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Stoya, Pop Star of Porn

Stoya, Pop Star of Porn

On the ground floor of a Bushwick tenement building with a staircase lined in peeling fleur-de-lis wallpaper, inside a railroad apartment and past the big bed with black silk sheets and two massive chests full of rhinestone-encrusted thongs, Stoya is perched on a metal stool in leggings and a sweatshirt, talking about the future. She cracks open her kitchen's rear window, tucks her legs beneath her, and smokes a Parliament Light. Then another. And another. "There's an unknown expiration date for me," she says. "It could be 28, or it could be 35: The age when no one cares anymore, I'm no longer relevant, and there are strange wrinkly things happening to my butt cheeks that should not appear on HD video." Stoya is 26. She smokes another cigarette. Then she tweets to her 124,000 followers from the iPad perched on her windowsill: "Does anyone know of a place where I can buy a wig cap on the Lower East Side at 11:30 pm on a Thursday?"

Within the hour, the sweatshirt is on the floor. Fake eyelashes extend from the corners of her almond eyes, peach glitter is sparkling from her lids, and her lips are stained red like a valentine. She slips into a pair of patent-leather flats and a floor-length white mink coat, and steps onto the stoop to search for the town car she's called to pick her up. She lights a Parliament.

When she exits the car on Bowery, Stoya is out of Parliaments. She collects a café au lait from a diner, gravitates toward the nearest neon Budweiser logo, and arms herself with two fresh packs. Another Parliament is resting between her lips before she hits the sidewalk, where she waits for the light to turn. Some nights, when she is standing on a street corner like this, a passing stranger will tell her that she is going to hell. And she'll wonder what they're referring to, specifically: The tobacco she's sucking into her lungs? The 50 mink pelts hanging from her shoulders? Or the porn?

A white van rolls down the street and idles in front of her, right in the center of the intersection. The light turns. Stoya begrudgingly scoots behind the van, removes the Parliament from her lips, and spits on its back door. "I read once that Hunter S. Thompson credited his health with never keeping an emotion inside," she says.

Radical self-expression is a challenge for a legally contracted porn star, which is what Stoya became at age 21 when she inked a deal with the adult feature company Digital Playground. Stoya's contract requires her to show up in Southern California about 46 days out of the year to film X-rated videos like Stoya: Web Whore and Stoya's Haunted House. The remaining 319 days, she's paid not to have sex on camera anywhere else. That's time for building the Stoya brand: porn-convention appearances, sure, but also composing essays on her Tumblr and for the Guardian and Vice, where she writes a regular column about "the pitfalls of heteronormativity" and the "metaphysics of cocksucking."

It's not the typical career arc for an industry luminary. Consider the mainstream glimpses of Stoya's fellow Digital Playground contract stars: In the 2005 film Middle Men, Jesse Jane played Jesse Jane. Kayden Kross appeared as "Convention Attendee/Stripper" on an episode of CSI. Riley Steele acted as "Crystal" in Piranha 3D, engaging in lesbian underwater sex and meeting a bloody end. Occasionally, Stoya will be sent a script with a character description like "Tiffany: looks like a stripper," and she will throw it in the trash.

"Hysterical Literature," a project with photographer Clayton Cubitt

Stoya does not look like a stripper. The artist Molly Crabapple, a friend, describes her as "a cat-eyed Snow White beauty" who is "mathematically perfect." Stoya declined Digital Playground's offer of free breast implants, twice. When the company later seated her next to a plastic surgeon at an awards show, she told him, "I've seen your work, and I am not impressed." When she books a sex scene, she stuffs herself with ice cream for a week in an attempt to exhibit, she says, "something resembling a bosom." In Los Angeles, she carries a frilly black parasol with UV coating to protect her porcelain skin. Once, at a signing, porno fans mistook Stoya for Jesse Jane's assistant. She was OK with that. She mocks the plots of porn films and constructs morbid fantasies about her least-favorite co-star ("Peel strips of her skin off and douse her in lemon juice and just let me watch!").

