Thanks to ADT, I recently had the privilege of speaking with porn star, novelist, musician, blogger, activist, scholar (I could go on), Danny Wylde. Danny is one of my "go-to" performers in modern porn. There's something about his intelligence and obvious civic engagement that infuse his performances with a tangible human presence that I don't find in many other male performers. Yes, I find civic engagement sexy. Don't you? He has also emerged as an icon within feminist, ethical, and queer porn circles thanks to his consistent written and spoken work on the politics of porn, sexuality, and gender and bringing this consciousness to his performances. He recently became a published scholar of porn himself with the release of The Feminist Porn Book (2013) in which he has an article, "Our Pornography." Oh, and he makes great porn. We sat down to talk about sexual politics, alt porn, subcultures, porn studies, and a whole lot more. Enjoy!
GGG: Hi, it’s nice to meet you!
DW: You too.
GGG: I know next to nothing about your background. Where did you grow up and what was your upbringing like?
DW: I grew up in a small town in northern California, it’s called Grass Valley. It’s not even a suburb, it’s a very small old mining town, very touristy, and a lot of people from the San Francisco/Bay Area ended up moving there when they got older. So, it’s a lot of kids of hippies.
GGG: Was your childhood the hippie culture you were talking about?
DW: No, not at all. I think my parents were both reformed hippies. My dad has a little bit more of that vibe still, but in a much more conservative way. My mom actually ended up becoming a fundamentalist Christian. I don’t want to say that in a bad way, or to demean her, even though that’s not my belief system. I don’t believe she was overtly harsh on me, or critical of me for any of the choices I’ve made. However, Christianity was a pretty big thing in my face, especially at a younger age.
Once I got into high school I was pretty open with my mom about being interested in sexuality. I don’t think I was a big slut or anything. I don’t think I had the opportunity to be. It was more like I wish I could have been. But no, she wasn’t telling me I can’t. The idea was that you should wait until you’re married, but I think she knew my ideological stance differed quite a bit from her by the time I was twelve.
GGG: So you had a dialogue.
DW: Yeah, I had a dialogue with my mother. I think when you tell people, “I have a fundamentalist Christian mother,” they think you were just put in this hole and you couldn’t do anything, but it wasn’t like that at all. She was actually really cool and she drove my friends and I to concerts all the time when we were in middle school. We had a dialogue and we still do to this day. She’s at least able to have conversations about it, even if she disagrees with it.
GGG: So she respects your career choices?
DW: Yeah. I mean, to the greatest possible degree that she is able to.
GGG: Were you aware of pornography when you were growing up? Did you have any kind of relationship with it?
DW: I was aware of it. I don’t think it was a big deal other than watching the TFP sites.
GGG: What is that?
DW: So, when I was younger, we didn’t have tube sites. There were those websites in the early 2000s and late 90s where internet porn was starting to get huge and they’d have little tiny thumbnails of thousands of sites and you could go to each one, but I didn’t actually pay for any of it because they had those ten second preview clips. So I just put those on repeat, the ones that I really liked. I could watch like 10 seconds of a porn clip over and over again. Then Kazaa came out, and you could download it all for free. But it wasn’t something that was in my mind like, “I’m gonna do this when I grow up!”
GGG: At what point did you start thinking about possibly working in pornography?
DW: It seemed to happen relatively quickly. I had gone to community college prior to going to university so that I could transfer in, and I was living in Santa Cruz for about six months prior to going to University of California, Santa Cruz. My mom had loaned me money to last a month or two to get on my feet. The idea was that I needed to get a job. I was like any 19-year-old kid, like, “Ok, I’ll go to the coffee shop,” or Trader Joe’s, or whatever the fuck stores are around. I applied and literally for a couple of months no one was getting back to me. So I started going on craigslist to look at the gigs section and I found these weird jobs where people, mostly gay photographers, wanted to take pictures of naked guys and will pay you $50-100 or something for the day. I started doing that here and there but that’s still not really a substantial income, so I found this ad that was for Kink.com (they used to be called Cybernet back then) and they were looking for men to do femdom stuff. Like, get beat up by girls and fucked in the ass. I wouldn’t say I was a part of the BDSM community but it was very interesting to me. I was like, “That would be cool to try out,” and I thought as far as porn goes, that if I did something that seemed to be very marginalized then my parents probably wouldn’t find it [laughs]. So I applied, and they got back to me the next day. I went there and they were so nice to me. It was really different from what I imagined porn would be.
