Tobi Hill-Meyer

Sex Conference Un-invites Keynote Speaker For Being Too Racy?

Filed By Tobi Hill-Meyer | January 20, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, The Movement
Tags: Oregon State University, OSUantisex, sex, Tristan Taormino

Tristan Taormino was scheduled to keynote the upcoming Modern Sex conference hosted by Oregon State University, with a talk entitled "Claiming Your Sexual Power."tristan-taormino.jpgThis past Monday, January 17th, university administrators decided to refuse funding for her talk and the conference was forced to cancel her appearance - after she had already purchased airline tickets on the promise of being reimbursed, which presumably won't be happening.

When the news hit the blogosphere the following day, the university was silent on their reasoning and have not yet released a statement regarding the cancellation. The university communications person I spoke with informed me that the appointed spokesperson was sent out of town for most of the day and when I did eventually get in touch with him he was not prepared to offer a response. I'll update this post with a response when I receive one.

The only information from OSU has come from anonymous sources who Tristan reports having spoken to who oppose the decision but are afraid to say so publicly for fear of their job security. One of those sources did, however, state that the decision was because of her "website and resume."

It leads me to question, if a resume of authoring seven books on sex and relationships, editing 18 anthologies, numerous television appearances, 75 university lectures, and a variety of awards for her writing, sex education, and filmmaking is cause for rejecting an already booked speaker, what kind of keynote was the university expecting for a conference about sex?

There is speculation that the reason for the cancellation is due to her work in the porn industry. If so, the university has overstepped significantly in this case. First off, the talk is not about porn whatsoever and to make hiring decisions based on a contractor's other unrelated employment sets a dangerous precedent around academic freedom. Secondly, if there was ever a conference where it is appropriate to invite a feminist pornographer to talk about their work, it would be a feminist conference titled Modern Sex. And finally, to turn away a feminist pornographer while allowing Playboy to annually spend a week on campus recruiting for the "Hottest Girls of the Pac-10" smacks of a horrific double standard.

The ironic part is that while Tristan's speech was not about feminist porn, I will be presenting at the conference on that exact topic - and showing clips. I suppose the difference is that because as a workshop presenter I won't be getting paid, that means they couldn't simply cancel the funding.

Tristan's press release, quoted below, includes three different university administrators to contact for those who would like to take action on the issue.

Note from Tristan:
Don't Let the Anti-Sex Conservatives Win!

If you support free speech and my mission of sexual empowerment, please voice your opinion about OSU's decision to cancel my appearance at the last minute (and not reimburse me for travel expenses) to the following people. I would really appreciate your support --Tristan

Larry Roper
Vice Provost for Student Affairs
632 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2154
541-737-3626 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: [email protected]

Dr. Mamta Motwani Accapadi
Dean of Student Life
A200 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2133
541-737-8748 (phone)
541-737-9160 (fax)
email: [email protected]
twitter: @deanmamta

Dr. Edward J. Ray
600 Kerr Administration Building
Corvallis, OR 97331-2128
541-737-4133 (phone)
541-737-3033 (fax)
email: [email protected]

Update: the OSU finally has responded. As reported on The Portland Mercury's blog:

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 bought her ticket out here to speak at the school.

It seems true that this is just about money, but that's quite an assumption for the OSU to make. The University claims that they'd expect "the funders" would not wish to contract with a pornographer, but did they ever ask them? Who are the funders? Can we ask them? What do the students think? Can we ask them? And ultimately, this means that academic speakers and lecturers will now be subject to a purity litmus test before being deemed worthy of contributing to the free and open discussion -- even for a conference on sex and sexuality.

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Additionally, it makes me wonder if this new stance will be applied to others that the university does business with who make a significant amount of money from porn. They commonly cover travel for both employees going to events and conferences and hired visitors. Do they check to make sure it's not with one of the many hotels that collectively rake in millions in room ordered porn sales. Has OSU ever ordered anything on Or is it only those who publicly speak about their attempts to change the porn industry and remove sexist standards that they object to?

So... do I take it you're not going to be speaking at OSU in the near future? It's typical academia... they desperately want a hipness quotient but they don't really want anything too out there which would upset the flow of money.

No, I'll still be presenting a workshop at the conference. At this point I feel like representing feminist porn will do more good than canceling in protest.

But for the future, if this statement is followed consistently, yes, they would refuse to have return for a paid speaking gig. Of course, I have a hard time imagining it enforced consistently - when I was previously negotiating to speak for them they offered to put me up in the local Hilton.

MSNBC says:

"Precise statistics on in-room adult entertainment are hard to come by. By some estimates, adult movies are available in roughly 40 percent of the nation’s hotels, representing more than 1.5 million rooms. Industry analysts suggest that these adult offerings generate 60 to 80 percent of total in-room entertainment revenue — several hundred million dollars a year."

Hilton Hotels is one of the larger hotel chains making that profit, yet OSU seems to have no problem paying them. That's why I believe it's clear this is being selectively enforced.

Paige Listerud | January 21, 2011 1:01 AM

Glad to hear Taormino's flight tickets will be paid out of the university's coffers--it's only fair.

Now OSU has only one more obligation to fulfill. They must change the name of their conference from "Modern Sex" to "Victorian Sex" or maybe "Pre-Modern Sex." Truth in advertising is everything.

You are absolutely right about this rule being enforced sporadically. I am a student at OSU and I know from the organizers that one person in the business center saw her website and canceled the contract. One person derailed the keynote speaker of the conference a month before the event. Either way I am really excited to attend your workshop.

I can only wonder how much $money$ Playboy gives to the college in return for access to the women there.
Maybe its time to question that?
After all, the women are there are to learn, not be pimped out by the school.

Tristan Taormino is one of the best keynote speakers they could have had! What a loss to those students! Tristian makes people laugh, Giggle and squirm during her speeches! It makes you think about sex in a fantastic way! Again what a loss for those students and that conference!

Tristan was a panel leader at a conference at Creating Change 2010 here in Dallas. A remarkable, well-spoken, knowledgeable, and INTERESTING speaker, her talks and perspectives on similar topics resonate with me still. I'm long past being a college student, but I would go (and pay) to hear her lecture again. Whatever her views, occupation(s) or words may reveal, they are all still part of an education and it's the learner's choice to integrate (or not) whatever life has to teach.

As a taxpayer, I can think of a billion things my money's been spent on that I'd like returned, please. A college conference wouldn't be one of them.

Stick a fork in me, I'm done.

You know that if she were invited to speak on religion, and had done some work proselytizing and was canceled because people were worried that taxpayer money would be going to someone who spreads religion, there would have been an uproar.

travelstoomuch | January 21, 2011 8:02 PM

Tristan is progressive, articulate, and fun. You might imagine, however, that the porn on her website (she's removed all of the pictures that she'd been in, and some of them were, well, progressively naughty) might be tough to explain to the alumni trustee board, etc. This is a conundrum that sexually progressive individuals face; if your website is full of fellatio and other fun, that fun doesn't necessarily translate to an academic venue easily. Should they have done their research first? Certainly. Yet Tristan and others that display sex acts on their sites will have quite a few hurdles to surmount, as the general public doesn't view such things as wholesome student fun. Sadly.