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Journalist Gram Ponante on writing, rescue and how giving to others completes us

Gordon and Gram Ponante
Gordon and Gram PonanteCopyright: Gram Ponante

Adult entertainment is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when guardians and advocates think about shelter animals and rescue, but in fact, the industry is closely tied to saving dogs and cats. Actors, actresses, producers, directors — even entire film companies — adopt, save, network, and donate time and resources to animal welfare organizations.

Gram Ponante is perhaps the industry’s best-known and most loved “porn journalist.” It is, in his words, “a job that comes somewhere between astronaut and vice president of the United States on the rarity scale.” For the past ten years, he has made a living writing about what he calls “the heart-attack serious but often ridiculous world of American and international pornography. In addition to interviewing porn stars and visiting the sets of porn movies, I write about the legal, technological, medical, and social aspects of pornography. It's always fascinating, always entertaining, and occasionally sexy. You've heard that many people become vegetarians after visiting a slaughterhouse, or that no one really wants to know how a sausage is made. Well, come to the sausage party that is a porn set and you'll learn that it's not all sexy, all the time.”

Ponante has been a journalist for decades, and an animal lover and guardian throughout most of his life. In this interview, he discusses his working in mainstream and adult media, his longtime passion for dogs and cats, and the close ties that the adult community has with rescue.

What is your background as a writer and how did you become involved in the adult industry?

I have been a professional freelance writer since I was 16 — I even remember newspapers — and I was very interested in something crazy that was happening in Los Angeles twelve years ago after I moved here from the East Coast: factions within the San Fernando Valley section of L.A. were agitating to split the Valley from the rest of L.A. The City of Angels is divided by the Hollywood Hills (where the sign is). Facing the sign is the L.A. of Melrose Place, Baywatch, L.A. Law, and Barfly. On the back of the sign is the Valley, where I live — the setting for Boogie Nights and, I guess, the “before” part of Chinatown. Being from the East Coast, I thought it would be a great idea to write about what this new city would be like if the voters got behind it.

I talked with community leaders, arts organizations, airplane parts manufacturers, etc. about their visions of Camelot, which was, believe it or not, the top contender for the name of the new municipality. I remember an executive from Budweiser on Sherman Way saying, "Well, if you want to know about the economy of the Valley, you should talk to some people in porn." To which I replied, "They make pornography here?"

I was very innocent back then. I made just a few calls and ended up on my first porn set. It was both thrilling and not exciting at all. Different versions of my article about the San Fernando Valley (it stayed part of Los Angeles) were published around the world, and I found myself writing more and more about the adult industry, never thinking that, more than a decade later, there'd still be anything to write about.

When did you develop your passion for written words?

I remember hearing my brother's Nazareth record when I was a kid. Nazareth did a cover — although I didn't know what a cover was at the time — of The Everly Brothers/Roy Orbison hit "Love Hurts." One of the lyrics was, "Love is like a flame/It burns you when it's hot." I remember thinking, Well, of course a flame burns you when it's hot. It's a flame. It's hot. I went to the library to find the original lyrics by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant and learned that everyone but Nazareth sang, "Love is like a stove/It burns you when it's hot." That made a lot more sense to me, and I credit Nazareth with making me a critical thinker. Now you're messing with a son of a b--ch!

What were the steps that led to your professional writing career?

In school and out of college I wrote for the Boston Globe and the Boston Phoenix, and started earning some extra money by writing technical manuals. I also wrote for local theatre and wrote sketches for touring comedy groups. Basically, I write for anyone who won't bounce a check — and have written for several publications that will. In the adult realm I've worked for most of the print and Internet publishers, including Hustler, Fleshbot, Genesis, AVN, and now I am the editorial director of Gamelink, the world's biggest adult DVD and VOD retailer, and maintain my own adult commentary site at GramPonante.com.

When did animals become a part of your life?

I am the youngest of six, and my parents were older when I was born. My schoolmates thought they were my grandparents. I was lonely as a child, and I was always drawn to dogs because they were so companionate and loyal. But my father remembered horse-drawn trolleys. He told me a story of two old ladies in his neighborhood when he was a child who would kiss their dog on the lips before they went to work in the mill. The dog would then eat all the horse poop from the trolleys. When the old ladies came back from work, my father said, they'd kiss the dog on the lips again. So my father didn't want a dog!

