Measure R: How Porn Valley Handles Rape

Recent allegations about the porn performer James Deen, including non-consensual roughness and rape, come at a bad time for the porn industry. But there has never been a better time. And maybe the measure of an industry’s robustness can be the thoughtfulness with which it handles crisis rather than simply absorbing more scorn.

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James Deen and Stoya, January, 2014

You don’t want to know what I think about consent, consensual non-consent, the concept of rape culture, and today’s garden of hashtaggery, but maybe you’ll stick with me for a minute as I burp forth what I think this means for Big Porn.

Not only are Deen and his accusers — Ashley Fires, Amber Rayne, Kora Peters, and — most prominently — former girlfriend Stoya — among the most visibly progressive performers in a business that suffers from a surfeit of caricatures (another accuser with a particularly offensive James Deen story, Tori Lux, retired a few years ago), but several have taken leadership roles for worker solidarity, respect, and safety within the industry and are among the handful of porn stars that mainstream folk have on their radar.

What does it mean that Deen, who is a charismatic (but self-deprecating!) crush object for women who might not otherwise have felt comfortable watching porn, be cast as a Porno Scumbag?

For one thing, it means that the turtle-ish compound that is Porn Valley — even with its tendency to shoot itself in the foot by inviting too much scrutiny — is mature enough for self-reflection.

Think about it. Shooting porn became de-facto legal here in 1988, within the lifetime of most GILFs. It is still in the DNA of the business to distrust outsiders, whether it is the L.A. vice squad, from which Bob Chinn and John Holmes hid “Johnny Wadd” locations in the 1970s, to anti-porn feminists like Gail Dines, to glib tourists like David Foster Wallace. That porn even made it to “glib” is an achievement.

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Stoya in 2008

So when Stoya on November 28 tweeted this:

That thing where you log in to the internet for a second and see people idolizing the guy who raped you as a feminist. That thing sucks.

then this:

James Deen held me down and fucked me while I said no, stop, used my safeword. I just can’t nod and smile when people bring him up anymore.

And within that weekend spurred feature stories across the web, followed by an announcement of a radio silence that will extend until December 17 (which happens to be Violence Against Sex Workers Day), says something about access to publicists, media mobilization, and public relations potential that simply did not exist in the — I don’t know — Skeeter Kerkove days.

Deen responded the next day that:

I want to assure my friends, fans and colleagues that these allegations are both false and defamatory.

No one needs assurance that these claims are defamatory. When Tori Lux (claim: held down and forced to “sniff (Deen’s) testicles”) and Ashley Fires (claim: non-consensually anally penetrated at Kink.com) weighed in in the days that followed, then made further allusions to December 17, it then became clear that something was happening, something big, that the porn industry had not seen before. This went beyond social media dirty laundry — a common tongue of the porn business — into the realm of a coordinated media happening like the kind celebrity attoney Gloria Allred pulls off. What’s gonna go down on December 17? Stay tuned.

Yes, there have been scandals and feuds and public causes in Porn Valley. It’s an event on non-adult-biz-avoidant sites like The Daily Beast and the LA Times when there is an STI-related shooting moratorium. The scandal surrounding performer Mr. Marcus hiding his syphilis diagnosis a few years ago made news. And when producers and performers mobilized in 2012 against LA County’s “Condoms in Porn” Measure B and the statewide efforts that followed, mainstream media saw in Porn Valley’s much-dismissed but eminently quotable personnel a workforce that was getting more and more organized. Especially as adult performers began to be considered synonymous with sex workers.

Stoya’s bombshell is a complicated volley that has to withstand the stigma of the parties’ day jobs (there’s already been some backlash about there being “no such things as rape in porn”), the gun-to-the-head considerations of money, status, and common colleagues in the adult industry (the average person makes lots of concessions when the bills need to be paid), and their former relationship.

It’s no surprise that Stoya’s tipping point was personal; all triggers are intimate ones. It was all about people getting something wrong that she had insider information on.

Charlie Sheen, for example, on disclosing his health status last month, led not with HIV education or advocacy but with how much money he had spent to shut up potential blackmailers. Stoya released her data dump over Thanksgiving only when the difference between her personal truth about an old flame versus the public’s perception of him became unbearable. I mean: How much do you want to tell the world the dirty truth about your exes whom everyone else thinks is so goddamn great?

