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“Porn is the best thing to have happened to me,” says Jiz Lee, an erotic icon whose other informal titles include “queer porn legend,” “androgynous gender warrior,” and possessor of “a rare sexual je ne sais quois.” One of the most prominent indie porn stars today, Lee is also one of its first openly non-binary stars and an industry advocate, having appeared in over 200 projects.
“Working in adult has helped define my boundaries in ways that sex ed, television, or any other part of growing up in America failed to do,” Lee told the Daily Dot. “It’s an art form that is beautifully vulnerable and honest. I like to consider each movie a sort of documentation of where I’m at in my sexual exploration—like a scrapbook. The way my body and desires have changed over the years is incredible. The way my body responds to orgasm, what kinds of sensation I like, and how I sound when I come have evolved over the years.”
With a 2010 blog post, Lee officially came out as genderqueer—someone who has “fluid ideas about gender expression and may not identify as being a man or a woman,” as they put it—and expressed their preference for neutral pronouns.
“As a person who was assigned female at birth, many things that society expects of me as a ‘woman’ feel unnatural,” they wrote, explaining that identifying as transgender pushed them toward masculine signifiers that didn’t feel natural, either. As such, the gendered roles Lee typically encountered in the adult industry felt limiting.
Now an activist performer, Lee was named 2010’s “Boundary Breaker” at the Feminist Porn Awards and became The Trans 100’s Honoree in 2015.
8 things you should know about Jiz Lee
1) Jiz appeared on Transparent
In season two and three of Transparent, Sarah (Amy Landecker) was seeing a dominant—a friendly and transactional relationship Sarah effectively ended when she insisted on switching their roles and exploded with frightening rage. Lee played Pony, the dom, and earned nominations for Crossover Star of the Year titles at both the 2017 XBiz and AVN Awards for their work.
The pair’s portrayal, Lee says, “remains one of the most realistic, though rare, queer sex worker/client relationships on television.” We can attribute this authenticity to the decision of Transparent creator Jill Soloway (who has since come out as non-binary) to cast an actual sex worker in Pony’s role. Not only did the plotline help underscore the importance of gender-neutral pronouns with a mainstream audience, but it also helped shine a destigmatizing spotlight on BDSM in the media.
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2) Jiz got their start in the industry doing queer porn
The 37-year-old made their entrance into adult cinema with 2005’s The Crash Pad, a film by queer pornographer Shine Louise Houston.
“I’d wanted to perform ever since I’d seen a queer porn screening at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco, which was the first time I had seen folks who looked like me enjoying sex on the big screen,” Lee said. “Exhibitionism was thrilling to me and the idea that performing in porn was something I could do without changing how I looked or the ways I wanted to have sex was a huge attraction.”
3) They work both on camera and behind the scenes at a queer porn studio
Lee still works at the same studio that gave them their start, Pink & White Productions, as an actor and as online marketing director. Pink & White places an emphasis on up-and-coming indie talent, “producing movies that showcase diverse representations of human sexuality and desire,” Lee says, “while creating opportunities for porn performers that more accurately reflect LGBTQ+ communities, casting queer and trans performers of color, people of size, people with disabilities, older queer folks.” Which is to say, people who often get sidelined in mainstream porn.
4) Jiz is a vocal advocate for ethical porn
Having worked both sides of the production equation, Lee advocates for performers’ rights on set—particularly in the realm of labor rights and sexual autonomy. While these attributes are hallmarks of ethical porn, Lee would like their audience to understand something of what that term means.
“Everyone seems to be concerned about whether or not a porn scene was ethically produced,” Lee says. “I think it begs the question—why would someone assume it wasn’t? Why the need for a special term, to say ‘ethical’ as if all porn is inherently not?”
The vast majority of companies pay performers, Lee explains. What merits further examination is whether or not payment happens on time and what the work environment is like. Another concern, Lee says, is whether or not companies are clear about a gig’s parameters. But what too often goes overlooked, they point out, is the role consumers play in porn consumption.
“There’s a lot of irony when someone asks where they can find ethical porn for free,” Jiz says, a topic they’ve explained at length in a Daily Dot piece. “Piracy is one of the most exploitative and damaging issues in the adult industry, and it’s done by the majority of porn’s viewers. Tube sites made their traffic off the backs of sex workers who couldn’t even apply for a bank loan. ‘Ethical porn’ consumption starts when you pay for it.”
