On Show: An Interview with a Webcam Model
Carrick McDonald talks to webcam model Jenna Thalia about the politics of performance, bossy clients, and coming to terms with her bisexuality.
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There are endless debates against and in favor of pornography, and both sides are sometimes prone to forget that it’s people that drive the industry. I’ve always been fascinated by the people in front of the cameras. Growing up feeling shy and self-conscious, I couldn’t fathom the thought of being naked and sexual for an audience, and I always found myself curious about the experience of being in pornography.
There is an overlap between talking about pornography and talking about hidden lives. People who do pornography for a living are often stereotyped and stigmatized the same way members of the LGBT community are, looking over their shoulder after every handshake.
My first thought when asked to participate in the Polari Magazine August special was to have a dialogue with a newer friend of mine, Jenna. She identified herself to me in conversation as bisexual and a webcam model. I wondered immediately how this affected the other aspects of her life, so I asked her.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Start by telling me a little about yourself.
My name is Jenna. My pseudonym is Jenna Thalia. I am a webcam model, which is like the one-man-band of pornography.
How did you start doing this?
Well, I’m an exhibitionist. When I lived in Chicago in 2010, I borrowed my friend’s laptop and realized I’d never used a webcam before so I got onto some webcam chatrooms just to see what it was like. In such chatrooms I was instantly bombarded with requests and demands to take my clothes off and realized almost as quickly that I loved it. I did it for free for years. I got a job offer with this year. So it started out just for funsies, but it became something I could get paid to do, which is always nice, getting paid to do what you would be doing for free anyway.
Absolutely. If you don’t mind sharing, is your income from modeling your primary income?
It is, but I need a “normal” job. I can’t really work that much because I live with my parents.
And do they know about the modeling?
They know I used to do it, but they think I quit. I did slow down a lot, but I’m not going to stop. It’s like watching porn for me in that, if I need to get off on my own, I kind of need to be on camera.
You said you were an exhibitionist and did it for your personal enjoyment for years. I’m going to go on a tangent here so come with me.
I’ve noticed that in the last few years, our cultural moment is sort of welcoming pornography into the mainstream. It reminds me a lot of the mid-seventies porn chic era, where people would discuss films like Deep Throat and Debbie Does Dallas the same way they would Taxi Driver.
And much like that era, the actual humans involved in pornography seem to have clearer voices. But there’s still a stereotype of people involved in pornography as being dependent on it for economic survival, or victims. People are mystified that people might enjoy being looked at in a sexual connotation. How do people react when the topic comes up? You seem pretty open about what you do but are you this open with everyone you encounter?
That’s very true. In the ’70s, as far as I understand it, the porn industry was being more welcomed and the producers, directors, and male performers had a growing voice, but a lot of the women did not. A lot of women in porn back then really were pretty sad and came from very broken beginnings, but that’s just not the case anymore. Today women are more valued than ever, despite what a lot of people say.
I’m pretty open about what I do because honestly, it feeds back into the exhibitionism. I crave that exposure, that response from people who are just puzzled or speechless. But what I’ve noticed, and really enjoy, is that I’m often met with praise and/or curiosity. Although I do a lot of times have people that clearly feel sorry for me, I always tell them I love what I do. Don’t worry. I didn’t get Jodie Fostered into it.
I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but I feel like America is just shrugging in the face of things that, a decade before, would have made someone a pariah.
True, the internet has a lot to do with that.
Growing up, someone like Jenna Jameson was a well-known name, and over the years she went from being an easy punchline for middle schoolers into a financial juggernaut and cultural icon. I just looked up a memoir she wrote that became an instant bestseller. People are watching porn but they don’t want to admit it. Polari is based in England. How would you characterize American attitudes towards things that are unabashedly erotic?
Although we are not as bad as many countries, Americans are still taught to be somewhat ashamed of their sexuality regardless of how mainstream it may or may not be. I think a lot of that is messages about being private being misinterpreted as being ashamed, especially for women. In this country it seems like women are taught to pretend like we don’t enjoy sex, like we don’t masturbate, as if having any libido is weakness. That really makes me sad.
Our culture needs people like Jenna Jameson because she doesn’t pretend to be anything that she isn’t. Not only is she unashamed to be a sexual being, but she’s proud of it. That just isn’t very common for American women, but I’d like to think that is slowly changing.