But Stoya loves her job, and it shows: She giggles so exuberantly throughout her sex scenes that an early partner, Mick Blue, initially thought she was mocking him. "Her performances are ones of genuine pleasure," says Jiz Lee, a genderqueer performer who once posed as Jack the Ripper while Stoya dressed the part of a Victorian prostitute. "It's hard not to fall in love with Stoya," says Lee. "I cannot help but be aroused by the joy she expresses while she's fucking." Internet fans have isolated those facial expressions into 1,000 constantly repeating GIFs, and launched Tumblrs like "Fuck Yeah, Stoya!" devoted to her. "But when Hollywood asks for a porn star," Stoya says, "they don't like it when I show up."

 

Instead, Stoya will emerge from a cloud of red fog tonight at the Box, a nightclub in the Lower East Side. At 2:30 a.m., she'll step onto a $3,000-an-evening bottle service table, muscle herself onto a giant hoop hanging from the ceiling, perform a fiercely acrobatic aerial routine, artfully discard a thong she glued with rhinestones, and hang naked by her ankles over a crowd of investment bankers, her long brown hair tinkling within inches of their champagne-jammed skulls. Tomorrow, she'll wake in the afternoon, don a Marie Antoinette wig decorated with the protest signs of Occupy Wall Street, and splash in a claw-footed bathtub in an East Village art gallery while Salman Rushdie and Amanda Palmer look on (hence the late-night bid for the wig cap).

Porn Valley may have signed her up, but "New York likes me," Stoya says. "I want to be where people like me. I feel like it's a natural human thing to do." As Digital Playground puts it in Stoya's official porn bio, "After a brief stint in Hollywood, California, Stoya moved back to east coast skyscrapers, preferring the brash, concrete reality of the east to the 24/7 sand and glam of the west coast." To Stoya, "it beats sitting in L.A., twiddling my thumbs 28 days out of the month."

Twenty-eight to 35 is early for career-ending butt wrinkles. But Stoya's always been ahead of the curve: Out of school by six, smoking at 12, sex at 13, living on her own by 16.

Stoya's parents—she's the daughter of a feminist engineer and a business consultant—like to tell her that she returned from her kindergarten class in North Carolina and demanded to be homeschooled. They obliged. When Stoya was 13, Britney Spears hit the cover of Rolling Stone in a black satin bra with a purple Teletubby under her arm, pledging to preserve her virginity until marriage; Stoya hit the mall, looking for the "cleanest, most attractive boy who looked like he was over 16." She told him she was 15, and then had sex with him in his parents' basement: "It wasn't very interesting, but it was over."

She earned her high school diploma in the mail before her 16th birthday, then headed to Philadelphia. She got a volunteer gig at an anarchist bookstore collective. She spent six days as a Subway Sandwich Artist and was let go after stuffing a rude customer's foot-long with hot peppers. She hostessed at an Italian restaurant, folded pink Burberry cashmere onesies at a chic baby shop, pushed paper at a law office, and buzzed around on the back of a party promoter's Vespa, juggling his notebook and cell phone.

One day, her amateur photographer roommate came home, found her "sitting on the couch with no clothes on," she says, and recruited her as a model for a couple of alt-porn websites. Soon she was making so much money in the naked-lady business that she never needed to fold clothes again. Stoya took a shortened version of her grandmother's Serbian surname as her stage name—and trademarked it in 2009. When one site asked if she'd have sex with a girl on camera, she rented a DVD of John Stagliano's Fashionistas and liked what she saw. "I'm going to go make a living off my body now," she says she told herself, "because I can do that."

Then Digital Playground called, in the heyday of Sasha Grey, looking for a girl with an "alternative" look. "She completely defied everything the porn industry had decided 'sexy' was," says Adella, a publicist who worked for Digital Playground at the time. "She didn't fit into any category. She was fresh-faced, brainy, and a little bit of a hippie—I think she got that part from her mom. She had no alterations. She hated the sun. She just emanated sex appeal." Even so, the company was surprised by the success of Stoya's first release, Jack's POV 9—the cover features Stoya pulling off a bedazzled red tank top. "Their expression of shock was downright insulting," Stoya says. "They were like, 'We don't know why you're selling so well!'" Stoya did: "The Internet. Duh!"

