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Taking Off: Michele James works in the adult film industry, societal stigmas be damned

By February 5, 2019 No Comments

“I put myself out there, I’ve dealt with the criticism, I’ve dealt with the judgement.”

Michele James (Current photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

By Bethany Ruhe
Pittsburgh Current Associate Publisher
bethany@pittsburghcurrent.com

(Editor’s Note: Most links are NSFW)

Imagine you are a self-made, successful entrepreneur.

You started from nothing. You worked hard to make something of yourself. You spent countless hours on your marketing and branding plan. You did your research and you educated yourself on trends in the business. You built your social media platforms from nothing to tens-of-thousands of followers. You have people paying good money for your product. You put in 16-hour days. You are your own CEO, you are successful by any measure. You are Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos.

But you do all of this naked, sometimes with a dick in your mouth, because you are an adult film star.

The people that make the porn that a lot of us watch are sick of you pretending that you’re better than them. Michele James especially is sick of it.

“We are cast out into the shadows,” James said during during an interview with Pittsburgh Current. “People misunderstand our work. I say this all the time, if I could bring a person who didn’t do sex work on set for a day, for them to see what we actually go through, they would realize it’s a job too and we deserve respect, the same as CEOs, and everybody else who goes to work 9-5.”

James is a Pittsburgh-area local, a star on the rise. She sees part of her responsibility to the industry she loves is helping to destigmatize the performers who make it.

James knew from a young age what her destiny was to be. Porn star, adult film actress, or her preferred term, sex worker.  

“Growing up I always had a DDD chest, so I was sexualized from a young age,” James said. “I decided once I was old enough and able to take charge of it by myself, I was going to monetize my sexuality. I might as well get paid for doing it. Why not start making money off things people are already going to say or do about me anyway?”

Seems like harsh words from such a gorgeous mouth, but that’s what you quickly discover about James. She embraces the roughness and the beauty of her work. She is very confident with her chosen profession; she is passionate about her industry; and she gives exactly zero fucks what you think about that.

James started out as an amateur, making videos for a site called ManyVids. ManyVids is one of the industry’s leading platforms that allows performers to produce, film, load and monetize their own content. The site has among the industry’s highest payouts for performers from 60 to 80 percent. It also allows performers to link to their social sites, giving them the ability to build an audience across all platforms. Audience is the single most important thing to taking the next step as a sex worker. James was able to build a big enough body of work and enough followers, nearly 50,000 on Twitter (@michelejamesmv), to attract the attention of an agent from Florida.

From there she started filming “mainstream” films in the two areas where it’s legal: Los Angeles County in California and Miami. To date, according to her verified account on pornhub.com, her videos have been viewed 4.8 million times.

“You have to be real careful of where you are,” James cautions. One foot over a line the wrong way, and you’re breaking the law. And thankfully, when she started, she wasn’t alone. “When you get in the industry, it’s about you meeting the other women, learning from their experiences, having them help you. When I first started, I didn’t know how to do half the stuff I know how to do now when it comes to preparing for these scenes until I met these other women that helped me.

“There is a ton of preparation that goes into these scenes that I would have had no idea about had I not met these other women. They are very nurturing, they will help you any way they can. It’s a very tight-knit community, because we know that we’re outcasts. The only support system we have is each other.”

When asked who is the one performer she would love to work with, her answer comes without hesitation, “Adriana Chechik. She’s such an amazing performer and I’m so envious of her. She is, in my opinion, top of the top. She goes and she gives her all, and you can see it in the scenes. By the end there’s no makeup left, her hair is all crazy, I mean, she literally leaves her heart on that set, every scene she does.

“You know that she loves her job, and that’s what I love. There are a lot of girls that come into this industry to just take what they need from it, their social media fame, whatever else, but then there are actually performers who love going out there, who love having sex, putting out a good product and I aspire to be like that.”

The idea of hard work being noble seems to have passed by most people when they think about porn. Which is strange, because you would be hard-pressed to come across harder workers. “We get up and get to work at 6-7 am, pack our bags, we are on set 8,10,12, sometimes 14 hours a day, working. It’s not just all fucking and fun and games. There are times where you’re halfway through the day and you’re like, okay, can we leave now? I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m sweaty, I want to shower, I’m just irritated. It’s a lot of work. That’s the biggest thing I wish we could get over as a society, is including sex workers as actual people. We are normal people, we have to pay our bills, too.”

People that go into sex work might start off because they love sex, but they don’t stay in it anymore than Jeff Bezos stayed at Amazon because he loves shopping. It becomes bigger than that. James stays in because she’s passionate about making a difference in the industry.

“I’ll always love this industry,” James said. “My main goal when I started was to make this a better industry than when I started. I believe that when I go to set and I follow the proper protocol and I’m making sure that I am respecting people’s boundaries, if I can educate people and get everyone else to do the same, that’s my part of making the industry better, and hopefully it will radiate. I can’t do this myself, I can’t weed all the bad apples out, but if i can start the process to make it a better place and get performers to understand what it means to be safe on set, that’s all I want.”

When asked what she might do if she wasn’t doing this, or what she might do after this, she answers as quickly and as surely as the Adriana Chechik question: an airline pilot. “I love aviation. If I wasn’t doing porn, I would, and I still might, pursue that. As of right now, I’m staying with the industry, but if it changed tomorrow, I would go into aviation.”

It’s not like she’s planning on going anywhere anytime soon. “This industry has given me so much power I feel like I can do anything right now. I put myself out there, I’ve dealt with the criticism, I’ve dealt with the judgement, no one can fucking stop me now. There is nothing you can say to me to hurt my feelings. It’s so fucking empowering.”

It’s important to remember, especially at judgement-passing time, that James wouldn’t be doing this work if you weren’t watching, and she knows it. So while she thinks it’s unfair that she and her colleagues are marginalized, she doesn’t let that stop her. And she’s paid a price for her work. She’s lost people in her life.

“Losing people goes along with the stigma. I think a lot of it has to do with people’s religious views. I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong by doing this. There are always going to be people who don’t approve of what you’re doing,” she explained. “If they want to walk away because of what I do, that’s their loss. Because I’m still the same person. The sad thing about all of this is that I’ve had people who I’ve known forever, and I was doing mainstream porn for about six months before it ‘broke’ and people found out. I had people say I can’t be your friend.

“You were friends with me six months ago when I was doing it but you didn’t know, and I’m the same person. I haven’t changed. It’s tough, but I knew in the beginning that it was going to happen, so I had already accepted I was going to lose friends and family.”

But what the industry can take away, it can also deliver back in a different form. “This industry has given me a lot more people than I’ve lost,” she said. “They’re doing the same job as you. They know how hard it is. They’ve lost people too. So you are really making true friendships and really meeting family in this job. We’ve all lost people. We all know what it’s like to be outsiders.”

James isn’t content to just be a performer. She wants to be an agent of change. She wants to shine a light on the hard work and dedication that people like herself put out there every day. She is smart. She is proud. And one way or another, Michele James is going to fly.

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