Our ever-curious correspondent and Editor-in-Chief, Miss Lagsalot, recently met the bodacious and boundary-breaking queer porn performer Sophia St. James at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, and fell instantly in love. She tracked her down via just a little bit of stalking and had a chat about queerness, blacksploitation, authenticity, and kink!
WHACK! MAGAZINE Hi, Sophia! Ok, the first thing I want to do in this interview is inform everyone reading that it is 10:00 am my time, which makes it 7:00 am in Portland, Oregon, where Sophia is. This means that, Sophia, you are the earliest riser I have ever met in the adult industry.
SOPHIA ST. JAMES It doesn’t matter how late I go to sleep. My body inevitably wakes me up this early, between 6:00 and 8:00.
W! See, my body wakes me up early a lot, too, but I usually tell it that it has to go back to sleep.
SSJ I know! Sometimes I just lay in bed and think, “Ok, why the hell am I awake? This is ridiculous. What the fuck am I doing?”
W! Is it the same when you travel? Does jetlag change anything?
SSJ It depends where I travel to. My last travel was to Toronto [for the Feminist Porn Awards], and it actually was the opposite. Here I usually go to bed around eleven, and so in Toronto, on the east coast, I’m three hours late. So when everyone else was going to bed I was wide awake at 1:00 in the morning, like, “Yeah, let’s go!” Of course, when I’d wake up, it’s pretty much the same thing. I’d wake up at like 9:00, which is 6:00 my time.
W! Well, I’m impressed. I can’t do that. So, speaking of Toronto, you just got an honorable mention for your film Twisted Getaway at the Feminist Porn Awards! How was that? Were you expecting it?
SSJ I was not expecting it at all. I mean, that was my first film, and it took me a long time to put it together because I wanted it to be just right. So when I submitted it, I mean, I was just honored to be chosen, let alone recognized by the award for an honorable mention. So I didn’t have kind of speech prepared, I didn’t have any… I mean, I look back on it and I can’t even really remember everything I said. I was so high off of pure adrenaline and so shocked and honored and amazed, so yeah, I definitely did not expect it.
W! It was the first film you directed. Tell us a little bit about that experience of directing. How was it for you?
SSJ It was an amazing experience. I wrote the script and got my cast together, and filming itself was amazing. We went to a Bed and Bondage, which, from my understanding, is the only Bed and Bondage in the nation, and it’s in my area. It’s a bed and breakfast, but the owners actually keep in their basement a full, complete dungeon with steam rooms and everything.
W! Woah that’s cool.
SSJ So we shot it there. And it was an unbelievable experience. There was a lot of laughing, a lot of play, a lot of fun. Which I think is really important, especially at a porn shoot, considering the intimacy that the actors and actresses share. It’s nice to be able to let loose and laugh and giggle about certain things. But, yeah, I never had formal training in filmmaking. Mostly what I do is self-taught, or picked up just from past experience and knowledge. So it was… laughing… The editing process was a little trial-and-error, but it was a good experience. I look forward to more projects in the future.
W! Are you working on any future projects at the moment?
SSJ I am, actually… laughing… I’m crazy. I’m working on three right now. When it comes to my filming for SSJ Entertainment, two of them are compilation DVDs, so that’s not too difficult, but one of them is another full feature film that I’m currently setting up an Indie Go-Go fundraising account for it, since it will be pretty in-depth. I’m kind of looking forward to it. It’s a blacksploitation parody. A queer porn parody.
W! No way! That’s hilarious! Is it a parody of an already-existing movie, or of the genre?
SSJ Just the genre. I have always… Well, I wouldn’t say always, but within the past few months, I’ve become obsessed with blacksploitation movies. I’ve been watching them. They’re just completely comical to me. And there’s not very many queer parodies out there. I know Tobi Hill-Meyer has one, and then I know Courtney Trouble did a movie based off of a film, but not necessarily a parody. So I’m really looking forward to doing this as just a parody in general, not a very specific thing.
W! That’s a really fun idea, because obviously the porn parody genre’s huge right now, but you’re right, it’s been mostly done by the mainstream porn world. That’s fine, but you end up knowing exactly what you’re getting every time when you go into it. But queer porn is the opposite of that. You have no idea what you might get.
