I lived in Mission Viejo, California from 1984 through 1995. In 1994 a native of Mission Viejo, the porn star Savannah, whose real name was Shannon Michelle Wilsey Longoria, committed suicide at the age of 23. She had just crashed her Corvette into a fence in the Universal City section of Los Angeles, while intoxicated. She and her male friend weren’t far from her home at that point, so they walked the rest of the way. Shannon had facial injuries from the crash and got on the phone to get help with these while she sent her friend to walk her dog. When help arrived she had shot herself in the head. Anyone can speculate what emotions played out this way when she saw her broken face. Adult Video News reported her conversation with her manager Nancy Pera just before Shannon killed herself, the essence of that being that Shannon was distraught that she wouldn’t be able to keep a dancing engagement in New York, where she could make up to $5000 in an evening. She needed the money.
The AVN obituary mentions Shannon’s award for Best New Starlet for 1992 which led to many imitations of “her infamous ‘kiss my ass’ acceptance speech”.
Before she could work legally in the adult entertainment industry, she was a music groupie. She lived with Gregg Allman for two years before she was seventeen and had a miscarriage at one point. Her relationship with Allman reportedly ended due to her cocaine and heroin addictions. Axl Rose was also a notable among many other musicians she had sex with, in part because Shannon’s sexual rating of Rose as a 1 on a scale of 1-10 made a tabloid paper.
How Shannon became a music groupie is less publicized. Stories about her reported a rumor of sexual abuse by her stepfather Joe Longoria. The Longorias divorced when Shannon was 2, but he continued to be her father. In any event, at age 13 Shannon was living with her grandparents in Mission Viejo when she learned that Joe Longoria was not her biological father. Mike Wilsey was. After that she became “wild”. The Wikipedia story mentions that it was often the case that Shannon (who hated that name) was looking for a serious relationship through sex, while most of her partners weren’t.
One story quotes Shannon this way about her father: "Where was he (her father) when I was dating Gregg Allman when he was 25 years older than I was? Where was he when I was on heroin? Where was he when I started doing porno movies?”
I first read this story in a long article in the Los Angeles Times. It was sometime after I started Al-Anon in June 1994. There are things about this one can summarize as being something addicts do: blaming others, making bad choices about whom to trust, staying stuck in the same dysfunctional rut, panicking. Then again, we’re all addicted to something. It’s just that some addictions are more functional than others. One thing that stands out in my memory about the LA Times article was how they made a point of how much porn actresses use cocaine before performing. Is that because porn is that awful that they need to be intoxicated? Is it because cocaine works so well toward performing in a way that makes a woman a well-paid star? Is it because only addicts perform porn, as they’re the ones who feel no additional shame about it? So they use cocaine before doing anything?
It gets complicated, but there is an element of this that’s simple – looking for love through sex. I did that in college and for some years after that. Many of my partners were doing that. My ex-wife was doing that. Sometimes when both my partner and I were looking for love through sex, we still didn’t find it in each other. My ex-wife and I found enough love to get married, but not enough love to stay married when things about her I didn’t like didn’t change and things about me she liked did change. Looking for love through sex is not as doomed to failure as looking for love in a bottle or a needle, but it fails often enough. It also succeeds often. How many of us 6 billion human beings are children of love and how many are children of sex? That’s a difficult statistic to come by, but I bet there are some differences between the two groups.
Al-Anon is about being addicted to another person, even if it’s just the memories of an alcoholic parent that one can’t shake or fill with love from someone else. There is a better way to look for love than many of the ways that come to us biologically or through our culture. There is God. No one is taught to look for love in God that well in our culture. Some are convinced God doesn’t exist. Some are convinced God is some system of rules their church enforces. There are many obstacles. 12 steps is one way around those obstacles, but you have to have something worth getting away from to make the leap to being dependent on God that 12 steps entails.
I would say the human condition alone is enough to run from to leap into God’s arms, but not that many see it that way. Not many even think God has arms to leap into. That is a metaphor, of course. What is the reality? It’s something strange.
