In 2008 I was wandering around the late, lamented Erotica L.A. when I saw a gaggle of girls closely following porn shepherd Mark Spiegler. One of them seemed familiar, and I realized it was Dylan Ryan, whom I’d seen in a pair of videos by lesbian porn auteur Maria Beatty. What the hell was this woman doing with Spiegler, provisioner of gangbang surfaces to Porn Valley’s various gaperies and creampietoria?
Dylan Ryan is one of the few performers who travels between porn’s generally exclusive circles, such as wifebeater-wearing San Franciscans, thoughtful sex-positive Torontonians, and, er, Hustler. You might not realize it, but all porn is not squeezed from the same tube, and there is far less crossover within porn than there is between porn and basic cable.
So I was interested to hear how Ryan does it.
Gram Ponante: What were your first experiences with porn when you were growing up in Covina (check the water in this working class town to the east of Los Angeles: Syd Blakovich, April Flores, and Ryan all went to the same high school)? Someone’s porn stash? A sexy scene in a mainstream movie?
Dylan Ryan: Two words: BLACK BOX. I always wonder if anyone else’s parents had one of these? It was this receiver that sat on top of the television and had a code. It accessed all the porn channels like Playboy and Skin-o-Max. My parents didn’t have one but my best friend’s parents did and we would have slumber parties with a bunch of us girls, one of us watching the hallway to keep lookout. My friend knew the passcode and we would stay up late watching porn. I remember being mystified as to why the people met and then just started doing it. My most vivid recollection was of some movie where two strangers met on a beach and then about five minutes in just started boning. I remember feeling excited and super confused. It took me awhile to make sense of all of it.
GP: What were you like in high school? How do you think your classmates might remember you?
DR: Ready for the cliche? I was a total dork in high school. Very social though, I was on the dance team, I was a team mascot, on the swim team, ran track… I was in an honors program for my last two years in high school and the program kept us kind of segregated so I didn’t interact with the rest of the school except through sports and dance and “extra-curricular” events like dances and snogging and getting drunk behind the bleachers. I think people would remember me as a dorky social butterfly. One of those girls that everyone sort-of knows. I only had a small handful of really close friends, we all thought we were way too cool for school and preferred to spend our Saturday nights driving to downtown L.A., sneaking into bars with fake IDs. My best friend and I always looked much more mature than our respective ages and we got a huge kick out of getting past security by flirting and lying. High school was a random, strange time. I wanted to fit in whist simultaneously not giving a flying fuck about fitting it. It all feels very surreal when i think back on it…but then I suppose many people could say that about high school, no?
Based on no knowledge whatsoever, I imagine you began your career by modeling. Can you describe the transition in your mind – if there was a transition – between modeling with clothes and without?
DR:Hmmm. Well I actually was more of a dancer than a model. I was pretty androgynous as a young person and while that is very “hip” now, it wasn’t so hot in the early 90′s. I did some modeling when I was 16 and 17 and starting to become more of a woman but I didn’t find much joy in it. I was always a dancer though, classically trained in ballet and danced with a modern dance company and ultimately a hip hop/urban dance company (seriously, no joke). I would say that all the dancing contributed to my comfort with my body and my comfort in my own skin. I wore all manner of revealing costumes but it was less about sexuality than showing the contours of the body. I think I have just never really internalized the shame about nudity that so many have. The first actual nude shots I did of a sexual nature were for Suicide Girls, believe it or not (don’t ask) and I told my boyfriend at the time that they were “artsy” though secretly I dug that they were nude and hot. I even wore pointe shoes in the bathtub for some of them. Naked, wet half hanging out of the bathtub in pointe shoes…really wish I could get my hands on some of those…
GP: You show up in movies all over the spectrum. Please share some insights about the various aspects of the porn world you’ve seen that, say, a contract star for Zero Tolerance may not have experienced. For example, what’s it like on set with Maria Beatty versus what you encountered as a Spiegler Girl?
DR: I like to be un-pindown-able. I get a kick out of defying qualification. You may have noticed… I have been lucky in that I have experienced a lot. My shoots for Maria Beatty, for instance, were extremely interesting. We spent a weekend at this run-down hotel off Grand downtown. We holed up and wandered around aimlessly. The city was hot at that time and felt bleached-out and soulless. I felt very pulled out of time and we were making porn; face-fucking sequences and dripping wax in bathrooms. And Michelle Aston was our cinematographer. It was fairly epic. And then there was Spiegler. He is wonderful. He was like my awesome protective funny uncle who is eccentric and tough on the outside but basically a teddy-bear (don’t tell him I told you that). And working with him was surreal in its own way…I went to my first AVNs with him and we stayed in the same room and I he very generously bought me room service sushi at 3 am and I followed him around the AEE floor like a baby duckling. I was still fairly wide-eyed at that point. That’s big porn business…Maria Beatty, even after all her movies is still niche. And I would imagine that to be the big difference in experiences. Big is more glossy, more stream-lined and craft services table and locations and multiple cameras and acrylic nails. Small is more strange ideas and single cameras and directors taking you for coffee after (though that’s mainstream too) and it’s maybe more arty though that’s not always true… What has been great for me is that, big or small, I have gotten to work on projects that I love. Shoot films and for websites that I think are hot. Show the kind of sex I dig. That’s really universal…maybe the budgets are different and the places where you shoot are cooler…for me though, be it a king-sized royal bed or a bathroom floor, as long as I feel like I’m representing my best self in sex…I’m stoked to be making porn. Period.
