What One Tabloid Article Can Teach Us About The Degradation Of Porn Stars In Media

By Riley Smith

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Guest Writer Riley Smith (they/them) is a mentally ill queer socialist in the Boston area. They are a worker-owner of a cooperative cafe and volunteer with a drop-in shelter for homeless youth. They do environmental and housing justice work, and advocate for prison abolition, queer and trans liberation, and the full decriminalization and destigmatization of sex work. On the weekends they can be found doing burlesque, slamming poetry, or performing in/running the Rocky Horror Picture Show. They love their dog and their spouse and hate broccoli.

 

Metro US is the country’s largest free newsletter, distributed at most public transportation stations and claiming to reach an audience of “18 million readers in more than 100 major cities in 23 countries.” It is a moderately interesting read with tabloid headlines and quick news bites that can get you caught up on your morning commute. However, it is not considered the most tactful piece of media as evidenced in the July 24th issue. Amidst topics of electric scooters, security breaches in the White House, and a boycott on Faneuil Hall, editors of the Boston Metro tabloid felt that the headline: “Crunch Time: Porn Star the next Mrs. Jimmy G?” was worthy of a front page spot.

The article (if one can call it that) was six paragraphs of slut-shaming and whorephobia. The whole article frames performer Kiara Mia in a completely abhorrent light. The title alone refers to her only as a “porn star”, forgetting that she has a name. The newspaper knows that the term “porn star” has a negative connotation and that it will grab much more reader attention than if they said something like “Kiara Mia the Next Jimmy G.?” Framing the title in this way is a subtle yet important form of whorephobia in that Kiara doesn’t get to be known as a person first and then her profession - instead, she is reduced to her job (and the negative stereotypes that are attached to it). This style of headlining has been critiqued in feminist circles for a while for other famous women, most recently during the Olympics when female Olympic athletes were written about based on their proximity to men in their lives instead of their accomplishments (i.e. the Chicago Tribune headline “Wife of Bears’ Lineman wins medal today at Rio Olympics” and others). Refusing to name a woman in a headline denies her identity and reduces her to whatever she is associated with. I use the term “reduces” intentionally because this style almost never replaces the woman’s name with an accomplishment or title that supersedes her - it is almost always something that writers deem more “interesting” or “marketable”. It is all sexism, and for sex workers, reducing them to being a “porn star” or a “prostitute” (words that alone are neutral but come with connotations and stereotypes), especially without a name attached, guides the way readers will take in the information being presented.*

The article itself is much worse. It opens up with the line: “Leave it to our current president to normalize dating porn stars.” Leave it to our current whorephobic culture to consider it abnormal to date a porn star. This line reeks of the whorephobia that has run rampant since Stormy Daniels went public about her previous work with Trump. We know him to be morally reprehensible, and for far too many people his hiring a sex worker was just another affront to the moral fibers of society. While there is plenty to critique about how Trump went about working with Stormy, and the hypocrisy that continues to permeate throughout the Evangelical right, his having worked with her at all is not anything to be concerned about. Bringing up Trump’s relations with sex workers is an intentional choice to increase the drama and moral questionability of this potential pairing. If you ask a random person on the street if they would date a sex worker (stripper, prostitute, porn star, etc.), chances are they would say no, followed by something slut shame’y, whorephobic, and/or generally misogynist. To believe that a swath of the population is unworthy of romance, partnership, and compassion because of their profession is nothing short of dehumanizing. Human beings crave connection, and those who are not aromantic or asexual naturally desire partnership, romantic, sexual, or otherwise. This is a given in this society, and yet we promote the idea that certain people should be denied that, and that that they are unworthy of providing those who date, fuck, and love them real connection, passion, and love because they perform that for a living.

The article is found under the sports section of the Metro, because Jimmy Garoppolo is a quarterback, but it hardly mentions sports at all. In fact the only sports-related content is Kiara stating that she watches football now, and a one-off comment about the Super Bowl that is actually just intended to make more lewd commentary on Kiara Mia’s profession:

“That would be great if the Patriots MAKE the Super Bowl too and we get a full fledged Brady vs. Jimmy G. war. Even more impressive would be a Gisele vs. Kiara Mia battle in the luxury box (no word on if luxury box is also what Kiara Mia calls her goods).”

