How My Dad’s Dirty Magazines Shaped My Queer Sexuality

As a young girl, I’d walk home after school and sneak down to my dad’s weight room, past all the exercise equipment and into the drawers. There they were: the motorcycle magazines. I’d paw through them looking for one I hadn’t drooled over already. I’d hungrily tear through the pages looking for the first pair of tits I could find. This discovery would leave me with a forbidden rush, an excitement that I’d never felt before. The naked women sprawled out over the Choppers, Hot rods and V rods became an obsession.

More powerful than guilt, shame or feeling just plain ugly was the sense of empowerment I got from those magazines. I believe that sexual images of women are a positive thing. Porn and dirty magazines were a huge part of finding myself, taking ownership of my sexuality and seeing other women empowered by theirs. Looking through my dad’s dirty magazines was an integral part of my self-discovery as a queer woman.

I was a chronic masturbator as a child. My mom told me that I masturbated in the crib and she had to call the doctor to make sure it was normal. It apparently was, but I didn’t stop once I got older. Once I got to elementary school, in class, I’d rock back and forth in my chair until I came, then do it again and again. Teachers would call my parents and I’d be told to “do that in private.” I had no idea what it was, just that it felt good, so I didn’t understand the need for privacy. I masturbated basically anywhere and everywhere. Soon, masturbating became a remedy for my anxiety. I didn’t need to think of anything sexual to masturbate; I didn’t even connect it to sex. Once I masturbated to Slime Time Live. I was sent to a child psychologist to help maintain my anxiety and to stop touching myself in public. Therapy worked — I was less anxious and had moved my masturbating to private, but I still did it frequently.

When I was about 11, I started to realize how sexuality played into masturbating. My dad left his motorcycle magazines around the house. He read them in bed, on the toilet, at the kitchen table — they were omnipresent. They were not inherently pornographic; they were mostly actually about motorcycles. But beautiful, scantily clad women were pictured posing on them. My reaction to even peaking at pictures of these women was completely visceral. Looking at a woman and seeing her staring back at me — curled hair, hard nipples, red lips — was hypnotizing. I had never seen women in real life so done-up, so hyper-sexed, so unapologetic about being sexualized. I couldn’t get them out of my head.

My dad and I mostly bonded when I was doing something that I imagined he wished he could do with a son. We listened to Black Sabbath together and he’d tell me about all the different engines in a Harley. We had a game where he’d quiz me on the engines and give me $5 if I guessed them correct. He’d show me pictures of bikes in his magazines, point to the engines and I’d call out “hammer head, pan head, shovel head.” When he flipped to a page with one of the models I knew so well, he’d uncomfortably quickly turn the page. He had no idea that skin was already in my mind, already a part of me. He could never know how I lived with the roundness of their breasts, the depths of their navels, the brightness in their smiles.

I knew, on some level, that my fascination with these women had to be wrong. I knew enough to wait until no one was home to look at them. Soon enough, after some snooping, I discovered that my dad had even more magazines hidden in the basement. And in those, the women were naked. I relished the private moment of getting off the bus, eagerly walking home, anticipating my ritual. I’d close the basement door, walk down the stairs, pass the washer and drier, and go into the weight room. There was an inconspicuous white dresser against the wall. I’d open a drawer and feel like a kid in a candy store — or a queer kid surrounded by boobs. My hand would shake as I selected a magazine. I could look at the biker chicks and get turned on without worry, unselfconsciously, because it didn’t bother me yet that I didn’t look like them. I had a concept of my sexuality before I had a concept of my appearance. I still remember their strappy leather outfits, their legs spread wide, their utter confidence.

The magazines were a starting place, but then I craved a moving image. I remember accidentally flipping to an adult channel one night in my room when I couldn’t sleep. From then on, whenever I was alone, I’d watch the scrolling TV guide and my eyes would light up whenever I saw something like “Step Mom Gang Bang.” Channel 99 came in all scrambled. An ass would appear in the upper right hand corner of the screen, a boob in the bottom left: a surrealist painting of pornography. The channel hardly ever focused but every once in a while you could get a clear vision of a beautiful woman being penetrated and, for that one moment, I’d be mesmerized. I’d make sure the remote was next to me and the previous channel was Nickelodeon so I could quickly switch back if needed. If there were videos on TV, I figured there must be more on the internet. One night, I quietly slid out of bed, snuck on to the family computer and shakily searched “girls kissing.” These videos became almost sacred. Then, I discovered full-blown porn.