Sheesh Gram, these questions are making me WORDY. just saying.
GP: I’m asking the questions here!! Now you’re in school in the Great White North, in Toronto. Do you know Rush?
DR: Of course I know Rush, gotta love Rush. I’ve gotten all kinds of Canadian cultural education since moving here… Poutine, Parliament, Beavers, Liberal ideals… Canada is pretty outstanding.
GP: Let’s try that again. Now you’re a student in the Great White North (which is probably why you said “snogging” a few minutes ago). How out are you at your university with regard to your south of the border porn career?
DR: I’m very out. I’m actually writing my thesis about being a pornstar. Well, sort-of. I’m writing an autoethnographic response to feminist critiques of sex workers, primarily female porn actors. But that just kind-of numbed your brain to say it that way, didn’t it?
GP: No. I just feel bad that you’ve taken on feminist critiques of sex workers. Seems like there’s no convincing there. But I bet people at school find you FASCINATING.
DR: Everyone at school thinks I’m FASCINATING. And they have many questions. It’s pretty cute to see how people respond; it’s all been positive and inquisitive, luckily.
GP: What is your course of study?
DR: I’m getting a Master’s in Social Work. I work with sex workers and hope to teach the world more about sex work as my life’s career.
DR: There is a sweet sex culture in Toronto, especially a BDSM and kink/fetish culture. People in Toronto are super open and sex-positive and I have found that many people I have met are into some aspect of bdsm or kink, which is super hot. I have done a ton of fetish modeling since moving here and have performed at events such as Torture Garden and Nuit Blanche which is an all-night art show where we did a bondage installation. People here have a hugely broad mind for sex and sexuality, there are great play spaces, dungeons and tons of sex workers that are facilitating all the needs of the local population. There are also the Feminist Porn Awards here every year. people ask, “Why Toronto?” and I say it’s really the perfect place for it. Sex is really celebrated and embraced here, it’s fantastic.
GP: One thing I like about porn, as with any art form that is often corrupted, is that people come to it with all sorts of expectations, in addition to a feeling that they are, perhaps, misfits. Then they stick around for a while and meet people that are very similar. So, who have you met that you really admire in the porn world, and why?
DR: Again, I have been ridiculously fortunate to be able to work with and meet so many of the people I look up to in this business… Nina Hartley, Tristan Taormino, Belladonna, April Flores, Jackie Strano, John Stagliano, Eon McKai… And as for meeting people, you are totally right that I have met quite a few other “misfits”. I have met a bunch of other freaks and geeks like myself. Porny people who really like sex and are ever so slightly dorky about it.
Meeting these people is part of why I love my job…the friends and loves I have acquired through doing porn are what makes me so shocked that this is a JOB. Sometimes I finish shooting and think, “I just got paid to hang out with one of my good friends and then shoot a scene, I’m a lucky, lucky lady.” As for why I admire these people as well as countless other co-stars…i’ll say that I love that not only have these people let their freak flag fly but that they made it SEXY. They know they are unique and have special gifts and they use those to their fullest potential. They have been forces to be reckoned with and are proud of it. What’s hotter than that?
GP: Tempe, Arizona. But I wouldn’t want to fuck it. Finally, can you give an example or three about how you learned something you didn’t expect while on set?
DR: Hmmm. My anus immediately springs to mind
GP: – thank you for that –
DR: – I feel like most of what I know about my butt came from shooting…well, actually let me be more specific…most of what I know about anal cleanliness I learned from set…Like the day I did my first on-camera enema for Everything Butt and learned just how much water I could really take and that it comes back out over a loooong period of time, not just an hour but maybe days… There was a mildly embarrassing moment there…Enemas in general have been one of the major things I have learned about and didn’t expect to when I first started in the business. I was actually thinking the other day, in conversation with a friend, that a ton of what I know about sex I learned from making porn. If you think about it, based on sheer numbers alone one would learn a great deal…what you like and don’t like, what cool toys there are, what people you feel comfortable with, what kink you’re into. Just based on exposure (pardon the double entendre) alone, I have become a very sexually self-aware person. I think about it this way: all a person can learn from watching porn I have learned by doing. That’s a lot to learn.
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Hustler’s Untrue Hollywood Stories – Lindsey Lohan; Believing the strangest things – loving the “Sex Mannequin”
See also: Dylan Ryan