I forget if it was before or after my road-to-Damascus experience that I visited the closest strip club to Mission Viejo one evening when I was in a bad mood. It was sometime in the late eighties or early nineties. I had been to at least one strip club before then, The Palomino Club in Las Vegas. That was an overwhelming experience where even the waitresses seemed to have stepped out of the pages of Playboy, not the kind of place for a man on a budget like me.
Close to home the strippers were just ordinarily attractive. It wasn’t entirely nude as in Las Vegas, not quite as provocative. I knew going to this club that I wasn’t going to find love there. I was just looking for intoxication and not from alcohol, which I don’t like. I like the intoxication of arousal, whatever chemicals surge in my brain when I see something sexually provocative. Strippers do more than that for me, though. They are real people doing something I understand. For whatever reasons I find it much more interesting to watch women rather than men, in any circumstance. I don’t know that I’ve had strippers as patients or clients, but I’ve had prostitutes as both, maybe even one who was emotionally healthy. They are interesting people with stories that aren’t all tragedy, but are also about how one copes with tragedy.
Then there’s the beauty of women, especially nearly naked women, that seems to hit me differently than just a chemical arousal. I’m sure my whole brain is heterosexual, my perception, my cognition, who knows in how many ways. However it works, I was sure the experience would treat my mood. Who knows how long it would do that, but if I didn’t stay too long, it was worth the money.
So I was settled in, people watching, mostly the women, when something surprised me. It might seem like nothing to most people, but it has stayed with me more than any other memory of the adult entertainment industry. It was a kiss on my left cheek. I can almost see the woman who did that, one of the more mature women there, with lots of curly hair, red maybe.
Like the other women there she put her top back on after her dance and walked among the audience picking up dollar tips. I may have been somewhat cheap, but I wasn’t going to stiff a woman who goes to that much trouble, unlike a few guys there who were either very cheap or out of dollars. Unlike the other women, this woman gave each man a kiss on the cheek when she picked up her dollar. I barely noticed she was doing that until she came to me. Then there was this kiss that I can still feel on my left cheek whenever I want.
My goodness, what was that? My intellect came up with some things, that it’s the traditional price at a kissing booth, that maybe this is her marketing strategy, not that she gets more money at that moment, but maybe for her next dance or another day. Maybe this is her way of being different from the other women. Maybe it’s a control thing, how she can do this kiss that no man will refuse. Maybe she’s genuinely grateful.
My emotions knew something immediately. I am starved for affection. Is she? It’s hard to say. Does she kiss the men just for fun or even some intimacy for herself, as opposed to those thoughts about her strategy? One can do all of that at once, of course.
That I was starved for affection was the most certain of all this. I’d like to write that this little wake-up call made me realize that my need was for affection more than arousal, so then I went out and got the affection I needed after that. Our culture isn’t like that, though. Arousal is easy to buy. Imitation affection is a little harder, but straightforward, if your budget allows that. Real affection is downright expensive, if you can find it at all.
I’ve been helping people all my life. People appreciate being helped, even to the point of an occasional gift, but their love for me is shallow, and I wouldn’t be able to help them well if my need for affection became part of helping them, so both in my career and in my volunteer work there are explicit rules against getting too involved with those I help, so I don’t.
I get along well with my co-workers. A couple of them are the sort of people I appreciate a lot – women who will almost always laugh at something funny I say. I love predictability and when people complement each other. I get awards for what I do, but do I get a kiss on the cheek? No, I don’t. Maybe I could if I asked for one, but it’s not the kiss. The kiss is a symbol of affection. That’s why I still remember that kiss from a stripper, for its symbolism. There is some pleasure in the kiss by itself, but not much to remember. It’s the feeling of being loved that matters, and I didn’t see my getting more of that from this stripper, as much as I appreciated her gesture.
People get so strict about love, as if love has to be this utterly selfless benevolence, based on knowing someone so thoroughly that the other person has proved worthy of this supposedly unconditional love. Well, good luck waiting for that.
