For its upcoming February Modern Sex conference, Oregon State University invited well-known sex writer and pornography director Tristan Taormino to give a keynote talk. But then just this week, the school canceled on her and isn't even reimbursing her for the tickets she already booked. The reason? The school administration decided it wouldn't pay Taormino because her website and writing promote porn.
Taormino tells her whole side of the story on her blog:
[Taormino's manager] Colten Tognazzini spoke to a source at OSU who speculated that the University feared that when it went before the legislature in regards to future funding, legislators would use OSU’s funding of a “pornographer” on campus as ammunition to further cut budgets. This source, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Tognazzini, “I think they’re uninviting Tristan because they don’t want to have to defend her appearance to conservative legislators.”
The money that was supposed to pay Taormino for her travel expenses and the speaking gig would have come from the school's general fund, a pot of public money paid into by statewide taxpayers, not just students.
On her website, she lists an impressive number of schools where she's spoken including Harvard, Yale, Brown, Columbia, University of California at Santa Barbara, Colby College, Princeton, Rutgers University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Connecticut College, and The New School.
Since when is someone who's spoken at University of North Carolina at Greensboro too conservative for Oregon?
"I've never had a school cancel like this before, and I've been speaking for 10 years," says Taormino. "The contract was written, they have the money for this conference, they just can't use it to bring me. My guess is that the contract finally went to someone much higher up, they Googled me, and freaked out."
Other talks at the conference include "Porn as a Feminist Tool" and "Culture of the Clit." So why nix Taormino and not these other speakers? "I'm the keynote speaker, so I'm sort of the top of the list. I believe the person who made the call did not actually look at the rest of the line up. I think this is censorship and hypocrisy."
Taormino says her talk at OSU was not going to be about porn, but was instead titled, "Claiming Your Sexual Power." Toarmino has written four books on sex issues (including The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women) and isn't taking OSU's un-invitation lying down, so to speak. This morning she's heading into a meeting with a lawyer to weigh her options, since she turned down other work to make room for the OSU appearance. "I've lost work," says Taormino. "Around Valentine's Day is my busiest time of year." She hopes the school will reinvite her.
If OSU students, or anyone else, want to hear her speak, she'll be teaching two workshops at SheBop, the female-friendly sex store on Mississippi on February 13th and 14th.
University spokesman Todd Simmons says the school is "committed to free speech and open discussion" but that the higher-up administration did not get a clear picture of all of Taormino's work when the contract was originally okayed. The school decided it wasn't financially prudent to "use taxpayer funds to bring in a speaker who is a self-described pornographer and has a significant online business selling pornography." The other speakers in the conference, he says, are presenting for free, so there's no issue about use of money.
"I expect if the funders of the event had a complete picture of her work, the invitation wouldn't have been extended to begin with," says Simmons, who heard that her contract was for $3,000. Taormino is out that money, but the school says it will reimburse her for travel costs
since she already, if they can get proof that she bought her ticket at the direction of the school.
Update 2: Taormino responds that the idea that she has a "significant business selling pornography" is totally bunk—and that she's willing to show the university her tax returns to prove it. "He makes it sound like I'm running a pornography empire. I'm selling my books, my videos, and some sex toys," says Taormino, who estimates that the four or so weekly orders from her online shop make up only 10-15 percent of her income. To rub it in: Everything available in her online shop is also available at Amazon.com.