This article by reporter Jason Lyon originally ran in the June 2015 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the magazine online.
Pictured here: Club 90 members Veronica Hart, Veronica Vera, Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle on the red carpet at CineKink festival; photograph by Stacie Joy.
You’ve heard this part of the adult industry’s story before: In the early 1980s the adult film industry left the streets of New York and relocated to the sunnier skies of Los Angeles.
It’s a dramatic plot twist in our industry’s history—especially since it’s true.
But this summary leaves too many deeper stories untold. What did New York City feel like to adult industry members who did not move to L.A.? What are their stories? What is the sexual community in New York like today? And most importantly, what can we learn from their experiences?
This past winter, I traveled to New York to bring some of these tales to the surface. I interviewed veterans of 1970s and 1980s New York—Candida Royalle, Veronica Hart (aka Jane Hamilton), Veronica Vera and Annie Sprinkle—who, along with the late Gloria Leonard, in 1983 created Club 90, the world’s first porn star support group. I met with CineKink founder Lisa Vandever and attended CineKink’s 2015 festival, which in addition to its lineup of sexually explicit films also featured an emotional Club 90 reunion event, a testament to the friendships that have lasted to the present. I spoke with MakeLoveNotPorn.com founder Cindy Gallop. I visited the Museum of Sex and interviewed its curator, Sarah Forbes. And I interviewed Burning Angel founder Joanna Angel and New York-based photographers Barbara Nitke and Nate “Igor” Smith. The story that emerges is not just a compelling chapter in the history of adult films, but also a New York tale of big dreams, hard work, creativity, perseverance and individuality.
It begins with a journey to the place that lies at the center of it all…
Imagining New York of the 1970s and ’80s isn’t easy in today’s Times Square. I’m standing on the corner of 42nd Street and Seventh Avenue, trying to visualize a place Annie Sprinkle described as once being lined with adult theaters, porn stars’ names on marquees and porn premieres complete with Klieg lights. It was a place that for all its drugs, crime and seediness, photographer Barbara Nitke remembers with wistful fondness as a tough but captivating underworld.
All of that is wiped clean nowadays by the neon glare radiating from the Swatch Store, the M&M store and—in perhaps the ultimate stroke of irony—the Disney Store. The location and name may be the same, but everything else about today’s tourist-focused Times Square has changed.
Walk just a few blocks in any direction, though, and the gritty and iconically beautiful New York of fire escapes, walk-up apartments, quirky bookstores, magazine stands, pizza joints, cool cafes and colorful fabric shops re-emerges. This is the writers’ New York, the same city that fascinated those who worked here during the adult film heyday.
“People were not afraid back then,” recalls Veronica Hart, a theater arts graduate from the University of Nevada Las Vegas who began starring in New York’s adult films in the early 1980s. “There was stuff going on around us all the time, but we weren’t aware of it 24/7 like we are now. … It was like: ‘Hey, this is cool, you want to try this? Let’s see what kind of trouble we can stir up!’ And what better place to do that than New York, where you step out the door and you are confronted with so many kinds of people on the street at any time. So you step out into that swirling mob and see what you could shake up.”
With low rents making lower Manhattan an accessible haven for forward-thinking artists in the ’70s and ’80s, this volcanic creative landscape also influenced the lives of those who worked in the adult film industry. Veronica Vera’s entry into New York’s adult community didn’t begin with movies, but with writing.
“I came to New York City to find a job in publishing, failed all the typing tests that were required for entry, and took a job in Wall Street, where I did not need to type. In 1979, my mom died and faced with my first real encounter with mortality, I decided to write or forget my dream to be a writer,” Vera recollects.
Vera met Penthouse Variations editor V.K. McCarty at small New York sex parties, who suggested she try writing for the magazine. Variations purchased her first piece, and so began Veronica Vera’s writing career.
“A lot more adult magazines were published in New York at that time,” recalls Vera. “Besides Penthouse publications, there were Stag, Swan, Chic, High Society, Partner, Gallery—the list was very long. I wrote for a bunch, but my best outlet was Adam. I had met Adam editor Jared Rutter at an orgy birthday party, and since Adam was an L.A.-based publication, I suggested to him that I be Adam’s New York City correspondent. My column ‘Veronica Vera’s New York’ appeared every month for about a dozen years. It became a sort of diary for me, and through it I made myself the star of my own continuing movie. I had no problem dropping my clothes to appear in photos to illustrate my column. That column, more than movies, is really how I established my porn star creds.”
