michael j. morris

a review of Madison Young’s Daddy: A Memoir
9 March, 2014, 5:46 pm
Filed under: culture | Tags: , , , , , , ,


Madison Young’s Memoir offers a truly rare account of a rich, complex life, of art, sex, porn, kink, and family. This will surely be a book for those looking for an insider’s account of working in porn and kink. Madison Young is an icon of feminist pornography, radical queer arts activism, sex education, bondage, and kink. No doubt this memoir will find an audience of fans and devotees already smitten with her work and public persona, hungry for a more intimate view into her life. Young—originally Tina Butcher—narrates the evolution of her porn persona, guides readers through the halls and chambers of the legendary KINK Armory, walks us through the throngs of people at the Folsom Street Fair, and goes into vivid, erotic detail describing sex both on and off camera. The writing is hot and will certainly arouse and delight. Her story will give feminists and activists much to celebrate and some places with which to struggle, where one woman wrestles to actualize her passions and ideals in and through her work, her relationships, and herself. Those looking for something of a guidebook into sex and kink will no doubt find Young’s journey educational and inspiring.

However, the significance of Young’s memoir exceeds anything like a “celebrity tell-all” or a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most important feminist pornographers of our time. Throughout the details of art and porn and kink are stories for any person trying to forge their own paths, to discover who they might become, to love and foster lasting relationships, and to find others with whom life is worth living. Daddy tells a story of one person’s journey that bleeds back and forth across decades, where the present turns again and again back towards a past from which it emerges, where the presence of the past sets the stage for how the present unfolds. It is a story of finding heroes and home, with its roots in a Midwestern childhood colored with loss, otherness, and shame, a journey of discovering empowerment and self-actualization in San Francisco and beyond. It is a journey there never fully finds completion; it turns out—for Young, perhaps for all of us—that what it takes to be empowered changes over time, that anxieties come and go, that shame and old wounds take time to heal, and that self-actualization takes place in all kinds of partnerships in all kinds of settings—having sex on a dirty bathroom floor of a bar, bound and suspended by rope, being fucked on camera, during performance art, covered in soil on stage surrounded by California red woods, holding a mother’s hand, planting basil on a patio, during a video conference call with a therapist, holding a child in your arms, and being held in the arms of our lovers. That the journey is never complete and that each step cannot be certain does not make the journey a failure; it is a journey that must remain ongoing, and each step is an act of bravery: that is what makes it a success.

Throughout her Memoir, Young navigates the shifting dimensions of relationships, negotiating monogamy, polyamory, open and dominant/submissive relationships, contending with the flourishing of love, stability, and security as well as the sometimes sudden and sometimes gradual pain of jealousy, anxiety, depression, and abandonment. In these navigations and negotiations, she works to find livability between the dynamic evolution of what becomes public and what remains private, what can be open and what needs to remain closed, what is part of love and what is part of work. She gives us an honest view of one person’s victories and challenges maintaining multiple identities, balancing who she is and who she wants to be. These are themes with which many of us are familiar: how do you make relationships work? How do we celebrate stability and security without ignoring or avoiding inevitable jealousies, insecurities, anxieties, and hurt? How can we recognize that one solution or version will not necessarily work forever and always, for the relationships we cultivate, nor for who it is that we might be? What does it take to stay connected—to others and ourselves—and move forward?

For me, Daddy is a story of families—of origin, of those we choose, and those we make—and the courage and creativity needed to find a way to love and live with others. Young does not move through her journey alone: this tale is populated with mothers and fathers, fairy godmothers, lovers, collaborators, respected colleagues, therapists, and trusted friends. One of the many lessons that I have taken from Young’s memoir is that none of us face this world alone, and we become more of ourselves as we discover ourselves with others.

There are parts of Young’s tale to which we might all relate, portions with which we might identify; there are other parts that recount experiences that probably few have lived. Young narrates us through the unfamiliar even as she herself comes again and again to the edges of what she has known, who she has been, and who she might become. She details her life—a life that is very different from mine, probably very different from yours—and in doing so, helps open up possibilities for what a life might be—from little girl to slut to hero, queer, lesbian, artist, activist, pornographer, submissive, feminist, bisexual, ecosexual, mother, and so on. In telling her own tale, Young expands an archive of lives lived, and in doing so, affirms and enables other ways of living and lives that might yet be.

I consider Madison Young to be a superhero—a sexual superhero, and so much more. Her book reminds us that even our superheroes suffer wounds—both physical and emotional. No great work is without cost and no great life is without suffering. Young reminds us that, “The reality is that we all have heroic moments. Sometimes, we have to be our own heroes and sometimes our heroes need our help. They are, after all, human too.” She boldly faces her own wounds and lives out something of her own healing in the pages that she’s written; she courageously comes to the aid of her own heroes, and we’re allowed to witness this as well. Some of it can be traumatic to read, some of it can be deeply triggering, but even at its most intense, Young remains a trustworthy caretaker of her reader throughout, all the way up to her words to her own child, “Be gentle with yourself. Be gentle with yourself and with those around you,” to a final deep breath and “Instructions for Aftercare” in the “Afterword.”

Near the end of the book, in relation to her own therapy, Young writes, “It was hard work, delving through the past, understanding our emotions, our actions, and creating new pathways. Sometimes it felt like more than I could bear, but that was why I had support.” This summarizes for me the important insights of this Memoir: it is, itself, a difficult delving through her own life, back to families of origin, through painful and joyful moments throughout her career and adult life, making connections strand by stand, reflecting on herself, coming to recognize herself, coming to recognize those from whom she draws support, and finally giving an account of that life. I would not say that it is a Memoir intended to offer a model for living, a path for anyone else to follow; I don’t believe that’s Young’s intention. Rather, it boldly and courageously models something of how we might each approach our own lives, our own loves, our own desires, our own wounds, how we might forge our own paths, do the hard work of coming to know ourselves, and share who we come to know with others.