GGG: What did you expect porn to be?
DW: I think I was like most people. I expected it to be kind of sleazy. It’s hard to look back because so much has happened but I’m pretty sure I had a pretty stereotypical view of porn.
GGG: Did you recognize that that the San Francisco identity might maybe set it apart?
DW: Not at all. I had no idea what that was. Kink.com wasn’t a big brand. It was just this weird ad on the internet.
GGG: Were you worried about the stigma of femdom stuff?
DW: No, I knew nothing about the politics of porn. I really was completely naïve to all of that shit at that point.
GGG: That’s nice though. I mean, if you have no regrets then that’s kind of a nice way of going into it.
DW: I agree, it was cool. I think it’s an unusual way to get started but at the same time I don’t think it would have happened for me otherwise.
GGG: Since then, have any of the stereotypes of pornography been either challenged or turned out to be accurate?
DW: Here’s the thing with porn. In the beginning, I met the coolest people in porn. I met kink.com, one of the most professional, sex positive companies. Then I met my ex-girlfriend up there who introduced me to people in L.A. I don’t know if you know Dana DeArmond?
GGG: Yeah, of course!
DW: We dated for, like, three years. She’s really responsible for breaking me into mainstream porn [editor’s note: thank you Dana!]. She introduced me to Eon MacKai and the Vivid Alt crew. So when I heard about that I was like here are these people making this stylistic punk rock porno, and I grew up listening to hardcore and metal and was really into that scene, and so I was like “This is something cool” and I could actually be proud of doing something like this. So that was my second step. Then I realized porn is really hard and I’m not that good at it. I moved to Los Angeles thinking I could work my way through school doing porn. Then I fucked up a lot in that first year, and I got this weird contract that I think really helped get my ego to the point where I thought I could do this for a living.
GGG: Who was the contract with?
DW: It was a company called Hush Hush.
GGG: Was that a good experience for you?
DW: Yeah, because it was really easy gonzo stuff. I was contracted to a website called MILF Invaders. At the time they were looking for a brand new guy who could be the face of this site, and act like an idiot all the time. This essentially allowed me to do whatever I wanted to. They paid me above my rate now and allowed me to work with my school schedule. It was perfect.
GGG: That’s awesome. What did you graduate in?
DW: Cinematic Arts, at USC.
GGG: How do you feel about the alt porn label? or even what it’s become compared to what it was?
DW: It’s not that important to me as a label anymore. I love Joanna. I think what she does is awesome. She’s one of the females who have stayed through the industry and been very supportive of all the talent she’s hired. She’s really cool to me. Back when I was with Vivid Alt, she was in a feud with both Dana and Eon MacKai so I wasn’t able to work with her [laughs]. But I think Vivid Alt is something that kind of came and went. Eon, particularly, was making something akin to indie film that was really based on music subcultures. He straight up had Wolves in the Throne Room, which is one of my favorite black metal bands, in a porno. You don’t see that anywhere else.
GGG: Do you see alt porn as a commercialized product that’s exploiting subculture? or do you see it as a valuable aspect of what is always going to be a product anyway?
DW: I think a little bit of the latter. You can say anything, when it becomes popular, exploits subculture. At the same time, the director, Eon, came from that. He even spoke about being really ambivalent about joining with Vivid. But the thing is there was no budget to bring all these people on board. You could bring all this subcultural stuff on board and not pay people, and is that more or less exploitative? It may be good to have a corporation behind you that can pay all these people. I don’t know in the long run if it actually made that much money because I think when you start to appeal to youth subculture in something like porn, or anything really, it looks awesome but you’re appealing to younger people who steal everything. No one these days is taking the time or artistry to make movies that incorporate that style which I think was very specific to Vivid Alt. They really felt like they came from that movement.
