Predators and Profit: James Deen

If there was ever any doubt in any of your minds, of course I believe and stand with Stoya and the other women who have come forward with stories of abuse by James Deen. I've heard similar stories, from my friends, my lovers, through the porno grapevine. It was common knowledge that he liked to push limits. My read on him was always that he didn't like women, that he just liked himself. I watched him fellate himself in interviews while my friends told me stories about all the ways he'd violated their boundaries. I avoided him. I didn't have any reason to interact with him. His popularity in feminist circles baffled me.

Years ago, a good friend of mine tried to have James Deen fired from one of the companies who has come forward recently and cut ties with him. James ignored her safe word on set, tied her in positions that she'd told him not to tie her in, and went out of his way to make the scene bad for her. If she'd become aroused, he'd back off, not in a good way, not in a way meant to prolong the experience, but in a way meant to assure that she did not enjoy what he was doing. He crossed her, in both subtle and overt ways. The company resented her for speaking out. James Deen made them money. Another of my friends told me that her agent warned her about Deen, but told her that if she said anything, she'd just get black balled. He made people money. Money talks.

I heard from girls who enjoyed working with James too. He's a good performer. He wouldn't have been able to sustain this if he wasn't. What he did, like so many men before him, is use his talent and his position as a cover to assert undeserved power over other human beings.

I'm glad that these women's voices are being taken seriously. I'm appalled at some of the responses. I grit my teeth at mentions of police reports and how these girls should have gone to the authorities. It must be nice, to be so sheltered from the way the world works that you believe that any cop would take “my boyfriend ignored my safeword” seriously. It must nice to live with those blinders on. When you are a woman it is hard to keep them. When you are a woman in sex work it is close to impossible.

Porn™ is an amazing community of deviants and sexual explorers, artists and people who have chosen not to live by the script, and normal people making a living at a less than normal job. The industry employs writers and editors, lighting crew and location managers and agents and people with office jobs who deal with the distribution of videos.  These people are my family. In the wider world, the way that I live is looked at with confusion. In porn, it's normal. I don't have to play twenty questions about how I can have a wife and not want sexual exclusivity. I can ask “what are you into” and get “choke me out and fuck my ass” instead of “I like wine bars.” This industry has been good to me. I've never had to sell a piece of myself that I didn't want to sell. I have been able to tell stories that mattered to me. I have learned about myself and about others. I have become a better writer and a better filmmaker.

But porn is also a meat grinder. The industry needs new talent all the time, talent we all know isn't going to last. Any cute girl can get a few shoots. “Hot Girls Wanted” isn't made up. All that stuff happens; it's just not representative of all of us. There's still money in porn, but not as much as there used to be. Girls are hungry for work. It's hard to speak up when you're worried that all you're going to get is shit on by the Internet and passed over for jobs in favor of someone more compliant. It's hard to speak up when you're new and don't know any better.

There is nuance here, and nuance is hard to talk about on the Internet. Porn is a job that doesn't require expensive skills, or a background check, or a regular schedule. You don't have to go to school or get a license. You just have look good getting fucked. If you want to stay, you have to learn how to work your fan base and create content compelling on a level beyond just your looks and act like a professional. The sex part is the easiest part of a job that requires us to be our own brands, but the entry bar is low. People are drawn to it for different reasons – the sex, the money, the attention.

I know women who grew up poor who have bought houses and bought their mothers houses. I know girls who have paid for college with the money they made from porn. I know women directors and performers who have made this industry their home, just like I have, and used it to express themselves in a way that is fulfilling emotionally and economically. I know couples who make a solid living filming themselves and others and selling their content on the Internet. I also know women who have spent all the money they made on drugs. I have watched their descents. There are records of me fucking women who are dead now. I once worked with a girl whose boyfriend felt threatened by me and decided to take it out on his girlfriend by screaming at her in the street outside the shoot house. She had fingerprint bruises on her arms. The look she gave me said “pretend you don't see” and so I did. These women are adults, making adult choices. They are not victims of vile people who lured them into the sex business but they are sometimes naive and misinformed, unaware of the power that all of us have to say NO. The people who do porn are people, and just like in the wider world, just like every other industry, some of us are awesome and some of us are terrible, and all of us are complicated.