SSJ Exactly! Exactly. Queer porn is… I definitely love my field, and of course I identify as queer, and so I work in queer porn. It’s really near and dear to my heart. It’s a genre that… I mean, obviously it’s porn, so you’re talking about sex and intimacy and all that good, juicy stuff, but you’re also talking about diversity. It’s near and dear to my heart because within queer porn, and it’s very important to me because I see queer porn as a whole as… well, it kind of should be like this… You’ve got diversity. You’re representing a multitude of “types,” whether it be ethnicities or body types or different body shapes, different sexualities and different genders. And when it comes to queer porn, also there can be an artistic element that might not necessarily be there if it was any genre outside of queer porn. And it’s very close to me, to my heart. I truly enjoy working in queer porn.
W! I’ve been very very excited about queer porn for a while now, but when I discuss it with people who don’t know much about porn in general, they assume that I’m talking about gay male porn. So let me just ask you: If you had to explain to someone who had never heard of it before, why you identify as queer and what it means, what would you say?
SSJ It’s kind of tricky when it comes to queer porn. And it’s only tricky because everyone has a different definition of what queer means to them. So, for me, being queer means that I’m an equal opportunity lover. I enjoy many different sexualities and many different genders. A lot of times when I explain that to people, they say, “Oh, so you mean you’re bisexual?” But no, “bisexual” means “bi,” which means two, so you’re speaking mainly of your cisgender — or your born-male or born-female — individuals. I take it a step further; I enjoy working with and having lovers that are transgendered, and so it’s not necessarily bisexual. And plus, queer can also, for me, mean that you’ve taken your sexual realm and identity outside of the “societal,” heteronormative views of what sex should be. And so, when it comes to queer porn… Hm.
I explain it the same way, but I also include the diversity piece. For me, queer porn should really be about including everyone in our community and having a representation. I find that when I speak to people, or people e-mail me, or what not, they appreciate queer porn because they see things that… While they may enjoy porn, up until a few years ago, porn hasn’t represented what they enjoy. And so now they can look at porn and see body types that are like theirs, they can see sexual activities that they, too, enjoy and that they can actually get off to, or get enthralled within that porn that they’re watching because it does represent their lifestyle in a sense.
W! That’s a damn good answer. As far as representing different types of people goes… You have worked in mainstream and queer porn, all over the place, and you’ve got to be one of the most unique performers that I know of. You are a larger woman, you’re a woman of color, you’re a woman who’s queer, you’re into kink and BDSM, and you are completely blazing your own trail. I guess that because of who you are, it places you in a political position because you are all these things and you are so unique. But do you consider yourself political, or do you think it’s just by virtue of who you are?
SSJ It’s just a virtue of who I am. I definitely think that because I am who I am, I am just an activist within who I am. I don’t necessarily set out to be an activist. I set out to try and change stereotypes. Well, no, I don’t set out to do anything. But I feel that within my work, I change stereotypes. I consistently get e-mails from individuals whose views I’ve changed on what the term “queer” means, because up until they discovered me or heard of me, “queer” was a derogatory term to them. They associated it with gay males, but also with the stereotypical negative sense. And also, just being a fierce femme that’s outsize and doing my own thing without necessarily paying attention to the typical views that are out there, I think that because of what I do, I’m definitely an activist. I kind of open up doors for individuals who may not have thought that doors could be opened to them.
W! I think so. And I think that the blacksploitation film idea is great, because I can see you making fun of this whole idea that because of who you are, you are this figurehead. But just using it and owning it. I think it’s interesting that in the mainstream porn world, there is a huge amount of, for lack of a better term, blacksploitation. You know, there’s the interracial part of the industry that’s this giant niche, but they haven’t acknowledged it enough to make any blacksploitation parody movies, even when parodies are the biggest thing in the industry. It’s so bizarre.