GGG: So, you went straight to Kink.com, and you were interested in alt porn. Were you always into subcultures and alternative culture?
DW: Yeah, pretty early on in life, by the time I was in middle school, I got interested in hardcore and metalcore, and then later got into more extreme forms like death and black metal. I played in metal bands throughout high school. I actually have formed one, Chiildren. So, it’s a pretty big part of my life. Although I probably go to less shows now. You’ve got to make a living, and get up in the morning, and be less pissed off 100% of the time.
GGG: You also wrote a novel, Come to My Brother. Do you see those projects as extensions of the work you’re already doing in porn?
DW: When I first started both of them, especially this first novel, and the beginnings of this next music project, I didn’t really think of them as having to do with porn. But the longer I go in porn, it becomes a bigger part of my life and therefore certain aspects of my other art projects draw on those experiences. I think certainly in the future I’ll blend those sorts of things together. I’m trying to no longer differentiate my personas. I think that has always had a negative effect on people. I mean, everyone knows—my family, my friends. I feel like the best route to go is to develop a synergy around all of the stuff that I’m doing.
My next [novel] that will hopefully come out in the next couple of years has a lot to do with my experiences in porn. Growing up with metal, I think there’s a certain element of incorporating fear or negativity in your work. I just like violence as an aesthetic. It’s a powerful metaphor for a lot of things. I think that when you look at pieces of my art there’s a different approach that maybe doesn’t always feel positive.
GGG: It seems like you’re interested in the horror-sex hybrid. People seem to be surprised when a horror-porn movie comes out but it goes way back. You can go back to the Marquis de Sade. That’s a hybrid genre you’re interested in specifically?
DW: Yeah. I made a little super indie porn that I sell on my blog called This is Love, which was actually my first foray into that stuff. I wasn’t able to sell it except for in exchange for Amazon gift cards because of the content. Not that it’s really that overtly explicit, it’s just that it dealt with themes of sexual violence in a relationship. You can’t market that unless you make it an art film. If you call it pornography, basically no credit card companies will work with you.
GGG: Pornography seems like a special case where very rarely until the internet (other than the 70s when all kinds of crazy stuff was being made) violence in porn is a no-no but you can have extreme violence in all other kinds of film.
GGG: What are your thoughts on that? Do you think pornography is a special case? or do you think people should have completely free license?
DW: I think it’s all about context. And here’s the problem, because when you make a porn film that has the aesthetics of most porn, and it looks essentially like there’s someone in a room with a camera, when you don’t put a context around that and it’s just like someone’s being raped or killed or something like that, I don’t know what I feel about that. I feel a bit ambivalent about it. I’m all for free speech and so forth but if you put that out into the world, I don’t know what effect that has on viewers. Like, who are the kinds of people consuming that?
However, I started reading the Marquis de Sade when I was fifteen; I’m really into the author Dennis Cooper, who writes predominantly about necrophilia and youthful ideas about falling in love with people and suicide and death as a metaphor for unattainability, and growing up. I think you can, in an artistic way, pursue depictions that exist outside of your moral reality.
So, pornography that can be really hot in a fantasy way and look really transgressive has always interested me. I’d like to do stuff like that; I don’t really know how far I can go with that and call it porn, so I think especially in my fiction and music videos and stuff like that I can explore those ideas a little bit more.
GGG: So, your book is about vampires?
DW: Yeah. I wrote it when I was 20, before Twilight and all that. I’m proud of it. It’s a lot younger in style than what I do now, so I hope people keep that in mind.
GGG: If you wrote it when you were twenty, that’s a prime time for vampire angst.
DW: Yeah, totally.
GGG: Do you see vampires as an embodiment of a certain type of sexuality?
DW: I don’t know that I thought about it that much. I was really just trying to write about my experiences at that point in my life and make it a high concept horror book also. At the time it didn’t seem like anyone was doing that shit especially when it involved a queer sexuality and pornography, especially a first-hand account of pornography.