For Stoya, negotiating the sex part of her career was easy. "She didn't want to do super-pansy tame sex—she wanted to push her boundaries on screen," Adella says. She shot through the industry, performed with Grey herself, scooped up the AVN award for Best New Starlet in 2009, put her name on a silicone masturbatory sleeve molded from her own vagina (the "Stoya Destroya" Fleshlight), and joined the industry last year in campaigning against Los Angeles's condoms-in-porn initiative, Measure B. But learning to present herself to the public proved more challenging. As a homeschooled kid, "I had no idea how judgy-wudgy the real world is," Stoya says. Adella says she had to coach her to "maybe not talk in a public forum about STDs, menstruating, or gas so much."

 

At first, "I didn't comprehend the 'star' part of it," Stoya says. "That means you spend most of your time doing weird promotional stuff so they can get your face out there and make you into a viable persona." She found herself fielding questions like "Which member of your family raped you as a child?" and whether her parents hated what she did for a living. Stoya's answers didn't fit expectations. "My mom hates the fake eyelashes and high heels," she told Xtreme Magazine. "If I was doing turtleneck-sweater, Birkenstock-wearing lesbian porn, she would be so happy, I think she would actually cry." She had to deflect different porn-star stereotypes—first, the dimwitted bimbo; later, the intellectual brunette who's not like the other girls. "Because I'm pale and have small boobs," Stoya says, "people ask me about my thoughts on Occupy Wall Street." She told one reporter: "Mussolini started out as a journalist."

After one particularly bad interview, "I realized I didn't need to rely on press people not to fuck it up. I can actually talk," Stoya says. When she went straight to the Internet, "It made it harder for people to stay in that mindset of porn stars as people who don't have other options because they're too emotionally damaged or stupid to do something else."

For Stoya, every new sex scene, column, and Twitter debate is an opportunity to obliterate the lines between femininity and strength, sex worker and thinker, porn and art. After years of dedicated training on the lyra—that hoop—stateside, she headed to Russia last year to study with a circus master who spoke no English. "There's a hole in my hand and my muscles are screaming," she tweeted after one session. "It's beautiful." Last year, she donned a Vivienne Westwood dress and read aloud from Supervert's Necrophilia Variations while an unseen hand stimulated her under the table with a Hitachi Magic Wand; Clayton Cubitt filmed her above the waist the whole time for a video art project he called Hysterical Literature (shown on page one). "It's Stoya the porn star being stimulated by the vibrator, but it's safe for work so it can go everywhere!" she says—then makes the sound of the Internet exploding.

On Tumblr, she posted photographic evidence of an ingrown hair her physician extracted from her upper thigh with a large-gauge needle. In a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), she dished about the realities of bedding a fan: "They were so nervous they ejaculated twice before we even got to any of my holes and I gave up," she typed. "He was super cute though." On Twitter, she discussed edible panties with Neil Gaiman and Wil Wheaton. The fashion photographer Steven Klein shot her with untamed black hair sprouting from her armpits and vagina, her musculature gleaming under a sheen of oil. The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne directed her spooning Amanda Palmer naked in bed for Palmer's music video "Do It with a Rockstar." GQ called her the porn-star-next-door who "regularly drops by Brooklyn house parties."

At home in Bushwick, she debates Oxford commas with her roommate, the photographer Steve Prue. Her apartment superintendent, Jorge, styles her hair. She raids medical supply stores for clean syringes, then fills them with glue to carefully appliqué rhinestones to everything—panties, pasties, her bedroom walls. She picked out her apartment colors by the paint-chip names—"Stealth" and "Anonymous"—and enlisted artist friends to paint the black and gray shades in stripes. Then she hung from an exposed pipe to glue rhinestones in the shape of ivy leaves. When Jorge heard she was bedazzling the walls, he rushed downstairs with his own stash of fake gems. And when he found a black-and-white kitten in a shoebox on the stoop, she adopted it.

For the past year, Stoya has carried on an increasingly public romance with another Internet porn phenomenon, carefully editing her vocabulary to fit the venue. Online, she calls him "Daddy," and he calls her "The Prom Queen." With journalists, he's "my boyfriend," the guy who makes her coffee every morning in California when he wakes up at 6 a.m. and she's sound asleep in his bed upstairs. With friends, he's "Brian." On set, he's James Deen, one of 10 performers on her list of approved male talent she's willing to have sex with. At the annual AVN Awards in 2011, Deen chickened out of interviewing Stoya on camera, saying "that girl makes me so fucking shy!" At this year's event, the couple stepped out together on the red carpet, Stoya carrying an Alexander McQueen clutch given to her by Deen. Fleshbot later posted a video of the couple ramming Deen's silicone molded dildo into Stoya's rubber molded Fleshlight, which their fans liked very much. If the Digital Playground contract goes south, Stoya says, "the Internet has led me to believe that I could just work with him for the rest of my career, and that would be fine."