SSJ You know, I say this all the time and I usually get in trouble. And I’ll probably get in trouble again this time, but the fact of the matter is that porn in itself is the only industry… and I’ll make it a broader spectrum and say sex work… Most sex work, but narrowing it down to porn since that’s what we’re talking about… is the only industry that allows for racism, sexism, classism, sizeism, and homophobia. Anybody in the porn world has got to see that. I’m not downing it, because it’s an industry I love. If I didn’t love it I would not be in it. But you have to see that. There’s just no way for anybody to have a counter-comment or a counter-statement about it. And so, if you go into the industry knowing this, and you’re able to make that work to your advantage, then you’ll succeed.
And I feel, when it comes to your typical mainstream porn, there’s so many niches. There’s just not that blanket of mainstream porn. You’ve got so many niches to fill, because people have their likes, their dislikes. These niches have to be filled whether it be interracial or urban or anything like that. And because of that, you kind of automatically fall into the unintentional blacksploitation.
W! Speaking of which, you obviously have your eyes open about the situation, so how did you decide that you wanted to enter into an industry where it was very likely that you were going to have a lot of barriers set up for you?
SSJ Well, I’ve been a sex worker off and on since ’96, and I never really thought about doing porn. It wasn’t until 2009 when we had a huge ice storm here, and inevitably, I slipped and fell! Laughing. It was awful. I broke my elbow and tore my meniscus in my knee, so I was in bed for weeks. And during that time, I had nothing to do but surf the ‘net, and consequently I came across an article about Madison Young and Syd Blakovich. It was talking about how the AVN Awards, and it struck me. I was like, “What is this ‘queer porn’?” So I read up about it more and looked into it more, and it was really interesting because when I went to one of the sites — I think it was CrashPad — I saw people that were like me. I saw it was a huge range of races and body sizes and gender orientations that I had never seen in mainstream porn, and it was really enticing. It really caught my eye. And while I was laid up, I actually ended up submitting my application to a few sites because I felt that here was this thing that finally represents who I am, and the kind of raw, passionate sex that I enjoy having.
And I’m in it knowing these things. I choose who I work with. I’m not too political, but I’ve got to match up somewhat. I don’t mind working with individuals who don’t know anything about queer porn or anything about transgendered individuals, or anything like that, but as long as they’re willing to learn and are not in a stereotypical mindset, then I’m completely ok because I don’t expect everyone to know everything about this. But as long as you’ve got an open mind and you’re willing to learn, then it’s great.
W! And it’s kind of a good teaching opportunity.
SSJ Very much! It’s kind of an educational tool. You know, a lot of time I’ll hear people say, “Oh my god, I never knew I could get hot and sweaty from watching you and a trans guy! Oh my god, that’s so sexy! I would never have even thought about that!” And so it’s amazing to me to be able to hear that, because that means that there’s one other person who I changed their stereotypical mindset. Maybe they never would have thought that they could be attracted or find something extremely sexy that did not have your quote-unquote typical male/female dynamic.
W! That’s powerful. I think what it comes down to with porn is there’s no language barrier. There’s no barrier in levels of education or class. You are putting something out there that everyone can understand, and when you describe it, someone might say, “I would never watch that.” But when you actually present them with the material, they’re going to experience it, and chances are they’re going to like it.
So, something else I wanted to bring up is that you’re heavily into BDSM and power play, which I have found in interviews with other people, is something that gets very much glossed over particularly in within mainstream porn and particularly with performers of color, which seems like a glaring omission. What has your experience with being a kinky performer in that context been like?
SSJ I haven’t had that many negative reactions, but the ones that I have had have been mostly questions. Like, “How can you enjoy being beaten? How can you enjoy all these things that are so physically violent?” And I think, once again, it just goes back to education. Because it’s not like I’m walking down the street and somebody pulls me by the hair and drags me behind a tree and starts flogging the shit out of me. It’s about consent. It’s about having a connection with the person that you choose to share that with. And it’s about your own likes and dislikes.
