An Interview with Madison Young
In her introduction to Madison Young's recent memoir, Daddy, Annie Sprinkle offers sage advice for the newbie reader about to embark on Young's literary journey. "Keep an open mind," she writes. "Have no expectations. Taboos will be broken." Indeed, Young's memoir is by turns, uplifting, heartbreaking, inspiring and (even for me) mortifying. It is an intelligent transcript of a life fueled by passion and intensity.
Now let's discuss Madison Young, whose life is almost a new medium in itself. Born in Loveland, Ohio, in 1980, Young made her way to San Francisco where she founded the Femina Portens Art Gallery, which provided a performance sanctuary for the LGBTO and Kink community. Young quickly blossomed into making films and documentaries, many of which she wrote and directed, and aimed to promote a healthy expression of sexuality. Young continues to conduct workshops and lectures on topics including sexuality, porn studies and the politics of BDSM.
Her writing has appeared in numerous publications and books including Best Sex Writing 2013. Reading Daddy will probably take you out of your comfort zone, but it is always good to visit new neighborhoods. We recently had a chance to exchange a few questions and answers.
Young is currently involved in a Life Art Performance Experiment, which will last for six months and is unplugged from the Internet. She will be making art, connecting with humanity and creativity and the intimate nature of life, offline.
I'm curious to know if any of the paths you took in life were in reaction against your upbringing in southern Ohio. You describe a rather difficult adolescence in your book, maybe tougher than the average teen years.
My mission of creating space for the authentic expression of self and advocating for knowledge and celebration of our bodies, pleasure, and individuality is quite certainly rooted out of growing up in an environment that I found stifling as a child and teenager. I grew up with a lack of resources around body positivity, sex positivity, knowledge of the body, of sex, and of intimacy and connection. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to be immersed in the arts and be a community organizer and activist that created social change and celebrated diversity and body acceptance. The freedom of expression, emotional depth, and unique perspectives of our culture that art, performance, dance, literature, and theater presented inspired me. I knew that was my world, the world I was meant to live in.
Do you think a large percentage of the U.S. population is sexually repressed in that people may not be aware of the pleasures certain sexual aids and rituals might bring them?
I think that our society and culture is lacking in sexual education. I meet way too many women that don't know the difference between a vulva and a vagina. Or women that believe they have a sexual dysfunction if they don't orgasm from intercourse. There is simply a lack of knowledge. That lack of knowledge is fueled by both a fear of sexual knowledge and an exploitation of the mysterious and sexy. There is a lot of inaccurate information around sex that is perpetuated by the media, by fear, by capitalism. I don't think that sex toys and kinky sex acts are essential to sexual pleasure. I think that knowing our own bodies, having room to explore our own pleasure, and having the language to express our desires, who we are, how we like to be touched, and our fantasies to our partners is essential to a fulfilling sex life. And yes, I do think that a large percentage of the U.S. population is lacking in this room for exploration and ability to both identify and communicate our desire to our partners.
Do think there is a down side to having a "daddy" figure in your life, other than your biological father?
I don't consider my biological father to be my "daddy." My "daddy" is my love, a guide and respected elder, my partner, my dominant -- he is chosen family. My biological father is my blood family, and we have a very traditional Midwestern family, for the most part. My father is supportive and has always encouraged me to go after my dreams, to be myself, to not be afraid of being different, and to always follow my heart. When I left Ohio for San Francisco, a queer woman, I slowly started to build my own family. I have chosen moms, and my child has chosen aunts and uncles and grandmas. I believe family extends well past the framework of biology and that there are many familial roles and partnered roles that can develop which I see quite frequently within subcultures such as queer communities.
I suspect many newcomers to your genre might be curious about the term "feminist pornographer." Can you expand on that a bit?
A feminist pornographer is someone who is documenting our sexual culture and creating social change within the cinematic medium of pornography by facilitating space for the expression of authentic sexual desire, sexual connection, often with real couples having sex the way they want to have sex, orgasming the way they want to orgasm, expressing themselves sexually in a way that is natural and individual to that person. Often feminist pornography is tackling other feminist issues such as challenging concepts about body acceptance, gender expression, communication around sexual desire, educational in nature, sexual pleasure amongst older individuals, sexual pleasure during pregnancy or postpartum, and how sexual desire and kink relationships and dynamics play out with in real life. Feminist Pornography is a social movement that differs from mainstream pornography in the way that it doesn't cater to the perceived desires of its viewing audience but to a social and labor movement as well as an artistic integrity that propels the film's thesis.
What literary figures have helped guide you through life?