 

James Deen and Stoya are the Jay-Z and Beyoncé of porn: They don't quite acknowledge their relationship outright, but they drop glittering clues everywhere they go. Through his publicist—he's now repped by Adella—Deen says that "like just about any other celebrity couple in America, very few things are personal and private and James and Stoya prefer to keep the intimate details of their relationship off the radar." But when she gets online, Stoya can't help but explore them. "Over the course of our relationship, I've had multiple conversations with the man I'm dating now about boundaries and feelings," she wrote for Vice. "I call him 'Daddy,' and as you might suspect, there are aspects of power exchange in our relationship. I am his. My body is his, my mouth, vagina, and asshole are his—and my heart is his." In contrast to Stoya's delicate, grammatically precise missives, Deen's Internet presence is all lowercase id. He blogs about butt sex and tweets about burritos. He put his relationship this way on his blog: "i am the only one who truly can have exclusive access to her vagina and butthole."

The couple's fans—his call themselves "Deenagers," hers "Stoyanauts"—obsessively track their online activity for clues to the romance, trading leads in the comments sections, cracking the pet names, and tracking the paw prints. Last winter, Stoya's kitten, now named Dr. Squeak McQueen, Esq., showed up in Deen's Woodland Hills mansion, an event obsessively tweeted and Instagrammed by them both. In a photograph on Deen's blog, you can see another porn actress spreading her butt cheeks for his camera at his home—and Stoya's circus hoop hanging conspicuously in the background. When Deen was invited to speak to students at Pasadena City College in February, Stoya slipped into the back of the classroom, and blushed when the college students asked him how he acts when he meets girls in bars and he told them he's been thinking more and more about marriage. "When she came to my class unannounced, none of my male students recognized her in civilian attire," says PCC humanities instructor Hugo Schwyzer. But after class, a group of female students gravitated away from Deen's press conference and straight to Stoya. Schwyzer says one student told him, "She's, like, a sex icon and an ideal best friend."

Sometimes new acquaintances will lean over to her and say, "It's so nice to get to know the real Stoya." Then she has to inform them that whether they've seen her have sex on camera or teeter on platform heels at the AVN awards or bend her leg backward over her head on a circus hoop, they already do. When she arrives at the Smart Clothes Gallery on the Lower East Side in her white mink and black heels for the opening of Crabapple's political-art exhibit, "Shell Game," she tells the woman at the door simply, "I'm Stoya." The woman eyeballs the list. "Are you with the press?" she asks. "I'm going to be naked in that bathtub covered in money," Stoya replies, pointing to the tub parked by the window. She glides into the gallery and disappears into the basement to prepare for her next act.

An hour later, she emerges in a set of sparkling pasties, a silk bow-tied thong glued with yet more rhinestones, and a towering cotton-candy pink Marie Antoinette wig netted with Occupy Wall Street signs reading Shit is fucked up and bullshit and 99 percent and topped with a tiny re-creation of the 70-foot-tall red human figure installed in Zuccotti Park. Crabapple explains that she wanted to create "a tableau vivant of decadence."

Stoya steps into the tub and swims in a mass of green gauze ribbons and play money printed by Crabapple herself. Crabapple's $10,000 large-scale paintings of 2011's political uprisings surround her; a rented bodyguard named Mike watches nearby. As Stoya poses in the tub, a throng of Occupy activists, lefty journalists, Jezebel bloggers, and burlesque stars in blue latex take turns snapping Instagram shots with her. The stench of marijuana wafts across the gallery. The windows around the tub steam up. "This is the New York I was promised," Stoya says outside in her fur and heels, lighting one more Parliament. "I do think it's fitting I'm dressed as a Marie Antoinette, 'let them eat cake' sort of figure," she says. "Afterward, I'll go to the Box and perform for the bankers."

Stoya: “I had no idea how judgy-wudgy the real world is.”
Clayton Cubitt; Fashion styling: René Garza; Makeup and Hair: Katie Wedlund

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