I kind of fell into the world of BDSM and kink in 2004. It was an amazing experience. Like, I’ve always enjoyed rough play, like the minor spanks and the minor hair-pulling and what not. I was pretty used to it. But I became aware of it through a beautiful woman who lives in Portland, and then my last partner was very deep into the scene, and that’s when I kind of… I “blossomed” while in that relationship, and really got involved in the scene here, and started learning more about the dynamics and the mindsets and different activities that take place within fetish and kink. It’s all about that connection, because anybody can spank someone; anyone can do restraints and what not. But it’s about having that connection with someone. I consider myself a switch, a top-heavy switch, which means I am able to top or bottom. I am able to give as much as I am able to receive. Top-heavy means I am more of a giver. There are certain instances that I choose to give up my “power” and bottom to somebody, or be a sub, or a bottom is a better term, to someone else. But in those instances, that is something where I need to be very connected. We need to be in a relationship, we need to have a certain power dynamic, whether it be a guy/girl or a sir/girl or anything like that.
And some of these terms… I mean, that alone is a lesson, learning the terminology in BDSM and the dynamics. But it’s a very, very powerful thing that I enjoy sharing with my partners. I have a different level of intimacy.
W! I myself am starting to learn about these things as I watch more and understand more about queer porn because I find that the scenes that involve BDSM in queer porn tend to be a lot more honest. They don’t seem like they’re doing it for the cameras as much; the performers really seem like they have a connection. And so I find it less scary to watch those things, and it’s gotten me more interested to learn about them. I hope that more people have the same experience. And, for anyone who’s reading this at home and confused about these terms: Google them.
SSJ Yes. Yes, that’s another reason that I enjoy queer porn, because I definitely feel there is that connection. Of course you have connection with your scene partners no matter what type of porn you do, but I feel more connected with that with the whole kink and BDSM thing. It’s becoming a bigger part of my life, and I like to express that when I’m working.
W! So my next big, thinky question is this: I have found that a big topic that comes up when discussing queer as opposed to mainstream porn is the idea of authenticity. I wanted to ask what you think the word “authentic” means when it comes to making porn, and where you find it to exist the most.
SSJ I think that when it comes to authenticity, it’s about letting the performers truly do what they what they enjoy. So if it’s an actual, scripted scene, and you’re outdoors and you’re talking to each other, and that’s it, I’m not looking for anything specific. I don’t want you to do anything particular as far as blowjobs, anal sex… I just want you, in this very loose plot, to run with it. I want you to discuss what you enjoy, what you don’t enjoy, what you want to do, and really enjoy each other’s bodies and sexuality and space. And I feel that, for me, that’s what being authentic means. Presenting an authentic scene, I want their passion for each other to come through on the screen. I want people to look at it and think, “Wow, that’s really f-ing hot. I can tell that they’re really into each other.” They’re not doing it just for work, because there’s a director saying, “Ok, now I want you to do X, Y, and Z.” It’s a matter of, “You’re going to walk into this building, and you’re going to catch each other’s eye, and then you have 45 minutes to do whatever you want to do to each other.” And that’s what it is.
I try to really match individuals up that really have a good chemistry in terms of being sexually attracted to one another because I do want that authenticity to come through and I do want individuals to see, “Wow, I can tell that they’re really hot for each other, and it’s not just about the paycheck.”
W! I like that answer! Do you have anything big coming up I can direct people to, any websites or public appearances or the like? How do I get more people to find out about you?
SSJ Right now I have my website, SophiaStJames.com, and I am currently working on a member site, which will be PlayWithSophia, and I’m hoping that will be launched in the next few months. I’m currently shooting content for that right now. And as far as appearances, I’ll be in Hartford, Connecticut, for Queer PlayCon.
W! Hartford? Huh.
SSJ It’s the nation’s first all-queer, all-kinky conference. So I’ll be there, and then later on this month I’ll be in LA. And, my goodness, July I’ll be in Colorado Springs, teaching at Fascinations. So, I’m all over the board. But the best thing is to check my website. And then of course, I have a Facebook page, and of course Twitter.
W! Thanks again, Sophia. This has been great!
[Editorial note: For all you queers and kinksters out there, Sophia’s also got a special strap-on harness by Aslan Leather dedicated just to her! Check it out: pink rhinestones! Also, do peruse Aslan Leather’s excellent wares. And, if you want to see Sophia’s queer parody as much as we do, go here to donate to the cause!]
—Sinterview conducted by our intrepid Editor-in-Chief, Miss Lagsalot.
*Photos by N. Maxwell Lander and Carrie Gray.