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Why It’s So Hard to Bring the #MeToo Movement to Porn

Almost exactly two years before the start of #MeToo, accusations of sexual assault brought down James Deen, one of the most powerful men in porn. But despite all of the mainstream male power brokers who have fallen in Deen/#MeToo’s wake—from Harvey Weinstein to Kevin Spacey to Leslie Moonves—the porn industry still struggles to talk about sexual assault and abuse openly. For a couple of reasons: 1) When a woman has sex for money, people have a hard time accepting that she has the right to consent to what she does sexually; and 2) a lot of survivors and their allies stay silent because they don’t want to perpetuate negative stereotypes about the industry—that it’s amoral, that it’s unsafe, etc.

For an insider’s perspective on how #MeToo is affecting/changing porn, I recently spoke with three porn performers—Lotus Lain, Tasha Reign and Buck Angel—with particularly unique perspectives (and experiences) on the topic.

Lotus Lain is a porn actress, writer and activist who works with the Free Speech Coalition, the adult industry’s trade association. I specifically asked about her work as a sort of compliance manager, documenting reported incidents of harassment and abuse in porn and strategizing about how to prevent them from being repeated in the future.

Lain: There’s not an actual human resources department for the industry at large, so I have a lot of freedom to develop ways our organization can help performers, producers and directors alike navigate these different areas of consent, harassment and #MeToo.

A lot of what I do is listen to people’s claims, investigating them and figuring out how to best address the situations that are making people, especially women, feel uncomfortable. It’s an ambiguous role, but I’m happy to take it on because I want to make things safer and more equal for everyone in the business. I spend a lot of time then researching what’s being said in the media, what’s being said online and what’s being said within our own community.

There’s a huge tendency to not take women in porn seriously when they talk about sexual harassment. They’re often asked to explain why such-and-such sex acts were okay for them to do in one scene but not another. Or why they didn’t say something when they were on set as opposed to afterwards. People in our own industry don’t even support people coming forward. It’s messy. The way society treats us makes it harder to speak up, harder to be believed and harder to move forward after sharing our story.

For example, I’ve had so many instances where women tell me about situations through back-channels, in my DMs or whatever, but are like, “I don’t wanna say who it is unless I hear that it happens again.”

A lot of women in porn are quick to put each other on blast, too—like, “Oh, this performer was a bitch to me on set,” or “I don’t fuck with this girl, ‘cause I don’t like the way she talks or acts.” It’s sad that they’ll never speak out in the same way about production companies and directors, because they don’t wanna lose their money.

Speaking of which, women in our industry often keep their mouths shut, even more so than other industries, because we often don’t have an outside world we can turn to in order to make money. This may because of a lack of business skills, but even for super savvy women in porn, getting into other careers is hard because of how easy it is for people to look up your past and hold it against you. Basically then, if you need money and you don’t have a backup plan, you have to stay silent. You don’t want directors and producers to shun you. And while more and more women are creating their own content, not everyone has the capacity to do that by themselves.

The reality is, we’re all in the trenches right now. For instance, there’s this one person in porn I know personally who’s off their rocker. They’re cutting corners and putting performers in uncomfortable positions. The Free Speech Coalition issued an internal press release about it to warn this person and alert other performers. Now, the person is on warning. It’s like, “Third strike, and you’re out.” We’re not in a position to threaten people, but we’ve told them to act fucking right or we’ll continue to raise awareness about their behavior.

Currently in grad school, Tasha Reign and I caught up as she prepared for an afternoon class with a guest speaker directly involved with covering the Brett Kavanaugh hearing as part of Reign’s specialized journalism program. “It’s really gnarly,” Reign says. More generally, I ask her about how inclusive the #MeToo movement is of porn performers like herself, as well as how speaking out about being groped on a Stormy Daniels’ porn set late last year has affected her career.

