OSU Invites, Then Disinvites Tristan Taormino as Keynote

CORVALLIS, Ore.—Speculation has it that the timorous Beavers at Oregon State University (OSU) rescinded the invitation they had previously extended to noted adult director and sex educator Tristan Taormino to be the keynote speaker at their upcoming Modern Sex conference out of fear that allowing her to speak would displease conservative state legislators and imperil future funding.

The conjecture comes from an unnamed source at OSU who spoke with Taormino’s manager, Colten Tognazzini, following the about face. “I think they're uninviting Tristan because they don't want to have to defend her appearance to conservative legislators,” said the source, who preferred to remain anonymous. That explanation, though speculative, is actually more convincing than the one provided to Tognazzini by the person who delivered the news that Taormino was no longer welcome at the Feb. 15-16 event.

According to a release issued Wednesday by the Taormino camp, Steven Leider, the university’s director of the office of LGBT Outreach and Services contacted Tognazzini Tuesday to say that the conference had come up short on funding. Tognazzini said the Vivid director’s travel had already been booked but that they were certainly willing to work within the constrained budget.  

"We have to cancel Taormino's appearance due to a lack of funding,” Leider then replied. “It has been decided that OSU cannot pay Taormino with general fee dollars, because of the content of her resume and website."

One can only imagine the pause that took place at that point in the conversation or the mental gymnastics undertaken by Tognazzini’s brain as the odd rationale tried to coalesce into something rational. How could the university not have been aware of Taormino’s resume up to that point? If it actually had been unaware of her qualifications, why had she been invited to provide the keynote in the first place?

It was, in fact, a facially absurd comment considering the content of Taormino’s resume, the plethora of information easily available about her, and the fact that OSU had tapped perhaps the perfect person to provide a talk on "Claiming Your Sexual Power.”

Taormino's resume includes seven books she has authored on sex and relationships, 18 anthologies she has edited, numerous television appearances on programs such as CNN, The Discovery Channel and others, and of course her award-winning adult films. She also was a columnist for The Village Voice for nearly ten years and has given more than 75 lectures at top colleges and universities including Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Brown, NYU and Columbia. Her website, http://www.puckerup.com, includes sex education information, advice and information about the films she directs for Vivid Entertainment, one of the largest adult companies in the country and certainly one of the preeminent adult brands in the world.

But all of that was a surprise to OSU even after she had been invited to provide the keynote address for a conference on Modern Sex.

"In my 10 years of booking Tristan at colleges and universities, of course there has been some controversy. But I have never had a university cancel like this last minute," said Tognazzini, following the debacle. "It's not unusual for contract negotiations to drag on. Once they confirmed we should book her travel, I felt comfortable the event was a done deal. I continued to work with them in good faith that a signed contract would be forthcoming. I believe that the conference organizers' hands are tied, and this decision came from much higher up."

Taormino expressed a palpable frustration. "I'm extremely disappointed that OSU has decided to cancel my appearance. I am proud of all the work I do, including the sex education films and feminist pornography I make," said Taormino. "The talk I planned to give at this conference, titled "Claiming Your Sexual Power," has nothing to do with porn, but the porn is such an easy target for anti-sex conservatives and censors. I find it ironic that one of the missions of the conference is to understand diverse perspectives of sexuality. Apparently, my perspective—one of educating and empowering people around their sexuality—isn't welcome at OSU."
One implication in her remarks is that it is the students who will lose out by not being exposed to a full range of perspectives, but all is not lost. OSU students and others who want to hear Taormino speak will have the opportunity Feb. 13-14, when she teaches two workshops at She Bop in Portland.

"She Bop supports a healthy perspective on sex and sexuality and we are proud to have Tristan Taormino present two years in a row at our shop in Portland,” said She Bop co-owners Jeneen Doumitt and Evy Cowan. “Tristan is a leading educator paving the way for others to help break down the stigma around sex in this country. It is part of our mission as a female friendly adult shop to support sexual empowerment and growth."

For more information about that appearance, visit www.sheboptheshop.com.