Sign up for our newsletter

Stay informed on our latest news!

American History XXX

Interview

OFFICE — Are you really voting for Donald Trump? 

 

COLBY KELLER — I’m going to vote for Trump!

 

O — Why?! 

 

CK — I think he’s a destabilizing force. I’m skeptical of him, too, and who exactly is behind Trump. But given that there’s eternal dissent in the Republican Party, that leads me to believe that whatever he represents might be a destabilizing force. And he’s made a lot of overtures to Russia and China, which in some ways could be thought of as an encouraging thing. I don’t support or endorse any of Trump’s policies. I just think it’ll escalate the problem, which is the best we can hope for. I hope at the very least he’d turn the White House into a reality show. America would tune in, right? And then he could do something nice, like give the money to the National Park Service, because they’re trying to defund it. 

 

O — You’ve made statements on the conservatism of gay culture, and how it’s leaning towards this embrace of heteronormative values—gay marriage, wanting gays to serve in the military, that kind of thing. Do you still think gay culture is moving in that direction? 

 

CK — I’ve been very disappointed in the trajectory of the gay liberation movement. Granted, the movement of the ‘70s was drastically impacted by AIDS, and a significant portion of that population died. But I think there was a certain point where privileged members of our community—gays and lesbians—decided that they could get further by working with corporations, and working within the party system. That tactic was successful, successful in making us good capitalist workers that “imprison” [laughs] heterosexuals around the world. I don’t know what we ultimately get back from that. We surrender a lot of the things that are really liberating and emancipatory about being gay. I love sex, I love bodies, I love sharing my body with other people. There’s an emancipatory thing we can offer. We’ve given up on that vision of what we can accomplish as a culture. I see a lot of kids who are really conservative, and they want a thing, but they don’t know what that thing is. They want a boyfriend and marriage and a house and kids and a white picket fence, and they’re falling into that trap. Sometimes that trap is beautiful, and you do find happiness there. But more often than not, you find misery. 

 

O — You find an American Beauty situation. 

 

CK — [laughs] Exactly. Or you’re not emotionally ready, and you end up learning the hard way, and it hurts. It oftentimes ends up creating a lot of bitterness, and people act out negatively, and that’s not healthy for anyone. 

 

O — Search terms on a porn site often pertain to themes of sexism, misogyny, racism, all of that. How do you reconcile that with your personal…wokeness? 

 

CK — You know, it’s difficult because we’re talking about an industry that exists within capitalism. For instance, there aren’t a lot of models of color, and if you were to ask a producer, they would be like “Oh no, it’s not my choice, we’ve tried, and the videos don’t sell.” They definitely have to play into… 

 

O — What sells. 

 

CK — Yeah. Capitalism creates its own culture that sustains it, and that’s a racist, toxic, misogynistic culture. And there’s no better way of creating a culture under capitalism, there really isn’t. Like, the system itself relies on the exploitation of bodies, and so it’s true. You can’t help, in a business in that system, but to appeal to those negative ways that we structure our desire. You know, I’ve tried in my own personal life to think about different ways of presenting a sexuality that people might find arousing, and maybe that does speak to different values. But I can’t do that alone, and it takes people to help me. 

 

O — Tell me about Colby Does America

 

CK — I’m still working on it, I’ve been traveling the US for about two years. I raised a little money on a crowdfunding site, around forty-three thousand dollars, and then subsequently raised money after that to travel the US and attempt to create at least one video in every state that engages sex or porn. Really, for me, it’s an art project and collaboration—sharing, and what that ethically entails. Sex is more of the McGuffin in the project, the thing I have to do to unify the project, because I am a porn star. 

 

O — It’s a hook, it’s the headline. 

 

CK — Exactly, it’s the headline. To have sex. It’s actually made me realize that there were parts of myself that were very anti-sex, and kind of conservative in a lot of respects, and I’ve had to open myself up to different possibilities and what they mean. I think it’s been a very valuable process in that way. 

 

O — What parts do you think were anti-sex? 

 

CK — I think we all to some extent have some interior slut-shaming voice, and I definitely had to cope with that. I was in a relationship before I started this project, and ended up being more emotionally abusive, and it really changed my sexuality in a lot of ways. I’ve really had to face that kind of consistently throughout the project. Sometimes in a very negative way, sometimes in a very therapeutic way. 

 

O — What was your favorite state? 

 

CK — Utah was incredible. 

 

O — Utah?! 

 

CK — [laughs] I loooove Utah. 

 

O — Mormons are really nice. 

 

CK — Mormons are really nice, and they turned out to be pretty horny too. 

 

O — I guess that makes sense. They’re repressed, right? 

 

CK — They’re repressed, but also the theology of Mormonism is to bring more human beings into the world, that is the religion. So I think there’s something about that idea that expects a certain degree of sexuality out of people. 

 

O — Be fruitful and multiply. 

 

CK — Exactly—and they’re pretty good at it. 

 

O — I know you like to call Colby Does America an art project, but you’ve said that “art is not porn.” So, do you firmly believe that? 

