Amber Rayne is dead, which means it’s time for the media to tell you why you should care.
The media isn’t known for giving the people they report to “the benefit of the doubt” or allowing them to come to their own conclusions; the death of Amber Rayne is no different. She has been referred to in headline as, “The porn star who accused James Deen of rape,” denying her a name. When she is referred to by name, we still get how she relates to Deen; as though she is defined by what she did to James Deen – not on her own merit, and not even as a woman who stood up for what was right against a powerful man. If that were the point, she wouldn’t so often be referred to as “porn star” while Deen is referred to as “adult actor.” It could be excused as semantics if any report on Rayne’s death didn’t fall into the same trap.
But praise the lord and pass the sex-positive feminist news outlets. Surely they will recognize Rayne for more than how she relates to James Deen?
Bustle came in on the white horse to remind us that Rayne was so much more than a woman who accused a high profile man of rape, then made sure we also knew she was so much more than a porn star. It seems nice at first glance, especially in relation to the other headlines, but it raises a fairly serious question.
Why does anyone have to acknowledge Amber Rayne’s life prior to becoming an award-winning adult actress and director in order to properly mourn her or be upset by her death? Here we see the folly of modern sex-positive feminism – it is okay to be upset by the loss of a famous woman at a young age, but if that woman is famous because she has sex on camera, we still have to justify it.
We cannot be upset that Amber Rayne (possibly) succumbed to drug abuse or suicide, because we assume that sex workers do a lot of drugs and hate themselves. So we must come up with reasons to respect her before we can publicly feel bad that her life is lost. It is nice, when a high profile person dies, to look at what they accomplished and recognize that they are more than what we saw in the public eye; but Rayne was an award-winning adult actress who advocated for safe sex and directed numerous adult films. This was her chosen career, and Amber Rayne was her chosen public name.
A truly sex-positive response would be to recognize and celebrate her for what she chose to give the public, not to attempt to humanize her with generic statements like, “she was an animal lover,” or, “she was a big sports fan.” Sex-positive means, in large part, that we recognize sex workers as human to begin with.
The Bustle listicle goes as far as to close with this line, which erases all doubt about what they were trying to do:
“It’s even further proof of just how “normal” she was — she was just like you and me.”
Well, no. If she were truly just like you and me, the media would write her obituary just like yours or mine. When a public figure dies, their obits focus on their public lives with a few nods to their families. They leave the cutesy bits about liking Star Wars and the San Jose Sharks for the eulogies by people who actually knew the public figure personally, because we have no issue accepting a famous writer, scientist, actor, or news anchor as a human being. We’re allowed to relate to them despite not knowing them because we see that they have human faces, bodies, and speak human language.
When Merle Haggard died, just two days after Amber Rayne, the news was filled with articles about his professional legacy, the musicians he inspired, the music he planned to record. No one needed to be told that Haggard existed off-stage as a real human man; we assumed it, because it was obvious. No one rushed to assure us that he was “normal” or “just like you and me”; he was allowed to be remembered as an accomplished musician and legendary celebrity.
So why then do we need to refer to Amber Rayne by her legal name, rather than the name she gave the public? Why do we need to be assured that she was “normal?” Why do we need to find a way to relate her to a male sex worker in a thinly veiled double standard that we excuse men in porn as “adult actors,” who get to have names, and choose which name goes to the public, where Rayne must be called a “porn star,” and have her legal name brushed on every page when she obviously cannot consent to it?
Amber Rayne’s death at 31 is a tragedy in the same way it is always a tragedy when a person dies young. And we should treat her the way we would treat any public figure.