On opening 

My interaction with Resistimpulse made me realize something: not accepting friend requests on Pornhub means I never activated the lines of communication that were open on their own on Vimeo. It’s another symptom of my conflicted use of Pornhub. But this letter is exactly the kind of letter I used to get on Vimeo. It acknowledges the sexuality of my work but speaks of freedom and love. It’s personal and felt and respectful. It’s why I choose to keep my work online, for this kind of reverberation.

The thing is, I’m not using Pornhub to display a fantasy character or a public persona or to make money, I’m trying to use it to be a real person, more real than I would be if I kept my art private. I know how paradoxal this sounds, and I am aware that it might not work, or that it might backfire. And yet I can’t help that this is what I want, what I feel called to do.

So far my Pornhub experience has been mainly positive. I got my most critical comment this weekend (“shut yo hippy ass up you damn well know this aint erotic art”), and despite the shut up, which is most likely an expletive emphasis and not an actual request, it ain’t the worse thing you could say if you disagree with what I do. Of course I‘m concerned about what else might come if I interact more openly but at this point, all the fears are in my head. I don’t actually know that it would happen this way, or only this way. It seems to me that, again, by protecting myself I may not be empowering myself. And I may well be missing out because of it.

There’s only one way to find out. This morning I am accepting all friend requests on Pornhub. I’m opening the lines of communication. I will invest in my profile and see what happens. If I regret it, I can always change my mind. If I have a bad interaction, I need to create better boundaries. If I’m being offered something I don’t want, I will say no. And I will do it my way, following integrity as my north star.

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On interactions: love

This letter was sent to me through the contact form of my website and is reproduced here with the permission of its author.

***

I stumbled onto your work on pornhub and was moved by your project Bloom. 

I sent you a message via friend request but noticed you had zero friends on that platform so I wanted to send you these thanks and love through here as well.

“Bloom was an amazing work. It felt like you were being born from the cultural expectation to be clothed and non-sexual, to be covered, and through blooming you were taking yourself out of cultural expectations and into a world where you choose to be you, naked as the day you were born. It was powerful. I read your introduction on your website. Thank you for spreading love. When I was a young teen being brought up christian the biggest revelation I felt while reading the bible was also the one that made me later question the organized religion I was part of. It was that god is love. It was so simple, and I felt any focus away from that felt like cheating, because love can be such a strong powerful positive force, if we were to concentrate on being better ambassadors and practitioners of love, would we not help heal the world? Thank you Rain Robert. “

grow and love,

simply me
ResistImpulse

***

Thank you so much for sending me your message through this platform! I indeed haven’t been accepting any friend requests on Pornhub, but your words are making me realize that’s a mistake, one I will correct asap.

Bloom is one of my favorite videos, it was a huge turning point in my work. What you saw in it is just perfect, it is indeed about growth, transformation and liberation. I can’t say that I knew that specifically when I made it but my images come from a non verbal place within me, and it’s always fascinating to look at it afterwards and spell out what I expressed.

I totally share your philosophy about love. It’s the most powerful force on earth. The lack of it matches it almost as strongly, but not quite, because even that can be healed if one can find their way back to love. I know that what I do is sort of controversial but getting emails like yours reminds me why I do it. So thank you.

Wishing you all the best,
Rain

On interactions: amazing

This letter was sent to me through the contact form of my website and is reproduced here with the permission of its author.

***

Dear Rain,

I don’t know how to convey this without sounding like a random creep from somewhere across the world. But I’ll just out and say it anyway:

You are amazing. I tend to be incredibly dismissive about Modern/Conceptual art – especially performance art in general. But after discovering your videos, I find you both as a person, and an artist so brilliantly captivating. See I’ve realised after many years of experimentation, that I really do not like porn at all. I find it so tasteless, vulgar and unenjoyable. I find that the people appearing in porn often act out unconvincingly, desecrating their bodies with tattoos, bling and basically ceasing to be human. There is no emotion or humanity at all – it’s scripted, or even worse, it’s so badly improvised it’s almost painful to watch. Most of the time, it’s saturated with too much of everything, too limited and too formulaic at the same time. More than anything though – it’s patently inauthentic. I always feel like I’m watching animals mate on a wildlife documentary. 

But in your videos, I see something different. I bear witness to a candid, vivid catharsis of human emotion. I don’t quite know how to articulate this – but I feel like I’m experiencing the paradox of watching a beautiful young woman exposing her naked body; exhibiting a confessional display of fear and vulnerability on the one hand, while cultivating this personality of shame as a uniform of bravery and power on the other. It is through your display of weakness and fear that you appear strongest.

