I met Stormy Daniels at New York City's Museum of Sex.
Daniels, at this point, needs no introduction. "Porn star," "adult film actress," whatever your preferred nomenclature — her profession almost always precedes her stage name. In January, The Wall Street Journal published its bombshell report that President Trump paid Daniels $130,000 in October 2016 to keep quiet about a 2006 affair, and she has hardly stayed out of headlines since. "Stormy Daniels tells 60 Minutes that fear of Trump kept her silent." "Stormy Daniels files defamation lawsuit against Trump." Then the inevitable: "Stormy Daniels to release tell-all book on Trump." "Stormy Daniels goes into detail about Donald Trump's 'unusual' penis."
Although Daniels insists she was unwillingly dragged into the spotlight, it's hard to look at her meet-and-greet book signing at the Museum of Sex on Monday and not imagine that she wanted this all along. Partially to blame for that is the stigma associated with her work, the stereotype of an opportunistic, money-grubbing porn star, hungry for a cheap 15 minutes of fame. Then there's the fact that her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, does milk the spotlight, appearing in 147 interviews in a 10-week period this spring and openly flirting with a run for office. And part of it is good old-fashioned sexism: Deep down, how many of us dislike Daniels simply for speaking, candidly and without shame, about her sex life?
Work is work, but there was a slimy feeling to the exercise of buying her memoir, Full Disclosure, just to get into the room to size up the woman who had an affair with Trump. Many of the people in line were collectors, openly musing about how much money they might make off her signature if Trump was impeached. One couple bailed when they learned they could only see Daniels if they bought Full Disclosure for $27.99: "I don't want a book signed. I'm out." After waiting half an hour in line, two European tourists realized they were in the wrong spot for regular admission to the museum and also left. Someone driving past screamed "freaks!" at the line, although whether that was because we were waiting for Stormy Daniels, because we were outside the Museum of Sex, or simply because it is New York City, I didn't get to clarify.
Once inside the museum, each attendee was funneled up to a counter to buy Full Disclosure. Some bought handfuls, four or five books to stash away and perhaps one day sell. Daniels' memoir details a childhood of neglect, her early serial sexual abuse, and her struggles to live a normal life with her daughter. But it is, of course, almost exclusively being read for the two pages that talk about her alleged intercourse with Trump. Daniels isn't stupid, and that portion, almost pleadingly, begins: "Okay, so did you just skip to this chapter? Quick recap ... my life is a lot more interesting than an encounter with Donald Trump."
Still, no one on Monday seemed particularly interested in getting to know that woman. Daniels' fans were sent — with a suggestive "have fun with Stormy!" — to a room that doubles as the museum's exhibition of Bill Bernstein's disco photographs. There, attendees got their first glimpse of the woman of the hour, standing under a cluster of six giant disco balls while "Do the Hustle" played, inexplicably, in the background.
While her fans these days tend to be more #resistance types, Daniels is surely aware that many others have come exclusively to gawk at the woman who has publicly described the mycological details of the president's genitalia. But Daniels was dressed down, wearing jeans and a T-shirt that said "Start a Revolution." Around her waist she had tied her jacket, rather than handing it off to the flutter of attendants, bodyguards, and a personal documentarian in her orbit.
When my turn came, I handed my bag to one of the assistants and walked up to the signing podium where Daniels was talking to one of her bodyguards. I waited a beat before she turned to me, smiling. "What's your name?" I spelled it for her, she handed the book back (To Jeva: Be Fearless!). We moved toward the photo screen and as I was locating the camera, Daniels caught my eye and said very kindly, "You're so pretty!" It took me by surprise and I blurted back, "You too!" She slipped her arm around my back and, unsure where to put my hand, I mimicked her — hovering my palm over the pinch of her shoulder blade beneath the thin fabric of her shirt. It felt, suddenly, invasive to be touching her, like I'd made an inappropriate assumption about how she could be treated, even though this was the whole purpose of the night: the photo, with an arm wrapped around a complete stranger that we assume to know all about.
Before I could turn back to Daniels, my bag was back in my hands. "Thank you!" I said, but Daniels was already back at the podium with another fan. The entirety of our interaction had lasted all of 17 seconds. By the time I knew what was happening, a Museum of Sex employee was pointing me to the exit through the gift shop.
On my way home, I read the prologue to Full Disclosure, in which Stormy Daniels talks about her life now. She recounts FaceTiming her 7-year-old daughter, who is tutored to protect her from comments about her mother at school. She writes that she has to meet her daughter in different cities around the country, because even two days off her schedule lets paparazzi and hecklers know to expect her at her home. She describes being harassed when she speaks in public: "How big is Trump? How small is Trump?"
Stormy Daniels has put it all there. But most people won't even get that far.