It’s no wonder that so many of us settle for less, for a sexual relationship that might have some love in it, maybe more with time. They often don’t, as Shannon Longoria discovered.
So I remember this kiss because it felt like love and helped me realize how much I wanted love, regardless of why this stripper did that. Could she be expressing love with that? In some sense she might be, sure. The fact that she kissed all the men means it wasn’t anything about me, but about love she was giving everyone, if it wasn’t entirely manipulative. I do that differently in my work, but I do that, even to the extent of being a little manipulative myself sometimes. Still love might not have been part of what she was doing. It’s hard to tell from a single moment.
Not many people will just give you many moments so you can see what they’re about. God will. Among the possibilities I thought of for that stripper’s kiss that night, God using her to wake me up was not one of them. It was only later when that kiss kept recurring in my cheek, and God took the credit for it that I was willing to believe that. If God loves me, why shouldn’t She kiss me on the cheek? I’m not one to argue with that. I’m not sure how to explain it to someone else, but that’s true for so many aspects of how I experience God’s presence. It’s all love, and it comes not only with these imposing “I AM GOD” moments, but in so many little everyday things, too, some of which come through other people.
I know how many people think that’s artificial, that I can’t count on God telling me it’s Her kiss I feel any more than I could have counted that this stripper was handing out any real affection when she kissed me. Hey, I grew up hoping for love from every woman I had sex with. God is a better deal than that, even if atheists are right about Him.
I have other stories to say atheists aren’t right. Knowing those, I trust discovering how much God’s love is not a distant, abstract, cerebral thing. I came to God as I did, not only through the particularity of Jesus, but through many experiences. I don’t see any duality of sacred and profane in that, but rather unity. Jesus is in the needy, to help and be helped.
Following some links on the web reminded me of all this the last week. In late January there was a PETA ad that imitated the State of the Union address with a video where a young woman took off her clothes for some reason, good or bad. I found that through links to those who thought the reason was bad, here, here, and here. Comments on those sites were mixed, some thinking a woman taking off her clothes in that way was no big deal while others thought it was degrading to women.
People get very opinionated about sex. The religions of Abraham say sex outside of marriage is always bad, as is some degree of alluding to sex publicly. Many women and some men think the use of women commercially is degrading and manipulative, even more so when those women take their clothes off. All these people think there is shame in public sexuality, some thinking that’s about the women, some thinking that’s about the men who coerce the women to do that. So there is shame in it, because people put shame in it, rightly or wrongly. So women who take their clothes off for money are often like Shannon Longoria, addicts who already feel so much shame that the shame of performing sex for money doesn’t inhibit her. In fact it gives her benefits such that when she’s faced with losing those benefits, even temporarily, she kills herself.
Even addicts have a hard time understanding shame. No one wants to look at this blackest of emotions. People would rather talk about the things that make them feel merely guilty, something they regret doing, not the feeling that they are worthless scum, unloved, unlovable, and a failure at being able to do much about it on their own. People who feel shame medicate themselves, with substance abuse, with food, with distractions by being intellectual or focusing on other people, with hobbies, with losing themselves in work, or with sex.
Sex is a powerful thing. It’s intoxicating all by itself. So is the romance that can go with it. Then it also might lead to something that actually does lessen shame instead of covering it up, love. We know this instinctively and culturally. We act out our knowledge that sex is about love in some way, about union, about empathy, about babies and whatever love that represents to someone.
It’s another impossible survey, but I wonder how many people do look for love through sex. The percentage could be very high in women, maybe surprisingly high in men, something that’s obvious when someone is “virgin stuck” but present a lot more than that phenomenon. If we were good at loving one another just as we are, maybe we could live happily ever after with whomever our first sex is with. Then again even the woman I lost my virginity to had absolutely no interest in a love relationship. I knew that. Some part of my brain didn’t. I adapted, but not without some shame over that “virgin stuck” label.
