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How Annie Sprinkle Went From Golden Age Porn Star To Queer Icon And Feminist Activist: BUST Interview

 

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As a wee riot grrrl, I ran across a late night cable documentary that changed my perspective on porn. One segment featured a poetic leather dyke, and then appeared a bountiful fire-maned babe full of laughter — with her legs spread for the audience to examine her anatomy and the tongue-in-cheek title, Public Cervix Announcement, I knew I had just discovered the Mary Poppins of what I would later learn was sex-positive feminism.

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As a porn performer and prostitute in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Annie Sprinkle discovered how readily your supposed allies can also be your worst critics. Anti-porn feminists in particular concern-trolled sex workers, creating the same slut-shaming stigma as the religious right. Knowing that sex work and feminism were not mutually exclusive, Sprinkle spoke out, creating a voice in the porn/feminism debate where, ironically, both conservative Christians and feminists were judging sexually expressive, independent, and oftentimes underprivileged women.

“Pro-sex feminists were talking about orgasm, pleasure, sexy fun. The real disagreement [with anti-porn feminists] was they thought censorship would solve the problems of violence. But really, if you think of the countries where porn isn’t allowed, are women any better off? Don’t think so," Sprinkle told BUST in an interview.

"It was a good debate, but they didn’t always play fair, nor would they be in the same room with the likes of me. That’s why that time was called the ‘feminist porn wars.' I never hated them. Some porn people did. I wanted to meet them, talk to them, share, discuss, interact. I wanted to seduce them! Have sex with them. I agreed with them that we live in a misogynist society, though. I learned from them even though I disagreed with their solutions."

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The argument that porn treats women as objects could be framed many different ways. Why isn’t the woman seen as the subject and the penis (in heteronormative porn) the object? Instead of ignoring the performer’s perspective and feelings, Annie Sprinkle’s gleeful approach reaffirmed a woman’s right to decide what was and was not degrading in performance, and upheld a woman’s right to fuck for profit, pleasure, and/or power. Sprinkle also went to great lengths to defend another sector of people who were condemned for their sexuality: gay men during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s. This was a key time frame for Sprinkle to explore the ways in which people could cope with stigmatization and attempt to find ways to heal.

“I was living in Manhattan, had been super sexually active and doing sex work and having lots of lovers, and suddenly friends and lovers started getting so horribly ill and many died," Sprinkle said.

"To cope, I started going to The New York Healing Circle, which was a softer, sweeter, more spiritual version of Act Up. Many great speakers and healers came through to help us and teach us, like Louise Hay, Ram Dass, Alan Lowen, Paul Lowe. We did hands-on healings and tried different kinds of meditations. I cried deeply for the first time in my life. I applied everything I was learning to my sex life. I started learning about ancient cultures and practices, Tantra, Taoist, Native American, and learning about breath and energy based sex.”

Sprinkle’s investment in ending violence against sex workers and supporting the gay community deconstructed the patriarchal and religious stigma that despises and is threatened by sexually expressive women and queer people. Combined with her spiritual approach and her standpoint of “fixing taboos, not breaking them," her list for why whores are her heroes is invigorating. The last-but-not-least statement is a loud and clear stance: “WHORES ARE REBELLING AGAINST THE ABSURD, PATRIARCHAL, SEX-NEGATIVE LAWS AGAINST THEIR PROFESSION AND ARE FIGHTING FOR THE LEGAL RIGHT TO RECEIVE FINANCIAL COMPENSATION FOR THEIR VALUABLE WORK.”

Questioning if the government fears legalizing prostitution, Sprinkle’s work has made her aware of the blatant systematic issues in which most sex workers are not only oppressed and punished, but used and profited from. Referring to the government, she says, “They’re the biggest pimps of all. They make so much money off the backs of prostitutes, in fines, court fees, and now putting them in the prison industrial complex. They are easy targets. It’s ignorance, cruelty, jealousy. I still think it’s one of the most important issues.”

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Whereas the porn industry is often a reflection of patriarchal oppression (reinforcing gender roles, ageism, beauty standards, fetishizations, etc), Sprinkle proved it was possible to create porn centered around the pleasure and creative desires of women. By connecting with underground film and theater communities, Sprinkle discovered her own queer identity and unknowingly helped promote queer porn and queer aesthetic into American culture. It’s no surprise that John Waters and Frank Zappa have raved about her, as have her fierce artist pals like Peaches, Lydia Lunch and Kembra Pfahler, making Annie Sprinkle quite the Fairy Goddess Mother of Sex Activism and Art Porn.

The goddess archetype explored in her ultra-'90s how-to/spiritual workshop Sluts and Goddesses expressed the kitsch in cunt, the fierce in femme, and the power of pussy. Sprinkle was a video artist and a New Age nymphette, caressing the clit of underground feminist queer culture-to-be. Echoes of her influence exist in the likes of Indie Porn Revolution and Queer Porn TV’s Courtney Trouble, who amps body positivity and fluidity via trans and non-binary performers, with extra emphasis on the importance of consent. Sprinkle’s photography work showcases the sensationally slutty and the fantastically femme, as well as amping the visibility of queercore aesthetic.

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Not only does Sprinkle recognize the political statement of being an older body-positive woman who is still producing work, over time she has developed a holistic and nature-based approach to identity and sexuality. The connections within these environments have made way for groups like the Radical Faeries and projects like Fuck for Forest, porn that fundraises for environmental activism based out of Norway. “Protest is sexy. Saving the water, air, land, that’s hot! Putting your body on the line to protect the Earth, that’s hot," Sprinkle says.

Visual artist and partner Beth Stephens has been a major counterpart in Sprinkle’s eco-art-activism. Together, they completed a seven-year-long series of performative weddings, each corresponding with their chakras and emotional/sexual/spiritual aspects called Love Art Lab. Lectures, theater, live-art and installations are all documented via visual art and printed matter for each yearly exhibition theme. The trajectory of the project has led to more and more of a presence of ecosexuality.

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“Almost everything I do now is related to ecosexuality," Sprinkle said. "Beth and I have a house in San Francisco and also a cabin in the redwood forest. Clean, free, abundant drinking water is a human right and super important. We want clean air and fertile land. We care about non-human animals, plants, the oceans. I’m in love with the Earth and all its living things.

"We switch the metaphor from Earth as mother to Earth as lover, and find the eroticism, sensuality and pleasures to be had in nature, which is everywhere. As far as global concerns, I don’t have that much power, unfortunately, but am fully committed to building the ecosex movement to entice people to love the planet more. We are all complicit in destroying the environment. I stand in many contradictions. Let there be pleasure on Earth, and let it begin with me. I’m acting locally!”

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Check out the Sexecology website for information, upcoming events and booking inquiries and Annie Sprinkle’s individual website for a plethora of writings, essays, interviews, artwork, filmography and more.

All images via Twitter/Annie Sprinkle

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Sunni Johnson is a writer, photographer, musician and curator from Atlanta, GA with a focus on queer and feminist themes. Sunni is Arts Editor of the queer southeast Wussy Magazine and curates an art-porn zine Cum Manifesto. Follow her on sunnni.com

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