What strikes me is how bold you are – how unafraid you are to reveal yourself literally and metaphorically. I feel like it’s more than a performance. You have a perfect body, and you play with it skillfully and elegantly, like an instrument. Reading your online journal does pose interesting questions that I have about sexuality – and the woman in popular imagination. I find your word posts to be rather cryptic and esoteric in nature- but I get the sense that you’ve endured some kind of personal trauma and a range of experiences in your life that numbed you to the threat of being exposed and naked to thousands of voyeurs. I feel like I’ll never really understand that. But watching your videos, I guess, makes me feel mildly threatened. In an exciting way. As if, my darkest, voyeuristic fantasies about female vulnerability and sheer indignity are actualised, becoming real, and are being used against me like some kind of weapon. It’s like you’ve discovered a harmful secret to the nature of mankind that nobody really likes to publicly acknowledge.

Rambling aside – there are things I’m interested to know – like do people you know personally (say your family, friends or people on the street) know about this artistic project of yours? If so, what do they think about it? I also noticed you have what looks like a wedding ring on your finger. What does your husband think about it too?

I’ll end by saying that I think you have the body of a goddess, you put it to amazingly good use, and that I, a young man with no taste for Modern art or society in general, can state unironically that I genuinely respect and appreciate your work. And no – I don’t consider you to be a “porn” artist either. If anything, I’d say you’re more of a niche visual artist, or even entertainer. But keep on doing what you’re doing right now. 

Lots of love from the UK,

X

***

Dear X,

I don’t know if I can sufficiently say how thankful I am that you wrote to me. I wish I could have answered earlier and I’m sorry if the delay made you feel like I didn’t appreciate what you said. The truth is quite the opposite. Your letter arrived at a time where a lot of intense things are happening in my life and I didn’t want to rush a generic response to what you’ve so sincerely expressed.

Ironically, I was in a museum when I received your email (I never go to museums so it’s a particularly funny coincidence). I had just spent the afternoon questioning my place in the world and wondering what my art meant. I sat in the lobby to read your words and they brought tears to my eyes, as well as a wave of pride that I am genuinely unashamed to admit. I still don’t totally understand why I do what I do and where the hell it’s supposed to take me, but what you wrote reminds me that it’s most definitely worth it. My project is not “successful” right now in terms of income or recognition, but these things could never mean more to me than the kind of reaction you’re sharing here. That makes me feel truly successful, like truly successful at life.

It’s a tall order to address everything you bring up. Let me start with your direct questions. The people close to me all know about my project. Most of them, like my family, don’t interact with it at all but just accept that it’s a part of my journey, which I am grateful for. As for more extended circles, I have just started the process of “coming out” and bridging all of my worlds. It’s been challenging. I am trying to overcome the feeling that I am imposing myself in a potentially abusive way. At the same time, I am learning to own how differently some people see me now. So far it’s mainly a positive difference. I am lucky to live in a pretty artistic and alternative community. Still, there are questions I still haven’t figured out about how to keep myself safe. So far I’ve managed to keep my location private but if that was to change, then I hope it won’t have negative consequences. What’s interesting though is that the risks I’ve already taken have resulted in so much more confidence and empowerment, that I think I have what it takes to handle it. As for my husband (well observed, yes I am married), he and I both aren’t conventional people and our relationship reflects that. Still, it took him a while to understand where I was coming from but now he’s one of my project’s biggest champions.

I doubt that I could ever fully explain all the reasons that drive my art but you are definitely right that my past has led me to it. I have very different views and expectations of life (if you’re interested and if you haven’t already seen it, I wrote a post about my story: https://rainrobert.wordpress.com/2017/07/24/on-my-story/). The only distinction I would make from your statement is that I am not numb to the threat of exposing myself, I am actually very aware, but I believe that the threat of not revealing my true self is even greater. Granted, revealing as much as I do may seem exaggerated to most people, but it’s just proportional to how much hiding and self denying I’ve done before. I also really mean what I do, and if it gets me into trouble, then it’s the kind of trouble I am willing to face.

You bring up such interesting questions about the nature and interplay of my strength and vulnerability. I have never heard anyone articulate their perspective the way you do here. I’m really in awe of the depth of your honesty. I’m glad you feel like it’s more than a performance. I don’t even consider it to be a performance at all. Before I started sharing them, my videos acted a mirror for me to learn to see myself, but now that they are out there and generate reactions, the whole thing has become something much more complicated and much more interesting. Anything I make now is a dialogue based on how I am being received. What I do comes from the inside out but how the outside reacts influences me inside. It’s fascinating really, and mostly it makes me feel very alive.