Reign: I’m so grateful for the #MeToo movement, even if it’s not historically been inclusive of all women, including women in porn. The thing about me is that I include myself in anything I see fit. Even if I haven’t been asked by the #MeToo movement to use my voice, I hashtag #MeToo all day long when speaking about sexual assault, sexual harassment and women’s rights. I applaud any woman who’s brave enough to come out and share her story. I’ve heard a lot of porn performers say they feel left out of #MeToo, and even heard mainstream celebrities with sexual reputations such as Amber Rose say they feel left out, too, but I’ve noticed when you include yourself in things, you’ll begin to be included in return.

That said, we have so much further to go before we even get to a place where people understand sex workers are people who can be raped. And overall, I feel distraught. As a woman, I don’t feel safe inside, or outside, the industry. I have this heightened anxiety, because I’m so fearful of being groped in a public sphere—not just because I’m Tasha Reign and I do porn, but because I’m a woman. It’s so scary. And it happens all the time.

I have been able to find empowerment in some of the things I’ve done in the adult industry. And I’ve especially been able to be more open about sexual harassment within the industry than I was before because of #MeToo. Before #MeToo, you couldn’t come out and say, “I was sexually assaulted or harassed,” because it perpetuates the stereotype that everybody has of adult performers—that we’re all victims who are being trafficked. Or that porn performers can’t be sexually harassed or assaulted because of what we’ve agreed to do for work. #MeToo, however, has shown me that I can use my voice and tell my stories. I can fight for my rights because, guess what? Every woman is being sexually assaulted and harassed in every industry. So we don’t have to hide it anymore.

When you do talk about this, however, you have to be ready for all sorts of people to send you cruel and demonizing messages online. When women open up and tell our stories, especially women who work in the adult world, the messages we often receive are, “You’re a whore. That’s all that you are. You have no voice. We don’t want to hear anything about this. If anything happened to you, you deserved it. You literally asked for it. Fuck you, you’re a piece of scum.” These comments are so common they begin to feel regular, even though they’re horrific. It’s abuse, and it takes an emotional toll on us. I’m not a scientist, but I don’t think this is unrelated to the high amount of female suicides in the industry lately.

I’ve obviously spoken out about my own experience of harassment on set, and for the most part, I feel supported by my peers. In particular, I was sexually harassed by a camera guy on a Stormy Daniels set. I told her, but she didn’t do the right thing. She didn’t report it to her boss at Wicked Pictures. She didn’t kick the man in question off the set. She denied my claims publicly on Twitter and said I made it all up. The man in question admitted what he did, saying it was just a joke, but I told him that was sexual harassment. She was there when he admitted that. I don’t think it’s strong or empowered of her to say that I made it all up. But I also get why she doesn’t want to own what happened—it would give her a bad image, when like I’ve said, women in porn face so much already.

That’s why I have mixed feelings when the name Stormy Daniels is brought up. On the one hand, she represents me. I know her, not just through actually working with her, but because she’s a representative of adult women in the mainstream world, of which there are very few. Stormy has become one of the few porn performers who gets treated respectfully by mainstream press. So if people say something mean about her, like in a class of mine, I’m the first one to defend her. That’s because their comments often have nothing to do with Stormy Daniels, they’re about porn stars. I’m very close to my identity as a porn star so I always speak up and let people outside the industry know that they don’t know anything about it when they make certain comments.

I only publicly tweeted at her about my experience in response to her tweet about feeling bad for men and what they have to experience as a result of #MeToo. I saw that tweet, and I was like, “I can’t hold it in. If you’re gonna act as though you’re a feminist and that you represent women in the adult business, only to say something as disgusting as this when you’re in the mainstream media, fuck you lady.”

Still, this incident has directly impacted my career. A few months back, I got booked to do a shoot with a female director, someone I’d worked with before a few different times. I showed up to set and went straight to hair and makeup. Two hours later, I’m ready to shoot. It was an anal scene. I go downstairs, and that’s when I see the guy who grabbed me on Stormy’s shoot.

