This is the first book I’ve read that I had to set down because it caused me to have a heaving fit (on two separate occasions, actually). As in, certain muscle groups in my body involuntarily contracted in a desperate attempt to push something that I had read out of my throat. Those were just about the only times I was able to set the book down. Oriana Small really puts it all out there: the good, the bad, and the cheese dick*, letting readers do what they might with the information presented. It’s dark and it’s honest and you’ll never once hear Small refer to any part of her own anatomy as a “ding-ding.”
It seems that Oriana Small can’t really tell the story of her career as Ashley Blue without also sharing the story of her first love, which she can’t properly include without the cocaine. There’s plenty of coke-fueled drama, so it’s surprising that I enjoyed this book as much as I did; I don’t especially want to read about cokeheads any more than I want to be cornered by them at parties. And yet, I found myself engrossed enough that I opened a rental account at the local porn store. I started with a video from the Girlvert series, the namesake of the book. They’re sort of the XXX equivalent of The Bad Seed.
At around 349 titles, Oriana Small’s body of work is formidable. I guess that’s why I was disappointed that she didn’t write more about her actual job. Sure, she details her most grueling and physically demanding scenes, but I would have liked more regular ol’ mundane porn stuff. One of my favorite chapters was about shooting White Trash Whore 30. She gets stung by a bee while filming outside of a trailer and has to keep working, which includes doing a scene with an actor she thinks is “one of the most annoying dudes in porno history.”
His voice sounds like a banjo being picked. Every one of his sentences contains a double negative and he rambles nonstop. He isn’t a mean guy, but fucking him is a form of punishment. […] He seemed inbred. You’ve got to hand it to those inbreeders: They had big dicks. Otherwise, there was nothing appealing about him. He weighed only ninety-five pounds. I felt like a fat toad getting on top of him. His whole body felt encased in my crack as soon as I lowered myself onto his cock.
Hilarious and amazing, right? Maybe I sound like a total outsider (which I am), but I find her work narratives far more interesting than orgies and drug binges.
Girlvert caused me to do a lot of thinking. It’s the kind of book that you desperately want to talk about. There were parts that were close to home, and parts that resonated with things I’d already been thinking about. One such thing was something that Bubbles wrote recently, that there’s “no better crash course in boundaries and assertiveness” than sex work. The hardest parts of Girlvert for me to stomach were the situations where she is completely pushed beyond her boundaries. And by “boundaries,” we’re talking being alive was a boundary that got crossed at one point when a sociopathic director chokes her to the point of unconsciousness.
I love Oriana Small for the way that she writes about these situations. She manages to share the violation, betrayal, regret, and shame without making herself a victim or condemning the industry as a whole in an attempt to comfort herself. Obviously we’ve had very different paths, but I do know what it feels like to be a 20-year-old with no self-esteem trying to navigate the sex industry. (As much as I hate to admit it, I still have encounters that leave me wishing I had handled things differently.) Any time someone is exchanging her sexual labor for compensation, cost-benefit-type analysis is required to make choices, and we aren’t always able—for whatever reasons—to make the right ones.
There is very little self-pity in Girlvert. In fact, Small never shies away from painting herself in an unflattering light. The men in her succession of boyfriends may be assholes, but she doesn’t hold back from letting the readers know that she was kind of a brat. But she’s a smart brat who is so fucked up and vulnerable that she’s hard to dislike. Her ability to write about traumatic events so matter-of-factly and with humor is part of why I am disappointed that she didn’t devote at least a little more of the book to, well, anything else besides her abusive boyfriends.
And bad boyfriends they were—archetypal bad sex worker boyfriends. We’ve all known beautiful, intelligent women who’ve settled for losers, and AVN award-holding porn stars are no exception. There was the first love, with whom she shared the experience of starting porn. While she surpassed him professionally, he continued to “share” her money, often lurking on set, jerking off (literally!) while she was working. When she finally kicks him to the curb, she rebounds with a jealous older control freak type. It gets redundant, and made me wish that her memoir—her story—hadn’t been quite so dominated by these men who already got more time and space in her life than they deserved.
You do get the sense that she is a well-adjusted happy adult these days. I don’t think that she would be capable of such unabashed openness if she weren’t. Throughout the book, you can hear the humility and gratitude in her voice: for being in the right place at the right time, for not having contracted HIV when her contemporaries did, for longevity in an industry where women are usually more expendable. It does seem like she has found closure, which is great, except that she doesn’t share that closure with the reader. She spends 296 pages partying heavily and sobers up 5 pages before the end of the book, 8 if you count the epilogue. And-then-I-met-a-decent-guy-and-grew-up-The-End feels more clichéd than any other part of Girlvert, not because I doubt her, but because it’s so disjointed.
All the debauchery followed by a hasty mention of sobriety feels a little like being at an AA meeting, honestly. The book doesn’t necessarily need to have an agenda, but the process of working on her shit and forming a healthy relationship (that led to her marriage with Dave Naz) shouldn’t be reduced to an afterthought. In the way that Melissa Febos redeems herself and proves to readers that she is no longer a jerky heroin-addict in the last third of Whip Smart, I would have liked Girlvert to offer more post-hot mess analysis. I do love that she deals with her back taxes as a way to finally take a hard look at her life. I would interpret the parting message of this book as a) give your love to someone who is worthy of it, and b) pay your damn taxes. Words to the wise.
*One of the scenes that made me almost barf had to do with bad hygiene. The other involved the collective cum from a gang bang.