“A naked body is forbidden in most public places, while cars and polluting factories are accepted. What does this say about our modern values?” ~ Tommy, Fuck For Forest
“I’ve been asked so many times: “What happened to you to make you get into this line of work?’ My answer is nothing!” ~ The Lady Satine, Pole Dancer, Stripper
“Gay, straight, black, white, purple, I don’t care. The only way my religion would exclude you is if you’re a jackass. Active unkindness will get you red-flagged, but that’s about it.” – Justine Joli, Porn Star
These three people are interesting partially because they’ve gone away from conventional, accepted normal choices to embrace a literally sexy life. They brought their intellect, commitment and spirituality to realms many people wrongly assume exclude them.
They traffic in that most taboo of arenas: sex.
Who is more “moral”— a porn star who will welcome any kind person, or a religious leader who shuns homosexuals?
An artist dancing her way through art school, creating moments of wonder deliberately, or a monk doing dishes in a monastery? A fundamentalist lobbyist trying to stop gays from marrying? How about a group of people who have sex on camera, sell the videos, and donate their hundreds of thousands in profits to organizations that protect rain forests? Deviants or bodhisattvas? Looking for spirituality in different groups rocks.
A recent “Sacred Sunday” class at Abhaya studio in Brooklyn had a theme that matches researching this article. The space there rocks. Huge windows let you rest your gaze over the East River, on the Empire State Building. The teacher was Erik, his theme was Spring.
He told us to remember that life is not so much a problem to be solved: it is a gift to be received. Our job as yogis is to hone our receptivity. Opening ourselves to the multitude of gifts, arms raised above our heads, we breathed in and felt blessed.
He told us that a chrysanthemum never has a crisis of conscience. That each exhalation is a gift to nature. He said desire is not so much a thing to be overcome as it is a blessing to enjoy. It is the very thing that gave us life. The people interviewed here embody that enjoyment. They give their gifts, and receive enrichment.
They are moral: they just don’t confuse morality with conformity. I’m looking for the ways I am unconsciously conforming. Are these people, who clearly didn’t buy mass-produced values, ethically liberated through their life choices?
Tommy from “Fuck For Forest” was ready to talk. This small group of young hippies produce sex images and videos, and then they pay the profit forward to stem the tide of human-induced decay on the planet. They’ve helped forests all over the world. What a different thing to do with your life’s work. At first, conservative ecological groups refused their money.
They pay it elsewhere.
Fuck For Forest is the world’s first eco-porn. And it’s working.
Tommy has a raw, optimistic intelligence. Check it:
ej: “How do you define “God?”
Tommy: “God is for me an individual quest for existential universal questions about life. The word “God” is one of the most confusing words of all time, a little similar to the word “love”. People write songs and poems, have strong ideas or philosophies, and even kill and control each other using both the words. And many times the people do not know how to explain what ‘God’ or ‘love’ really is.”
My teacher, Lama Kathy, said it just about the same way, when I asked her about God in the temple.
ej: “Do you have a relationship to a power greater than you?”
Tommy: “Nature is a power greater than my attachment to my human form. We are all part of nature, even if we try to deny this. And sooner or later we all have to give up our material form and embrace the wholeness of this “one source” of nature. Then, in the end, we are all equal – even if we tried to act as we were better or more important than other humans or animals. And all the money in the world can not change this. I think attachment to our material form is somehow creating the fear of death.”
ej: “Do you pray?”
Tommy: “I pray best when I dance with the stars and the moon – and when I make love.”
ej: “So you reach connection through expressing joy.”
Tommy: “Many humans are afraid of the animal we all have inside. And by denying this side of themselves – they are creating a disconnection from nature. Inside and outside. I know there is a side of reality – not connected to the material. A “spiritual” side. Many of the old tribes and nature connected with it. People knew how to communicate with that side of life. I think many organized religions used this need for spiritual understanding against humanity – to create fear and control. They tell people that having sexual desire or masturbating is a sin, while making people pay money for not going to “hell.” It all seems to me like a cheesy spiritual mafia, manipulating people’s spiritual questions. Keeping people under control. Using “God” or “love” to control people is a very effective way of manipulation.”
Are we being manipulated? I know what it is to see what is on offer from the religion of your family, and question it.
Check the glass stripper heels. These are a monument to moments of excitement during performance. They were painstakingly cast by The Lady Satine as part of her BFA thesis show.
“The work is about performing, sharing, making certain objects iconic. Telling a story about moments in dancing and translating them into material cultures.”
Laura grew up Roman Catholic, and bought most of it until she was 19. It was just after her grandmother’s funeral, and she took confession with a priest who was a close friend of the family. She confessed “normal teenage stuff,” including basic sex and drugs, nothing wild. The priest told her there was a demon in her. That she was going to hell. Having been raised Catholic, I have no doubt at all that this is true. To her credit, Laura walked away, never to return.
“I was asking questions already from a very early age, and that did it for me.”