And yet, years ago, Stoya and her gathering supporters would have been heavily counseled to leave well enough alone, to retreat to neutral corners because the business as a whole did not need more bad press. It already had enough. Indeed Stoya did hold out on this information for more than a year, until one final person got online and gushed about how James Deen was a feminist.

So now there exists in a once-shadowy business — a business that until recently felt quite correctly that any outside scrutiny would lead to its ruin — the opportunity to discuss something with the real faith that the whole structure won’t be pulled down. That all porn performers won’t be painted with the same brush. That ambiguity (“Why didn’t you call the police?” “Is this a lovers’ spat?”) won’t be conveniently mistaken for a lie.

I’ve spent time with James Deen on a number of occasions and I like him. It’s very easy to understand why other people do, too. But once in 2014, when I was trying to moderate a panel at XBiz360, James kept talking and wouldn’t stop and I felt violated. As a straight man who is a willful participant and instigator of consensual trips to the dark side, I can see how irrational exuberance can give way to the behavior he is accused of. And if I got the action he did and was paid to get it, I can see that adulation seriously messing with the part of my brain that says No. That said, will there be a trial in civil court or just public opinion court?

I can’t circle my wagons and condemn Deen even as much as I don’t doubt the accounts of each of his accusers. He deserves a real trial.

I’ve also hung out with Stoya, Ashley Fires, and Amber Rayne. As wise, charming, grave, and delightful as they are, I don’t think any is capable of inducing mass-hysteria, which is supposed to be the province of Professionally Attractive Ladies. With the addition of Lux’s account and that of Kora Peters, it’s reasonable to believe, a la Bill Cosby, that where there’s smoke, there’s Fires.

Unlike Robert Dear, whose attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic November 27 garnered at least some support from anti-choice believers, Deen is not receiving kudos for his alleged crimes. Meanwhile the #solidaritywithstoya hashtag is trending on Twitter.

I am deeply saddened for this business that has provided me a sort of livelihood. Yet again it has to withstand a public relations hit that will result in even more ammunition for those that would say pornography and the industry that produces it are, as a whole, bad. But I am encouraged that Stoya et al felt empowered to speak and that thoughtful people will listen, which is a good sign.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Stoya — fonder with or without the absence; James Deen — how crippling shyness might be the key to success; Dirty 30 — Ashley Fires; And on “The 8th Day,” God blew up Boston; California Condoms-in-Porn Bill Runs Out of Time while Moratorium Continues
See also: TrenchcoatX (Stoya’s site with Kayden Kross), James Deen, Stoya on Twitter, James Deen on Twitter

5 thoughts on “Measure R: How Porn Valley Handles Rape

  1. Holy crap. Well written, sir. I have no dogs in this hunt aside from wanting people to be treated appropriately (i.e. – rape in any form is bad, not acceptable, and should be punished harshly) but have have been watching and wondering what effect this will have on the people who consume the product these people have made – the product that encourages roughness with consent, with loving violence, and the like. I find myself wondering how much consent was *actually given* in those scenes, those set ups. It makes me not trust the narrative.

    Overall, it makes me sad.

  2. Well said. This whole thing is a mess, and while I’m definitely inclined to believe many of his accusers, he’s definitely been subjected to the horrors of Twitter’s opinions – being roasted alive in the court of public opinion, where NOT ONE PERSON in the angry mob knows the truth of things. It’s all she said/he said, and somewhere in the midst of that is that actual truth, that only the parties involved know.

    I’m rolling with Julia Ann’s statements on this one.

  3. Yes. Sad is the word. If this changes the way we think about the possibility of real consent — and I like the term “loving violence” — then it really is a We Can’t Have Nice Things situation.

  4. I’m reminded of Carol Queen’s line about porn and sex education, which I liberally adapt everywhere and for everything. “Porn isn’t sex education,” she says, “until it is.” I sympathize with Deen in the abstract because he has already been convicted online. That doesn’t make me believe his accusers less.

  5. When i see a picture of “James Deen” i think to myself – what a fucking scumbag loser with his fake shyness act. What a fucking joke this fool is and an even bigger one is the fools that fall for his act. Total nobody nothing going no fucking where. Any women who find this skinny whelp attractive has serious mental and physiological issues. “James Deen” is the poster boy for Losers.

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