“[In] pre-Disney New York there were so many stories and they were so easy to find,” Vera continues, referring to the corporate “Disneyfication” of present-day Times Square. “I covered 42nd Street … Show World’s live sex shows, strip shows of visiting porn stars, the peep shows where transsexuals worked the booths, the sex workers on street corners, like Lexington Ave and 30th, as well as those in the Meatpacking District, the swingers at Plato’s Retreat, the Harmony Burlesque where lap dancing was born; the S&M clubs—Hellfire (later the Vault) and Paddles, ‘the friendly S/M Club.’ I wrote about individual artists and entrepreneurs. There were so many wonderful stories, and as a writer the stories were irresistible treasures. As a sexual adventurer and exhibitionist, I’d found an amazing playland, and since I wrote the articles, I could make my own interpretations, sort of my own scripts. I carried a tape recorder and was often accompanied by a photographer. Sometimes the photographer was Annie [Sprinkle], and there were others. My articles are a good part of the research material used to plan New York’s Museum of Sex.”
Vera made her first adult film, Consenting Adults, through her connection with Annie Sprinkle, whose enthusiasm for New York persists to this day.
“I had a big love affair with New York,” says Sprinkle, “and went there when I was eighteen to be with Gerard Damiano, the director of Deep Throat. I lived there for twenty-two years from ’73 to ’95. I was from California, and I remember coming over through JFK [airport] at eighteen years old and I fell in love at first sight.”
“We shot on film, and I was really interested in exploring sex and film together. So of course I ended up in porn,” Sprinkle recounts. “My parents were activists in civil rights and anti-war [movements], and I came from a political activist background. My parents were educators—so I’m very interested in sex education, and the arts. So between art, education, and the politics [New York] was made for me. New York was the capital. It was the center. It was the place.”
In describing Times Square Sprinkle says, “I had the big premiere of Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle there. We had Klieg lights and five hundred people, applause and press—and of course the New York Post used to run ads for some of the films. And there were ads for porn movies just like there were any other kinds of film at that time. … There were a lot of New York University graduates making films. They just got out of film school and wanted to try shooting. Everyone thinks they can make a better porn film,” Sprinkle laughs.
New York native Candida Royalle attended New York’s High School of Art and Design, the Parsons School of Design, and the City College of New York, where she majored in art and psychology. Moving to San Francisco in 1972, she became active in underground theater.
“I always liked people who were different,” says Royalle, “who dared to think for themselves and are more Bohemian. So my influences really came from a lot of different places, including the San Francisco and Los Angeles punk scene, the theater scene, and the art scene.”
After six years in San Francisco and two years in Los Angeles, Royalle moved back to New York.
“I wanted to get back to my home town. I decided I would go back and make a few more movies that I could feel proud of, because that really was where the best movies were being made at the time.”
Royalle starred in films by directors such as Chick Vincent and Henri Pachard. Uninterested in the seedy nature of some adult New York clubs, Royalle managed to do live performance her own way: ”I trained in dance and voice, and so I put together this really fun burlesque show. I used to call it ‘Gypsy Rose Lee Meets Isadora Duncan’, and I did about maybe five shows around the country.”
“The closest I ever came to swing clubs and sex-positive places was when I would go to some of the clubs to write articles about them,” Royalle tells me, “because one of the ways I made a living between the time I [stopped performing] and stepped behind the camera was I wrote for a lot of men’s magazines. I had a regular column in High Society and Cheri, and I did a really fun piece about my career for High Times. I love writing, and so that’s how I made my living for a while.”
Royalle continues, “My friends were really from so many different walks of life. My friends were from the theater. They were writers and artists, and I definitely had a bunch of very close girlfriends from the adult industry.”
“I always felt a family feeling,” recalls Barbara Nitke, a still photographer on porn sets in the 1970s and ’80s. (Nitke’s book American Ecstasy is one of the most exquisite documents of New York’s adult film scene.) “It would be hard for me to say exactly what caused it, but I think in a way part of it was that we were outlaws. Were outsiders. We were a subculture. I don’t want to make it too dramatic, but … we only had each other. We were banded together in this shared world that nobody really understood except for us because I think we all felt that our world was often misunderstood by the people outside of it.”
