Well. Good Monday-after-Thanksgiving, everybody. I suppose. I took a few days off the Internet over the holiday to spend time with family, and when I came back…
Basically I need to learn that taking time away from the Internet is deeply relaxing, but coming back is a horrifying experience every time.
Case in point: This happened.
If you’re not aware, Stoya is a porn star. Once contracted with Digital Playground, she has since worked primarily for herself and recently started her own company, TrenchcoatX, where she is trying to find the perfect formula for paying porn stars fairly and charging consumers accordingly. She’s an outspoken feminist, sex-work advocate, businesswoman, and all-around badass who has published writing all over the interwebz to much acclaim. She and James Deen dated from 2013 to sometime in 2014, becoming one of the industry’s “power couples” before breaking up quietly. In the years since, James Deen has become something of a feminist icon as a wildly popular male porn star who advocates for consent, connection, and sex-positivity. He’s had notable mainstream crossover success, appearing in The Canyons with Lindsay Lohan, and has been featured on network TV.
So, after Stoya’s tweets about being raped by James Deen, the Internet, it would appear, exploded.
Stoya was immediately joined in solidarity by Joanna Angel, another former girlfriend of Deen’s (and another famous porn star), whose long-term relationship with him ended badly.
The Frisky promptly canceled Deen’s advice column. People started writing essays and think-pieces, many of which are definitely worth a read. But there was silence from the Deen camp until Sunday evening, when he tweeted in response, denying the allegations.
But a few hours later, Tori Lux (another famous porn star) published an essay on The Daily Beast chronicling another alleged, violent assault behind the scenes on a porn set.
So. This is huge. For many, many reasons.
Look, I do not want to jump into the fray without looking carefully at my landing, but I will say this: I have had a lot of conversations with a lot of people about James Deen, and a lot of others with a lot of other people about Stoya. They are two big-time players–movers and shakers, if you will–in today’s porn industry. At a time when the industry was rocked by piracy, condom legislation, an oppressive monopoly, and general condemnation, they both emerged as smart, social-media-friendly, tech-savvy businesspeople who took the reins and made success for themselves. In many ways, they’ve been industry leaders who have helped to navigate new paths for their colleagues, and over the years I’ve been impressed with their abilities to wrangle high-profile careers out of a difficult situation.
However, I’ve also learned that my respect may have been better placed in one than the other. Stoya is a very smart, very forthcoming, very honest–some might even say blunt–person. She does not pull punches. She does not fuck around. She’s a consummate businessperson with a sharp wit and an even sharper ability to stand up for herself. At the end of the day, every conversation I’ve ever had with her came back to the same thing: Girl doesn’t play.
On the other hand, what I’ve come to know about Deen is very different. I’ve only had very limited interaction with him in person and via interview, but I’ve spent a lot of time talking about him with people in and out of the industry. The takeaway I’ve always gotten out of these conversations is that he’s very good at what he does: he’s an excellent performer. But most people I’ve known who were close to him, either personally or professionally, have reported a sense of unease, foreboding, even fear. No one has ever specified why. Nobody has ever told me details. His breakup with Joanna Angel was messy, and people in Joanna’s circles have long spoken quietly about him in He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named voices. It’s been unsettling, and although I’ve heard glowing praise of him from fans and even some porn insiders, those dark, nebulous rumors have caused me to keep a wide berth.
So, naturally, I tend to lean toward siding with Stoya and Tori.
But that’s a dangerous path to walk down blindly. It’s important to remember that one of the scary things about rape is that you can almost never know, based on anything, whether someone is capable of it. The nicest-seeming people may have the darkest secrets to hide, and the skeeviest motherfucker around might have the most straight and narrow moral compasses. Whether you think someone is a nice or a mean person has absolutely no bearing on whether they can commit horrible acts of violence. And the same goes for victims: it doesn’t matter whether you like someone or not–if they were victimized, they deserve your support. So it doesn’t matter whether you like or despise James Deen: if he committed these crimes–especially if this continues to snowball and encourages other people to step forward to confirm there have been other incidents–then he is guilty and must be treated as such. But by the same token, if he’s not guilty, it would be a miscarriage of justice to assume he is because of nebulous rumors that have circulated in the past about him being a not-nice guy.