I will leave it at that for now. If you’re interested in continuing this conversation, I would be honored to hear more of your thoughts. Also, and this is only if you would consent to it, I would love to post your letter on my blog (anonymously if it’s better for you) and my response to it. I’ve been wanting to write about my interactions for a while now as I believe they are one of the most important components of my project. Your observations are so striking, I really think they are worth sharing. You are of course welcome to say no to this, I would completely respect it.

Again, thank you so so much. I think you are amazing too.

Wishing you the very best,

Rain

On interactions redux

This is something I’ve been writing about since the very beginning. I regret not having pursued it more. It feels like a treasure that shouldn’t go to waste. Every interaction I have with people who find my work means so much to me. They break the silence I try to hide in. They frame my work in ways I could never see on my own. They teach me about myself and the world we all inhabit together.

To be perfectly honest, I think this is the real art of what I do. Sure, my videos are beautiful and they allow me to see myself. And sure, my writing helps me feel heard and like I’m not drowning in my own head. But it’s the back and forth with others, the interplay of perspective from my eyes to theirs, the conversations that get sparked, that is truly remarquable. It’s not just what I do, it’s how people react to what I do, that is interesting.

I realize this might sound like a contradiction of my non pornographic stance. The whole I aim to portray my own arousal, not create it in others. But really it’s not a contradiction. I believe that the reason people are touched by my art (however much of a euphemism that might be) is exactly because I make it for myself and from myself. It’s the authenticity that creates the reciprocity.

On new old work

Sweeping up my vaults, asking myself: why didn’t I share these videos when I made them, and why am I releasing them now?

Wanting connection is what drives me to participate.
Wanting autonomy is what drives me to withhold.
Connection without autonomy is dependency.
Autonomy without connection is isolation.
Connection and autonomy together is belonging, and that is what I truly seek.

I can tell myself I’m all over the place. Or I can tell myself I am always right on schedule.

Beach Break
Flying Hair
Cafe Shadow
Ferry Face
Crisp Touch
Wool Iron Sun
Train Hand
Snow Berries
Minimalism

On coming out

I want to come out as Rain Robert to my friends and family. The few closest to me know but most of the rest don’t. As good as it was to have my own secret garden for a while, now it feels like a burden. I’m telling myself it’s about getting ahead of the conversation, in case people find out on their own. But really it’s about how I feel right here right now. Split. I so don’t want to feel split. I don’t want to hide. I don’t want to lie. That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to get away from. I’m trying to heal. Wholeness. Realness. Integrity. Showing up as who I am. That’s what my project is supposed to be about.

As I contemplate my options, my inner demons are rearing their ugly heads, roaring in unison. What I do is stupid, dangerous, cheap. Others are doing it better than I ever could. Who do I think I am? Everyone will know how bad I am. I haven’t been consistent enough, productive enough, brave enough, good enough. I really shouldn’t let anyone see what I do. I really shouldn’t have done it in the first place. I really shouldn’t exist at all.

Ouch, and yeah, that’s how quickly I end up all the way there. Going down the path that is a slippery slope. Emotionally dysregulated. I say it out loud because it helps me hear how out of whack it is. I used to keep it to myself. Turns out it’s best exorcised. Making the sounds of the words helps them find their way out of me.

I can be so strong. I can also be so brittle. Crick cracking, shattered pieces on the floor, sharp edges that cut. Fractured, stumbling, grasping. Oh how I wish I could escape those feelings, but oh how inextricable they are.

And yet, I think my strength comes from my fragility. From weathering the storms that push me around. From holding on, fingers to the ledge. It’s not from not going there. It’s from being there, no choice in the matter, but sticking around anyway, even though it hurts, god it hurts, and years and years of hurt are echoing along, amplified by all that’s still left to grieve. After each round I always hope it was the last one, but then in the middle of the night, in the middle of my shift, in the middle of the street, the next wave rises, washing over me. And of course I’ll wish it away but I’ll hold on anyway, so I can be made better for it.

Maybe this is true. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t really care. It helps me make sense of my experience. It reminds me that I don’t go through this process over and over again to remain stuck, to remain limited, to remain concealed. I want to own this. I want to own myself. I want to share this. I want to share myself. What else is life supposed to be about?

On before and after

I’ve been stuck on this post I told myself I needed to write.

I want to tell the story of the before and after my Vimeo removal. I want to play the game of spot the differences. Make sense of what it meant to me then, what it means to me now. Because I’m trying to be on Instagram, because I’m considering coming out about my project, because I haven’t been making new work.

There’s so much tension, I wish I could chop it up with a big kitchen knife.