“There was a real sense of people looking out for each other,” says Nitke. “You would be on one shoot and everybody would tell each other who was doing the next shoot so that we could all get jobs on it. If there was somebody who was not good to work for, the word would go out. People would know that right away. Banding together, looking out for each other—that was very nice.”
“Absolutely,” replies Veronica Hart, when I ask her if New York’s adult industry had a sense of family to it, “but that wasn’t only true then. It’s also true now. The difference is our family has gotten huge, as all families grow. Back then we were outlaws. So we were a kind of band of brothers—a band of naked brothers, if you will!—heading toward one goal: the idea to make a particular film.”
“We’ve always been one big dysfunctional family,” continues Hart. “And what I [mean] is that every family is dysfunctional. One of the big huge fairy tales we’ve all been fed in this life is that there’s a perfect family. Perfect families don’t exist. I have yet to find anything perfect about humans except that they are perfectly human, which makes them filled with imperfections. So having said that, we were one big, fun dysfunctional family then—and we are now. It’s just a lot bigger, and now it’s for the most part legal.”
The Industry Leaves
The downtown Manhattan neighborhood known as SoHo (South of Houston Street) is a remarkable place. Here, the grid pattern that defines the streets of Midtown begins to ever-so-slightly fall inward as one nears Manhattan’s southern tip. Cobblestones replace asphalt on narrow alleys, and the numbered streets disappear into named roads cutting through a quaint, tightly packed storybook warren of lofts, art galleries and little shops.
I’ve come here to see Irreverent: A Celebration of Censorship, an exhibition at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in which six of Barbara Nitke’s black-and-white photographs of New York’s underground S&M scene from the mid-1990s are included. They are beautifully dark, atmospheric, and intensely personal—and they come from a time after the adult film industry that was Barbara Nitke’s home for so many years had already left New York for California.
“It felt really sad, because it was like my family,” Nitke says. “It was the place I felt most at home in the world.
“I could have moved out. I probably would have had tons of work. But you know, I just don’t like L.A. So I ended up staying here. It was probably the best thing for me, but really it was hard.”
Nitke soon found a new community.
“I ended up going into fetish porn, and then I ended up going into the BDSM world. So I found a different underground … I started to work in that world, which was very scary to me in the beginning, and then it became another home for me.”
Veronica Hart moved to Los Angeles in the early 1990s, where she directed rich, plot-driven productions for VCA—including Ginger Lynn’s comeback movies—and produced projects for Michael Ninn and the Adam & Eve Channel. She described for me some aspects of the industry’s New York-to-California transition: “The two main places where things happened were San Francisco and New York City. Those were the two places that people converged upon to make movies. Sometime after the Freeman Law [People of California Vs. Harold Freeman, 1987] came into effect, the movie business effectively moved from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. You really saw a shift away from New York. There were still some pornographers there, but they were mainly fetish filmmakers.”
Unlike other industries that leave behind hollow-out factories, shuttered mills and decaying warehouses, what remained was an independent spirit and a love of the city that inspired some who stayed to launch courageous new ventures.
“It was four years between the time that I left being in front of the camera and stepped behind the camera,” says Candida Royalle, who founded the ground-breaking, New York-based, woman-focused adult film studio Femme Productions in 1984. “An awful lot happened. That was 1980-1984, and that was a pretty pivotal time in the sense that there were so many changes, not the least of which was of course the AIDS crisis. But also a lot of things changed. I think the changeover in terms of style and music and fashion from the ’70s to the ’80s is relatively dramatic compared to some of the other decades.”
“I think it was very noticeable that people were leaving New York and moving out to California, where production companies were just setting up shop like crazy, and people were picking up video cameras and suddenly they were filmmakers,” continues Royalle. “Los Angeles became the go-to place because there were so many beautiful young women flocking to Los Angeles to get into the straight movies. So that was very noticeable, but I personally didn’t mind. In fact I kind of liked it, because other than the fact that it made it a little more difficult to cast people, I liked that I was one of the few production companies that stayed in New York. I think it really helped set me apart from the mainstream of adult porn, and it helped me establish how different Femme was in terms of look, style, and concept.”
