James Deen and the Myth of Concrete Consent


In the final months of a nearly six-year BDSM relationship—the most satisfying relationship of my life—a line was crossed. My Master (a stripper and porn star at the time) violated my safe word, and I knew in that instant that it was the beginning of the end. Without warning he had confiscated my magic passport, declaring it null and void, sending me back to reality.

At the time I was working as a dominatrix at a well-known New York City dungeon. Distraught, I confided in the world-weary manager, an experienced Mistress herself. I’ll never forget the look she gave me, like she was addressing a naive adolescent, when she explained in her no-nonsense way, “If you play long enough that line will get crossed. I’ve never known any longtime dommes who didn’t eventually cross that line.” In other words, Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What did I expect?

I thought of this encounter when the accusations of sexual assault and rape against porn star James Deen started snowballing. I know next-to-nothing about Deen, other than that he’s got (or had) a slew of “Deenage” groupies who propelled him to more mainstream fame, including starring in Paul Schrader’s version of Bret Easton Ellis’s The Canyons. He’s also been cited as a feminist by some of those same fans. (And if skinny “everyman” Deen hadn’t not been my type in the first place—why would I want to screw the boy next door when I can fantasize about hunky beefcake like The Rock?—all this would have certainly turned me off.) In any case, what’s more interesting to me is the fact that Deen—also a director and public speaker, as well as a philanthropist—has spent the past decade working in the industry primarily as a top, accumulating more and more power, both in fantasy and in reality, as the years have gone by.

While ex-girlfriends Joanna Angel and Stoya—whose tweets about Deen set his recent downfall in motion—have gotten most of the press, perhaps even more telling is fellow performer Sydney Leathers’s assertion that Angel long ago had told her about Deen’s “boundary issues” and his penchant for trying to “break women.” Indeed, both Stoya and Angel are beautiful powerful players in the sex industry—so one could understand Deen’s ongoing attraction to them. After all, for a top there is no greater challenge and ultimate high than to break another top. And Deen was with Angel for six years, beginning his relationship with Stoya two years after that split—a long enough time to stealthily be moving the personal boundary goalpost. In other words, put the pieces of the puzzle together and a bigger, more realistic picture emerges than that of the pornographic phenomenon dreamed up through collective fantasy projection.

What did we expect?

Lauren Wissot is a film critic and journalist, filmmaker and festival programmer, and a contributing editor at Filmmaker Magazine. Her writing can also be regularly read at Documentary Magazine, Salon, Bitch Media and Hammer to Nail. Her book Under My Master’s Wings, a memoir about her time spent as the personal slave to a gay-for-pay stripper, is available from Random House sub-imprint Nexus Books. More from this author →