When I first touched the world of porn, before I was in it, I was profoundly disappointed. I had limited exposure to the content – I'd watched dyke pornos (back when that was a thing) and 70s style features and some real boring “lesbian” action – but I just figured that people who made a living having sex on film would be like the sexually open artists I was used to hanging out with. Instead I found a culture that looked down on the very women whose images it sold. I watched Bill Margold stand on stage and talk about protecting talent as if these women were wayward children and not fellow adults and creative partners. I saw a top-down business model with women at the bottom. I went on forums and was appalled by the way “fans” talked about these women, disrespect dripping from every line. I saw content that was deeply unethical, content designed to eroticize not consensual humiliation, not freely chosen rough sex, but the real emotional pain of girls who did not know what they were getting themselves into. Look what these whores will do for money. I saw this and I wanted better.

Of course, girl/girl was never the same as boy/girl porn. There is no Facial Abuse of lesbian porn, hiding behind a flowery casting site so the talent does not know that they are going to have a dog dish of their own vomit dumped on their heads. Back in the day, they called girl/girl “softcore.” This isn't to say that nothing bad ever happens in lesbian porn, that no one ever gets injured on set or has a bad scene, or has to work with someone she would definitely not fuck if she wasn't picking up a check afterwards. Some days this job feels like you're getting one over on the universe. Some days you have to earn your paycheck.

When I entered the industry, it was in transition. There are more women in positions of power now, more women directors, more women producers. We, who are the product, have more control now than ever over the means of production. Social media has allowed us to connect directly with fans, making it easier for them to see us for who we are and not as broken, disposable people. Our changing culture has normalized sex with multiple partners and decreased (though certainly not eliminated) the stigma associated with this job.

When porn is good, it's like the WWE for sex. It's a physical performance that has elements of reality and elements of fantasy, and indeed, elements of risk. We pride ourselves on being able to do things bigger, harder, faster. We say “yes, and” to all manner of depravity. Some of these positions only feel good in the sense that we know we look hot and we're getting off on showing off. Set injuries happen. I've been kicked by heels, and bruised more times than I can count, and scratched and torn, but not on purpose. I've fallen off of things that I was fucking on. I once had a picture frame fall off of a shoot house wall and land on two girls fucking. I broke Kara Price's toe by accident. We get tested because we can't prevent all risk of STDS but we can mitigate their spread. Sex is messy and intense. People don't always read each other perfectly. Chemistry is sometimes there and sometimes not. Porn is good when all of the people involved are on the same page, when we treat each other as fellow professionals creating something together. Porn is good when we can trust each other. James Deen, as it turned out, could not be trusted. This went beyond on set miscommunications or failure to read each other. He treated women in our industry with violence and contempt, both on and off set.

The civilian world does not understand us. They see us either as degenerates or as exploited victims. They don't see the nuance. We don't sell our bodies. We sell our energy and our time and our performance. As much as possible, porn people deal with everything internally. I have seen a lot of responses to the allegations against James saying things like “why would they come forward now, years later?” They did come forward. They told their friends. They told people on the inside. They put James on their no lists. They just didn't tell you.

Should we have allowed a predator to use our industry to make himself famous? No. Should we have done something sooner? Yes. But I applaud the industry for coming down firmly and swiftly on the side of Stoya (and Ashely, and Tori and all the women who have come forward and will continue to come forward as this plays out).  It took courage to speak on the record, knowing how much bullshit was going to be heaped on you, how many men would sit behind their computer screens and belittle your pain and refuse to believe you. I love this industry and the amazing people that I work with. I believe that we should strive always to be better, to create records of genuine pleasure and enthusiastic consent, to treat each other with respect and to keep each other safe. We all want to make money, but let us do it right.

18 comments:

  1. I just wanted to thank you for your honesty and insight in this, quite awful, situation. I will ALWAYS & have ALWAYS, believed the victims first, since historically, this has not been the case, ergo predators & misogynists continue to escape justice, consistently. I must admit, it baffles me that, despite being a female (performer) dominated industry, women continue to be disrespected by SOME ‘men’, WITHIN the same industry! Clearly, James Deen has issues, which are deep set, but he’s a grown ‘man’ who has the freedom to make choices, so he really has no excuse for such appalling behaviour. XXX production companies need to shun him, since HE is ultimately part of the problem, in an industry which really does NOT need anymore bad press AND any production company that doesn’t, has really revealed they’re true colours to the fans of ALL female performers. BTW, I am now following you on Twitter! Thanks again!