Royalle shot eight movies in New York between 1984 and 1992. When Adam and Eve became Femme’s distributor, she shot some of the movies in L.A. as well.
“So we kind of mixed it up then. I did some in New York and some in L.A. But again, there is a danger—when you shot in L.A. you really ran the danger of your movies looking just like all the other L.A. porn movies.”
Veronica Vera’s story appears to have taken a dramatic turn after the adult industry left the city. But reading Vera’s book Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want To Be Girls—titled after the cross-dressing academy of the same name that she founded in the early 1990s—and in written correspondence to me, Vera describes her evolution as a natural next step in her New York-based voyage of sexual discovery. Describing her school on MissVera.com as “the world’s first transgender academy and foremost crossdressing service, located in New York City and known across the globe,” Vera writes to me, “There would be no Miss Vera’s Finishing School if I had not had my earlier career as a porn star.” Not only did her career in adult film liberate her from a strict Catholic upbringing; it also led her to meet “others who were committed to exploring sex not simply as a way to make money, but for idealistic reasons, promoting sexual knowledge over sexual ignorance; dedication to sexual freedom.” And it also was the impetus for starting the school, which began as “a sideline to finance a memoir about my work in porn.”
Vera writes, “New York’s rich underground sex scene was a great incubator. The print publications: magazines and newspapers Screw and Transvestian (where I placed my first Academy ad) were on newsstands and connected people prior to the internet, and perhaps in an even more personal way.”
And finally, she explains, “New York is a very ‘live and let live’ city. The streets are so crowded, the pace so fast, people come to this city and feel free. A lot of my students visit from out of town and feel safe going out and about en femme because nobody knows them. Plus, New York is a great city in which to walk and feel the wind up your skirts.”
Meanwhile, across the East River in Brooklyn, a new studio was born on the rooftops of Williamsburg at the turn of the new millennium. Joanna Angel writes, “Burning Angel originated in a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was full of hipsters back then—now it’s more full of yuppies. When we were there, there were lots of coffee shops, vintage clothing stores, little restaurants, and a mix of dive bars along with a few ‘gastro pubs’ or mixology bars, which at the time wasn’t even a real category yet.”
Even though all of Burning Angel’s films are now shot in Los Angeles, Angel believes the company’s New York roots contribute to its style. She writes, “We shot on a lot of roof tops because we didn’t have much of a budget for locations back then and it gave Burning Angel this real ‘Brooklyn’ feel. Our talent was different, our crew was different, and just not being part of Porn Valley in our early days helped us establish our own style without knowing or caring about what anyone else was doing. I loved New York then and I still love it now.”
The Anthology Film Archives is an imposing building. Sitting on the corner of Second Avenue and 2nd Street in lower Manhattan’s Bowery district, its brick edifice is made even more stern by its frowning Romanesque-arched windows and front door covered with a metal grate. But walk inside, climb the winding staircase up two flights, and enter the large movie theater, and all is warm and full of excitement on this cold February night.
The 2015 CineKink Festival has begun.
New York-based CineKink’s origins are deeply rooted in New York’s ever-changing BDSM community. Founder Lisa Vandever moved to New York from the West Coast in 1996, with a background in film and a growing interest in the BDSM sex world.
“I ended up getting in with the Eulenspeigel Society,” Vandever says, “the oldest and largest BDSM organization in the county. I fell into running their film series, and we expanded that into the film festival. I really loved doing it. [But soon] my own interests were evolving, and I also was feeling an ownership and wanted more control. I came up with the thought of CineKink and it took off from there. It started out with a much smaller festival—Thursday through Sunday—and ever since expanded to nearly a week and filmmakers coming in from all over to support their works.”
The audiences at the CineKink consist of women, men and couples of all ages, mostly dressed in casual urban-hip. As I attend showings throughout the weekend, I watch creative, fun, artistic, sometimes disturbing, and bravely original adult content on a big screen in the company of an open-minded, curious and good-humored audience. Thinking back to the stereotypical rain-coated male audience so often associated with New York’s adult theaters of the 1970s and ’80s, all I can think is Look how far we’ve come.
“You can share these movies online,” CineKink founder Lisa Vandever tells me, “but bringing together people in a common space … that is a different experience. I tend to emphasize that because the image people have in their head is that raincoat guy, the creepy guy. [But here] there are women and [people of] all ages.”
