Stormy Daniels Poses for Playboy

Sexuality in Conversation

The Art of the Real Starring Stormy Daniels

It took me longer than I care to admit to connect the name “Stormy Daniels” with the names she’d given her double-D breasts: “Thunder” and “Lightning.” Perhaps this is my own idiocy—a blonde moment in an otherwise brunette life?—but perhaps this is the first time you’re putting it together too.

I think I know why. Although Stormy Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is one of the most award-winning stars of adult film and, she says, one of porn’s highest-paid directors (she wrote, directed and starred in several adult block­busters), she entered the mainstream American consciousness only in early 2018, when the existence of a nondisclosure agreement and a corresponding $130,000 payment between her and Donald Trump’s then lawyer, Michael Cohen, came to light.

By the time I knew who she was, the sex she’d had on camera was not as meaningful as the idea of the sex she’d had on camera. Not to mention the idea of the sex she’d had with Donald Trump. Which, on a deeply unfortunate note, puts me in the same logic league as Rudy Giuliani, who dismissed her “value” because she sold “her body for money.” Republicans and Democrats may have come to vastly different conclusions about the meaning of this woman, but we are all responsible for using the same math to get there: We saw her as a certain kind of person.
Overnight, Stormy—and Thunder and Lightning—were thrust into the political spotlight and placed into a kind of subject-object gender-studies centrifuge. For liberals she was (and still is) a brassy bullet point for the reality-television series streaming from the White House: Stormy the Warrior. Stormy the Neoliberal Feminist. Stormy the Hero America Deserves. It would be a porn star who screws over Donald Trump. Oh, the dirty irony! It would be someone prone to self-promotion and mass generalizations about herself (on Twitter: “I never do shit the easy way”; in Rolling Stone: “Standing up to bullies is kind of my thing”), someone who has wrestled far scarier pigs than this one. “Horseface”? That’s it? Her lawsuit was going to take down the president, and she was going to expand the reach of the #MeToo movement. For conservatives she was (and still is) the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with a loose-morals America, a capitalist harlot come to besmirch a man whose only crime is wanting to make America great just one more time before his own policies cause it to fall into the ocean.
While we’ve been busy objectifying Daniels, she has spent the past two decades beating us to the punch. In her 2018 memoir, Full Disclosure, she says that when she got the call to visit Trump in his hotel room, she gave Thunder and Lightning “a wake-up call and went over.” She knows her augmented assets are an integral part of what people imagine, if they choose to imagine. They are also emblematic of who she is. Most porn stars do not name their body parts; it’s not in their contracts. But Stormy Daniels named her breasts like some men name their penises. This is a power move unto itself, and because she is a woman, it has a less blustery meaning. She is not trying to improve them by naming them. Instead, their names reveal the funny, confident, savvy person underneath, the one who dares you to slut-shame her. Go ahead, see what happens. Do you think she doesn’t know what she does for a living?
There’s just no middle ground. There’s no one on the internet saying, ‘Stormy Daniels is a cool chick.’ It’s either I’m a hero who’s going to save the universe, and a patriot—I haven’t gone to war!—or I’m a disgusting disease-ridden whore.
This cheekiness—the idea that any kind of sex worker might have a brain—should no longer come as a shock. Sasha Grey has done more than her fair share to fix that with her activism and hipster appeal, Tera Patrick has a microbiology degree, and seemingly half of female porn stars have nursing degrees. But unlike them, Stormy Daniels is not angling for her chance to become something else. A second career does not equate to an apology for the first one for those other women either, but in Stormy’s case, there’s nothing to be condemned to or redeemed from. You will not find Thunder and Lightning hidden under a lab coat anytime soon…except maybe on set.

This is the essential and perhaps most enduring truth of Stormy Daniels: There’s not an inch of her that she doesn’t own. She is not a woman who does anything by accident. Which is why, I believe, people put so much stock in her opinions even as she declines to give them. She has managed to be the cool center of a salacious hurricane without becoming host to anyone’s agenda. The result, when she speaks, is a kind of Stormy-specific feminism. It’s not that she doesn’t care about other women, but she may be the one female public figure who refuses to be in conversation with this moment in history. It’s as if she’s trying to pass through it like a bullet—and for her, it’s working. She’s an opt-out anti-feminist feminist. Confused? Well, then perhaps it’s time to get it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Before Stormy’s manager puts us in touch, he wants to be sure our conversation won’t be “a rehashing of the Trump night.” When I realize what he means, I think of hot blades, windowless bunkers, unrated versions of The Human Centipede—images that, like details of the president in bed, I would pay good money to never experience. I assure him he has nothing to worry about. Even if I did want to know, I suspect Stormy herself is fuzzy on the play-by-play. For America, there may have been trauma, but for Stormy, there was not. She has repeatedly stressed that this was a consensual dalliance. I doubt she so much as thought about it after that appearance on The Apprentice didn’t pan out.

