It’s not every day you start an interview with an up-and-coming author by watching a video of him fucking the shit out of some guy’s ass. Then again, Daniel Allen Cox is not your everyday author.
Prior to adopting a fairly quiet life in Montreal with his musician boyfriend and their cat Scampy, Cox spent two years working as a pornstar and high-end escort in New York City. It earned him the cash he needed to scrape by in the Big Apple while he was trying to shop his writing around to publishers. In the end, sex work also provided the fodder for his first full-length novel, Shuck, which is being released by Arsenal Pulp Press this month. (Cox’s previous book was the 2006 novella Tattoo This Madness In, put out by Ottawa’s own Dusty Owl Press. It tells the story of queer Jehovah’s Witnesses who use Smurf tattoos to signal their rebellion.)
Shuck traces the experiences of an NYC hustler and pornstar named Jaeven (pronounced JAY-ven) as he balances tricks, love and meth addiction, all the while getting a steady stream of frequently harsh rejection letters from publishers.
Is Shuck a memoir of sorts? “The book is ultimately a work of fiction though much of it is based on true events,” Cox says. “The lines between what is true and what is fiction have gradually blurred for me over time.”
After perusing a substantive collection of Cox’s past pornographic work, for research purposes only of course, we decide to watch College Cocks 101: A Course in Raw Passion.
“I have to apologize in advance for the awful fake Brooklyn accent they made me use,” says Cox, laughing. “And the amount of pancake makeup they put on me is pretty ridiculous too.”
Cox doesn’t bother to apologize for the premise of the film though it’s considerably worse than either his accent or makeup: A bunch of guys are sitting around their dorm trying to study but it’s just too damn hot in there so they decide to shed their clothes. Cox arrives to deliver pizza but ends up bringing a whole lot more. Though the storyline is flimsy, Cox himself is spectacular, playing top supreme to his stable of bottoms.
“That shoot was the first time I ever took Viagra,” he says. “At first I just got dizzy and my cock went soft, but after it kicked in it worked pretty well.”
The scene in the film is virtually identical to a scene in Shuck in which Jaeven shoots his first skin flick, right down the description of his vacuous costars. While the book features Trey, a twink of maybe 18 with plucked eyebrows and a whole lot of attitude, the video features an unnamed costar with a strikingly similar appearance who at times looks like he’s falling asleep on set.
“The sex scenes in the book are probably the ones that are the least fictionalized,” Cox says. “That one in particular is pretty much exactly what happened that day.”
Though it’s jam-packed full of sex, Cox insists that Shuck is first and foremost a book about a specific time and place in history.
“I wanted to write about a version of New York that doesn’t exist anymore,” he says. “During the mid-’90s there was this sort of rampant optimism that percolated through the city. But then it all came crashing down.”
He’s not referring to the World Trade Towers’ collapse. Rather, he’s talking about the tenure of New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. His eight years atop America’s largest city saw the sanitization of what had once been a world sex capital. The infamous sex shops around Times Square were shut down. Strip clubs were all but obliterated. Art galleries that showed work that was even remotely transgressive were threatened with legal action. And though a handful of saunas remained open, they were prevented from handing out condoms because that would imply that sex might actually be happening there.
“The police force started to put a real emphasis on arresting sex trade workers as well,” Cox says. “Anything that was sexual in nature was stamped out during their campaign of purity.”
Though it wasn’t specifically his intention, Shuck is also likely to open a larger dialogue about sex work. “There are a lot of people in my life who don’t know I was a sex worker,” he says. “This book is sort of like another coming out for me in that way. Sex work is my last real secret.”
Like most people who have been in the biz, Cox is insistent that our culture needs to change how it views the sex trade and the men and women who make their living at it.
“I think the thing that’s most difficult for people to get their heads around is that sex work is a job like any other,” he says. “It serves a very important social function by fulfilling people’s physical and emotional needs. The law needs to start protecting the people working in the industry the same way it protects people working in any other.”
He also agrees that the laws in Canada apparently designed to protect sex workers from exploitation do more harm than good.
“The system that we have here is totally archaic and needs to be changed,” he says. “As it stands the laws prevent sex workers from working in safe environments, negotiating boundaries with their clients or hiring security to protect them. The current legal system does far more to endanger people than it does to help them.”
Despite all this, Cox says his experiences in the sex trade were overwhelmingly positive and that he was rarely in situations where he felt endangered or victimized.
“I’m a big, strapping white male,” he says. “In a way it was much easier for me to be safe and to protect myself just because of who I was. I was very privileged in my experiences and I’m well aware of that.”
Though he’s now both literally and metaphorically miles away from his days as the reigning king of the New York sex scene, writing Shuck has got Cox thinking about his past again.
“Getting into the sex trade was never a conscious decision,” he says. “I knew I wanted to have a really wild sex life when I moved to New York, though I didn’t know it would be in porn. At the time, it was really just a matter of recreational curiosity and seeing how far I could push the exploration of my sexuality. But writing this book has reminded me how truly proud I am to have been a part of the industry.”