By this age, about 13, I had begun to give thought to my weight, my hair, my clothes. I desperately wanted to be conventionally beautiful. My relationship with women in porn was complicated. Some days, I wanted to be with them. Some days, I compared myself to them. Other days, I felt completely un-turned on by them because I assumed they were straight. There was no specific incident that made me start feeling this way. I all-of-a-sudden became more aware of myself and of other people’s orientations—I acknowledged that I was different. I’ve never had a crush or felt attraction to a straight woman in real life before. I don’t know if that’s a protection from rejection, a blessing to make my friendships easier, or something I carried from the early experience of worrying about the sexuality of the women in porn.

The more multilayered my reactions to images of women became, the more I longed for someone to talk about them with. I would log on to AOL and send an a/s/l message to anyone and everyone in the gay chat rooms. I’d message with anyone who was willing to message me. Talking to other queer people from all over made me feel less alone. I lied about my age and sent fake pictures. Yes, I was totally a young dyke catfish. Once, in one of the gay chat rooms, I noticed the screenname of one of my classmates. (It was dirtbikebabe93. So, so gay.) We’d barely talk in school but we’d instant message for hours. When she came out to me as bisexual, I had no idea what the word meant. I had to look it up in the dictionary. I had no language for my sexuality, I had no idea there was an actual word for what I was feeling. For some reason, learning there was one made me scared.

In a time where queerness wasn’t as accepted, I’m thankful that I had an outlet (however pervy it was) to explore my identity. Dirty magazines and porn were a large part of my self-discovery and have positively influenced my sexuality as it is today. Even though identifying myself as queer when I was young seemed terrifying, seeing women unabashedly owning their sexuality taught me to be unashamed of sexuality. I missed a lot of shame and guilt surrounding sex, because I introduced myself to it so young. Being in tune with my sexuality, or even being in tune with my confusion — just simply letting myself feel and experience has led to me being a sexually empowered adult. I thank and honor the perverted 11-year-old I was; she created the proud queer woman and writer I am today.


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Dayna Troisi is a poetry MFA candidate at Hofstra University where she also teaches creative writing. She works as a research assistant for the Berkshire Conference, the largest gathering for women historians worldwide. Her work has been published in Racked, Jezebel, Broadly, the Tiny Tim Review and elsewhere. Her main projects include poems and nonfiction essays that engage with feminism, queer experience and disability justice. Follow her on twitter @DaynaTroisi.

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25 Comments

  1. 11

    Almost embarrassing how much I relate to this. I used to reduce my queerness to just being a little perv since my only exposure to the world of two women together was through (awfully male-gazey, het) porn.

    Your perspective reframes that into something really empowering. Thank you for sharing!

  2. 4

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. I was introduced to porn early in life. I was attracted to and fascinated by the women. But the pictures functioned as a sort of how to guide for the older boys to know what to do to me. So it was this weird thing of wanting to know more about these women and their bodies but being very not ok with boys doing it to me. So I’ve had a very negative view of porn even though it did help me connect with my sexuality in some ways.

  3. 4

    I too am a bit embarrassed to how much I can relate to this, especially all the online stuff(looking back it all makes). I didn’t use AOL, but found a site called Teen matchmaker. It was like a free dating site in the early 00’s for teens still in school(and it had options to put down if you are straight, questioning, bi, or gay). Was my first time interacting with women who weren’t straight, but also filled with a few people who were cat-fishing(I did it too, but I was around 15 at the time and didn’t know any better). Never met anyone in person, but I spoke to like 3 people on an actual landline(one called to laugh at me).

    Side note cat-fishing can also be used to figure out if a roommate was stealing or are we just being forgetful(person was stealing and sent a picture of himself with another roommates stuff to our fake email).

  4. 4

    I identify and relate to this SOOOOO much! Only instead of it being motorcyle magazines it was my moms “Encyclopedia of Sex” that I found in the basement. It was pretty horribly out of date, even for the 90s, but had a huge impact and started me down much the same road.

  5. 5

    “I missed a lot of shame and guilt surrounding sex, because I introduced myself to it so young. Being in tune with my sexuality, or even being in tune with my confusion — just simply letting myself feel and experience has led to me being a sexually empowered adult.”
    Starting masturbating at a young age and exploring my sexuality before I had words for it didn’t protect me from the shame surrounding sex. You are, of course, welcome to relate to your life experience however you want to, but man, if only it were that simple. Shame and guilt are such insidious creatures, especially when combined with our society’s treatment of sex and bodies.