 

CK — I think that both of those things are socially defined. They’re ambiguous concepts, and we attach value to each of them. One, of course, is high culture and one, of course, is low culture. Very rarely is there space for two ideas, one high and one low, to meet. And I think that’s where an investigation can be compelling. For me, art is valuable when there’s a process of interrogation. It’s about delivering an answer to an audience, it’s about engaging in a process. Hopefully people become invested in it, and people have. There are definitely people that are engaged with this project, whatever it’s doing, and that’s the best I could hope for. In that sense I think it lives up to being an art project, as I would like it to be, as one of the artists. But it also engages content that can be used in a different capacity, can be thought of in a different capacity, might have value in a different capacity. I think that’s fine too. It might work as art in some places and work as porn in other places, and not actually overlap. I’m also okay with that.

 

O — Tell me about the Vivienne Westwood campaign. How did it come together? 

 

CK — I’m not exactly sure how I got on their radar, I’m friends with [German designer] Bernhard Willhelm. We went thrift store shopping and ended up finding some Vivenne Westwood trousers, put them on, took a picture and sent it to Andreas [Kronthaler], the designer. Unfortunately I was doing this other project, High Maintenance, and both ended up happening on the same day, neither person could change the schedule. I had committed to the HBO thing first, so I was like I guess I have to turn down— 

 

O — Vivenne Westwood! 

 

CK — I decided to tell HBO about it, and they contacted the Vivenne Westwood people and managed to work out a deal. I worked a ten hour day at HBO, they put me in a car, got on a flight, flew to Paris, flew to Venice, got on a water taxi. I hadn’t showered in like two days, and it’s like eleven o’clock at night. I pull up to this hotel, and they take me into this room with just racks of clothes. They’re like, “She’s taking a nap.” Literally, not making this up, there was a desk in the room, and rolled up like a cat under the desk was Vivenne Westwood! Then she woke up, and they started fitting me for clothes, and we did the shoot that night. The next morning I flew back to New York. 

 

O — Wow. Do you go back to Texas often? Do you see your family? 

 

CK — I try to get back once a year. 

 

O — Houston, right? 

 

CK — Houston. Pretty miserable, weather-wise. I don’t have a lot of money, so it can be tricky figuring out when I can buy a ticket. But I try once a year.

 

O — Is your whole family still there? 

 

CK — Most of my whole family. My father passed away a couple years ago. 

 

O — I’m sorry. 

 

CK — My older brother actually disappeared seven years ago. 

 

O — Oh my god. 

 

CK — Yeah, victim of the military industrial complex, crack epidemic. He was in the army, and developed a crack habit, and disappeared seven years ago. So I don’t know where he is. 

 

O — Jesus. That’s horrifying...What was it like to grow up in the Pentecostal church? 

 

CK — There was speaking in tongues, dancing in the aisles. It was a very small church, and originally we would meet in Béla Károlyi’s gym. Béla Károlyi was a very famous, authoritarian, Romanian gymnastics coach, all of our best gymnasts from the ‘80s were his pupils. And we would have church in his gym. Eventually they moved to this double-wide trailer, and there were maybe ten families there. It was very small. About a third of the church was working class black, a third of the church was working class white, and another third was working class and Hispanic. That was about the racial makeup of the church. There were a lot of people who didn’t know how to speak English. 

 

O — Well, I guess tongues translate. 

 

CK — It was also a great experience, because when I grew up, I would say we were upper middle class. My father had some poor health, and our family income decline came after that, but it was great exposure to people who were struggling in America. It was a great way to build solidarity with those people, and think compassionately about their lives. Even though it was a traumatic experience a lot of the time when I was young, at the same time I learned a lot and I think I gained a lot of skills. The church was really concerned with the Holy Spirit and bringing the Holy Spirit into the church, and I think there’s a lot of value in being able to have access to that spiritual place. You’re teaching your body to release endorphins, and it can be really beautiful, and I still think I can access those places because of that, so I really do value my experience there. I’ve learned to appreciate it as an adult, where I think most of my life I really fought that identity. 

 

O — And your mother still doesn’t know what you do for a living? 

 

CK — No, I don’t believe she does. [laughs] Unless she secretly knows. She has really poor health, and my father died three years ago. I would have told him, he wouldn’t have cared. I just don’t want to do anything that would give her a heart attack. 

 

O — Understandable. 

 

CK — Honestly, it’s not a conversation that would bring us closer together, and there’s a gulf there. There’s a cultural gulf, an emotional, intellectual gulf. I really want to be able to respect her as much as I can, I don’t want something that creates an unnecessary tension there. I don’t think it would benefit us, or benefit our relationship. So I don’t see the need, honestly. 

 

O — Finally, would you call yourself an artist? 

 

CK — I would. I really struggle with the term a lot. Part of the reason is that it is a privileged term, and it has a really strong relationship to a culture of cynicism, and narcissism. But that’s not everyone, by any means. There are things that are supposed to be really motivating as an artist, and then there’s all the other stuff that comes along with it. I think it’s weird for me to take ownership of that term, but I think everyone should, to some extent. — END

 

Prev Next