While the CineKink Festival stirs up the Bowery, twenty blocks uptown New York’s Museum of Sex is hosting three concurrent exhibitions in its home not far from the Empire State Building: Funland—Pleasures and Perils of the Erotic Fairground, The Eve of Porn—Linda Lovelace and The Sex Lives of Animals, and Spotlight on the Permanent Collection. Founded in 2002, the museum features exhibit galleries, a bar and café, and a gift shop stocked with books, sex toys, and gifts.
Speaking with Museum of Sex Curator Sarah Forbes by phone before my visit, she tells me, “Our mission is to present and preserve the history surrounding sex and sexuality. We hope the exhibitions we create will contribute to the larger discourse. So that mission goes to being a part of a very multi-disciplinary conversation. All of our exhibitions start from art, history, and science. It’s a mixture of everything because the subject of sex is really a subject of everything. And so as the museum’s curator, we’re preserving collections that other institutions would not. These are the artifacts that unfortunately just don’t get saved with time … We’re just constantly changing and reinventing ourselves. It’s a very exciting institution to be a part of.”
As I browse the exhibits, I learn about Linda Lovelace’s complex relationship with both the adult film industry and the feminist movement through photographs, films, and artifacts. I’m guided through a sex-themed funhouse. I learn about the strange and fascinating non-procreative sex that exists in the animal kingdom. And I explore the permanent collection, featuring an etching by Picasso, artwork by Keith Haring, Victorian “Fancy Books” and other artifacts both disturbing and compelling. All of it is presented in a non-critical light.
“We are presenting not necessarily an opinion,” Forbes told me. “We present all this information on various subjects, and then we ask people to learn from that and then think about it on their own and create their own opinions.”
I ask Sarah Forbes if there is a “sexual community” in today’s New York. She replies, “I think it’s more beneficial to not think of it as one community, but to think about all of the communities that touch upon this topic. I go to all of the art shows, and it’s [about] reaching out and having conversations, [asking] ‘Are you making anything that has to do with sex or gender?’ Those are the most interesting conversations that happen. Or dealing with somebody who’s working in the field of technology: ‘How do you think about sex and technology?’ So they’re not necessarily identifying themselves as a sex community, but they’re absolutely dealing with the subject and themes, and the creation of things that represent these ideas.
“It’s creating this conversation,” Forbes adds, “and bringing divergent voices together that maybe don’t even realize that these amazing collaborations are possible. And so in all of the exhibitions I create, I try to mine all these different places. And its not always the places you would most obviously associate with sex.”
Cindy Gallop, founder of New York-based MakeLoveNotPorn.com, shares similar views about the collaborative potential of today’s New York City. “Pro-sex, pro-porn, pro-knowing the difference” is her company’s motto, and speaking with Gallop by phone is an inspiring experience in itself. Bold ideas and philosophies spill into her conversation at a frenetic pace.
“I absolutely adore New York City,” says British-born Gallop, “I moved here seventeen years ago to start up the US office of the advertising agency I used to work for, and very soon after I found my spiritual home. I’m never going back to London. I’m here for life. So I am a New Yorker through and through.”
“Where you come from and where you ground yourself inevitably has an impact on any industry. That’s the reason I began [asking]: what if the porn industry was centered in New York City? I just thought there would be a whole different character. There would be a whole different approach to innovation and disruption and creativity.”
“I also find it interesting because as a tech entrepreneur, what I’m seeing is the way that New York is developing as a center of tech and entrepreneurial activity to rival Silicon Valley, but developing in a very different way … The reason the New York tech industry is so thriving and vibrant and different from Silicon Valley is because in the Bay Area everybody works in tech. Here, New York is the center of many, many different industries, all juxtaposed and cross-pollinating and feeding each other. New York is the financial center—Wall Street. It’s the center of the ad industry—Madison Avenue. It’s the center of fashion—the Fashion District. And all of those industries feed each other. Talent crosses over, and together they form a very inspiring, stimulating environment that means that you have really interesting tech start-ups coming out of New York. … And what is happening here in New York in the adult world is really interesting—really innovative ventures, and content, and creations that I think are a function of the inspiring, stimulating New York environment that they come out of.”
