Jennie is Still Penny in the Headlines

NEW YORK—The title of former porn star Penny Flame's new book may be I am Jennie, but that doesn't mean the media plans on using her real name in headlines. Today's NY Daily News, for instance, features an excerpt from Jennie Ketcham's book, but the headline—Book excerpt: Porn star 'Penny Flame' takes back her real name, turns her life around—fails to include her real name.

Of course, Jennie Ketcham never really went away, as a person or a name. Both had always been there, lurking in the shadows of her public notoriety, but like many people who achieve a measure of fame using a stage name, more people knew, and know, her as Penny. It's the unavoidable price of fame.

Still, Jennie had long felt the need to move beyond Penny in order to become reacquainted with Jennie. As long ago as 2009, eight years after she entered the adult entertainment industry, the performer announced her intention to leave the industry to deal with issues related to intimacy and drug addiction.

Writing on her new blog at the time, she said, "This blog isn’t about quitting porn and renouncing it, or condemning it. It’s a great industry and makes many, many people happy, pays many folks bills, and makes tons of lonely people feel not so alone. The issue at hand, and with sex addiction, is intimacy. Sex Addiction is an intimacy disorder; a disorder I’ve suffered from since a young age. Sex is simply a means of acting out. I can’t connect with people on an intimate level, regardless of whether or not I am fucking them, and this is a problem.”

Ketcham had also recently appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, so there was a certain synchronicity between her identity epiphany and her expanding résumé, which now includes "author." Perhaps not so ironically, the Daily News excerpt is about Ketcham's experiences on another Dr. Drew show she appeared on, Sober House with Dr. Drew,

In the excerpt, she describes being introduced to a snobby Heidi Fleiss by terrified ex-boyfriend Tom Sizemore. When asked by Fleiss to explain who she was in terms of her celebrity status, Ketcham replied, "I guess I’m famous for being a whore? I used to be a porn star.”

That comment sure sounds like a condemnation of her past career choice, and not a mere description of the work she did, which exemplifies the problem for Jennie going forward. Even for her, even now, her porn past is an inextricable part of her self-identification.

Until she does something in her life that does not further cement the two names (and identities), Jennie will never be free of Penny. Even the title I am Jennie implies the existence of another, unspoken, identity, raising yet a more fundamental issue related to books and reality shows that exploit the identity issues experienced by truly vulnerable celebrities.

To the extent that both the shows and the books are less about treatment and growth than ratings, book sales and reviving stalled or aimless careers, the never-ending loop of interchangeable identities will never be resolved. Just ask Shelley Lubben, who made a handful of porn flicks in the 1990s, but who still refers to herself as a "former porn star" in her ongoing and seemingly eternal career as an anti-porn advocate.

To avoid a similarly pathetic fate, Ketcham should worry less about who she is and more about what she does, and even more to the point, what she does well. Finding real happiness in the wake of a tarnished celebrity is often less about reinventing that celebrity than it is about reinventing one's professional identity.

Until that happens, look for the name "Penny" to stay in any headline about "Jennie."

Image: Jennie Ketcham as Penny Flame, and her new book.