So, I don’t want to go around pointing fingers and demanding blood.
But the other side of this horrible, horrible coin is that one of the major problems in how we deal with rape allegations is demanding proof. Most of the time, there is no proof to be had. And because rape is such a terribly difficult-to-prove crime, victims are shamed by the public and the justice system, subjected to unfair and unrelenting scrutiny, and all too often left without justice or even their dignity. And it is a far greater crime, in my mind, to risk tarnishing a few reputations than to leave any victims whose lives have been irrevocably changed by violence behind. It’s my firm belief that rape victims need support. Always. First and foremost on my to-do list is to stand with victims. Listen to them. Believe them. Only by treating rape allegations with the utmost gravity and respect can we cast the correct light onto the crime of rape: the light in which it is viewed as a horrific violation of human autonomy that must be wiped out. Anyone who wants to fall back on “false rape claims” as some sort of rampant trend should take another look at the statistics: false claims are quite rare, especially because rape allegations themselves are far, far rarer than actual rapes. Once rape starts to be treated with respect by law enforcement, the justice system, and the culture itself, I’d wager that “false rape claims” will become even rarer, since the penalties faced by rapists will, hopefully, be far higher.
But that’s beside the point at hand, which is that I am loudly voicing support for Stoya. She is showing a huge amount of courage in standing up and speaking out against one of the most powerful men in her industry. He’s been a game-changer for pornography in a time when game-changers were desperately needed. As possibly the first guy in straight porn to attract a loyal female audience, he is worth his weight in cash to any company he works for, and he brings that moneymaker with him to every scene he acts in. Going up against that takes serious bravery, and I salute Stoya for showing it.
I’ve heard a few folks out there bemoaning what Deen stands to lose in all this, and I admit that it’s a lot. He’s at the top of his game right now and this could bring everything crashing down for him. But for anyone with doubts in their heads about whether Stoya is “false rape claim”-ing here, step back. Stoya stands to lose everything here, too, and it’s very likely that she will lose just as much, if not far more, than Deen. The porn industry has a great track record for defending its own when it comes to healthcare expenses (see: Cytherea‘s health expenses crowdfund), legal fees, and the like, but it doesn’t have exactly the most united front to present against things like sexual assault. Nor does it do particularly well with siding with one of its own against another. It’s not a centralized industry; it thrives with little regulation and a lack of consolidated leadership. People often (as in any industry) tend to follow the money more than the morality.
So, depending on how all of this goes down, Stoya could easily find herself blacklisted, snubbed, and having a difficult time finding performers and allies. She might very well be finished in porn, whether what she’s saying is true or not. I dearly hope that she’s not finished, and that the industry and the culture at large will support her, but it’s impossible to know what will happen. The important thing is that, as I said before, Stoya is no dummy. She knows damn well that she’s risking a lot by coming forward, and I’m willing to bet that she did not take the decision lightly. This is no throwaway bid to tarnish his reputation.
So I support Stoya. Fully and unequivocally.
I also salute her for her courage in this because as a sex worker who was in a relationship with another sex worker in a relationship that was publicly kinky and tied to porn, this is bound to bring up every single backwards assumption about sex, sex workers, rape, kink, and BDSM that there is. We are going to hear slut-shaming the likes of which I can only grit my teeth and imagine. We are going to hear people say that sex workers can’t be raped. We are going to hear people say that kinky sex is the same as violence. We are going to hear every vile stereotype about porn stars trotted out to show off for the masses. We are going to hear that porn is always rape. We are going to hear all of it from thousands upon thousands of misogynists, sex-negative people of all walks, morality police, troglodytes, and Internet trolls. This is going to reopen every can of backwards-thinking, regressive, shame-filled can of worms we thought we’d thrown out.
It is going to be nasty.
But through all the nastiness, I will support Stoya for having the courage to speak out. I will support her because I want more rape victims (male, female, and otherwise) to feel that they can expect support if they speak out, too. I hope that the support Stoya will be shown will encourage people to talk openly. If there are others with stories to share, I hope this will be the crack in the ice that’s needed to help them feel comfortable coming forward.