“Yeah,” she says over the phone, laughing. “I keep thinking, Oh, guys, you’re not going to be the reporter who suddenly makes me remember this epic thing I forgot and somehow didn’t put in my book!”
If she had something unique to sell, she would have sold it herself. Stormy is often positioned as Trump’s counterweight. Although she is transactional (she has referred to her “free” 60 Minutes interview), she is not amoral. She’s just a woman who knows her value, who is sick of the “Madonna-whore complex.” But while I think she has face-planted into Feminism 101 (on the Kavanaugh hearings: “I found it really frustrating that [Christine Blasey Ford] is automatically more credible and I’m automatically not as credible just because of our professions”), she does not agree.

“It’s not that I don’t identify with feminism,” she says. “I just think it’s gone way too far. It has lost its original connotation. I love men, and I think they’re kind of getting a bad rap right now. I don’t want to be a part of that. I don’t know a single guy who should be punished because your great-grandmother didn’t get to vote.”

I found it really frustrating that [Christine Blasey Ford] is automatically more credible and I’m automatically not as credible just because of our professions.
This is a cauldron of generalization (polar bears should not be punished because of gun control?), but I see her larger point. The dialogue presented to her about this stuff is presented largely through the internet, which is not a bastion of subtlety. There’s a lot of screaming, and because the dismissal of women’s anger as exaggerated or self-righteous is part of the problem, it can be tricky to navigate the conversation.

“There’s just no middle ground. There’s no one on the internet saying, ‘Stormy Daniels is a cool chick.’ It’s either I’m a hero who’s going to save the universe, and a patriot—I haven’t gone to war!—or I’m a disgusting disease-ridden whore and I should be shot in the head and my kid should be euthanized. Literally, my Twitter time line is ‘You’re my hero’; ‘I’m gonna murder your child’; ‘You’re my hero’; ‘I’m gonna murder your child.’ ”
Can you blame her for not wanting to be part of the conversation? She can’t remember the last time she googled herself. And as for politics? Well, no thank you to that too.

“My contribution to society is to provide people an escape. A large portion of my fan base is guys in the military or people going through difficult times, and the last thing they want to think about is that stuff. My job is to give these guys 12 minutes where politics don’t exist. And the last thing you want to do is get in an argument with a customer.”
This was ingrained in her when she was “18 and working at the local titty bar.” If men attempted to engage her in a political discussion, which they would, especially around election time, she would change the subject with “Let’s talk about sex!” Indeed, it is capitalism and not feminism that drives her current club tour, Make America Horny Again.

“But now,” she concedes, “I’m in too deep and I’ve seen too much. I’ve been put in this position that goes against everything I’ve believed in my 20-year career. Being in the adult business is really strange culturally. Nobody wants you to do it, but pretty much everyone has been a consumer in some way. They all think you should stop, but they won’t allow you to do anything else. If you leave porn and try to get a different job, either you don’t get hired or you get fired. That has happened to so many girls I know. It’s not a thing that happens to men.”
The time she spends thinking about her legacy is more personal than national. For one thing, she’s convinced she’s “probably going to die alone."
She concedes that it’s getting better for sex workers in general but it’s “like baby steps up a mountain.” Still, the time she spends thinking about her legacy is more personal than national. For one thing, she’s convinced she’s “probably going to die alone,” which she drops when we start talking about relationships. She is recently divorced from her third husband and knows that “the second any guy’s friends and family and strangers find out who he’s dating, he’s going to get shit. He’s going to get told to get an STD test and ‘Oh, don’t get her pregnant; the baby’s just going to fall out of her giant pussy.’ Who wants to deal with that?” Meanwhile, her daughter is “not in a stroller anymore”; if someone approaches Stormy and “says something fucked-up,” her daughter will ask about it. Stormy is also a competitive equestrian…and even that seemingly innocuous space is no longer safe.

“I’m not anonymous anymore,” she says. “Who knows when I ride into the ring if the judge isn’t a big Trump fan? Everything is skewed.”
When I ask if she identifies with a female heroine, fictional or otherwise, Stormy pauses for a moment before answering: “Jodie Foster’s character in The Accused,” she says, referring to the parallels in the film to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child and the fact that she wasn’t believed “because I was poor and my mom was white trash.”

But make no mistake: Stormy’s allergy to the word victim is extreme. Her life, though tumultuous, is full and successful. And that predates Donald Trump. We will not remember her as the woman who took down the most misogynistic president in U.S. history because, well, she didn’t. But she also wasn’t trying. She just wanted to tell the truth. And though she foresees bottomless notoriety, her role here is hardly fixed. Like tabloid croquet, something more salacious could come along any minute and knock it out. Who knows what scandals lurk in the shadows? What we do know is that Stormy Daniels will be remembered as the woman who brought the thunder and the lightning to this presidency.
Before we hang up she casually mentions a less famous legal battle in which she’s currently embroiled.

“There was this trainer in Texas who was abusing and killing horses,” she explains, “and I was the first one to say anything. Then hundreds of other people started coming forward. I just got this text forwarded to me from some little girl’s mom. It said, ‘I don’t know Stormy, but my daughter could’ve ended up at the wrong place and she could’ve gotten really hurt. I want to thank her for using her voice and doing what was right.’ ”

“That must feel good,” I say.

“Yeah,” she says. “Of course it does.”

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