GGG: I saw you’re scheduled to speak at CatalystCon West. There’s a real boom in porn studies, really since the 90s, but especially now. What are your views on the academic study of pornography?
DW: The first time I heard anything about porn studies was, I think, a professor of mine called Ed O’Neill. I took a queer film class with him and he showed me some early Bruce LaBruce movies. Super 8 1/2 and Hustler White and stuff like that. I had never heard of queercore or homocore or anything like that. It was this very punk rock aesthetic but with people actually having sex. Not in full pornography scenes, but you saw hard cocks and dudes jerking off on Mein Kampf. It was very intense. I didn’t hear about [porn studies] until after that, when I met Tristan Taormino, who got me involved in The Feminist Porn Book. I think it’s cool. I’m really supportive. Feelings about pornography are entirely culturally relevant. It’s one of the most consumed forms of media on the planet and that has implications no matter what you think, so to be able to study that as a genre, as a medium, I think is incredibly important.
GGG: It’s only fairly recently that sex workers speaking for themselves has been taken seriously. The Feminist Porn Book is really the first book that brought academics and sex workers as scholars together in one space.
DW: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right and it’s still weird for me to look at it as that groundbreaking. It’s like, I just know these people. They’re my friends or at least good acquaintances. But when I look at that objectively I think it’s pretty important.
GGG: You’re also on MakeLoveNotPorn, the Cindy Gallop site. What is your view of that as a company or a movement?
DW: I think it’s gotten a lot of flack from people in porn because of the title. And I think if I were to just read the title without having met her first, I’d be a little standoffish. Cindy approached me a long time ago, before the video portion of her site went live. She explained to me the concept, which didn’t seem to be antiporn at all, and she comes from the advertising world and she’s smart. MakeLoveNotPorn is a slogan that gets people talking. Even people who think pornography is problematic are willing to have her talk about it and she usually does a good job of explaining that her site is not antiporn, it’s about knowing the difference between porn and real sex. But since then, I’ve written about it on my blog and said you know, you can still show realistic depictions of sexuality in porn. It’s not impossible.
I don’t think you can even really say [MLNP] is not porn. It’s videos of people having sex, which I think by and large you can call porn, but it’s curated in such a way that it eliminates most porn tropes. So, Cindy asked me to be a part of it. My ex-girlfriend and I were in the midst of our relationship and we submitted two videos, and I think they did quite well. I have no regrets. I think it’s awesome.
GGG: In feminist, queer porn and MakeLoveNotPorn, authenticity seems to be valued. It’s as if porn is responsible for showing us “real sex” not fantasy “porny” sex. What are your thoughts on that?
DW: I’m glad that the movement has brought that to the foreground, and I think that’s certainly something that needs to be there. But I’m all about the other type of porn too. I wrote a little piece for Medium.com called Context, to try to differentiate some of the things we do, and I was like, listen, I do the MakeLoveNotPorn stuff, I do feminist porn, but I also participate in Kink.com’s hardcore gangbang on a very regular basis, and some of them aren’t really that fun to be in, to be completely honest. They’re a lot of hard work, and sometimes if we’ve had a lot of technical problems and we still have to get a certain amount of footage, no one really wants to continue, but we have to. This is what we’re getting paid for. At the end of the day, it’s a fantasy. I don’t gangbang anyone in real life. And usually the set-up is totally non-consensual other than the interview at the beginning, or they have these fantasy scenarios. You can’t really argue with what your brain thinks is hot, and in the same way that I was talking about the art stuff earlier, sometimes things that just don’t seem to be morally ok turn you on. It obviously works for some people to watch and I have no problem with that as long as you can differentiate that this is a fantasy.
I think that’s another really important part of porn studies. People need to have some sort of media literacy when it comes to pornography. Because it happens in every other form of art.
GGG: What about anti-porn feminism? That has enjoyed a similarly huge resurgence in probably the last five years.
