Fetishes are narrow, even brittle, phenomena. There are men who need to see women's toes but not heels, or heels but not toes; men who need to see women in leg casts; men who need to see a specific kind of woman's shoe pushing a specific kind of car's accelerator. "That's not at all an isolated fetish," says Dian Hanson, the most cerebral pornographer in America. "There's an entire club called Pedal Pumpers. The first man who called me about it could only be satisfied with a 1959 Corvette and white pumps. It had to be white pumps. He'd bring hookers home and take them to the garage."
Hanson's SoHo office is scattered with pleasantly filthy memorabilia: photos of penises with her name written on them, a comic of Wonder Woman removing her panties, crutches tied together with a leather whip. Hanson has pinned up production schedules for the three soft-core magazines she edits, but these are difficult to notice. The eye more naturally falls to, say, the freeze-dried pig or the Polaroid of the three-foot man with someone's scrawled Post-it note reading "Do we need a dwarf?"
Everything Hanson has seen in 23 years of writing and editing porn has led her to one ineluctable truth: that sexual aberration does not exist. Paradoxically, aberration is the norm. The illusion of a comfortable sexual order, of a mainstream of behavior that rules the secret world of lust, did not survive the century. And if porn is even a glimpse of American sexuality, Hanson is its Margaret Mead.
In her career, she has observed several protracted seasons of erotic fashion. She has worked through the era of the curvy blonde, the cartoonishly augmented model, the hard-body, and now the natural girl. She has listened as men clamored to see shaved private parts, and now hears them clamoring to see the opposite. Recently, she offered to contribute cash to a model's favorite charity if the model would simply stop wearing thongs for a while and develop a full-panty tan line. "When I ask her to keep her buttocks untanned, she looks at me as though I'm insane," Hanson recounts. "But if I asked her to have her nipples surgically recentered, she'd say, 'I'm free next week. What day?' "
"I've made this magazine successful by listening to guys," Hanson says. "I probe them for the subtleties of their lust."
Hanson does not swear. She says the word pornography in the same neutral tone one might use for calligraphy or cartography -- but beyond that, her discourse is immaculate. It would be simple to mistake her for an academic if she didn't constantly refer to the magazines she edits: Juggs, Tight, and Leg Show, which is the most successful fetishist publication in the world. The text Hanson writes for Leg Show -- what trade jargon calls its "girl copy" -- is purchased by some 200,000 people each month, more than twice the circulation, for instance, of The New Republic.
Though she has started up other publications (Outlaw Biker, Big Butt), Hanson's current trinity of magazines touches nearly every demographic of porn aficionado. Leg Show reaches a white-collar readership; Juggs -- which Hanson calls "the sideshow of pornography" -- is consumed mainly by blue-collar guys in the South and Midwest. "The Juggs woman is unchanged since the dawn of time," says Hanson. "She's a fertility goddess, complete with moist, hairy folds and creases." Tight, at the other extreme, is carefully produced to look amateurish. In the main, it features 19-year-old girls sucking their pinkies and making comments like "I felt this big hot feeling between my legs where his thing was!" As male baby-boomers feel the sting of middle age (so the theory goes), they begin to like the idea of becoming Pygmalions. "They're married to women who, to their great chagrin, have developed minds of their own," Hanson says. "So they fantasize about having a girl to protect and mold."
Hanson is 48 but could pass for 35. She has utterly straight blonde hair and a strong, lean body. Still, she is no exhibitionist. Posing nude is a frontier she has never crossed. "My hedonism," she says, "is leavened with caution." Staying behind the camera has not wounded her financially; she acknowledges that she does "very well" in porn. She has a flat in Park Slope but spends weekends in her house upstate, where she keeps a fine collection of taxidermy. "There's a stuffed six-foot alligator eating a fawn, a fox killing a lamb, and a beagle wearing its collar," she says quite proudly. "I've been to a few auctions."
When she's away from the gaze of those frozen animals, though, it's Leg Show that fixates her. On the surface, the magazine reads like standard porn: "Know what I am? I'm a bad girl!" But much of what Hanson writes is actually an earthy translation of her theories about sex -- theories that, as it happens, are rooted in academia. She has read every text about the libido that has come within her reach -- starting at the age of 14, when she found Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis in her local library. From there, she wended her way through Freud, Wilhelm Stekel, the sex-change expert John Money, and even the English satirist Geoff Nicholson, who is now Hanson's boyfriend.
Having worked as a respiratory therapist, Hanson has a habit of couching her sexual opinions in medical terms. Other pornographers gibber about chakras, auras, the "weaving of energy." She prefers to muse about apocrine glands: how "those odoriferous organs are located only in the nipples, armpits, groin, and feet -- hence fetishists' preoccupation with shoes, which are prized for their retention of smell." To this day, she insists that her style of directing a photo shoot (calling everyone "honey," soothing the model without losing control) was learned working at hospitals.
The rest of her pornographic schooling has come from reader feedback. Hanson's correspondence reveals sexual urges of every stripe. She especially likes to tell the story of the Little Man. In her office, there's a four-inch wax molding of a nude male figure. The Little Man was a gift from a Nebraska reader of Leg Show. Its nose is partly rubbed away, as is much of the crude brown coloring where its hair is meant to be. The penis, small even by Little Man standards, exists still, though most of the pubic hair has faded. The figure's face offers no discernible expression: It is blank from waiting. For the Little Man was made to be stomped, made by a real man who dreamed of being stomped. It was the Nebraskan's habit to stand in public and furtively place the Little Man where it would fall beneath heels -- women's heels, the sharper the better. Then he watched, wincing in ecstasy, as the Little Man was impaled underfoot. He would have spontaneous orgasms seeing the Little Man trodden upon. Ideally, he would then recover it, driven by the orgasms he knew he'd have with it later, when he studied the shape and depth of the heel wounds sustained by his tinier self.