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.