From Penny Flame to Becoming Jennie: On her own terms

Photo taken when I met Penny Flame – Jennie Ketcham – at the InterContinental Hotel downtown SF. L to R: Jennie, Tristan Taormino, Sinnamon Love, Adrianna Nicole.

This week’s SF Chronicle column came from a conversation I had on the set of Courtney Trouble‘s next film, where I chatted about how cool it was that Jennie Ketcham had left porn so gracefully and un-stereotypically; she shed her Penny Flame persona to seek something she felt would be more authentic, even admitting she didn’t yet know what that looked like by naming her new blog Becoming Jennie. She gets mad props all around for a sex-positive and porn-positive exit; it’s so sane compared to bitter ex-pornstars (Traci Lords, Shelly Lubben, the list goes on) who feel they need to decry their porn past and end up painting women who love doing porn with a brush that reeks of disempowerment, crocodile tears, and shirking personal sexual responsibility.

I think you’ll like it. Jennie has some great things to say; it’s her unique journey, but it’s cool to finally show a different kind of “quitting porn” story that we’re all used to being spoonfed by media, religious fanatics, anti-porn feminists and sex-negative crusading right-wingers. We never hear about people quitting porn and being practical and positive about it, though I think that’s more often the case than not. Here’s a snip from Leaving Porn On Her Own Terms:

I first met Penny Flame in a high-priced hotel room at the InterContinental, when she was staying in San Francisco, appearing as a star in promotion of her (then) new film, Chemistry #4. I recorded a long interview with Penny then met her, Tristan Taormino, Susie Bright and others for a post-appearance dinner. Flame was hard-edged but funny and kind; full of stories and humor about her job and the world.

Later, she performed in many more films, becoming a true star and a force to be reckoned with in the world of mainstream porn, and directed a female-centered series of hardcore sex-ed videos.

What I missed was meeting Jennie Ketcham. That’s Penny Flame’s real name.

Recently, Penny Flame quit porn. She immediately started a blog, beautifully named Becoming Jennie, and reinvested herself into her life as an artist. We recently reconnected; I was on a local porn set last week and one of the photographers started talking with me about Jennie and how excited we all are for her to be entering an exciting and positive new chapter — but with a sex-positive stance on porn, women and self-defined sexuality. And most of all, a cool attitude of sexual responsibility. You’d think this wouldn’t be hard math when it comes to women and their relationship to working in porn, but somehow it has been in the past. Jennie’s the new wave.

Talking with her last weekend, Jennie sees the women who leave the porn business and try to milk the publicity out of their situation as not only selling a hollow stereotype, but also creating an unsustainable model for their own healthy sexuality:

I hate the common exit strategy, hate that girls join the ‘god squad’ or feel ashamed of the choices they made but I understand it. I can see that it’s much easier to say ‘porn did this to me, or that’ but at the end of the day, we are all responsible for the choices we make. I chose to be a porn star. Now I’m choosing not to be. It’s the beautifully terrible thing about free will: we can do whatever we like but we must be held accountable for whatever we do. Just because I don’t want to be a porn star today doesn’t mean that I should feel ashamed to have been one seven months ago. (…read more,

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  • Abolitionist

    Okay, that was three things. I still love your stuff, Violet! Also, I made up the 95 percent thing. I have no idea what the actual number of truly abusive (not BDSM like but real cruel punishment), fucked-up porn-machine stuff there is. But it’s much, much larger than the good porn.

  • Abolitionist

    Two things:
    1. sex positive does not equal porn positive. Please make this distinction. Just because someone is into sex doesn’t mean they’re into porn and vice versa. I’m not against porn, but it isn’t a requirement for sex positive environments and shouldn’t be pushed in this direction. It hinders rather than helps.
    b. sex addiction is real, just like any other addiction. It’s based on releasing chemicals in the brain and just like any other chemical substance, it can create a behavior pattern based on stimulus. Don’t judge a porn star based on her claimed addiction. Unless you’ve been there, with her, you don’t know. Addiction fucking sucks…also fucking-addiction sucks.
    c. Why don’t we focus on the women that stay in porn because they like it? The career-girls of porn, if you will. Oh, that’s right, that’s because there aren’t more than 10, all at the top now, producing. As the saying in the valley goes, “she’s just our pretty hole for today. Tomorrow we’ll have another.” Porn-positive is a stretch when it comes to actual “I made it out alive with no regrets.” Just like any other job, only in this job, you are simply a commodity at its core, useful for a few hours at most. The focus should be more on porn-sanity instead of porn-positive. Make it something normal before you glorify it…otherwise it’s just another “Pretty Woman” story. I love porn. Don’t get me wrong. But I’ve made enough and seen enough to know better. You would too if you got out of wonderful SF and got into where all the hard money is made and shot. SF has wonderful stories of and all the other great family business models. That’s not the case when it comes to all the rest of the world. And the guys that run the rest of those are FUCKING INSANE AND CRUEL, with planes, helicopters, drugs, guns, and temper tantrums like you wouldn’t believe. Europe is even worse. I know you’ve been pushing this ideal for a while now. But it is so much worse than it is portrayed and it’s getting really annoying. It’s like Disney re-wrote the history of porn. No, it really isn’t all candy and bubblegum. You want to find out what it’s really like? Go as a porn star to the valley and do a “tryout.” Then talk to the girl crying afterwards next to you and ask her how many times she’s done the same thing that week. It’s NOT ALL RAINBOWS. In fact, it’s 95 percent not rainbows.

  • gravyboat
  • I wasn’t as obsessive fan of hers the way I am toward Justine Joli, but I definitely remember Penny Flame for her volcanic lesbian scenes. I don’t mean it in a snarky way when I say that she left behind a great body of work.

    As for your story, I do think the whole “addiction/recovery” narrative still plays into a bit of a stereotype, in spite of Jennie’s best efforts for it not to be. Plus, I consider any “sex addiction” diagnosis on the part of that certified fool Drew Pinsky to be inherently dodgy. I hope at some point she gets a chance to recover from her recovery! (A final step in the recovery process a lot of people never make.)

    But, in any event, I totally wish her the best with her new life, and congratulate her for making a graceful exit. Most porn stars quietly disappear (eg, Annabel Chong), some make very public denunciations (in particular, Shelly Lubben and her God Squad), but its rare to see somebody leave porn on good terms and stay public for those interested in their next act. (I suppose Zak Sabbath/Smith did this too, but he always had a well-established identity as an artist, before, during, and after porn.)