Porn Stars Tell Us Why Representation Gets Everyone Off

Bailey Jay, Dana Vespoli and others on how the adult industry is slowly changing to allow for more diverse voices.

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22 April 2018, 12:19am

Bree Mills (middle) at the AVN awards |  Images courtesy of author. 

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

Representation in media is important. When people see themselves in stories it opens up their imagination. If a person who looks like you is on screen, then maybe you can do what they're doing. Gradually (very, very gradually) we’re beginning to see a shift in film and television with the types of content being produced and who is getting to produce that content—and that includes the porn industry. As amateur pornography becomes more prevalent DIY creators are getting to depict themselves in any way they see fit. Still, in mainstream porn the narratives and presentation is limiting. But I wanted to know how porn performers felt about representation in adult and asked a variety of performers about their experiences. You can read their answers below.

Bailey Jay , adult performer

The decision to do my first scene wasn’t anything earth shattering. I was offered something like five hundred dollars to do two masturbation scenes. It was for one of the trans porn mega companies that crank out lots of content. At the time that was a huge amount of money to me. I just turned 19. I needed to pay my rent. I had an eighth grade education. I had no family. My mother was an addict and I literally had nothing to lose. So I showed up at the hotel. They put a condom on a dildo and I put it in my butt. That was actually the first time I’d ever been penetrated. I was nervous, filled with Catholic guilt, and could barely even get hard. But I got my rent paid. I understand if that sounds like a profoundly sad story, but it’s really not that deep. If you take out the sex work shame I basically said my first day at Staples was a bummer.

Bailey Jay. Photo courtesy Matthew Terhune.

Before I shot my scenes I had only seen trans performers on some of the image board sites. I remember seeing one girl and thinking: I could do that. I was like a local novelty among guys in my hometown so I knew I was marketable. At the same time I don’t expect guys who beat off to trans porn to be super woke LGBTQ allies. I’d argue many people who consider themselves progressive still consume porn while also thinking it’s lowly work or that the performers are innately damaged. I think people compartmentalize things. At least with social media people are finally listening to the people they jerk off to. That’s pretty cool. Of course there’s something in me that would love to shake people and point out their hypocrisy, but I don’t know if it’s that deep. I know I’m not feeling especially deep when I’m actively masturbating.

Still, representation is so Important! Honestly, representation in porn is unavoidable. Sexuality looks like so many different things to different people so we all have a category we fall into. I love that I can look at any person and think about what keywords I’d recommend if they joined the industry. To this day I get countless trans women telling me that my porn gave them the courage to start their transition. That was not my intention in the beginning but I like to think that might help me earn my wings.

Bree Mills , Director at Girlsway

My original vision for Girlsway was to create a space for fans online where the entire focus would be about lesbian content. Not one scene or sub-par side series but the entire experience! I wanted to create a fictitious world where the girls would always rule and where we would treat lesbian sex stories with the same amount of attention and energy as any other genre. Up until that time, most of the industry considered lesbian content to be secondary or less important. They few produced quality scenes. There was a real void but, at the same time, there was a growing fanbase (men, women, gay, straight) who wanted lesbian content. When we launched in 2014, we were the first all-girl network of our kind. In the years since, we have achieved tremendous growth and ‘lesbian’ has become the number one searched genre in adult.

Photo courtesy Bree Mills

We are entirely all-girl focused and committed to showcasing different kinds of lesbian stories – from the comedic to the fantastical and those that delve into serious issues such as homophobia, coming out, and embracing different kinds of women. For example, we recently shot a scene with one of our regular models who wanted to share her pregnancy with our audience. The tasteful, romantic pregnancy scene ended up being one of our most viewed this past year. All our models are women who genuinely enjoying having sex and performing with other women, regardless of their offscreen identifications.

I am someone who tends to underscore a lot of my work with social issues that I feel are important to examine, especially within the adult medium. Just because it’s porn doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be able to leave you thinking … in addition to feeling pleasure. Many of the films I’ve directed for Girlsway tackle issues of homophobia or coming-of-age themes that I experienced as a lesbian myself growing up. A fan might not recognize it on the surface, but the underlying social message is always there. Similarly, representation is very important to me in terms of types of female characters. My first thought, when casting, is who will be the right performer for the character–regardless of the color of their skin or their background. I try to very consciously avoid casting just to meet diversity quotes but I do try to keep a lot diversity in my storylines/characters, to achieve the same purpose.

I’ve received many letters and emails from LGBTQ fans over the years, thanking me for telling stories about coming out and being gay within our content, because it has helped them come to terms with their own sexualities. That is the greatest compliment I could ever receive because, as a gay person, I have been there.

Dana Vespoli

Dana Vespoli , adult performer/director

There are tons of Asian women in porn. Asian men—not so much. Keni Styles was the only Asian male pornstar I knew, but he retired. The business of porn is and has been racist for as long as I can remember. The fact that interracial is a genre is, in itself, racist. Interracial means black performers with other performers. Asian women are all lumped together, as none of the producers recognize individual ethnicities. Many Asian specific porn scenes have racist titles like “Me love you long time” or worse. I would do straightforward sex scenes and then find out later that they ended up with titles that were very racist. I often appeared in Latina specific titles as well, since many producers felt I could pass for both. Sometimes they would ask me to call my co-stars papi. It’s terrible. Porn reinforces all kinds of awful stereotypes. Fortunately there are producers trying to break the mold.

As a director I don’t have as much control with casting as I’d like, since I don’t own the movies I’m shooting right now. But whenever possible I try very hard to have a diverse cast. When I owned my own content, I tried to merge trans scenes with more “mainstream” scenes, rather than keeping them separate. So often distributors will tell you that movies will not succeed unless you adhere to the existing genre rules, i.e., trans, IR, ethnic, BBW, etc. I personally think representation is important across the board, including in porn. But I would like to see people with disabilities also represented in a thoughtful way, as well as people of different ages and sizes appearing in more genres besides niche.

Daniel James , adult performer/cam model

I identify as disabled. Cerebral Palsy is the official diagnosis. I’m still kind of blessed in a way because my condition is much less severe than typical cases. I just have weak motor control in my legs; for most people in my position, it affects their entire body. Luckily, I can still walk unassisted. But I don’t make the disability the primary focus in my clips and videos. You pull up a porn video to get off; I’m not out here trying to lecture people about ableism or anything like that. I’m not trying to get political. I’m just trying to create content and finesse a dollar just like everyone else is in this game.

Photo courtesy Daniel James.

These days I’m operating independently. I involve my friends in every element of the production, people I went to university with. They studied photography and media production academically. I know it might sound messed up to openly ask your friends to look at your peen behind a camera lens, or on Final Cut while it slams into a vagina/butthole, but you have to make use of your surroundings. Nothing feels better than creating something with your best friends and being able to pay them for it in the process. Shooting independently with them means I have total control over the editing and artistic direction. In all my photos and videos, you’ll notice I have my cameras angled on purpose so that you see less of my legs and more of my upper body, close ups of the genitals and penetration (obviously). I’m also well aware of the fact that certain websites or performers will second guess—or won’t even look twice—because of ego trips. They think my limitations will tarnish their “brand”, but I take all that with a grain of salt. They just need to know that I’m going to continue creating content with, or without them on board. Within the last year, I’ve locked down a great deal of support from the people over at cam4. I will be broadcasting live on webcam regularly and have distribution deals for my upcoming videos. That’s huge. The only advantage [being disabled] has really given me is good marketing, given how obscure the concept is. Just don’t be wack and call my hustle “inspiring.’

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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