Photo: Annie Arnone

How a Ryerson student with cerebral palsy became Daniel James, the porn star

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By Nicole Schmidt

I t all started as a joke, accompanied by minimal expectations. Daniel James* has always been intrigued by the porn industry, but being on the other side of the screen came as a whim.

“They’re not going to take me on, I’m never going to hear anything back,” he thought as he typed a short email to SPIT, a Toronto-based alternative porn collaborative. He read through the application form listing things he’d considered doing on camera: anal, group sex, spanking, fisting, squirt stuff.

“All of the above,” he wrote.

A few weeks later, the third-year Ryerson business management student found himself on set at his first ever porn shoot. It was an unusually warm afternoon in early November 2015. Sunlight filtered out from behind highrise buildings as he walked down College Street to an old apartment complex. He was oddly relaxed. Excited, even. The bachelor apartment was small and simple, but homey. Sketches hung on the cream-coloured walls. There was a record player in the corner, a comfortable looking blue loveseat near the window and a bed near the door. When James walked in, a member of the production crew was changing the sheets. His co-performer was on their period, but that didn’t matter. Alternative porn is supposed to go beyond stereotypes. The focus is on sex positivity, diversity and people who are underrepresented in mainstream porn — like James, who was born with cerebral palsy.

J ames spent the first 18 years of his life in Peterborough, Ont. His dad left before he was born and his older siblings moved out, so it was just him and his mom. They lived on social assistance and rented a small bungalow across from housing projects notorious for drug activity. James remembers police blocking off the street to conduct a raid, telling him and his mom to lock all the doors and stay in the basement “just in case.” Outside, people were being escorted into cruisers with their wrists in handcuffs. On a different night, a man showed up at their doorstep with his head covered in blood. “I was too young at the time to know any better, but looking back, I realized that this dude was either stabbed or had gotten jumped, and he wanted us to let him in,” says James.

Mold filled the walls of their unfinished basement and shingles were falling off the roof. The exterior paint was peeling and the drywall was crumbling. Over time, a hole formed in the corner of James’ bedroom walls. He could feel the nighttime breeze while he slept. He knew far more high school dropouts than he could count on two hands. “No one really had any ambition. There was all this negativity living there,” he says.

Two major orthopedic surgeries, one in 2001 and the other in 2012, put him in a wheelchair for months at a time. Cerebral palsy is a disorder that affects muscle tone, movement and motor skills. Doctors realigned some of James’ bones to help improve his ability to walk. “Going under was the scariest part,” he says. “I didn’t care how arduous or how painful the procedures were, I just wanted it done so I could live a more beneficial life.”

When James landed in Toronto for university, things got better. He’s been involved in the sex-positive community for the past three years and now, porn. “I saw it as an opportunity to represent and start a discussion about sex and disability … a lot of people who are portrayed as disabled in porn are often fetishized or hired out as a kink, which is unhealthy and inaccurate,” he says.

“I saw it as an opportunity to represent and start a discussion about sex and disability … a lot of people who are portrayed as disabled in porn are often fetishized or hired out as a kink, which is unhealthy and inaccurate,”

“People think that just because we have these physical setbacks we aren’t able to lead a healthy and fulfilling sex life, but we are.”

J ames sits on the couch, accompanied by Billy Autumn — a “queer, disabled, punk porn star” with pink hair, a septum piercing and tattoos. They start making out and soon after, they’re both naked. Autumn performs a “hardcore blowjob” (think saliva and gagging) and then they do doggy-style — James’ favourite position. There was a lot of planning done before the actual shoot took place. James said he had to be very specific about the limitations that accompany his condition, as his balance isn’t perfect and he’s not very flexible. “Other performers do have a one up on me with being able bodied, where I am restricted in a lot of cases,” he says. “I just have to compensate by thinking of more elaborate positions and being able to do stuff that other performers aren’t willing to do on camera.”

Having sex on camera is a lot different — there’s a lot of pressure that accompanies it. Having to “keep it up” for 40 minutes while being hovered over by a camera crew and regularly interrupted for breaks has its challenges. You have to be in your own head, says James, “it’s all psychology.”

Since the shoot, James says he’s had messages from girls show up in his inbox with requests to work together, along with occasional random nudes. Porn can be about more than just sex, or boobs or the “money shot.” It can be representative and empowering, or speak to something bigger. “This was a way for me to say this is who I am,” says James. “No more hiding.”

*Daniel James is his stage name

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