It’s the night of the winter solstice, friends. The darkest night of the year.
Fittingly, I just read this essay/short story by Christopher Zeischegg. It is dark. Very, very dark. It corresponds with a short film that he just released that is NSFW as all hell and is also very, very dark.
Then I sat in the dark for a while and thought.
Surely it’s no coincidence that as the nights have lengthened and my isolation here in Montana has deepened in the weeks after the news of James Deen’s brutality broke across the media landscape, my thoughts have been troubled. I’ve had a really difficult time writing, after the articles I produced for Bitch and Refinery29 on the whole JD debacle. I’ve avoided talking to people or socializing, and I’ve been cranky, overtired, and petulant.
I think there’s something in me that’s resisting turning into the darkness of the Montana winter and just looking at it. Not just the Montana winter–the winter more generally. The depth of its blackness. The cold. The knowledge that if I go out into it, I will surely die. That the warmth of my apartment is tenuous and illusory.
I think I’ve been resisting that turn because in reporting on the awful things one man did to the people around him, I was forced to take a very honest look at something I spend a lot of my time as a writer and as a human being trying to willfully ignore: the brutality of human beings.
It’s been an incredibly difficult year to be an optimist. 2015 saw more mass shootings in America than it did days. It saw the rise of ISIS and of Donald Trump as a political reality. It was a smorgasbord of people doing awful things to other people every moment of every day. There were a number of times when I was so crushed by despair that I took advantage of my enormous privilege as a white, middle-class American and turned off my news feed. Then I took further advantage of my status and moved almost across the country to escape the clamor of human suffering that is New York City.
Since I got to Montana, I have been working very hard on a book that will detail my time as a journalist and blogger in and around the porn industry. This book has been on the table for around three years–the three years during which I started to move away from that industry because I felt as if I didn’t fit there in the first place. My association with pornography has always been a sort of bizarre coincidence; I got into it on a whim and then decided to go for it, but I never felt it in my bones. What I felt was fascination with a world that’s often called an underworld, but which I saw as just another world that doesn’t get a whole lot of real, human attention.
But what has continued to come creeping back, time and again, in this other world is that there are reasons it’s often called an underworld. Those reasons may or may not have to do with anything inherent to the sex trade, depending on who you ask and what day it is. I would argue, I think, that they do not. I would argue that the reasons porn and sex work are cast in shadow is because of the lurking specter of human brutality. The darkness in us that can overwhelm us, and that in 2015 basically has.
That darkness finds places to hang out, link arms with taboo, and take over where it can. It likes to rule us, and some people enjoy letting it take hold.
I have spent years actively seeking out the light. I have very politely turned away, again and again, from staring too long into it. When I’ve felt understanding dawning, noticed the undeniable existence of brutality and darkness and just total fucked-up-ness that can and does thrive in the porn industry, I have smiled wide and pointed out the reasons why it does not take root everywhere, gestured at the squeaky-clean tabletops I’ve found, argued that the trade itself is not a breeding ground for brutality, but the human psyche. And I agree with myself there, I do. There’s light where there’s darkness, always.
But that darkness has come creeping in as the shadows stretch out by midafternoon, here in these high latitudes among the mountains, working its way deep. I am not able to turn away right now. It’s yawning at me, beckoning me to step inside.
I have always resisted its pull, enjoying Tim Burton films and Disney villains and cheesy-dark eighties films from a young age as a way to flirt with the pull of evil…just enough to throw it off the scent. I have maintained some sort of Midwestern-housewife polite association with it all my life, indulging in Gothic literature and surrounding myself with people who wear dark lipstick. People who fuck on camera. It makes me feel dangerous and deep, like I’ve earned credibility enough to hang out with the cool kids who have stared into the abyss.
But I’ve never done it. Not really. When that abyss starts blinking back at me, I run. I retreat into platitudes and positivity, seek the sunshine, and deny that the slow, steady glare of that human brutality was coming from me and from the things I’ve buried myself in.
I can’t write this book without looking deep into the darkness. I don’t necessarily have to write about all of it. I want to make this book a form of light itself, to bring people together from opposite sides of a chasm that exists only in the mind and help them shine lights into corners they may have been afraid to before. I want to chase away the shadows.
But you can’t end shadows. They just move away from your flashlight so you can’t see them anymore, waiting for winter to swallow you up.
I think I just have to let myself be swallowed this winter. Let it happen. Stop smiling at it and accept it. Porn isn’t all fucking bunnies and rainbows all the time. It can’t be. Humans are humans. Darkness seeks darkness, and brutality thrives alongside it. I have to stop pretending it’s not right here, next to me, grinning at me from over my shoulder every time I take to the Internet to spew my sunshine into the world through my computer, because the scary stuff lives there, too, and everywhere we go.
Shit. Here goes. Into the breach. Darkness has met me here.
Happy Winter Solstice, everyone. I’m going to sit in the dark for a while longer.