But I did, and my mother had always had dogs. Together, we wore him down, and when I was 12, I was allowed to get a Sheltie/Terrier puppy from the pound. She was absolutely great, a real charmer. She was a wonderful companion through my adolescence and teen angst. She stayed with my parents when I went off to school, and by the time I took her away to live in my first apartment, even my father loved her.

She died when she was 12, and I was heartbroken. I wanted another dog but was working and couldn't take the time off to train one and spend the necessary time with it. So I rescued a couple of little kittens from a dumpster in Chelsea, Massachusetts. I was drowning my sorrows in a bar in Boston when the waiter told a story about his neighbor, who had a dumpster behind his house in which a feral cat had given birth to a litter. The neighbor said he was going to drown the cats in the nearby Pines River if someone didn't take them away. I didn't like cats particularly — to me, they always acted like I owed them a favor — but I took a bet that I would get to like them. Plus there were mice in my apartment.

So I picked up these two little littermates and took them home in a box via bus and subway. They were flea-bitten and feral and scared, but they came around. Four years later, I moved with them to Los Angeles and one of them, 17 years old, is sitting on my desk and staring at me as I write this.

Have all of your dogs and cats been rescues? If so, why has that always been important to you?

The animals I adopted in Boston were all rescues, but not for any higher purpose. I hadn't thought of the implications of pet stores and puppy mills when I got my dog at the pound or my cats from the garbage; that's just where I knew them to be. But when my kids were a little older here in Los Angeles and my birthday was rolling around, I knew I wanted to go to the animal shelter to finally get another dog. By then I'd picked up a distaste for the breeding profession and wanted to save an animal from an anonymous death in a cage.

The Lacy Street Shelter on the outskirts of downtown L.A. is a cacophonous place. My kids and I visited three times before we made a decision, and we walked several dogs. At first I wanted a mid-size female dog, like I'd had when I was a boy. But then we saw a 3-month-old male Australian Shepherd mix. Looking at his paws, I could tell he was going to be at least 60 pounds. But we took him for a stroll and just fell in love with him. He has been with us for just over two years. He and the cat — she is allowed to do anything she wants by virtue of her age and service to me and my family — co-exist, though she sometimes has to teach this raucous puppy a lesson by giving him a swat. He only outweighs her 10 to 1, but he knows that she means business and rules the roost.

Invariably, when one works in the adult industry, there’s an immediate stereotype that the public attaches to that person, regardless of who they are and what they do outside of the workplace. Most people don’t realize how much the adult community advocates for animal rescue and the work that they do to help shelter animals. A few examples: Jessica Drake adopted a senior Chihuahua, Big, that she dotes on day and night. Kay Brandt has been active with a particular dog rescue organization since 1999, adopted two dogs from them, and donated a truck to help them with transport. Kelley Jean, now with the band Tight, has two rescue dogs. Kimberly Kane adopted a Chihuahua/Italian greyhound mix. Marcus London has rescued dogs and cats. Girlfriends Films regularly donates to animal rescue organizations. Why do you think there is such a strong bond between the adult community and animal rescue?

I'm hesitant to paint the adult business with such a broad brush. I can't say every porn performer is a big-hearted animal advocate. But I know that there are way more wrong-headed and thoughtless stories out there about "what the adult industry is," so I'll offer a couple of theories about why animal rescue might appeal to a pornographer.

One reason might be that animals offer acceptance where the rest of the world doesn't. Another reason might be that one of the greatest feelings is to be able to give, and sometimes that option is taken away from people who work in the adult industry. I know porn stars with hearts of gold and sterling credit whose charitable donations have been turned away, who have been told they can't adopt children, who have been kicked out of or never hired for non-porn jobs, just because they consensually acted in some harmless, ridiculous film (or 100). Thus they have been denied the opportunity to give to another, which is something that completes us as humans. In addition, Los Angeles isn't like compact cities in other parts of the country; our friends are often far away or we only see them when we work. I'm a solitary writer when I'm not out networking or chasing down a story. I can't walk down the street to my friend's house, like I used to do growing up. So I have a dog and a cat to keep me company on these sunny California days when my kids are at school and I've got a 5,000-word deadline.