I have all these notes, half drafted posts, one liners, ideas for series I’m not starting. I have all these videos, photos, clips to edit, images to superimpose, visions to manifest. It’s like having dug myself into a grave of unrealized potential. The longer something stays in the todo pile, the more stuck to it it gets.

I need a turning point. Put to bed what was and wasn’t done. Tuck it in real tight. Or let it kick the sheets around. Whatever the fuck it wants, as long as I’m moving on.

I tried to write about when I first put my work online. It’s a good story. But every line I write, every tense I pick rings fake. Like empty noise, no sound to it. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong, maybe I can’t tell this story yet. I’m still trying to justify myself. Still trying to prove to myself that I am relevant, that this is meaningful.

If you throw a ping pong ball at your reflection in the mirror, chances are it’s going to bounce back and hit you in the face.

I started making videos almost three years ago. I started putting them online a year and a half ago. Everything I have done, everything I am now, was completely unimaginable a few minutes, a few days before it happened. I think maybe that’s the real before and after I’m trying to get at. The shift from unintended to attempting, from surprise to expectations.

For the five months my initial stint on Vimeo lasted, I was so darn gratified. Free flowing in a reciprocity of self expression and what can only be self described as success. The numbers mean nothing to anyone else but me, and isn’t it convenient that I don’t remember exactly how many followers, views, comments, messages I actually got, so that their memory can shine brighter than their past reality. What I do remember though is the taste of the dopamine. I miss how high as a kite I was on it. It still trickles in sporadically, but it’s not the same as being plugged into a steady stream.

I wish I could say I don’t need the resonance. But the truth is I thrived on that crack. I did a good job back then convincing myself I wasn’t doing it for those reasons. Yeah right. How easily deceivable we can be to ourselves. Of course the viewership was only meaningful because the work was meaningful too. Empty numbers are senseless, unseen work suffocates, but put the two together and you’ve got synergy. The kind that sizzles.

I know I can never go back. I just wish it could feel that fresh again. That I could be this unencumbered again. It was truly one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. It came with such a sense of aliveness, directness, effortlessness. I guess it was purpose? The feeling of being carried by some inner holy flame. Joan of arc with the voice of God in her ear.

I never thought I’d have an audience unless I built one. Then an audience fell from the sky. Then it went away. Can I really be upset that I lost something I never expected to have? Can I not take it for the gift that it was? Being told of the impact my work had on people shifted my relationship with myself in ways I cannot even start to describe. Here I am now, feeling washed up on the beach because the tide went out. But aren’t I feeling this way simply because I’m exposed and can’t hide in the water anymore? And isn’t that the exact point of what I started in the first place?

On being compromised 

I’ve been obsessing lately about making a false move. I want to bridge all of my worlds and embrace being all that I am but I’m scared of the potential consequences of exposure, especially of getting to a place where someone who would want to know could find my location. Last night I couldn’t sleep, asking over and over again, why am I so terrified of this? Then it hit me. It’s because part of me thinks that if something bad would happen to me, it would be my fault. It would make it my fault because I choose to do what I do and because I didn’t protect myself well enough. Omg. This is a huge aha moment for me. Because really, if someone ever decided to harm me, why would it my fault and not theirs? If someone chooses to harm me, it’s them that is the problem, not me. This might seem so dumbly obvious but I’m serious, somewhere in my mind, I’m really not clear about this. And it’s really pissing me off to realize that.

I mean sure, risk management is a part of life. You take your car on the road, you’d better have insurance, a license, know how to drive, and expect that others may not be thinking along as well as you are. But still, you take your fucking car on the fucking road, you don’t leave it in the fucking garage (ok so I’m a little riled up about this, but I feel pretty entitled to). Ships are safest in the harbor, but that is not what they are built for. So, if I acknowledge that I’m not doing certain things, not fully going for my shots, because I’m afraid it could mean being harmed in a way that would be my fault, well then that’s not risk management, that’s being fucking COMPROMISED.

I actually recognize this, this is victim mentality. The assumption that any harm done to you would result from something you did. This gets perpetrated all the time, in the media, in how we frame the conversation around violence, especially sexual violence. We end up looking to the victim, asking how their behavior attracted or enabled what was done to them. This is how victims so often end up re victimized. This kind of thinking is the default reaction of victims themselves, who of course are the product of their culture.

This is how behavior gets policed, choices get curtailed, freedom gets tarnished in ways we are not even aware of. I’m not really free to engage in what I want to do if I’m constantly afraid my actions could open me up to any sort of assault which would be blamed back on me. Seriously, this has so many consequences. One of the biggest being that I can’t really allow myself to be vulnerable, even though my vulnerability, my softness, my openness are the very sources of my creativity, my power, my agency. Without them, I am a dimmed version of myself.