DW: I tried in the beginning to be conscious of that too, to investigate it. It’s obvious some people enter porn because they have no other options in life, and this is something that can make them a substantial amount of income, at least in the beginning. And maybe they’re doing things they don’t want to do, and that’s sad. That’s sad in any person’s life to have to go through that experience. But it’s very obvious at this point in time that there are people doing it for the exact opposite reasons. They enjoy sex, or maybe they like making money and like having sex. I think you can link most of those arguments to any industry. I think it’s really demeaning to women to tell them you don’t have any agency. I think that’s completely fucked up and demeaning to women to say that they don’t have a choice in the matter.
GGG: People seem to think there are two mutually exclusive views. To me, you can create space for that agency and still acknowledge that misogyny exists.
DW: Yes. I’m not going to sit here and say all porn is amazing and people aren’t exploited. They are. That’s a fact of capitalist society. I’m aware that happens; it’s happened to me. Early on, after working for Kink, I ended up in some guy’s living room letting him such my cock for money that I didn’t agree to, and I felt really shitty about it afterwards. It didn’t ruin my life though. I went home and decided maybe I should be a bit more self-aware when I get into situations like that and say no. I was young and naïve and made mistakes and I let someone exploit me. It sucks, but I think that happens in any sector of society and to blame an entire industry, I don’t think you can make that kind of distinction.
GGG: I think it’s easier for people to just pick one really small area to focus all the misogyny, racism, classism, capitalist exploitation, and just put it all in one space so we don’t have to deal with the overwhelming fact that it permeates every single aspect of our culture. Porn gets scapegoated. No one’s going to stand up for it. But you have stood up for it. You’ve been politically involved in the Measure B stuff, attending the meetings. Is that something you still think is important?
DW: Yes, I did go to those meetings, I was very vocal about it. Things have been getting much more complicated in this past year and it’s hard for me to have as straightforward an opinion on all that stuff. With all politics it’s hard to figure out peoples’ real motivations. The thing is, I don’t know what would happen if we started to use condoms. If you have companies fighting tooth and nail not to use condoms because they feel like they’ll go under financially speaking, I tend to base that on some reality. We rely on those companies to pay us. Particularly in the past, my stance was that there’s a certain risk you take being a sex worker to contract STIs. We have a testing policy in place. It’s not perfect but it’s been pretty good at keeping out potentially deadly STIs. At the end of the day, this is a career, people are trying to make money, and we’re doing things that most people aren’t capable of or don’t have the opportunity to do and that’s why they watch it. It’s a novelty, and it’s really kind of hard to do once you start incorporating more and more safety measures.
GGG: They could increase the safety measures on the testing side.
DW: Yes, and I think in the last several months we’ve been starting to do that. But in the last couple of months a lot of really bad fucking stuff has happened, so at this point what is my responsibility? What is a producer’s responsibility? I’m a little ambivalent about it. I don’t know what to say anymore.
GGG: What do you feel about the inconsistency between gay porn and straight porn testing (or non-testing)? I really resent the homophobic attitude toward crossover stars, but there is that disconnect.
DW: Yeah. I have been pretty open about having done gay porn in the past and before we had this crazy resurgence of STI exposures about three years ago I was like, you know what? I seem to be a fairly established performer, a lot of gay fans really like me, and my friend Wolf Hudson asked me to do a bisexual scene with him and another woman. I went ahead and did it, then about two weeks after it was released Derrick Burts contracted HIV, the industry went on a fucking crossover witch hunt, and my old agency wrote an email to every agency in the industry saying that I was an HIV risk. I’ve since been blacklisted from working with any of their girls. It was really scary for me for about a year. Since then, I think people have realized that I’m fairly responsible, I hope. They trust me enough that I’m not fucking peddling HIV everywhere. But my decision since then has been that I’m not going to do gay porn or bi porn because it’s going to fucking destroy my career. No one’s going to want to work with me. And a lot of that, when I listen to people talk on set, has to do very specifically with homophobia. You work on a gangbang, and you’ve been DPing a girl and rubbing your cocks together inside a girl and then they’re all sitting there talking about faggots? “Oh that’s a health risk.” Um, what is more bisexual? Me rubbing my cock on a guy inside a girl or me sucking a cock while I’m with a girl? Like, what is more gay? You know what I mean? It’s completely stupid.
