Josh Sabarra is not afraid of putting it all out there. In his delicious new memoir, Porn Again, the marketing executive and television producer shows an affinity (not to mention a flair) for dishing. Mostly about himself. But don’t be fooled by the title or its subliminally salacious cover (note the subtle placement of a cock front and center) — this is not a book about porn. “People see the title,” Sabarra says, “and the first thing they think is, Oh, were you a porn star? And I’m like, ‘Have you seen my stomach? They wouldn’t hire me for anything.’ But porn was a big influence.”
So was Hollywood, which provides a major backdrop for the story, detailing Sabarra’s journey from an insecure, bullied kid from South Florida who doesn’t fit in with his peers and instead forges a series of touching (and, in one case, tragic) friendships with adult women to a 40-year-old openly gay man who’s learned to accept and love himself. Oh, and along the way, he lands some really cool jobs that allow him to work and party with celebrities and afford to hire off-duty porn stars for sex. It’s a wonderful life, as they say.
Or at least that’s what everyone thought. Says Sabarra: “I would meet people outside of L.A. who would say, ‘Wow, it’s so amazing what you do for a living,’ or ‘You’ve met Jennifer Lopez?’ It makes you appealing to people. And when you’re somebody who’s grown up being bullied and marginalized and told you’re not good enough — and then all of a sudden people think you are, you’ll take it however you can get it. I was addicted to getting approval from other people.” But as Sabarra discovered, it’s not all glitz and glamour. The ill-at-ease kid who thought hobnobbing with celebrities would make him feel cool eventually realizes that hanging with the rich and famous isn’t a guaranteed pathway to self-love.
Does this sound a bit familiar? Sure. No one has ever accused Hollywood of churning out original plots. But what makes Porn Again such a fun read is the author’s wit, honesty, access to celebrity dirt, and sheer brazenness when it comes to detailing his sexual exploits. Which, by the way, are graphic and in abundance.
“People will say, ‘Why would you want people to know that about you?’ or ‘Why would you be so frank about this?’ And I guess I sort of saw it as this period at the end of a sentence. ‘I’m turning 40 and this is what happened before and now I’m going forward this way.’”
Rebirth is another of the book’s themes, a process he encounters both professionally and personally. And oh, yes, sexually. Despite getting a late start — he remained in the closet and a virgin until opening up to his parents about his orientation at age 31 — Sabarra makes up for lost time, both in the bedroom and in his openness with his family. There are plenty of delightfully cringe worthy anecdotes in which the author calls his mother to detail his previous night’s dalliance with a rent boy (“You can’t keep spending $300 every time you want to have sex,” she cautions) or elicits his father’s opinion when selecting a new porn flick for his collection (“Mom and I are treating,” his father tells him during a trip to his local sex shop, “so pick the movie you want more”), but for Sabarra, this feels perfectly natural. “Before I came out,” he says, “on a scale of one to ten, I was so private that I was a zero. Then once I finally felt free enough to let it all out, I went to ten.”
Besides, he says, “my father’s a urologist, so things that relate to southern body parts were never taboo in our house.”
They’re not taboo in the book either. After enduring an unfulfilling relationship he falls into just after coming out, Sabarra discovers real passion during an encounter with actor Alan Cumming. “He was very friendly and a great guy,” Sabarra says, “but it had much more gravity for me than it did for him because there were feelings for me that were there that obviously weren’t there for Alan, and understandably so.”Sabarra insists that his reason for sharing this story is a personal one rather than an exploitative one — after all, how many people get to have a sexual awakening with their celebrity crush? “That’s a big deal,” he says. “The first fulfilling sexual experience of my life — at 35, 36 years old — and it’s with this person I’d always had a fantasy about.”
But perhaps the biggest lesson Sabarra leans during the period detailed in the book is about listening to himself over the din of celebrity and fame. Which comes in great part from his role as gay BFF to TV host Ricki Lake. It’s clear from the way he describes her that Ricki was an important figure in his life — they were linked both professionally and socially — but when she carelessly discards him in favor of the new man in her life (it happens more than once, actually) and then clandestinely fires him from her show, he learns the hard way to trust his own instincts when it comes to people. “I’m grateful to Ricki,” he says, “because if she hadn’t come into my life when she did, I don’t know that I would have figured out what my own boundaries are.”
While the backstabbing certainly pained him, Sabarra understands to an extent. “A lot of these people are not capable of being friends the way you and I could be friends,” he says. “Their lives just don’t allow for it. They’re always traveling, they’re catered to, everybody does things the way they want, and a lot of people go along with it — as I did, to some degree.”
Not that Sabarra has soured on celebrities. He knows from experience that it is possible to have a real connection with one. “Nancy Grace and I have been friends for twenty years,” he says. “Our friendship started before she was famous, and she hasn’t changed at all over that period of time. She’s been tried, true, and loyal from the day we met. If I called her tomorrow and said, ‘Nancy, I need five hundred thousand dollars and I need you to not ask any questions,’ she would fly here herself with a suitcase full of cash. She’s an example of somebody who is totally unchanged by the notoriety and who is able to be a real friend, independent of whatever’s going on in her professional life.”
Sabarra contends that nothing he wrote in the book was meant as retaliation. “I was very careful about only telling things that furthered my story. The book is about me. Ricki is not the star of this, Alan Cumming is not the star of this. They’re the accessories.” And if you think that’s simply PR spin, he can handle that. “I have battled so fiercely to overcome the self-esteem issues that I cannot let a stranger eat away at me,” he says. Besides, “I don’t think anyone should ever apologize for telling their truth.”
As for the advice the 40-year-old Sabarra would give his 20-year-old self, “You have to know what kinds of people to pay attention to in your life. But I don’t think you can know that at twenty. I don’t think you can know that certain voices should be stronger, or how to be really discerning about the people you allow to affect the way you think about yourself as a person. You could certainly tell a twenty-year-old that, but they might not recognize that until they’ve been through some battles.”
Porn Again: A Memoir is available now. For more about Josh Sabarra, go here.