Louisa [Achille, director of The Naked Feminist], or if it was the other way around. I don’t remember which way it happened. But either way, because we are friends, [we all ended up being interviewed for The Naked Feminist].

Jane Hamilton is a director I’ve worked for many, many times, and I highly respect Candide Royalle for her initiative, business savvy, and enthusiasm. I mean, [these women] laid the path for my future and so I know all of them very, very well, as people who respect our industry.

And we’ve taught other girls. Whenever a new girl comes into the industry and is going through the dilemmas of "Do I want to do this? Do I not want to do this," I’ll be the first one to take her aside and say, "Look, this is forever. If you have any doubts, walk out of this room right now. Don’t do it. Don’t ever regret your decision to be in this industry because the minute you have a regret, the vultures will tear you up and spit you out." And I’m honest about that because it’s just like Howard Stern–if he has a guest on his show, and he can find a weakness, he will tear [that person] apart. Our industry is very similar to that There’s good and bad in everything that you do, but you find the one the one with more good, the one that works for you.

At my first photo shoot, I met Nina Hartley. I sat and talked to her for a couple of hours. [I said], "Well, I’m thinking about it; I don’t know. I’m just going to do some photos today and see." And she gave me her wisdom of who I should see if I ever did decide to go further and do films: "If you ever go to California, you’re going to need this, you’re going to need a test." She informed me of all of the things I would need in advance. So I’m now like the heir apparent to Nina Hartley and I guess someday [they'll] need to find an heir apparent to me. [Laughs]

So she taught me all of that, and now I make it a point to [mentor] other new women [entering the industry].

The Naked Feminist

Tell me a little bit about why you agreed to be interviewed for The Naked Feminist.

Actually, I’ve been interviewed for a lot of documentaries that have not seen the light of day, and I’m pretty sure that they were all for personal consumption, to say "look what I got someone to do," or whatever the case may be. Basically a huge waste of my time.

So when Louisa said she wanted to interview me, I asked, "Well, okay, what is it that you want to accomplish with this?" after [Louisa and I had spoken] for awhile, I said, "I’d be happy to take some time to interview with you." I met her and found that to be an interesting, wonderful experience in and of itself. We became good friends. It wasn’t about the documentary anymore. It was more about creating the friendship to me. And that’s why I’m here [in Austin at the South-by-Southwest Film Festival]. I normally require a fee for me to do appearances like this, but I told Louisa, "If there’s anything I can do for you, to help you promote your movie," I would even e-mail her suggestions because I wanted to help her get [The Naked Feminist] out there And that was when I hadn’t seen the movie yet completed So now she’s made this wonderful, interesting documentary that I want the world to see for her.

Making The Naked Feminist was a bit of a family affair for you. Your mother is also interviewed in the film. Did she want to be?

Oh, no, I didn’t offer my mother up as a sacrificial lamb. [Louisa Achille, the director,] asked if I would ask my mother if she was willing to be interviewed. [My mom has] done radio stuff with me [in the past] when I’ve [been] interviewed on the radio, so I said, "Well, I’ll ask her." So I asked her if she was [willing to be] interviewed on camera. It took her about 40 seconds to think about it, then she said, "Well, sure, we’re going to be in town anyway."

Were you nervous about what they were going to ask you?

Christi’s mom: Well, somewhat. But it wasn’t exactly the first time I’d done something like this. When she got the award a few years ago, and she had my husband and I come up on stage with her to receive her award with her.

Christi: [Laughs] Yeah, it was a very proud moment. Every year the Free Speech Coalition presents an award to someone in the [adult entertainment] industry who has set a positive [example], an activist who has done good work to promote the positive face of adult entertainment.

Four years ago I was the recipient of [the award], and I asked my parents to come out and be there for me. But when it came time to receive my award, I looked at my mom and said, "Mom, do you want to come onstage with my to get this award because you’re the one who taught me right from wrong and who I am and what I’ve become today?"

And she said, "I don’t know, ask your father." So I said, "Dad, do you and Mom want to come onstage with me when I [receive] my award?" And my dad said, "Hell, yeah!" He’d already had a couple of drinks, and he did the Rocky thing [and put our arms up in the air to demonstrate victory]

What is it that you would like viewers to take from seeing The Naked Feminist?

The United States was created due to a lack of tolerance. And then we come over here, and we’ve started becoming more stringent now we’re back where we started.

These days there isn’t really a single definition of what it means to be a feminist. There just isn’t; it’s an individual interpretation of what feminism means. It’s the same thing with religion and anything else. But you have to tolerate the other person, [whether that person] is a lesbian, is gay, or whatever. If someone is straight as an arrow and has five kids, they aren’t any better than a lesbian. They just have different lifestyles, and we have to tolerate each other’s differences as such.

So when everyone walks in to see this movie, they’re going to have a set mindset. They’ll have their values and opinions. I want them to leave with a broader sense of tolerance and acceptance of other people for who and what they are no matter who and what they are. I hope viewers will be enlightened and more tolerant after seeing The Naked Feminist.

Christi’s Website: http://www.christilake.com/

LAURA NATHAN writes for In The Fray, where this interview originally appeared. She can be reached at: laura.nathan@gmail.com