I think so too. I would say with the rebirth of porn chic, there is also a resurgence in feminist thinking. From what I’ve gathered, there’s an almost equal divide between pro and anti-porn camps. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Not at all, honestly. Granted I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I’ve been called a misogynist a lot more than a feminist. I think women deserve equality but I don’t think they are superior.
My biggest qualm about the vocal minority of newer feminists is that their message is very muddled. Like you, I’m all about equality between sexes, but there are a lot of weird people making cartoonish statements in the name of feminism, almost as if they are allowed to define how others should act. Have you encountered any of these people? If so, how do they react when they hear about your modeling?
The self-proclaimed feminists that I’ve encountered are actually all about my being a webcam model. I kind of attribute that to the fact that it’s not traditional, guy-on-girl porn. It’s a woman being her own boss, getting herself off, independently, which is pretty damn feminist if you ask me.
And I must admit, it is a rather empowering experience, to feel in charge of your own body in an industry that can so easily become objectifying.
That’s been my take on it too. I’m probably encountering the wrong feminists. Now, do you interact with viewers or is it pretty one-way?
I do. I’m all about my audience. Not all models are like that. In fact, the reason I switched from the website I was working for to the one I am currently working for is because with my current site I can put on a show for everybody as soon as my tip goal is met, where most sites require you to go private for a show. If nobody is talking to me in my chatroom, I’ve been known to recruit my friends just to have somebody to talk to while I wait for tips to start coming in.
Most people that prefer webcam-porn to recorded porn do so because of the opportunity for interaction. And I love meeting new people and learning about their individual kinks and preferences. It’s fascinating when strangers pour their heart out about what is clearly their most intimate secrets. Learning about what fetishes are popular… I love sexual psychology!
I imagine you encounter a lot of common fetishes like BDSM and feet and certain ways of dressing. Do you ever get any requests that are way out of left field?
Yeah haha, like the smoking fetishists. That is one that makes me giggle, but I love it. I met this man who was willing to pay me hundreds of dollars for videos of me chain smoking. He found my page when I had a cold and was in love with me for a week. He’d tell me “wow, you have a REALLY nice cough for your age.” Also granny-panties are a thing now. I’ve gotten requests for that and it always surprises me.
Panty stuffing, a strange one… I’m pretty open to try things once though. I’m so curious about everything. I suppose that makes me a kinkster.
I imagine people on these sites have to invest a bit more time and money into them than just regular pornography, so it eliminates the rubber neckers. Do you ever get assholes? How do you deal with them?
Well, the site I work for is a free-to-join, free-to-watch site. There are assholes but not that many. I usually just kick them from my page right away, but you have to be pretty epic for me to do that.
You could insult me for example, and I’ll probably just laugh or make a sad face – man, they love my sad face! – but the other day somebody decided it would be a good idea to post a bunch of photos of… bowel matter in my chatroom. And that’s just unacceptable.
You identify as bisexual, and I do too. From one to another, how does that affect your modeling, and your life? How do people react when they find out?
Well, for a while there I was identifying as “hetero-flexible” and only recently accepted that I’m bisexual. People think it’s a phase, because there is no way somebody could be equally attracted to both genders. Except… yes we can! I only came out about that this year.
It doesn’t really affect my modeling that much but my modeling certainly affected my… mild identity crisis about my sexuality. I started facing the fact that I was watching women on camera and strictly lesbian pornography, and had to actually address that for once. People thinking it is a phase is insanely annoying. Yeah, I thought it was a phase when I was like … 13 years old. Eleven years later and I still like boobs AND beards. A lot of people react like I’m telling them I’m a slut.
I’ve noticed, aside from dismissing it as a phase, people think it’s super sexy when a woman is bisexual and gross when it’s a dude. There’s also an innate distrust of bisexuals. Like we’re going to steal your girlfriend, steal your boyfriend, empty your bank account and ride off in your car, to our next host. Maybe we are. I don’t know.
I wish I was that bad ass. Yeah, men don’t have it as easy as women do in that realm. It’s bullshit. You’re one of the only openly bisexual men I’ve ever met, it’s refreshing.
It was a long time coming. I used to whisper the word, alone in my car, with the music turned up so I couldn’t hear it. Now I just don’t care. I don’t even like throwing a label on it. People like what they like and owe no explanation.
Granny panties or otherwise. Do you have any parting words?
Sexuality is fluid.
And fuck the haters?
Fuck the haters. You’re doing the Lord’s work and you’re a peach for doing this interview. Thanks again.
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