But what really sealed Janis's fate as a social untouchable was her growing reputation as the school slut. At some point in her junior year, Janis felt compelled to appear promiscuous. Among her friends there is no consensus on how Janis came by her new role. It may have developed because word had it that Janis was sleeping around and she simply decided that, if people were going to call her a slut, she might as well act like one or because Janis was tired of being ignored and threw herself into the one activity that was sure to get a Port Arthur girl talked about. Whatever the reason, Janis certainly knew it wouldn't take much to earn a bad reputation at TJ High. By her senior year, the rumors were flying that Janis Joplin read pornography and was making it with guys right and left. At TJ, like so many other American high schools, "you could do it one time and everyone in the whole school would know and say they'd slept with you," says Path. Once the kids started calling Janis a whore, Patti figures Janis might have said, "Oh fuck, I'll just go ahead and do it." Other friends suspect Janis did go all the way but not nearly as often as many other girls who simply had the sense to keep quiet about their sex lives. And yet several good friends contend that, while Janis did everything in her power to suggest she was loose, she never really "put out." Grant Lyons thinks "it's possible Janis could have played the make-out queen without actually having intercourse." Karleen insists Janis remained a virgin until after graduation. So does her classmate and friend Tary Owens, despite the fact that to this day "every guy down there says they slept with her." As for the porn, Karleen says, "You want to know what it was? Mickey Spillane novels." Whether or not Janis lost her virginity in high school matters less in the end than the lengths to which she went to appear loose.
As Janis's reputation grew, so did the ostracism. Every year the local country club threw a dance for high school seniors. Karleen belonged to the club, but her classmates excluded her from their planning meeting because of her friendship with Janis. "I found out later that I had not been invited because they said I would invite Janis to the dance and that would just totally ruin it." A decade later, Janis would complain about the "country club" girls in the pricey front-row seats—often the only girls she could really see at her concerts. "Sometimes they think they're gonna like you. And then you get out there and you really damage and offend their femininity. You know, `No chick is supposed to stand like that.' I mean, crouching down in front of the guitar player goin' `uuuuhhhn!' You know, lettin' your tits shake around, and your hair's stringy, and you have no makeup on, and sweat running down your face, you're coming up to the fuckin' microphone, man, and at one point their heads just go `click,' and they go, `Oooh, no!' ... and the expressions on their faces are of absolute horror. The girls are going, `Oh, my God, she may be able to sing, but she doesn't have to act like that!'"
It seems almost inconceivable that Janis would have embarked on this strategy of deliberate provocation had she known how vicious the backlash would be. Students spat on her and threw pennies at her in the hallways. Tap/Owens recalls that their senior year "it got really bad because there was a group of guys—future fraternity guys who made up stories about her and called her a pig. Of course, most of them now say they loved her and she was just wonderful." One reason the harassment was so relentless, Owens says, was that the guys wanted to "get a rise out of her, get her to say, `Fuck you'—and she often took the bait." After these confrontations, he says, Janis would "be hurt and she'd show it through anger mostly." She'd also seek solace with a group of kids who were as disaffected as she was.