    • 2

      This is actually a good point. I’d been interested if the author could follow up on what sort of messages she got from her family and peers about sex and her body shaped her developing feelings about both. Being comfortable masturbating at a young age and exploring fantasy on ones own, is quite different from being able to admit these things to others. Plus the kind, age and amount of sexual information encouraged can have very different impressions for different people. Both good and bad. Even without the factor of other peoples judgements.

  6. 2

    This reminds me of an amusing spin Heather Findlay once wrote on the all too cliched defense of reading Playboy or Penthouse in an easily porn panicked world, “I read them for the articles.” Because lesbians with little access to lesbian porn could only find over sexual stimulating images of women in straight male-oriented magazines, she “confessed” to occasionally having bought them. Trying to distance herself from what she called the “whinny male” tone of their text, her defense to her peers was, “[B]ut really, I only buy it for the pictorials!”

  7. 2

    This is a really good and well written and honest article.

    Do you think maybe rather than it being heterosexism/thinking ‘my child is too innocent for this’ your dad might’ve just felt uncomfortable looking at sexy ladies w his daughter? I don’t know if it’s cos I’m repressed british but I find it hard to imagine any parent and child doing that together (except the trumps but that’s not what I’m getting at).

    I too relate so much to this. Especially the son he never had (I’m bigender though. So kind of just his stepson. He doesn’t realise that and the way he acts at times is just like w a cis son who never experienced sexism, he tells me jokes about women and I have had to tell him not to cos 1 they relate to me and 2 just quit with the sexist jokes anyway!) and the cat fishing.

    He came across my porn once and he was just like ‘it’s natural but delete your browser history before your mum finds it’.

    My stepdad likes pre raphaelite art. He likes all of it so it’s not a pervy thing as far as he’s concerned. But we had this picture of nymphs above our dining room table. Topless, conventionally attractive women in the water. My girlfriend couldn’t stop giggling/staring at it when she came over. We were 13.

    The cat fishing I think is a result of being 1 bigender and not knowing what that was so trying on male personas for size and 2 a maladjusted daydreamer as they put it which is a label I hate and wanting there to be somewhere for my characters to express themselves and 3 growing up w netiquette that said something like ‘don’t give away details of your life’ and ppl online demanding details. I deal with those things in different ways now but they’ll always be a part of me.

    Can we have a conversation about how there’s different forms of cat fishing? How someone trying to rip an old person out of their life savings or a paedo posing for thirteen to lure in victims is totally different to a transperson passing for cis (not even real catfishing in my book) a kid experimenting w sex by saying they’re 18 (that ones dangerous but mostly to the cat fish) or someone w mpd having their alters use the Internet? The MTV show doesn’t make that distinction so I’ve stopped watching it.

  8. 0

    I can relate so much to this… But I also thank the gods for not being able to access many mags at the time. When I look at sites like pdf-titans.com, I wonder how would I shape up if all these mags were available to me…

  9. 0

    I’m sure this won’t make it past the censors, but please please please, educate yourself about the male gaze. Women in commercial pornography are sexually objectified for profit by men. There is nothing empowering or even sexy about it. Carelessly leaving pirnographic magazines out for his daughter to find as this author’s father did, is abusive behavior and should not be celebrated. Please understand that your sexuality will never ever come from commercial porn. Your sexuality is yours, don’t give it away to misogynists.

  10. 0

    Growing up in a Catholic household, I was definitely shamed about sex and masturbation. I used to have a lot of guilt about it, even though it didn’t stop me from masturbating in secret or from being sexually active once I got to college. I do think it may have played a part in why it took me so long to acknowledge my bisexuality though. When I went to college, anything beyond kissing with men felt like extreme behavior and rebellion, so I guess sex with women was just like, not even on my radar? There were definitely signs, though. Even though I can find men sexually and romantically attractive, I’ve never really liked watching men in porn. I never watched lesbian porn, but in hetero porn my gaze was always on the woman. I tried to justify it to myself like, “oh I’m just picturing myself in that situation.” Lol. When I discovered porn with women pleasuring themselves using toys or machines, I was like THIS is perfect. And definitely not gay. Nope. Not at all. 😛

  11. 0

    I got caught reading my dad’s mags when I was 12? 13? Less? Got the whole “We said if you had any questions, you could ask us!” routine. I remember thinking “But I don’t have questions, they’re just pretty!”

    Then, in my 20s, when I came out to my mom as bi, she said “Don’t tell you dad, he’ll blame himself for leaving those magazines where you could find them!” As if having seen naked women in my early years is what made me bi. *sigh*

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