This is so important because I have all sorts of hopes and dreams for my project (and myself) but I’ve been standing still, petrified of getting into more trouble than I can handle. It also explains why I’ve been spending so much time justifying myself, as an insurance policy. But at some point, you have to stand for something, you have to walk your talk and grow past the conditioning that keeps everything the same. Let me rephrase that. At some point, I have to walk my talk, I have to stand for what I believe in. Awareness is always the first step but the follow up question is, what are you going to do about it?

I want to point out that one of the reasons I had this awakening is because of Natalie Portman’s speech from this year’s Women’s March. Portman spoke extremely powerfully about how her own choices were affected by the world’s reaction to her sexuality. (I highly recommend listening to her if you haven’t already, I relate so much to her story and her conclusion about the need for a revolution of desire gave me goosebumps.) We will never know what kind of Natalie Portman could have been had she grown up in a different, safer world. The same can be said about me. The same can be said about everyone. Those are losses we have to grieve. But past the grief, past the awareness that we are not as free as we think we are, we have an opportunity to create something new and better. I don’t know much about the future but I do know I want to be a part of that.

 

 

On where I am

Back from my unplanned project break.

Oh life. Plan or no plan, she’s the one leading this dance.

I’m not even going to pretend I don’t want to write about what’s going on. My sister’s nipples were bleeding. Turns out she has papillomas and cysts in both of her breasts. The latest biopsy shows that the cells are typical though, not atypical. Her syndrome still increases their chance of turning malignant but the need for rapid intervention has been averted. Nothing needs to happen until her next ultrasound in 6 months (no MRIs for her because of her pacemaker). It’s such a relief, because an intervention would have meant a double mastectomy. Which might still happen, at some point down the line, but at least it doesn’t have to be rushed. She also got to see the specialist who will follow her from now on and he assured her that if they do the surgery, it will be with an immediate reconstruction. She won’t have to wake up without breasts. That image has been haunting me ever since I heard this was a likely scenario. It’s what was hanging over the entire family during the holidays. It’s what made everyone cuddle up a lot more, what made my sister’s self-harming attacks go down drastically, what made me drop a lot of what was on my agenda so I could be present and not lose my shit. That’s the thing about these kinds of experiences. They really bring up what’s important, and make you forget or sneer or laugh at what’s not. And so, so much in this life is not fucking important.

This is one of the most dramatic health issue my sister has had to deal with in a few years. She’s the one going through it, but of course it affects the whole family. That was the thing growing up. No one, especially not I, understood how what was happening to her was in some form also happening to me. It’s not something that gets really talked about. Healthy siblings of sick children. It’s something I have spent years googling, hoping the internet had an answer for me. It didn’t, so I had to make my own. This is where my wisdom comes from by the way. Not because I am naturally good at it, but because I have to be good at it.

The most difficult thing for me is to not throw the baby with the bath water. Being constantly reminded of the transient nature of life makes it hard to engage with things and go after goals. My life becomes a slippery piece of marble, like I have nothing to grasp it with. It’s hard to compete with how meaningful physical survival is. Everything else pales in comparison. It leaves me free floating, unattached to my own life. The purpose of being a witness to someone else’s life or death struggle holds such clarity, I still don’t know how to see myself with the same eyes.

And this is where I get it. Get it more anyway. My videos, my words, my desire to share it publicly, my fascination for any reaction I get… I’m driven by my need to exist in ways I do not know how to do on my own. You’d think feeling your own existence is one of those granted things in life. Like maybe the only granted thing. But no, for the likes of me, it really isn’t.

We all have our challenges. This is mine. I want to learn to see myself as the main character in my own life. I want to let the aliveness that flows through me shine. I want to exist as myself and for myself. I want to live before I die.

I can tell my project has completed another cycle on its spiraling course. It already isn’t what it was before. It isn’t yet what it will be next. Like the space between our breaths. It’s a good place to be when you can recognize it as such. The next breath is coming, there is no doubt or question about it. But for now, in the stillness of expectancy, I can let myself experience where I am.

On the end of the year

Where have you been, where are you going.

I can’t do right now. All my energy has shifted towards observation. Feeling my connective tissue stretching, like the sound of sheets in the morning light.

The in between places. So frustrating or exhilarating, depending how you look at it. The flip coin of expectations and excitement.

Wishing everyone a happy solstice, or a happy whichever holidays bring more meaning into your life.

May old and new ideas marinate in dark skies and glowing lights.