Pornography sits at a unique crossroads of entertainment and sex work. We who work in adult entertainment navigate a legal landscape that can be uncertain. We wonder which OSHA guidelines, if any, should apply to which sorts of sex work, or whether it is legal to shoot pornography outside of California and New Hampshire and if so, under which technicalities. We work in a culture that can be outright hostile, as when War Machine’s lawyer questioned whether Christy Mack can be raped because of her former career in pornography or when NYC police used carried condoms as evidence of prostitution, which it did until mid-2014. We’re not alone—everyone who makes their living from sexually charged or erotic work navigates similar uncertainties.
Beyond this unstable legal and cultural landscape, people who work in porn encounter bias, as do other sex workers. Whether we’re trying to discuss issues with banking and housing or issues of consent and ethics, some, both inside the sex industries and outside of them, will shrug and ask what we expected instead. After all, it’s porn—or an escort agency, strip club, massage parlor, street corner, or cam site.
Like many other communities, perhaps all communities, we who work to produce pornography have our own cultural quirks, our small and large scale acts of misogyny, our own deeply entrenched racism and bigotry, and our share of predators. Like most other industries, we struggle to balance financial sustainability and respect for our own humanity and that of others. Unlike many other industries, we who work in pornography experience the effects of moral hysteria and anti-sex work propagandists. Therefore, we who work in porn must consider these points before publicly airing any of pornography’s dirty laundry, whether its structural flaws, its ethical shortcomings, or its personal violations.
On November 28, I publicly stated “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. 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.”
In the years that we dated, I was very publicly linked with James Deen. In my own words I highlighted and praised his positive qualities, on Twitter and in my own writing. We posed for happy photographs at porn events, at mainstream movie events, and for publications I had written for. Posts appeared on Twitter and Tumblr; they were variations on the theme of “James and Stoya #relationshipgoals.” I began to realize that more than being a private bond, my relationship with James was a public performance, and in time, I grew uneasy.
I lived with the knowledge that James had violated my consent for a long time before coming forward. I felt as if I had no recourse. I didn’t know what to do. So I kept working with him, and we kept dating. I swallowed a lot of Xanax and washed it down with unsettlingly large amounts of alcohol. After we split, I started seeing a therapist who is well versed in the specific complexities of sex workers and people who practice BDSM. They helped.
However, I wrestled with guilt. I felt complicit in any future harm he might inflict because I’d spoken so highly of him but I’d neglected to complete the public record. It ate away at me.
I didn’t feel I could file a report with the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee, APAC. James had been on its board since it was founded. Similarly, I didn’t feel as if I could press charges because the U.S. court system rarely metes out anything that looks like justice when sex workers are involved. Social media seemed to be the most appropriate and only real option. But I doubted I would be believed, and I worried the company I co-own with Kayden Kross would suffer. Most of all, I was afraid that speaking would only serve to fuel the arguments of outside groups who aim to dictate how we adult performers do our jobs and whether we’re legally allowed to do them at all.
Instead of being silenced, instead of being not heard, something very different occurred. When I finally spoke in those two tweets on the 28th of November, people listened. Other women began to come forward, and a lot of people in pornography showed their support. Significant companies responded, and they did so swiftly. I’m grateful for the solidarity of the people who believe me and the other women who have spoken out, and I’m proud of the industry I work in.
I hope that we continue to look for better ways to protect our workers, and that we question our own motivations and conflicts of interest while we do so. An agent with greater loyalty to established directors than to the performers they represent is a problem. A director or producer on the board of an organization built to protect and aid performers is questionable, and a company owner on that board can be a major impediment to that organization’s mission.
I believe that in order to be effective, the systems we develop to protect performers and other sex workers—whether they involve the justice system or internal groups—need to be worker-led. That those systems must cater to the needs of the most vulnerable to an extent that equals the extent to which existing systems reinforce the power and control of those who already have most of it.
One thing that everyone can do is listen to sex workers. Today is December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers—all sex workers. Not just pornographers. Not just white cis-women. And not just women who are fortunate enough to get column space in respectable papers. I’ll be doing a lot of listening to others under the red umbrella of sex work. I believe that their safety is important and that it can be improved. I believe that no one is safe and no one is protected unless we’re all safe and protected, sex worker or not.