I came back upstairs and approached the production assistant. I was like, “Hey, I don’t know how we can best communicate this, but I don’t feel comfortable with this guy filming me today. I know there’s a few camera guys down there. I didn’t know he was gonna be on set, but I’m the performer here, I’m the woman and I shouldn’t have to work with this person.” He told me he was going to go take care of it for me. Fifteen minutes later, he comes back upstairs and tells me I have to leave. He’s like, “Yeah, we can’t lose him for the day. He’s shooting the majority of the scenes. We need him, and he’s threatening to leave if you’re even on set, period.” Somebody escorted me to the car, and later the male talent I was supposed to be working with told me a lot of people on set were speaking badly about me the rest of the day.

Unfortunately, stories like this show other girls in the industry that if you speak up, you’re going to be fired. That was the message I got. The director never reached out to me. She never texted. She never called. She never emailed. I reflected and wondered what message I could take away from my experience, and it was that when you speak your voice, you’re going to be fired.

Buck Angel is a legendary queer porn performer often marketed as the “man with a pussy.” I spoke to him about the state of the industry and how he’s leveraging his status—as both a male and a porn legend—to amplify the voices of female porn performers who have spoken out about sexual harassment.

Angel: If you look at the world of pornography, it’s run by men with money who don’t care about anything except for making even more money. You know what comes with that? People who don’t care about how their porn sets are run, and people who don’t care about making performers feel safe. If sexual harassment or assault had more of a direct financial impact on their business, I guarantee they’d care more.

This is where I struggle with my industry. We could have a great, powerful and completely consensual industry where we police ourselves to make sure these things don’t happen, but outside of queer porn, which is the space I mostly operate in, it seems like nobody wants to do that. At least not the men. The queer part of the industry acknowledges all of this bullshit. We don’t want it to happen, and that’s why we speak out. We want to clean up the industry.

It takes a lot for a woman to speak out against men, just in general, but as a porn performer, you’re usually not taken seriously by a lot of people, which only makes it harder. I’m not taken seriously for being a man with a pussy who does porn. People are just like, “C’mon, dude! You’re exploiting yourself.” It takes a lot of, for lack of better term, balls, to get yourself out there and to speak out against someone in the industry who pays your rent.

As a man, I amplify women in the industry who call out rape, sexual harassment and other abuses. I have the privilege to have my own platform. I don’t have to worry about whether I get hired or not. I’ve created my own space within the industry, which gives me a lot of power. That’s why some of these people are scared of me, because I will speak out about this. I’m friends with a lot of the straight female performers, and so, their experiences are frequently spoken about. (It seems to be more prevalent in straight porn, but at the same time, I do think it happens in gay porn, too. The thing is, men don’t speak out about these things, whether they’re in porn or not, so that conversation isn’t happening yet.)

And while we definitely do much more talking about consent before a scene compared to when I first got started, this doesn’t mean nothing bad can happen—especially for a woman. I’m thinking about the story of Leigh Raven, a hardcore performer who was assaulted on set by a performer who she not only considered a friend, but had worked with a number of times. She made a video about her experience, filmed by her wife Nikki Hearts, who is also in the industry.

The sad part, though, is that people really wanted them to take the video down. She got pretty much talked down to by the entire industry. In fact, she had to disable the comments because they were so violent, disparaging and disgusting. Leigh is known as a super hardcore performer who regularly shoots intense scenes that may not always seem consensual to every viewer, but are usually consensual situations in which she earns her living. People need to understand that. When people outside of porn don’t understand that, it makes them believe performers are knowingly putting themselves in these violent situations when that’s not the case at all. It’s like saying if you’re wearing hot pants and a halter top, you’re asking to get raped. It’s the same bullshit behavior.

And so, in some cases at least, we need to clean house—and how do you start? You expose the dirt. You get into those nooks and crannies, because if you don’t, the dirt is still going to be there.