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Sunday, August 01, 2010

Remembering Juliet Anderson

The day before yesterday, I learned that Juliet Anderson had died last January. This made me very sad as she was emotionally significant to me.

She was a Golden Age porn star best known for her take-charge "Aunt Peg" persona and for starting Nina Hartley's career with the film Educating Nina, but I actually didn't know these things when I became acquainted with her. I've copied below a correspondence I had with her last summer.

From: <
Subject: Happy Birthday!
To: "Juliet Anderson" < [This was an "extremely private" address which she told me not to share with anyone. I didn't while she lived.]
Date: Thursday, July 23, 2009, 9:09 AM

Yours always,

P.S. I have more insight than I used to about why getting to see and meet you 23 years ago was so emotionally significant for me. I should set a side time to explain that at some point.

From: juliet <
Subject: Re: Happy Birthday!To:
Date: Saturday, July 25, 2009, 1:51 PM

Hi Eric,

Please do tell me why. Can it be in person or do you live too far

I had a wonderful birthday.


From: <
Subject: Re: Happy Birthday!
To: "juliet" <
Date: Saturday, August 15, 2009, 4:46 PM

Dear Juliet,

I'm in Philadelphia so I'll have to tell you long-distance. Here's the story.

As I grew up I became pretty shy and introverted. I didn't seem to have many points of commonality with my peers, who were usually much less intellectual and very mundane in their interests. I eventually becamecurious about my parents' radical politics, and what I read of them made sense to me. Partway through high school I decided to get involved myself, in the youth group of the same party in which my parents had met and with which they still sympathized. In addition to a desire to make the world better, I was conscious of the hope that this would provide a circle of friends with whom I would feel something significant in common.

I was a member of the group for a year and a quarter or year and a half (1978-79). Partway through this period, the chapter organizer asked to have a meeting with me. He seemed concerned that I "lacked confidence in the leadership" and suggested I should leave the group. This apparently stemmed from an occasion on which, after the national leadership had come down in favor of the position I'd taken on a local political issue (in which I had been alone), someone had said to me jocularly, "Don't get a swelled head," and I had replied, very logically as it seemed to me, that of course I wouldn't get a swelled head, since the Political Committee's statement didn't mean that my position was right, but rather that their position was right. It would still be the right position whether they had taken it or not. This seemed to me to be practically a tautology, yet my interlocutor reacted as if I'd said something strange and disturbing, which mystified me at the time.

So the chapter organizer was pursuing this idea that I "lacked confidence in the leadership." I denied this, and in fact I hadn't volunteered any disagreements with them. Rather, the organizer was asking me if I had any. The only issues I could think of were a couple I had seen debated in the discussion bulletin of the adult organization, and even of these, I only was inclined to the minority position on one. I was inclined toward the leadership's position on the other, and just wasn't 100% certain about it. And these were really minor issues too, not core principles of the group. Yet, incomprehensibly, on this basis Bob repeated his contention that I "lacked confidence in the leadership" and should consider leaving the group. When I again denied this, he asked me if I would support their position in that case. I said of course not, because I didn't think it was correct. So Bob again claimed that I lacked confidence in the leadership and should perhaps leave the group. We seemed to be talking in circles. The meeting eventually ended with nothing resolved.

A couple months later, Bob asked to have another meeting with me. This time his expressed concern was that their was evidence of my having acted inappropriately on various occasions, which he described as a "pattern of sexist behavior." It was apparent that in some cases he simply had his facts wrong, and that what he was asking about was based on one half of a phone conversation, overheard, and not a complaint that someone had actually volunteered. In other cases the incidents had occurred, but were basically manifestations of social ineptitude rather than attitudes about gender. Since I knew that I did have significant problems relating socially, I ended up agreeing to leave the group, even though I didn't think the way the issue had been characterized was fair. I was very upset and rather depressed at this turn of events.

I had considered myself a Marxist for a few years before I'd joined the group or even made contact with it, however, so this experience didn't affect my convictions. It didn't even affect my opinion of this group in particular, since I had accepted the greater part of responsibility for having to leave it, and since, to the extent I felt misunderstood, I saw this as the problem of one or two individuals. So I continued to regard myself as a sympathizer, until later the group's own politics began clearly to change.

