The icon of Linda Lovelace stands in the public pantheon of soiled virgins right along with Marilyn Monroe, Lindsay Lohan, and Miley Cyrus. A living, breathing, multidimensional Linda existed at one point — a young woman with a strong libido and a survival instinct as big as the north Atlantic — but the minute the western world saw her suck dick in front of a camera, it claimed her body as public property and flattened her out of existence.
In both her personal and public life, Linda was allowed to occupy the space of a territory and not a person. She was stolen first from her parents by Chuck Traynor’s alpha-male conquest, later skirmished over in the battle between second wave feminists and porn-hawkers for sexual liberation, now jerked off on by filmmakers and journalists so far removed from the realities of oppression that kicking the body of a bullied woman (after buying her flowers, of course) for reputation and profit looks the same as cultural rebellion to them.
Despite all the tellings and retellings of the defilement of sweet Linda Boreman by men of fortune and integrity, we just can’t seem to get the questions right. Did she or did she not *agree* to fuck a dog? Was her smile in Deep Throat real? How much of the abuse narrated in her autobiography actually happened, and how much was the result of the distorted perceptions of a traumatized woman under the influence of femme-nazi propagandists? How many times was she gang raped? By how many guys? How big were their dicks? What *really* happened in the Playboy pool, anyway?
It doesn’t fucking matter. Because when we ask these questions we aren’t looking for the truth. We’re looking for ways to hide the truth from our rigid American moral consciousnesses. We’re asking for the truth to be delivered to us in the form of spectacle so we can get our rocks off to it without feeling dirty (or, depending on what we’re into, so we can feel dirty but not responsible).
What if we owned up to the truth? What if we pulled back the curtain? What if we acknowledged that it’s easier for us to accept the reality of a woman giving head on screen with fresh bruises from domestic violence, or the image of her nubile, sassy, ’70s body being brutally raped in a biopic, than the reality that we have a physical, sometimes sexy, response to images like that? What if we acknowledged that a major component of American sexuality involves hiding our desires from the omnipresent eye of mommy, and that as long as we keep ourselves hidden we cannot call ourselves capable of free expression, and we cannot provide sex workers and performers with the autonomy, safety and respect they deserve? Deep Throat ushered porn into the mainstream, but how much porn pushes us forward depends on how we make, use and respond to it.
Linda Lovelace was a unique and talented performer. She was, by all accounts, sweet and sexy and adventurous and fun. But she entered sex work because she didn’t have any other choice. She was forced to develop a persona and sexuality that was tailored to keep her abuser happy. Those are painful and confusing truths to acknowledge for those of us who grew up getting off to her image. What should be clear from any perspective, however, is that she deserved a different setting for her public sexual coming of age: a world where a young, curious, exhibitionistic woman can have her cake and eat it, too. A world full of safety, sanity, consent, and boundaries as well as filty, filthy sex.