Although the NSFW Internet has a limitless cast of characters—porn stars, cam girls, escorts, Vine stars notorious for having sex with a variety of baked goods—few people are more representative of sex and scandal in the digital age than Anthony Weiner’s former sexting partner, Sydney Leathers. (Yes, that is her real name.)
Leathers blew up the blogosphere back in 2013, when a gossip website posted a series of sexts and messages exchanged between Weiner and an anonymous woman. Weiner’s mayoral ambitions were squashed, and Leathers was later outed by BuzzFeed, which she later said led her to contemplate suicide. It was perhaps the only political sex scandal in U.S. history where the two participants hadn’t even met IRL (in real life).
Unlike her fellow Democratic sex scandal figure Monica Lewinsky (whom Leathers says she feels a kinship with), Leathers did not attempt to withdraw from the spotlight after her 15 minutes of infamy. Instead, she milked the hell out of it, crashing Weiner’s election night party, kickstarting a porn career, and attempting to auction off her labial trimmings online. (Because it’s illegal to sell body waste online, the auction was later canceled.)
“I’m super impulsive. That’s why me and Anthony clicked.”
One could say that Leathers’ ability to spin a sexting scandal with a married politician into a full-fledged D-list celebrity career is cravenly opportunistic, and she doesn’t deny it.
“I took it and I ran with it,” she says of Weinergate, as the scandal was later dubbed. But she also wants the world to know that she’s more than Anthony Weiner’s sexting partner. She’s currently studying radio and TV broadcasting at an unnamed Illinois university, and she also has a boyfriend and two cats, Edith and Oliver, all three of whom she frequently tweets about.
The Kernel caught up with Leathers to talk porn, the Internet, and why she thinks Anthony Weiner still watches her movies.
First screenname: Actually I think my Twitter handle (sydneyelainexo) was also my first screen name.
Earliest memory of the Internet: I remember the dial-up days & talking to friends on MSN Messenger all night.
If the Internet didn’t exist: No one would know who I am!
What is it that you like about the porn industry?
Honestly, it was something I’d been thinking about for a while, and I’d just been waiting for the right offer. I’ve been doing the Exxxotica conventions since I first started doing porn, and everyone was really nice and welcoming and genuine—unlike the media, which attacked me for everything all the time. I felt a little more at home. And I had a great time shooting my first scene, even though everyone was asking me if it was terrible.
What was your first time like? Did you feel comfortable on camera?
I was surprised by how easy it was. I feel like women have all these hangups with their bodies and how much they weigh, and I’ll worry I’m too heavy sometimes, my thighs are too big or whatever. Then I’ll see a scene and it looks really hot, and I’ll be like, “What was I talking about? I look fine.” I think I have a little body dysmorphia, but then actually seeing what’s going on, I’m like, “Oh, I can deal with that.”
What’s the biggest misconception people have about porn?
There are so many. That we’re all STD-ridden, even though everyone gets tested constantly. I’ve had people from my hometown seriously think I’ve had HIV, and I’m like, “Do you think I’d be able to get work if that was the case?”
What about your friends and your family—what do they think of your porn career?
Well, I talk about my family in the sense that everyone I was close to prior to everything I’m still close to, and whoever didn’t like me already still doesn’t like me. Like, I have an aunt and uncle who didn’t like me because I was bisexual, so I just don’t talk to those people. Nothing’s changed. I’m especially close with my older brother and my dad, and nothing’s changed with that. They don’t judge me or think any differently of me. They just wanted to know I was well taken care of, that I wasn’t being abused or exploited in any way.
“I was working at a law firm before that all happened, and I had to quit. Where was I gonna work? I had to do something.
When did you first know that you wanted to do porn?
I didn’t always know I wanted to do porn, but I remember discovering someone’s Playboy and those kinds of magazines when I was really young, probably 6. And I remember thinking I wanted to look like that and be like that someday. I still look at some of the women in porn and I’m just like, “Oh my God; they’re so perfect.”
Do you feel like you fit the norm of what women in porn look like?
I guess a little more now, since I got my boobs done. I don’t want people to get mad I said that (laughs). I don’t want to come off like I’m speaking for everyone.
Well, I feel like enough women in the industry have breast implants that it’s not…
That it’s not, like, a super-controversial statement? For me, they made me more confident, because a lot of women have asymmetry in their breasts and that happened to be my hang-up with my body. So getting that fixed was super important for me. I’d wanted to do it for a long time. That was the biggest hangup with my breasts.
Did you meet your current boyfriend through the industry?
Not at all. He’s just someone from the area I live in. We met in May, and hit it off from there.
What does he think about you doing porn?
He’s not a big porn fan, but he’s a big me fan so that works out pretty well. And he’s super nice, and I don’t usually date nice people, so it’s refreshing. He doesn’t date me for any weird reasons or because I did porn. I even took him to one of the Exxxotica conventions, so he could meet porn stars who were dating other people who weren’t in the industry. It opened his mind to it, I think, as weird as that sounds. My boyfriend was very surprised. I think he thought that everyone in porn just dated other porn stars.