  2. I always enjoy your writing Lily. You can make your words come alive within the readers mind. That is not a talent even a small portion of the population possess. From the first time I saw and met an adult film star, I understood one thing, much like the woman who dances at a club, or anyone who is in entertainment of any kind for that matter, that to be good at entertaining anybody takes something that is above reality, something that is mysterious and unknown to the audience members, like a magician and the way he keeps the secret of how his “tricks” work in order to keep the audience coming back for more. I think adult entertainers recieve the worse ends of every stick because people do indeed forget you are portraying characters and entertaining. I know not every fan is like this but most believe that the world you live in is all pussy, pussy, pussy. Just as if you truly live within the movies and world you create. A fan may see a dazzling beauty like you and when meeting her, concede to treat her as if she were a person who would just fuck anything with a pulse in the real world and not show her one once of humaity or respect. I always admire the comparison you make to professional wrestling because it may actually give fans a true basis to see what it is truly like to do what you do. Most fans do not know that the legends of the past make zero from movies and genres they helped to create. Most fans believe the woman are treated the best and are given a fair slice of the pie when it comes to everything from money to the art they create, sell and the reason we all watch. It is scary and sad to me that the “James Deens” of the adult film world seem to be the people that never get that ass end of the stick. They are the true life villains of the real world that unlike the movies tell us, can actually win in the real world and not have a happy ending. I myself when I first found out from a friend that all the money she made for a company, all the DVDs and VHS tapes she sold, that not once did she see a dime of that money after she got paid for filming the scene, nor did this company give a flying fuck about her as she had a mid life crisis after her career was over. I don’t think fans know how much of your life is not taken care of by these companies. You get no benefits, no dental, no medical. Most fans don’t know that most woman have to pay & bring their own expensive lingerie to shoots. There is no retirement and most of what you make, you spend to build your own brand that a company in return uses as well to make a huge amount of money for themselves. I always found that alarming, that a business where you lovely ladies do indeed sell the product, hell you are the product, do not get what in my opinion should be yours. I just think that if fans knew the things you so amazingly teach them with posts like this in your blog, that there would be a demand to make this industry a bigger part of the woman and artists that make it. There would be a demand to get people like James Deen out and let your safety as human beings, your voices as artists and entertainers and your need for respect and due diligence be met like it is for any other kind of worker in America. The one thing I would love one day to see as a fan is the porn industry to become so mainstream that every worker gets the basic things things any other worker should be entitled to. It would be cool to see you all become apart of the screen actors guild were you belong, so that you as artists, entertainers get something for all the blood, sweat and tears you put into your craft and you are taken care of after the cameras stop shooting. I would love to see a day where the preservation of this amazing industry is not lost but cared for like it should be, especially in today’s world where the adult film star has a huge impact on modern culture. The sex appeal that this world is beginning to start to embrace and not fear was started by woman like you. Ones who defied convention and classification. You are all woman who taught many woman my age that you can be sexy if you have thirty piercings, you can look beautiful if you have fifty tattoos and dye your hair ten colors. You are all woman who do indeed show other woman that is ok to embrace your sexuality like men have had the liberty of doing so for so many years. The adult film world is one that portrays something happy & beautiful and that effect is what is making sex not something we never talk about in the real world or keep under our beds like the nudie magazines of yesteryear. I hope that as time goes by the James Deens of the earth lose their stranglehold on the world in a lot of ways when it comes to men and this obsession to be a piece of shit to everyone else and only look out for number one. I think as things move along in the future, guys like him will be a thing of the past, at least their impact on modern society because the true bottom line is we are all human beings and deserve to be treated that way no matter if we work in the sex industry or the dental industry.

    1. As for no medical and no dental: isn’t America a great country?

      (Note: I seldom use sarcasm, but I saw a need for it here.)

  3. Hey!
    I got a few questions about getting into the adult industry:
    How can I find a reliable headshot photographer?/any recommendations?
    Where can I find a good acting school? (I noticed that porn involves acting too)!
    How can I report a workplace/OSHA/dangerous violation without getting blacklisted and getting labeled a “snitch?”
    How can I build up a huge Twitter following if I am just starting out?
    Can I use French tickles when I wear a strap-on? Can I do men or women in the butt while wearing French ticklers?
    If I do get blacklisted, what are the ways of getting away from that?
    How do you deal with women who taste bad?