This tabloid piece is operating as many do - creating drama in the lives of famous people and exploiting their public personas by denying them the right to privacy. For any famous person who is considered sexually deviant (LGBT folx, sex workers, etc.) that includes an unhealthy obsession with their personal sexuality and/or genitals. The person writing the article went out of their way to highlight Kiara Mia’s sexuality and bring up her genitals in casual print. It is hard to imagine that if Jimmy G. were dating a doctor, said doctor’s genitals would be casually referred to. In fact, an article about the relationship would likely not exist at all, because that pairing would be socially acceptable. What is presented in this paragraph is a common issue for sex workers. By doing work that requires aspects of their bodies and sexuality to be available for public consumption, the public assumes that this is freely available outside the context of the service being provided. Consent is assumed to either be freely given or not necessary - the sex worker in question made their body a commodity, and so it is expected to be consumed. But no matter what a person chooses to do with theirs, the body is not a commodity. What sex workers sell is not their bodies but a service and/or art. Broadway actors get paid for their physically straining labor, and it is not expected that they continue to portray their characters once they leave the stage. Massage therapists are not expected to provide other services besides a massage. Why is it that the presumption of freely accessible sexuality for public consumption is placed on sex workers?

What’s really fascinating as one continues to read the article is that it is not even confirmed whether or not the two are dating. In fact, they refer to each other as friends throughout. Metro took the typical “Let’s bump up the drama by invading the personal lives of two celebrities and denying them the right to privacy” to another level by projecting their own discomfort at the existence of sex workers and the people who form relationships with them throughout the piece. We are taught that sex workers are dirty, criminal, and untrustworthy, that they can’t form real bonds, that they ave no self-respect, that they convince others to join “the life”, and other harmful and untrue stereotypes. This means the average non-sex worker does not want to interact with anyone they feel might be a “lady of the night”. However, many of those same people know and love a sex worker in their lives - they just don’t actually know that aspect of that person’s life. Sex workers don’t go to the grocery store in “hooker boots”, they don’t all work on street corners, and they aren’t going to bring a john to Christmas dinner. Because of the stigma and threat of harm and/or incarceration, if someone engaging in sex work does not trust a person, they will not disclose that part of themselves. It is also important to note that many (if not most) of the more well-known workers, specifically those in the adult film industry, have loving families and friends who support the work they do.

I understand that this is just a tabloid publication and it is the job of the content creators to make dramatic and salacious content to get the attention of passersby. But it is important to realize whorephobia is so normalized in our society that one cannot even read the sports section of a paper without encountering the casual dehumanization and objectification of sex workers. This paper reaches thousands in the Boston area where this was published, and right on the cover was an eye catching title enticing readers to learn more about the scandal that was two people (one of whom is considered less than a person) going on a date. Writing and publishing this article (or any content that degrades sex workers) is not a victimless act. Constantly encountering media that portrays groups of people as unworthy of compassion or privacy and as morally reprehensible both harms those who identify with that group who internalize the stigma, shame, and hatred, and encourages those who are not in the group to believe and perpetuate these behaviors, which then encourages them to bully, harass, distrust, shame, neglect, or physically harm people in the group. It is also worth noting that this newsletter profits off of this harm. While it is free for readers, the Metro is filled (almost predominately at this point) with advertisements to help cover its costs and make a profit. Attention grabbing headlines increase the likelihood of people reading the paper and therefore seeing the ads and therefore buying things from advertisers who will then continue to advertise. While it is very normalized to exploit people for profit, it is not okay and needs to be fought at all levels. Sex workers are people, and it is time we treated them as such.

 

*It should be noted that if someone wants to write about a sex worker in a respectful way, their stage name should be used unless stated otherwise. Stage names are not just meant to be silly or sexy, they are meant to protect workers’ identities and keep them safe from harm/state repression.