So I understand the shame associated with sex. I think it could be a lot less in a healthy society, but the reality of this society means there is a lot of shame with sex. I know that when either feminists or fundamentalists see public sex that they find to be degrading, they feel shame themselves or would if they could feel anything. But whose shame is it? I’m sure sometimes whoever is being seen as the victim does feel shame just as those watching expect. But sometimes they don’t, and that’s not always because they’ve medicated themselves not to feel shame.
I doubt that as many as 50% of those working in the adult entertainment industry have overcome their shame in a healthy way. Healthy means it’s stable, has more benefits than negative consequences, and is what a person would choose at their most rational state. I’m sure one could write a long time on that definition if one could actually measure such a thing. God has been a healthy solution to my shame. I don’t care who disagrees with that. You don’t live in me. How many healthy solutions are there? I don’t know. But I don’t think they preclude a woman taking her clothes off for a living or even a political statement.
I don’t know how healthy that stripper was who kissed me on the cheek. She was charming. Was that fake or real? Who can say? One can say that Shannon Longoria was not healthy. She had gotten off of heroin at the time of her death, but was still using cocaine. Plus nothing mental is bad enough to justify suicide. I’ve helped enough people to be sure of that. There is always a living way out. People rarely understand that, or they would have gotten themselves out of a painful situation already. Still it’s true.
But to save the life of someone else like Shannon, how much of our culture needs to be reformed? Let’s see, there’s porn, drugs, music, Hollywood, families, maybe the Mission Viejo schools … it’s easier and maybe more accurate that all of our culture needs to be reformed to be more a culture of love and truth than just the opposite.
Some of those things are harmful. Some are for self-medication. Some are both at the same time. So what happens when you take away the medication? It might be something like Prohibition, where people ignore the law. You don’t get a culture of love and truth by taking away things people use as substitutes for a lack of love and lack of truth in our seriously flawed culture.
Fundamentalist say their subculture provides everything someone would need instead of looking for love through sex before marriage. When has it done that for everyone? It works for some, at the price of what I find to be a false faith, not truth. And I wonder about the capacity of fundamentalists for real love for lots of people, not just those who are behaving well.
Feminists have their own prescriptions. One comment on the PETA video said it would be fine if society had as many male strippers as female strippers. Hmmm, I could close my eyes with the male strippers and just listen to the music. I could make that work if I had to, only I’ve gone to strip clubs once or twice a decade, so no one is keeping their job on my account. It did work for professional tennis to just impose equality on everyone, but I think sex is more complicated.
Most of all I don’t think many of those with opinions about what is degrading know much about shame. People adapt to their shame. It’s that or die. There is no going back to remove the lack of love or other failure that gives people their shame. What you see in the world is people coping, some better than others, some that I admire while some I feel actual hatred for, even though I try to discipline that hatred into something productive.
I admire women who take their clothes off. I don’t know whether such a woman has overcome her shame in a healthy way or a sick way. But I know that I don’t add to her shame. I love everyone, even the ones who insist on being hateful and lying, ignorant and arrogant. I can help anyone in my professional capacity, even if I wouldn’t turn my back on some of my clients in the parking lot or invite them to my home. Real love is not infinite.
I also know that there’s a chance that a woman who takes her clothes off has overcome her shame in a healthy way. I admire such a woman. So I admire all women who take their clothes off. The ones who aren’t doing it out of freedom are facing some major challenge to do that for a living, so I admire their struggle. I’m sure I’m wrong about some of them. It’s not really my choice that I admire all such women, though. I’m a born optimist. Maybe those of you who would take this away are right, but you can’t show that you are right until you can show where the love will come from to replace all the ways that we cope with the world as it is. And you don’t show love with hate and indifference.
Mike Wilsey said this after the death of the daughter he never knew: "People ask me if pornography is wrong. I say you can judge a tree by its fruit."
But what tree are we talking about, the tree of being human and needing love, the tree of not having a good resource for love or model for love, the tree of doing the best we know how to do, which sometimes isn’t very good at all? Wasn’t Shannon your fruit, Mr. Wilsey? We’re all addicts. Someday this will be common knowledge.