    Ok, that’s all. My favorite scene is where you are wearing a blue shirt and make out with a girl in a club, but I forgot who she is or what movie it was. You are not wearing a hat though. If you know the name of the movie tell us. The other girl had dark hair.

  4. 0.o
    Seriously, I have tried to be sincere. There is hardly any info about how to survive in both porn and showbiz. There is no info about finding good headshot photographers and acting schools. Plus I feel that people do have a right to report violations when they see something bad happen at work, so yeah I am going to speak out if I see something messed up. If I am going to be blacklisted for being a snitch, then I hope to have a right to defend myself.
    There is much misinformation about the porn industry. Have you seen the Youtube video “real lesbians watch lesbian porn?” That video is making fun of the porn industry, but the porn people never even made an effort to set things straight.

    I asked my questions in the wrong way because I am not a porn person yet. Maybe porn will not be a proper fit, but at least I should be given the benefit of the doubt.

    I am still a fan. I never intended in getting into any drama. Sincerity is an objective term. I know nothing about your world and many of my assumptions may be misunderstood. PEACE

  5. ” I watched him fellate himself in interviews while…”

    -Best line of 2015.

    Personally, I never liked James Deen. He always seemed like a creep to me; pompous and self-aggrandized. I thought I was the only one that felt ‘off’ about him.

    People have touted him to me on occasion as being so cute or handsome or sexy or Blah… and ok.. so maybe he is.. whatever. Physical virtues do not compensate for atrocious behavior. As humane humans how we treat others is the true indicator of how we ourselves should be measured.

    I feel I must qualify myself by saying, I like mean sometimes. Not mean in the mean way (without consent). I like mean in the good way (with consent). Which really is just like good in the good way. If it’s consensual and enjoyed by everyone involved then it can only be good.

    I almost always found myself feeling like James Deen was being callous or perhaps pushing up against the thin veneer verging on cruel. I usually end up switching to a different vid because ultimately I’m turned off by what I see him doing to the person he’s supposed to be respectfully working with.

    Sometimes the girls in the scene with him seem as if they are trying too hard to look like they’re enjoying themselves but the furtiveness in their eyes doesn’t match the forced smiles.

    If I could speak directly to him I would tell him to try to get in touch with his anger, because anger may be a gift if it’s properly approached and channeled; it doesn’t have to be a curse that rules you. Go to therapy and try to talk it out. Learn about respecting other people’s feelings. Understand that people are valuable and should be respected.

    As a civilian, I have enjoyed being entertained by the porn industry and it’s actors. I’ve always thought of it as being just a job like any other job and the industry just like any other industry with it’s own internal structure, jargon, mores, rules, norms, etc.

    There are a lot of industries that have many differing social connotations. It’s how we as people choose to hold and apply our perspectives that should be accounted for because, in truth we’re all just people trading on the one thing we actually own in life, our time. No one person is of a higher or lesser worth than any other person; all our time is measured in the exact same increments.

    I’m glad to know the industry stepped up and supported it’s community.

    I enjoyed reading this article you wrote.

    Lily, I applaud you for your writing and your stance. I also thank you for your insightful view.

    -Chris

  6. I do not need to send you my photos. I asked the same questions twice. I was not able to get an honest answer. There is no guarantee I would even get my answers if I did follow your orders.
    I do not want to work in a toxic environment. It seems that many porn people spend their time complaining about stuff. I value my life.
    I can be my own boss. I will set up my own cams. I will create my own content. I do not need to be a tool within the corporate porn machine. If some people are into that, more power to them. NOT SEEKING DRAMA. PLEASE DO NOT HATE ON OR BLACKLIST ME.

  7. James Deen is a psychopath, straight up. Not a sociopath, but a psychopath. All the therapy in the world will not change him because he cannot be “cured”. Psychopaths are born. Sociopaths are made. Deen is the former. Lily I give you props for your honest post and major props to Stoya for using social media to go public about Deen. The mainstream media has done a shallow job covering this story. For those who say, so what, it’s a minor event not worth mainstream effort, I say whenever a celebrity, even a D list one like Deen, who exhibits psychopathic tendencies, is revealed as having physically hurt and/or abused people, both professionally and personally, the media has a responsibility to get the story.

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