However, I have to acknowledge the reality of my situation. There is a reality of pos guys working in gay porn. And, you guys don’t test all the time, and I know they have condoms on most sets but condoms break, and people are getting HIV in gay porn. But there’s also a history in the gay community with HIV and from what I understand they try to keep the positive performers together and the negative performers together. A lot of companies have begun to test. I think men.com tests, I think Cocky Boys tests, and some other companies test. It’s just too inconsistent. So there’s two things going on there; there’s an intense degree of homophobia, but the reality of porn is you just have to pick a side if you’re a guy. But I would just like to reiterate that sexual orientation is not a risk. It’s behavior.
GGG: You were in The Canyons. What was that like?
DW: Oh man. The Canyons was funny. I’m not trying to get a mainstream acting career. I grew up reading Brett Easton Ellis; I fucking loved his books in high school. Paul Schrader I didn’t really associate by name, but I’d seen Taxi Driver and American Gigolo and I those are fucking really good movies. My roommate [Chad], who’s also in my band, called me up and he goes, “I’m friends with the casting director for The Canyons and they’re trying to fill these two roles.” He spoke about one role in particular. They needed someone to get naked. More than that, there’s this scene in the movie where a guy makes out with James Deen and then pretends to go down on him, and Chad is 100% straight but asked if I would be into it, and I was like fuck yeah, why not?
At the same time, when speaking to the producer, it occurred to me that James Deen might not be ok with that. So I texted him, “Hey James they’re asking me to do this movie, but they want me to play this role. I don’t know if you’re comfortable with that.” He texted me back, “Dude, we DP girls together. I don’t want to think about making out with you.” So, they came back with this other role. You also et naked and in this one you kiss Lindsay Lohan. And I was like, “Yes! Of course I’ll do it.”
I play this guy who they find off this weird app on the internet that’s for hook ups and they invite me over and I get naked and jerk off while James Deen goes down on Lindsay Lohan. I look like a creep. It’s hilarious. I’m such a bad actor.
GGG: It’s like the year of the Hollywood porn film. What do you make of the Hollywood interest in porn?
DW: I haven’t seen too much of the Hollywood movies about porn that have come out recently. The most realistic movie I’ve seen about porn is Bucky Larson. Actually, you know there was this movie called Starlet that came out a little bit ago, and it’s not like porn is the central theme but that actually portrayed the industry incredibly honestly. What you would call “mainstream” porn. They’re just young people trying to figure out their life and they happen to be doing it – they basically live like other kids but they have a little more income here and there and some of them are emotionally rash.
GGG: There seem to be more projects created by porn stars who aren’t saying “Oh I quit porn and now I’m doing this.” There’s more of an overlap. It’s exciting to me, it must be to you too.
DW: Oh totally. I think it’s really cool.
GGG: What are your goals for the future? Do you think there will come a time when you quit doing porn and move into some other part of your life?
DW: I’m pretty sure, unless something drastically changes, that I’ll be involved in the industry for most of my life. I think at a certain point I have to stop performing. I think that’s inevitable. I think that’s going to realistically turn into producing porn. My ex, Lily LaBeau and I, did quite a bit of work on making stuff for website that didn’t happen, but in just the past couple of months I finally got distribution for the first feature we did, Man Hunt Ibiza, which she directed. I’ve also just started a clips4sale store for a lot of the scenes that we did. It’s called Future Sex Shock. I’ll be promoting that the rest of this year and hopefully continuing to shoot scenes for that. However, I’m just trying to get some of this stuff out there; we shot a year’s worth of stuff that never saw the light of day. Hopefully people are into it.
Keep up with Danny on his excellent blog, Trve West Coast Fiction where he writes about porn and sexual politics, and posts updates about his various projects.