“Both within the New York tech community and the New York adult venture community and creative community,” continues Gallop, “is a real desire to competitively collaborate, to help lift everybody up in a way that lifts every one of us up. And I think that’s something that happens when you are operating in an environment that has people from many different industries coming together and bringing many different skills and talents to the table, versus a monolithic tech industry.”
Like many cities, however, New York’s skyrocketing real-estate market makes it difficult to make a living as an artist. Photographer Nate “Igor” Smith moved to New York City in 2006 and regularly photographs New York’s party and music scene, as well as members of America’s porn community in portraits and event photos on his site DrivenByBoredom.com. Responding to questions by email, Smith writes, “I have wanted to live in New York City since I was a little kid. I was managing a band at the time and we were in New York nearly every other weekend. So it just made sense to finally make the move. I used to take photos constantly, but New York was the first place where people wanted to pay to see them. The parties were really crazy when I first move to New York, so shooting them was not only inspiring, but also people actually wanted to see the photos, instead of the photos I was shooting of my friends and their bands in D.C. and Richmond, Virginia, where I had lived previously.”
“I think the big thing with New York is that it’s pretty hard to live there,” says Smith, “and that forces people to dedicate themselves to their passions. No one wants to work three jobs just to pay rent and then not focus on their dreams. When I moved to New York City I was a busboy and every second I wasn’t at that horrible fucking job I was trying to make it as a photographer so I wouldn’t have to work so hard to live in a small apartment in Brooklyn.”
Asked how the city has changed since the adult industry made it home in the ’70s and ’80s, Smith responds, “The city is so immeasurably different, but it’s still sort of the same story. People used to come to New York and they could afford to live in lower Manhattan because crime was so high and there was a sense of community. You could live cheaply on one or two bar shifts and then spend your time making art—and everyone lived within a mile of everyone else making art. But unlike other places where you can live cheaply, it’s still hard to live. And if you aren’t living your dreams, why put up with the rats and roaches and crime? You have to be doing something you love or you have to get out of the city. Otherwise it’s just not worth it.”
Meanwhile, Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want To Be Girls continues to provide a supportive, fun, and innovative space for cross-dressing explorers. “It’s really pretty,” says Vera about the academy. “We’ve really created kind of a magical space here.… And there’s a lot of energy in this room. There’s been a lot of people who have shared their very intimate parts of themselves and a lot of emotion, and a lot of fun.”
Vera continues, ”When I need more room I’ll rent a larger rehearsal studio. Or I always say: The whole city is our campus. Because New York is a wonderful place to just go all around and explore and be who you want to be.”
City life is supposed to appear small when looking down on it from great heights. But standing on the top of Rockefeller Center on the last day of my New York visit, Manhattan feels grand, majestic, and wonderfully overwhelming. Looking south, the 1930s-era Empire State Building lords over middle Manhattan, while the new Freedom Tower gracefully curves upward toward the clouds above downtown. In between, millions of life stories swirl in motion—intersecting, collaborating, innovating or simply co-existing, but always in a constant state of change.
Annie Sprinkle earned her doctorate in human sexuality and moved away from New York to the West Coast years ago, but she tells me of her time in New York, “I’m from the world of porn. That’s where I grew up. Those were all my wonder years. That’s where I learned how to do press and filmmaking and performance. … So New York definitely informs what I do now [which] is all about eco-sexuality (SexEcology.org).”
Sharing her thoughts on New York’s future, she says: “I wish there was an archive somewhere that can keep the old films in a temperature controlled room … Porn is a record of our society—where it’s at, where it came from. And that’s a historical record. And I think those old films really need to be preserved.”
Candida Royalle describes her vision of New York’s future:
“New York is a place where people are supported and encouraged to do their own thing and do it in their way and their style, and I like that about New York. It’s still that way and my hunch is that one day probably the industry is going to come back here because there’s such a glut of product in the adult industry. Eventually people are going to get bored and start looking for something new and different, and I think New York is the place to do something new and different!
“I think that women’s voices are going to become more powerful,” says Royalle. “I think we’re going to see more female-run studios … I think we’re going to see a return to adult movies and more sexually explicit art in New York. I think the die-hard renegades from the [1970s and ’80s] adult industry liked being part of something kind of fringe and skeevy. And I personally don’t think it has to be that way. I think it can be different and daring and it doesn’t have to be sleazy. It could be still really beautiful and interesting.”
