Friday, April 24, 2009
A Very Candid Conversation With Tristan Taormino
She's not a member of the vaunted "Wesleyan mafia" which has held such sway in film and television production in Hollywood.
Tristan Taormino is perhaps most notoriously well-known for the pleasure-positive, edutainment porn films she's created, but the scope and reach of her message has traveled well outside an adult entertainment industry where, as a female, feminist director, she is a minority.
Still, her Wesleyan contacts mean that when someone in the "legit" television production world needs the answer to a thorny question to guarantee that a plot point is realistic, Taormino is the go-to resource.
"There's a scene in the final episode of this season's "House," series, and the producer wanted me to consult and verify the accuracy of the action in the script," Taormino tells a group of Wesleyan students gathered in the study of Alpha Delt house, where Taormino was once a member. She tells the students she met the producer, also a Wesleyan alum, while they were both undergrads, and the tale of their encounter is as graphically detailed as it is wistful - a very, very colorful college memory.
Taormino entertains every question, no matter how personal, the current group of undergrads throws her way, with a frankness, wit and intelligence that demonstrates that the popular image of "pornographer" is not completely accurate when it comes to this filmmaker.
"I don't consider myself a full-time pornographer," she admits as casually as if she had just said, "I'm not a full-time musician." In fact Taormino discusses sex, and her role as a promoter of with such casual, matter-of-fact confidence that one can forget you're talking about topics that are not frequently discussed with such candor so early on a Middletown morning.
"If I did it every day, I would get tired of it really fast," she says.
Taormino's an accomplished author of four books, columnist, lecturer, educator and expert in healthy, transformative, pleasure-positive sexual relations which promotes personal pleasure without the usual shame, embarassment, objectification or guilt society often attaches to the topic.
While she's one of only a handful of feminist pornographers working in an industry dominated by male directors and producers, Wesleyan alum Tristan Taormino, is neither intimidated by the demands and cliches of the industry, abashed by its subject-matter nor inclined to create her work in a way she feels is cliched or crafted to fit the interests of a male-dominated audience.
Taormino's stop at Wesleyan is part of a tour of universities where she finds rapt audiences eager to hear a message which validates their own curiousity and experiences. Taormino gave an unsanctioned talk at Memorial Chapel the Friday evening of WesFest, when the campus was crammed with potential freshman and their parents. The next morning she met with a dozen students in the old-school, wood-panelled library of Alpha Delt house.
When they ask if her career has affected her own life and relationships, she tells the students "It's hard to have wild fantasies when nothing has been taboo in my own life, and I've done just about everything you can think of."
When they as if she thinks the current crop of students are more politically more apathetic than her own, she says: : "Every generation thinks the one that follows them is more apathetic."
When asked about careers in the adult film industry, she warns, "When you're a porn star you typically have a very short career. Maybe two years."
Taormino tells the students that she did not grow up in a hippie household, but that both parents had advanced degrees (a frequent web reference notes that her uncle is Thomas Pynchon), and that after her parents divorced when she was a child she was raised by an enlightened, but not radical single mother.
Taormino's own radical approach to gender politics and sexuality was part of her Wesleyan education and experience. The topics of gender identity, gender politics, feminism, sexuality and equality were all at the forefront when she was a student, and Taormino was often on the cutting edge of how those topics were expressed on campus. An explicit campus-wide postering campaign caught the attention of Connecticut's Attorney General when some of those posters found their way onto Middletown utility poles.
"We would've been arrested if I didn't have such a good relationship with the Dean," she recalls.
"I feel like it was a place cracked my head open," she says. "A lot of schools have brochures that say how unique their campuses are. This place is unique."
When she graduated Phi Beta Cappa with a degree in American Studies, Taormino took a job in the corporate world but soon had her fill of dressing for success, attending useless meetings, and fitting the company mold.
"I don't play political games well," she confesses. "I wouldn't play nice. I wouldn't zip it."
These days Taormino is as far from the corporate setting as one could get, and she seems to enjoy her life, her travels around the country and the globe, and the variety in a career she has created herself.
"It's a different thing everyday," she tells the students, several of who are facing graduation and the real world. "Some days I'm writing. Other days I might be lecturing or teaching a sex class. And sometimes I'm directing. I don't ever get bored."