Before continuing with the chronological narrative, I want to fast-forward to a few years ago, when I finally acquired some insight into what had happened. This came while I was reading a paper by Dennis Tourish of the University of Belfast, titled "Ideological Intransigence, Democratic Centralism, and Cultism: A Case Study from the Political Left." I'd been developing an interest in the cult issue for the past several years, ostensibly from concern about a group a romantic interest was involved with; but for the first time I was reading about my own experience. Although it was a different group, I recognized the same mechanisms of milieu control and thought stopping that I had been subject to.

I suddenly had a whole new framework in which to understand what had happened. Things that had simply been mysterious fell into place when seen as part of a program of brainwashing, aimed at destroying my intellectual autonomy. I saw clearly, for instance, that Bob was "loading the language" (as cultic studies people say) so that "confidence" in someone -- which normally just means thinking they're basically good and honest -- instead meant surrendering one's independent judgment to them. In retrospect, one might wonder why I didn't point that out at the time; the reason is that Bob's whole manner was one designed to keep me off balance, so that I didn't even have the chance to form such thoughts, being kept too busy coping with his assault. (For that matter, it occurs to me that I might have asked, "If these disagreements mean I lack confidence, does that mean the members who raised them in the adult organization should leave the group too?" But, again, I was kept too off-balance to even think of something like that.)

Of course the attempt at brainwashing hadn't been successful, which was why they decided to get rid of me. But they had succeeded in masking the nature and motive of what they were doing, and as a result I'd taken blame that didn't belong on me, affecting my self-confidence. In particular, the issue they used to make me leave the group had played on my social and sexual insecurities, and consequently made them worse.

But what I couldn't yet handle emotionally, I intellectualized instead. From having been rather prudish through most of my adolescence, I became by mid-college years rather passionate about sexual freedom. I wasn't getting to practice it, mind you (except, briefly, with one girl who told me she'd been diagnosed as "hypersexual"), but I believed in it very strongly. Above all, I passionately opposed any treatment of sexual feelings or of honesty about them as illegitimate or "sexist." Yet the group's methods had been so sneaky that I failed to recognize where this attitude came from, or to ponder how it had changed so radically since junior high.

So, a couple years after graduating college, I see a local news segment about lesbian porn. I had not heard of such a thing before and was quite intrigued. I knew that I liked the idea of women's manifesting their autonomy by freely expressing their sexual interests. Of course, at the time I had no idea why I felt this so strongly; I only knew that I did.

The segment mentioned two publications, one of them based in the US: On Our Backs. So before long I visited the city's gay and lesbian bookstore to see if I could pick up a copy. I made no assumption about whether I would personally find it erotic; I just knew it would be very satisfying "politically" (or at bottom, as I now understand, emotionally) to see its existence for myself and to feel that I was supporting it. And in that first issue of OOB that I bought, I saw an ad by someone named Juliet Anderson, who was looking for people who could help her with a project to make lesbian erotic videos. Although I had no special skills to contribute and little money, I wanted to help if I could, so I called the number in the ad and talked to you.

You said you weren't ready to look for investors, but asked where I was, and when I said Philadelphia, told me you would be in Camden in a couple weeks for a live performance, and invited me to come. So I did. I got to talk to you for a moment and had my picture taken sitting in your lap with a big silly grin on my face, which you autographed. I had that picture for many years, although I seem to have lost it during a hasty move in 2000. Since then, however, you've sent me a postcard personally in reply to an earlier birthday greeting, as well as another autographed picture which I ordered from you.

But I appreciate now that the reason meeting you was so meaningful for me was that you negated, "in the flesh" so to speak, the feelings of guilt and anxiety about acknowledging my sexual feelings, with which my forced departure from the YSA (effectively an expulsion, since I'd been threatened with a "trial" if I didn't leave of my own accord) had left me. Basically, you helped show me that I wasn't crazy.

Thank you.


From: juliet <
Subject: letter
Date: Sunday, August 23, 2009, 11:14 PM

Hi Eric,

Thank you for the birthday greeting and your very interesting letter about how I had such a positive effect on you. Wow! Little did I know.

Keep living life to your fullest and with love and compassion.


Juliet's performance, which I saw in 1986 when I met her in person, was a sort of burlesque in which she started out dressed for various occupations -- carpenter, secretary, executive, nurse -- and then did a striptease, with the message that women in any line of work could be sexy. I wasn't in touch with her again till after discovering her website in 2004. I called her early in January 2005 and we talked about her career and its significance. I subsequently started sending greetings for her birthday (23 July), including a card I mailed her this past 22nd, before realizing she'd died.

For those who may be interested, she told me in 2005 that her favorite of the porn films she'd made was Talk Dirty to Me.

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