Photographer Barbara Nitke envisions a world where people are not judged “and where it’s just not a big deal what you’re into sexually. That’s the world I’d like to live in, just of respect. And also I like the way a lot of the really young people in their twenties these days are very fluid in their sexuality. Maybe they’re bi or maybe they’re gay. Or maybe they’re a top and tomorrow they’ll be a bottom, and next week they’ll be a girl and yesterday they were a boy—I love that. I hope that’s the future of the world, where people can just be judgment-free and fluid.”
Asked if New York can be that kind of place, Nitke asserts, “If anywhere, it can happen in New York. There is hope for this town, because I think New York is still the melting pot where people come. It’s a lot harder to come here now, though. But where else would people go? So my dream of New York would be that sexual acceptance, but I’d have to add I’d like for it to return to being a place where people actually can come. That there could be some way you could actually come here and get a job and find a way to live here that isn’t overwhelmingly difficult.”
MakeLoveNotPorn founder Cindy Gallop says of her future, “I want to start an incubator accelerator venture fund for radically innovative sex and porn start-ups. I would like to be the Y-combinator of sex, the Y-combinator being the best-known Silicon Valley accelerator, because many of my friends in the porn industry have brilliant ideas. They absolutely want to invent the future of porn. They’re cranking their own content. They’re doing really interesting things. But there is nobody in that sex world that can mentor, coach, advise and finance in the way that there are spaces, accelerator funds and feed funds in tech. … A tiny injection of cash into radically innovated sex and porn start-ups will produce the terms way beyond what Silicon Valley can even dream of. And so it would be wonderful if that was based in New York!
“Let me answer this very specifically,” says Gallop when I ask about her ideal vision of New York’s future, “because when you ask me that question my answer is: this is the New York that I intend to and want to be a part of creating. My favorite quote of all time is [from] Alan Kay: ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’ I’m all about inventing the future. Too many people think the future is something that happens without them, they roll in its wake. I’m all about deciding what you want the future to be and making it happen. So I want to see New York be as thriving a tech center to rival Silicon Valley. Because my background is advertising, I want to see Madison Avenue reinvented as a force for the future, not an outmoded one that it’s definitely fading into. And I would love to see New York be the new center of the adult industry in a very enlightened way, where the most innovative, disruptive and creative adult ventures and the future of porn is coming out of. I would love to see local government understand that the answer to everything wrong about porn is not to shut down but to open up, and to actually welcome innovation the same way it currently does the movie industry. Welcome the adult creative industry in a way that is designed to open up a much healthier, open adult industry. And thereby, by the way, bring a whole bunch more revenue into New York.”
Veronica Vera speaks passionately about celebrating the work of transsexual performers, and she is equally passionate about their contributions when discussing her work. She helps men and women connect with their inner gender icons every day at Miss Vera’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls—in appearance, attitude make-up, voice and style.
In describing visions for New York’s future, she says, “I’d like to see people dressed much more imaginatively, much more colorfully. My vision would be kind of like the return of the hippies! Something where everything is flowing and free and reflects fun and color, and people can have hair as long as they want or as short as they want.”
Vera adds, ”I was once asked to contribute to an anthology that was called How To Make America A Better Place. And my contribution was just that everyone would be encouraged to wear lipstick. Then the world would be full of kisses! So maybe that’s it. Just everyone in New York going around with bright red lips. I like that.”
Veronica Hart’s life has been centered on the West Coast for many years now. Always active in the adult industry, she most recently produces for directors such as Dana Vespoli and James Avalon. Having experienced the adult film world on both coasts, Hart can put past and present in perspective.
“Remember, the only thing that’s constant in our world is that everything changes,” Hart says. “I have a problem with people always going: things were so much better [in the past], and it’s the same way about the porn business. Things weren’t so much better, They were different! And we were younger … It’s not better or worse; it just changes. People are still cool. My best friends are still in the business, or have been in the business, or I met through the business.”
“It sounds like the only constant is change and friendship,” I suggest.
“Yes,” Hart emphatically agrees. “Friendships are the constant. Thank God. Thank God for our friends. You know what this is all about? Learning and loving and helping each other out. And we can do that, whether we’re young or old. We can do it in old New York, new New York—we can do it anywhere. We can be decent human beings.”