Traci Lords Flips the Script on Slut-Shaming: “This is my pussy, fuck you.”
The author, actress and Rockabilly style icon tells how slut-shaming almost kept her out of Cry-Baby, how women like Brooke Candy are heading a movement, and what John Waters does on off days.
Backstage at the Teragram Ballroom, just minutes after rapper and sex positivity icon Brooke Candy takes the stage at Sex Cells’ Xmas Xtravaganza — a holiday party celebrating drag, kink and more — Traci Lords is flanked by leather, lace and mesh-bound admirers. The multi-hyphenate actress, author, recording artist, etc. is the Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening — and in a blood red, mermaid-like gown, she bears a strong resemblance to Rockabilly dream girl Wanda Woodward, Lords’ breakout roll in John Waters’ 1990 cult classic, Cry-Baby. Nearly three decades later, Wanda Woodward is still one of film’s greatest style (and attitude) icons; and as a young woman who owns her sexual identity in a film set in the 1950s, she dips into the realm of feminist icon, too. “Someone just asked me why people are so obsessed with Cry-Baby, and I said, ‘because Wanda was a beautiful badass. And she was wounded, but she just owned it,’” says Lords, reflecting on her character that inspired thousands (and a catchphrase for the ages). “And I mean, ‘Beat it, creep’ — it couldn’t be more timely today,” she adds, making a nod at the current U.S. Administration and stories of sexual assault flooding from the #metoo movement.
While Woodward will continue to inspire Halloween costumes and hair cuts for decades to come, Lords, too, is a beautiful, wounded badass, and an icon in her own right. A leader of the movement for women’s sexual empowerment, Lords has worked to flip the script on slut-shaming; she is outspoken about her experiences as an underage performer in a predatory porn industry in the 1980s, and speaks about how, even though her successful career as an “adult” film star revolved around exploitation of her unstable and abusive home life, her history as a sex worker became a factor in her success as an actress: “When I auditioned for Cry-Baby, and it was a studio film, there were people that were like, ‘oh no, we can’t have a porn star,” she says.
In fact, even after becoming a mother, being a New York Times Bestseller, starting a fashion line and reaching the top of the Dance Club charts, her history as a porn star still precedes her: “You know what’s so fascinating about my life, is if I drew a line, you’ve got 1984, which has got all the 15-year-old porn stuff, and then you have 2018 and it’s all the way over here, and I have all this other stuff I’ve done the last 30 years, and people go, ‘oh you mean the porn star?,’”she says. “I’ve starred in several series, I’ve gotten best actress awards, I’ve been in 52 movies, I’ve been in Blade, I’ve been in Cry-Baby, I’ve written a book, I’ve sold over a million fucking records — but still, they talk about how well I can suck dick.”
“There’s this whole movement now and what’s going on it that women, women like Brooke [Candy], are saying, ‘this is my pussy, fuck you'" - Traci Lords
Though Lords is anything but ashamed of her past, she knows that society has tried to make her. “I always thought I was going to be a designer, from when I was 12 or 13 years old. That’s what I thought I was going to do. Mainly interiors or clothing -- I dressed my dolls and I did all of that kind of stuff. My life went to the streets and porn when I was 15, which was an unexpected turn for me,” she says. “People will always have judgements, no matter what you do or who you are, there will be people that just don’t like you and they’ll try to dismiss you. And I think we as women, that’s really difficult for us, because they so readily want to label us as sluts, they want to make us the villains,” she continues, calling women “powerful creatures” who have been cast out through history for being witches, whores, and whatever else the label do jour of the time was. “What I would say to anybody that has done whatever in their life and they think that that’s the end, it isn’t unless you let it be. It doesn't have to define you.”
Instead, Lords explains, the only thing that should define you is you, and she admires women like Brooke Candy and Amanda LePore, who closed out the night at Sex Cells, who walk the walk so that others may follow. “There’s this whole movement now and what’s going on it that women, women like Brooke, are saying, ‘this is my pussy, fuck you,’ and Amanda as well, who’s not taking whatever stereotypes, or saying, ‘I’m evil, I’m wicked,’” she says.
Lords not only credits boundary-pushing women for opening up channels of sexuality and self-expression for future generations, but also men like John Waters, who helped pave the way for her own journey: “he went out with his best friend in high school in the 50s, when it was not okay to be gay, and here he was, this geeky, strange guy and his rather heavy friend that liked to wear women’s clothing," she says, describing legendary drag performer Divine. "And he had an 8 millimeter camera and said, ‘we’re gonna make movies, fuck ‘em.’”
Even today, she’s still inspired by Water’s steadfast sense of self and rebellion against aging: “The man is 72 years old and tours all over America. He readily hitchhikes. If he’s bored, he’ll call and I’ll say ‘what’re you doing?’ and he says, ‘I called the plumber because I’m bored. There’s nothing wrong with my pipes, I just wanted to watch him bend over!,” she says with a laugh. “And he’s still a force on stage, so I admire him a lot,” she continues. “He’s one of the most alive people that I’ve ever met.”
Lords is pretty damn alive, too -- though she lovingly describes herself as an "elder bitch, honey," Traci continues to be a trailblazer. Landing in Helmut Lang's latest NYFW capsule collection campaign -- directed by Isabella Burley, editor-in-chief of provocative and tastemaking Dazed magazine -- Lords is commanding besides supermodel Alek Wek, fashion designer Shayne Oliver, artist Nicky Rat and more. If that doesn't say "cutting edge," nothing does -- and Lords is just about as sharp as ever.
For more, see our photo gallery of the Sex Cells Xmas Xtravaganza below. Photos by Ammo Bankoff.