There is an effortlessness about Oriana Small’s memoir, “Girlvert: A Porno Memoir,” that makes every shocking thing she writes seem both kind and almost clinically bland, like a good doctor delivering a bad diagnosis. She’s getting choked by one of the vilest of Porn Valley’s directors, her stepfather is gleefully showing her pages of her own porn exploits on his computer and asking if she can get him into the adult business, she’s checking her partner’s butt for herpes — and she recounts these things so matter-of-factly and without spin that the reader is surprised to remember that the woman formally known as the porn star Ashley Blue is alive and well, writing this autobiography with real style and humor.
There is ammunition enough to damn all of the adult industry in “Girlvert,” and yet the several years Small spent here, jumping in with both feet — up to her anus! — with then-boyfriend Tyler (he becomes Trent Tesoro the day Small becomes Ashley Blue) were a learning curve. She is able to keep a job for the first time in her life. Granted, the bar in millennial gonzo porn is pretty low and the couple uses the ridiculous amount of cash it (but mostly she, which is the way it works in porn) is suddenly getting mostly for drugs but, by the time Ashley Blue becomes the title character in JM Productions’ “Girlvert” series and the company’s contract star — the face of the organization — she’s … well, she’s way less of a fuckup than she was a few years earlier.
And Small isn’t victimized into the adult industry. After being surprised that World Modeling’s ad in the LA Daily News (20-year-old Small had moved to Hollywood after stints in San Francisco and nearby Moorpark and Thousand Oaks) was for porn — she walked out of the office, then came back with her giddy boyfriend — she became one of the adult industry’s go-to girls for the dirtiest things.
“Ever since high school, I was really into one-night-only sexual encounters. It could be as little as a make-out session or a blowjob. I loved meeting new men and going off somewhere to have sex. I never thought of it as ‘giving it up.’ I got something out of it, too … one thing I felt for certain was that the traditional service industry — waitressing, secretarial work, even lobbying/political activism — was not for me.”
“Girlvert” also serves as a reminder to someone who read Jenna Jameson’s or Tera Patrick‘s books that the porn world is big enough that none of those women, even though they worked in the same decade, ever worked together. And while each tells a story that might be familiar to the other, none is the same. Ashley Blue, for example, would never get called a Pillow Queen, and Jenna Jameson wouldn’t get caught dead shoving her own fist into her mouth.
Perhaps because Small is willing to do just about anything (there is very little Blue did on camera that Small hadn’t already done in real life), “Girlvert” seems the least self-conscious and the most honest of all the porn memoirs featured in this series. She talks about attention from men and its effect on her self esteem, getting burned out on porn, and the role of shame and punishment as an aphrodisiac when delivered in the right doses.
That porn makes use of those things that occur in the wild is often confused with something that porn creates.
Small names a lot of names in “Girlvert,” which helps to secure the narrative in a time and place. We meet JM Productions’ Jeff Steward and prolific director Jim Powers, as well as Max Hardcore, creators of some of the roughest porn the world has ever seen. But she also obscures the names of many with whom she may have had a bad experience or perhaps didn’t secure permission to identify. Among these a longtime porn scholar (or someone who can use the Internet Adult Film Database) can sleuth out Vince Vouyer, Khan Tusion, and Skeeter Kerkove. (Just typing those names right now summons up a colorful palette of rich, first-decade porn dirtbags for me.) We can also find LA Direct Models’ Derek Hay, his former girlfriend Hannah Harper, Missy Monroe, and the tragic, evil Wanker Wang, whom Blue calls “Voltron.”
She also names Dave Naz, the fetish photographer with whom she now lives and who has become a creative partner in the next stage of her life.
“Girlvert” goes further than any porn memoir and yet does not represent itself as a cautionary tale. We can infer a lot of cause and effect — my guess? awful parents — but not once does Small shirk personal responsibility for whatever mayhem she causes.
I asked Small to comment on this review, but she politely declined because she had a heavy workload on the nominating committee for January’s AVN awards. She’s had to watch a lot of transsexual movies. And she is painting a lot more. But I also suspect that she blew her word-load on “Girlvert,” and now it’s up to you, Reader, to swallow it, you filthy whore.