Wow! There have been so many throughout the years. Diane Di Prima, Marge Piercy, and Sylvia Plath were some of my first literary heroes. When I was a young art-punk and first moved to the Bay Area, I had the great pleasure of attending some of Diane DiPrima's writer retreats and workshops in exchange for doing housework for her. I was wide-eyed and forever grateful to scrub her stairs in exchange for her guidance and mentorship. I also found great inspiration amongst the brash and bold, Charles Bukowski, the musicality of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Carol Queen and Patrick Califia are probably two of my favorite sex writers. Carol Queen's Real Live Nude Girl changed my life and Laura Antoniou's The Slave and The Marketplace were instrumental in my immersion into BDSM as well as Molly Wetherfield's Carrie's Story. I'm a bibliophile. I love the tactile and emotional experience of reading a book.
I'm curious about your relationship with the word "slut." Are you attempting to redefine it?
Slut is a word that I have reclaimed. I believe that around the time that I started to reclaim the word "slut," I was working at the Lusty Lady in San Francisco. That could be an entire book in itself. I was just starting to really dive into sex-positive feminist writings of Carol Queen, Annie Sprinkle, Patrick Califia, and Susie Bright. The Lusty Lady was a wonderful, safe incubator for the development of my theories around sexuality and sexual desire and identity and a laboratory in which to test out those theories, desires. It was rich learning ground for sex positive feminism with brilliant feminists and queer women who were redefining sex work and sexual desire on their own terms. I remember reading a book around that time about the Sacred Prostitute. A goddess. A slut. That word just really resonated with me. I liked the way that it sexily whispered its way out between my lips. The sacred slut.
What was your family's reaction to your book?
My family hasn't read my book, but they know about it, and they are very proud that I've had it published. They are very supportive of my work. I'm very open with my family, and make as much of my life open to them as they feel comfortable discussing. I knew that if I made the commitment to work within the world of sexuality that I wanted to be very open with my family about my dedication to my work. I couldn't dedicate my life to deconstructing the societal shame of sex and bodies and exhibit the shameful behavior of hiding a part of myself and my work from my family. It's been a long road of many conversations, but I speak from the heart, and I'm honest and authentic with my family, and that feels really healthy. They don't always understand the intricacies of my work and why I do what I do, but they do understand the importance of it, they understand my passion and my drive, and they support my following my dreams.
How is your career working with motherhood?
I have a three-and-a-half-year-old child who is incredible. Motherhood has inspired me as a feminist in brand new ways. Now I'm raising a feminist. My child teaches me to slow down, to be in the moment, to engage in self-care and self-love. My heart is so full of love. My life used to be work. It was all work, and as much as I love my work, I do need personal time. Motherhood gifted me with a personal life. I'm more inspired in my work than ever before, and I think that is truly due to the great pleasure and fulfillment that I experience now in my private life.
Of course my work schedule is totally different now. I used to work ten- or twelve-hour days. Now it takes a lot of clever scheduling to create, curate, and write. I get up early in the morning to work on writing or art or meetings via Skype. I'll work late at night on editing my films. I have a sitter twice a week for a few hours to take care of the administration involved in booking my sexuality workshops, curating art shows, sending out book orders, casting films, writing scripts, and promotion for events. I also work with sixteen different interns throughout the week who assist me with everything from reviews and coordination of film screening for the Feminist Porn Network to social media, and literary interns that assist with all the tasks that go into the promotion of Daddy and upcoming book projects. Things get a little hectic sometimes, but we all take time to breathe, and my interns are inspired to be working on interesting projects, and I'm able to spend more time with my child. I just returned from Paris, where I was on production of French feminist pornographer Ovidie's newest film for ten days. It was an incredible experience but involved a lot of coordination regarding care of Em while I was away. Sometimes I'm able to travel with Em if I'm teaching or speaking at a university or conference. It depends on the tour and how long it will be, if I have access to folks to assist with Em while I'm at work, and what will be the most ideal experience for my mini-feminista.
What projects are looming on your horizon now?
I'm about to embark on a pretty major life art project, in which I'll be offline for six months. I'm really excited about it. I'm also working on post-production of several films; I just released a queer feminist erotic film based on David Bowie's character Ziggy Stardust. I have several upcoming readings for my book Daddy in San Francisco, New York City, Seattle, and Portland. I'm teaching a three-day, thirty-hour Erotic Film School workshop in NYC this fall. I'm creating a lot of new work right now. I'm working on new book projects, including The DIY Porn Handbook: Documenting Our Own Sexual Revolution. I have a few indie film projects that I'm in the drafting stages of as well.