How was your dating life affected by Weinergate?
Oh, [the men I dated] were total opportunists. This one specific guy, he got so mad he wasn’t on TMZ with me, because they filmed me doing something with him one night and the next night they filmed me doing something with this other pseudo-celebrity, and the guy got so pissed at me.
Do you like the media?
I have a love-hate relationship. It’s very confusing, because I feel like no matter what I do, my personality never comes off the way I want it to, or the way my friends and family see it. I feel like there’s a certain narrative about me, and no one wants to give me credit for anything other than being sexual.
What do you think that narrative is?
Maybe the dumb bimbo, media whore, even though I was outed by BuzzFeed and didn’t want to be associated with the scandal. Yeah, I did take it and run with it, but only because I was broke at the time. I wasn’t Monica Lewinsky, where I could go hide because of my socioeconomic means. I knew this was going to mean I wasn’t going to be able to get a job. I was working at a law firm before that all happened, and I had to quit. Where was I gonna work? I had to do something.
It’s interesting you mention her, because I was reading an article earlier today comparing you two.
Yeah, that Vanity Fair piece she wrote really spoke to me. I know I didn’t have sex with Anthony, but we were both 22, and when she talks about that feeling of global humiliation, I could really relate to that a lot.
Can you describe what that’s like?
I don’t think people can understand it unless it’s something you go through. Having the media swarm you, where you live—they went to a house I haven’t lived in since I was 12 years old. They stalked my mom’s ex-husband. They hung out in my mom’s driveway—I haven’t lived with my mom since I was 11. They went to my dad’s workplace. They even went to a drive-through taco place, asking each car if any of them knew who I was or knew my ex-boyfriend or knew anyone that hated me. Once people from CNN were reaching out to people I was friends with on Facebook, and if they said anything good about me they’d straight-up tell them, “Well, that’s not what we want to hear.” So that was my narrative being set up. They wanted to present a certain side of me.
But even though you say you didn’t like the media attention, you definitely court it. Case in point: The labiaplasty thing.
I’m super impulsive. That’s why me and Anthony clicked, I think: We’re very impulsive people. I think we have that in common.
You said in an interview that you think Anthony still watches your scenes. What makes you think that?
Because he’s a pervert. Come on. (Laughs) And he told me he had a thing with girls with tattoos and all this weird stuff, and I was wearing heels in all my scenes and that’s his fetish. Of course he’s watching.
He had a pretty dramatic downfall as a result of your sexting with him. How do you feel when you see his name in the media? What goes through your head?
It stirs up some weirdness. Definitely. I’m pretty sure he wants me to die, House of Cards-style.
Do you see any major similarities between the people you encounter in porn and the people in politics?
There’s definitely a lot of egos in both and stepping around people’s egos. People can get agitated and intimidated. For the most part, I’ve had complete niceness in porn.
“I feel like I’m calling the shots.”
What would you want people to know about you?
I feel like I’m just much more normal. I know I’ve done lots of outrageous things or people know these weird things about me or have seen me having sex, but to me that’s not a big deal. I feel like people have a perception that I’m out clubbing all the time, and I don’t even really drink. I’m a total cat lady homebody, especially now that I’m in school and I just do work all the time.
What do you think you’ve learned from Weinergate, if anything?
I think I’ve learned I’m much stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. Being beaten up constantly in the media and Twitter, and having people tell you you should kill yourself and all this crazy-ass shit constantly can be overwhelming. I’ve had people from my hometown tell me I should die of AIDS. Someone told me they were gonna set me on fire; someone told me they were gonna shoot me. But I think I’ve dealt with it pretty well, all things considered.
What are your plans for after school?
I want to shoot for as long as I can. And as far as after school goes, I’m really interested in behind-the-scenes camera stuff. I’ve been running audio and doing camera work and directing and producing, so I’m trying to decide what I like most. I would like to produce and direct porn, too. It’s always interesting having a woman’s perspective. And shooting as a woman, you know all about a woman’s body, you know the right angles.
Has porn made you more confident about your body?
Oh, my God, 110 percent yes, absolutely. I had felt very out of control with my sexuality at some point in my life, and I felt like this was the one time in my life where I’m in control, where I’m making the decisions. I’d be totally happy to do some femdom scenes and dominate some guy. I feel like I have all this pent-up rage. (laughs)
I’ve never really talked about this, but I was sexually abused for a while. That’s not why I got into porn, but I think anyone who has that kind of abuse happen to you, you feel like a victim. And for me, I feel like it was kind of like taking back whatever control I could. I think that’s part of the reason why I love it so much. I feel like I’m calling the shots. I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to, and I don’t have to work with anyone I don’t want to work with. It’s all up to me.
Illustration by J. Longo