5) …and an advocate for safer sex rights and sex education
Sex education in the United States is spotty at best, and too often takes a sex-negative approach that leaves students with scant knowledge of their own bodies and sexual preferences, of consent, and of sexual health and hygiene. As Lee points out on their blog, many young people learn about sex from watching porn. This isn’t inherently problematic. However, when you consider the kind of porn that’s most immediately accessible, this presents a narrow view of sexuality.
According to Lee, porn is not “a scapegoat for a lack of sexual education.” Lee wants to broaden the popular understanding of what goes into making porn as well as the popular understanding of sex.
In 2016, Lee was involved in the debate around California’s Proposition 60. The ballot measure would’ve doubled down on the state’s condoms-in-porn mandate by allowing viewers to file complaints with the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) about scenes that seemed to feature bareback sex. The industry enforces regular STI testing among performers and benefits from tools like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PREP) to guard against HIV transmission. The insinuation that “poor porn stars who are being abused and are full of STIs” and need saving, as Lee put it to Mother Jones, didn’t sit well.
Some critics, Lee included, said Prop 60 would have placed unfair added expenses on solo and indie performers. Lee argued against involving sex workers in legal disputes that could publicize their personal information and jeopardize their privacy.
Lee tells the Daily Dot that personally, they’re a condom-only performer by choice. Still, Lee joined with industry peers to fight the measure, testifying at the California State Capitol and in Cal-OSHA meetings. Their work paid off: Voters rejected Prop 60.
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6) Jiz is a published author and editor
Lee’s first book, Coming Out Like a Porn Star, published in 2015. Lee edited the essay collection, drawing inspiration for the project from their own experience telling their family about their adult career. Lee certainly hopes the book will serve as a tool for people working in the industry. But they also want it to wear away at the taboos that persist outside of it.
“These first-hand accounts reveal that it is not having worked in porn that creates problems, but all the social stigma from misinformation and negative views about sex work in general which causes the most damage,” Lee said. Coming Out Like a Porn Star constitutes the single largest collection of essays from industry members. The people best positioned to paint a realistic picture of sex work, after all, are sex workers themselves.
In addition to Coming Out Like a Porn Star, Lee’s work appears in queer sex educator Kitty Stryker’s anthology ASK: Building Consent Culture and adult actor-director Asa Akira’s Asarotica. Lee also blogs on their site, JizLee.com.
7) Jiz is an erotic philanthropist
Every year for seven years running, Jiz has marked the holiday season with erotic philanthropy. This means that fans who ordered a book bought a subscription to either of Pink & White’s channels (CrashPadSeries.com and PinkLabel.tv) or made a certifiable donation to a charitable cause received Jiz’s 2017 card, designed by Lesser God Arts. Cards were also available for purchase for $5 on their website. Lee told the Daily Dot that card sales raised a combined $1,405.00 for organizations including TransLifeLine and TGI Justice Project.
Jiz also created Karma Pervs, an erotic photography fundraising project: For a fee, site members gain access to erotic image sets, and the proceeds go to a collection of queer advocacy, kink-positive, and sexual health organizations.
8) Lee competes in Olympic triathlons
Amid performance, activism, philanthropy, and writing, Lee still makes time for fitness. They’ve trained for and competed in both Olympic and Sprint distance triathlons. On their blog, Lee writes that they work out on a near-daily basis, which helps prevent burnout and promote health. “It’s enabled me to find balance, forces me off the computer to clear my head, and helped hold myself accountable to health as a priority,” Lee explains. “I’ve never felt better!”
Still want to learn more? Here’s your guide to the best erotica sites for women, the best sex toys of the year, and the best dating apps for everything from hookups to true love. Plus, read more about inclusive, feminist porn, gender identity, and the true meaning of kink.
Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.
Claire Lampen is a lifestyle reporter who covers sex, gender, and reproductive rights. Formerly a Fulbright fellow, she has published work with Vogue, Gizmodo, Refinery29, Teen Vogue, the BBC, Vice, Marie Claire, and more.