She finds her spirituality now in an easy, non soul-ruinous mindset.
“Maybe it all is electricity in our brains, but it seems like there has to be something more. Whether its the God particle or a guy with a white beard or a woman going “meep” ala Alanis Morisette, but its nothing I would pray to. I don’t pray, and I was really raised on praying, I would get tucked in at night and said my prayers every night. For me now its like a childhood thing, it seemed good as a kid. For routine and general kindness and good will. But I don’t think its going to have any effect on me after I die.”
What happens when we die? Where are we, with our thoughts on God, sex, and religion? Do these thoughts bring us closer to earth and others, or further away? Is our spirituality a fundamentalist preacher, or a porn star? People have sex. People like watching people have sex. Is this natural expression of love and delight open for viewing, or a private thing, to be hidden?
Is our contemporary cultural belief about sex a little prudish, or open and interested? How does this affect our feelings about our own sexuality? When I told my friend I was writing an article called “Sex Worker Spirituality,” she said “I guess they would need a really strong one.” That is definitely the prevailing belief: yet the people I interviewed seemed happier by a big old margin than many 9-5 commuting types.
Justine Joli is a porn star whose spirituality is one many of us have adapted: the ala carte approach. Once a testifying, speaking-in-tongues Christian Youth Minister, Joli had a change of heart at 13. Life circumstances opened her to the possibility that things were not quite as they seemed. Reading William Gibson affirmed to her: it was time to try something new. That was a beginning. Other life-altering journey work included going to an Ayahuasca ceremony in Peru. She got into the industry in LA in 2000, and stayed.
She has found a place, is self-expressed, and as content as any of us.
Her spirituality is a unique, fun mix.
Justine draws primarily from a mix of voodoo and Hindu traditions. “Hatians brought their gods into Catholicism, I thought I could bring what I relate to into my life. I think there’s no such thing as transcendence: the whole point is taking action.”
Justine is good at what she does, has been nominated for numerous industry awards, and has appeared on the Howard Stern show more than once. She is articulate, funny, and insightful.
Offer me a coffee with Justine or one with a fundamentalist cleric, and it’s a no-brainer.
For one thing, her approach is inclusive and non-judgemental. She has steered clear of a foundational spiritual pitfall: thinking you have found the “right” way. Asked who her practice excludes, she told me nobody.
Asked if she’s ever been “bashed” or given a hard time by a person of “faith” Justine said that she once received a manilla envelope in the mail full of warnings. It took some stalking to get that to her: Justine was not in the habit of giving out her real name, much less her mailing address. The message told her she was defiling her flesh, and sinning. There was a list of local churches attached. Telling her friend in the business about it the next day, the response was: “You got one too? Everybody did.” it would seem that some very holy person was on a mission.
“Other than that, the people from Jesus Loves Porn Stars come up to me once in awhile. Do you know about them?” Apparently there is a group dedicated to saving this particular demographic. They show up at industry functions with some of their saved members, and attempt to convert people.
Justine told me she does believe in something: “Energy must get recycled. We are part of something that is greater than us that is not going to disappear, and is not going away.”
Asked if she prays, she said no. Justine believes that:
“The only way to affect change is to be self aware, realize what’s going on and to change that particular behavior. I reach out in times of duress. I believe that there is something bigger than me but I don’t want to reach out to it.”
I asked her if she has a practice.
“I treat people the way I want, and expect to be treated the same. Thats it. Thats my practice. I live by the golden rule.”
We are all on this planet for a short visit. The choice on how to spend our time is a huge one. There is room for manifestations of spirituality in permutations we cannot even conceive. Treasure appears in the most unlikely places.
Everyone knows earth is a shared space, and we are trashing it. What a joy to see pornography serving primate conservation in Peru. A refuge in Costa Rica has appeared from people lusting after the workers at Fuck For Forest. One of the “seven deadly sins” is bankrolling protected land, and keeping trees and animals safe from harm. This group has literally screwed together a reserve in Brazil. Can anyone condemn that? Nurturing the planet through sharing sex is real. It’s happening. Remember the belief that love could change the world?
ej: “What needs to happen on Earth now?”
Tommy: “We need to learn to take care of the animals and plants and also the children of the world who have no family – before we think about our own attachment. When humanity can unify, work together for a better world, without fighting over “God” or “love”, I think the world will change for the better – for everyone.
ej: “What would you say to someone sexually repressed by their faith, if you knew they would listen?”
Tommy: “Sexuality is a gift from the source of everything. Even the Bible said about the first humans – ‘They were naked, but they had no shame.’ They were created for enjoying nature and each other. Do we really need to feel shame for our body and nature? Is not nudity more natural than fashion? Love and sexuality is the essential energy of life. And our body is as beautiful as a tree or a flower. Why would any God create us naturally sinful or force us to wear clothes?
God is love! Lets make love! Love!”
We could do worse.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Images: Fractured Photography / Fuck For Forest / Bassik / Allan Amato (all photos submitted by author and used with permission)