Oriana Small, AKA Ashley Blue will be reading from her new book Girlvert: A Porno Memoir next Thursday, August 18, at The Booksmith (1644 Haight Street) from 7:30-9pm, featuring Dave Naz and Carol Queen.
Most porno-girl autobiographies are trite compendiums of trash and morality; they go down with the speed and guilt of a bag of chips.
Jenna Jameson’s memoir was a trotty tiptoe through the tropes, while Traci Lords’ combined teasing the readers’ lust for sleaze into a pile of anti-porn regrets by the tale’s end. Neither were satisfying, and left an artificial aftertaste that made readers like me feel that poor writing would always be given a pass if it was about sex, and that the gritty facts were traded for the unease expected of stories about women who like the “wrong” kind of sex.
Not so in Orinana Small‘s Girlvert: A Porno Memoir. Thursday August 18 Small is reading from her book in Upper Haight’s Booksmith from 7:30-9pm, and it’s an event not to be missed. Why? Because Girlvert is the memoir that shakes up the pretense of the memoir genre with a slap of Bukowski and shows a young woman slicing life with the sharp end of the knife.
Instead of fading out when the shocking sex acts begin; Small turns the lights up so bright I think G.G. Allen would flinch at the spectacle.
Girlvert isn’t the story of a good girl gone bad, but is a real-life white knuckle ride through the toughest and scariest sexual scenarios and situations imaginable. Some people will find the sex, and a few non-sex scenes, quite disturbing. But we never forget that it is her story to tell, even when Small’s wanna-be pimp boyfriend is cutting up the drugs or pushing Small to the next level, it’s perfectly clear with every moment of self-reflection that Small is indeed driving the car, even if it has no brakes.
Small begins her decade-long porn career as Ashley Blue by taking up ‘modeling’ jobs in Los Angeles, racing toward money, drugs, and the party lifestyle on a quest for the most extreme sexual experiences she can find – mostly in porn.
“I wanted to try it simply because it would be a personal barrier I could tear down. Porno gave me plenty of opportunities to deconstruct myself and society with no emotional strings attached.”
The sexual scenes are so graphic and occasionally shocking that readers may find themselves putting the book down for a breather, just as with a truly well-told action-crime-noir book. But it’s Small’s writing style that really puts the reader front and center, threaded throughout with dark humor. Nothing is candy coated; her mother’s addiction, the detailed amount and types of drugs Small consumes, the truly taboo sex acts she endures as her own form of personal performance art.
It wasn’t those topics that gave the author pause, however: when asked by the Appeal what parts of the book she found most challenging to write, Small said “It felt kind of weird to write anything that bragged or seemed like a compliment to myself. I’m not like that. I felt more comfortable revealing the ugliness. It’s more interesting anyway.”
In terms of ugliness, her suitcase pimp boyfriend is such a reprehensible character that you’ll want to smash a window with the book; Small’s meditations on sex work in this abusive context illustrate a dimension never before told. The hook at every turn is this writer’s voice: nothing modern has come this close, for me, to reading the raw and calculated prose of James Ellroy at his most Californian, stark, precise, evocative and extreme.
Small’s story is about her decision to try out erotic modeling for fun, and finding herself ticking every box in the sex act list for both money and personal challenge, essentially joyriding in her own body along the razor’s edge of humanly possible sex acts and drug-fueled, willful self-immolation. She embraces and challenges perceptions about her own need for acceptance inside and out, while admitting her search for a healthy relationship and fully acknowledging that she had never had one every step of the way. The healthy sanctuary of love she seeks is eventually found, but on her own terms; it is hard-won and uplifting.
Girvert is equal parts joy, agony and reflection. To say that Girlvert is fiercely honest would be an understatement; and this book is definitely not for the faint of heart – but Small herself is not faint of heart. As reflected in her memoir, she lives ecstatically. It is without a doubt one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, and the most honest book about unapologetic female sexuality and porn to date.
“I’m surprised how many emotional responses that I’ve personally received from readers of Girlvert,” Small says. “Strangers contacting me through social media as well as tear-jerking texts and real life conversations with friends. I’m blown away with happiness.”
It’s a tour de force in a serious first book by an author to reckon with – one that will undoubtedly end up on several banned books lists, and will change the shape of our culture’s edgiest memoirs forever. And this won’t be the last we hear from Small, who tells me “I’m working on another book, but it’s going to be a while!”
Go see Oriana Small at the Booksmith in Upper Haight next Thursday: she will be reading from Girlvert, accompanied by a slide show featuring stills from her movies by her partner Dave Naz (Anal Sex Love) and Dennis McGrath.
The event features guest introducer and moderator Carol Queen, founder of the Center for Sex and Culture. You won’t be disappointed.