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The Willingness to Pay for Porn

Underwater Porn Shop: Jeremy Brooks

Creative producer, media-maker, artist, writer, and activist Creatrix Tiara is currently taking Harvard Business School’s HBX CORe, a 3-month online business fundamentals course in analytics, accounting, and economics. This is a repost with permission from her #BusinessyBrunette weekly series, where she adapts what she’s learning to make it meaningful to artists, activists, geeks, nerds, fans, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the MBA Mould. Follow along on Medium or sign on to her Patreon for early access.


 

The Willingness to Pay for Porn

 

Willingness To Pay, in its simplest terms, is the maximum price a person is willing to pay for a particular product or to resolve a particular problem. Businesses measure their customer’s WTPs to build up a demand curve, which reflects the quantity demanded at each price point.

These videos from Dr Buckley give a decent overview over the concepts of Willingness To Pay and demand curves — I recommend watching these before moving on if you’re unfamiliar with the concepts.
 
Video: Willingness to Pay

 
Video: Demand Curve

 

Many factors can affect someone’s WTP, depending on the product. Tickets to a show? Your WTP would depend on who’s performing, the weather, the venue, the distance and effort it’ll take for you to get there. Hungry? Your WTP might be higher for one type of cuisine over another. Personal income, mood, accessibility, reputation…all kinds of factors can affect your WTP.

What doesn’t affect WTP? Price.

Your Willingness to Pay doesn’t change because the item’s prices changed. What does change is the quantity demanded.

For instance, suppose you were willing to pay $20 for a book. The book retails at $20. OK great! This book fits your WTP, so you go for it.

Now there’s been a 50% discount, making the book $10. Your WTP is still $20. However, because you can now afford two books, you would probably be willing to buy two books instead of just one. (This is assuming that your WTP for the second book is $10 or more — see the above WTP video to learn more about diminishing returns.)

So in the Economics for Managers module in HBX CORe, after all of this was set up, some students were randomly asked:

 

Name an item where the price is zero but the Willingness to Pay was more than zero.

 

A few common necessities came up, such as air and water. Somebody answered “Facebook memberships” which I thought was pretty clever.

Then somebody answered “pornography”.
And got a ton of kudos for it.

I, on the other hand, was really frustrated and made counter-comments with tons of references about how that logic is faulty.

Here’s the thing. This isn’t an attack on my classmates — they’re hardly alone in their thinking. But just because many people hold the same assumption doesn’t mean that assumption is true.
 
Is the WTP for porn greater than zero? For some people, sure.
Is the price of porn zero?

HELL NO!
 
And assuming this is the case actually does a ton of disservice to sex workers who rely on income from pornographic productions to survive.

pullquote-price-of-pornThe devaluing of sex work in society — especially when paired with the devaluing of creative labor, Internet work, and the work of marginalized people — drives Willingness to Pay closer to zero, affecting people’s perceptions of the price of porn, and thus having a negative effect on sex workers’ livelihoods!

There is some pornography that is available for free, just like there is some of everything available for free. But unlike air, Facebook accounts, or (in most ideal cases) water, porn isn’t free by default.

Porn costs money to produce. There are the usual costs associated with any kind of screen production — tech, cameras, lighting, sound, set, wardrobe, hair and make-up, the labor of actors and crew. Then there are the extra costs particular to porn: managing paperwork, actors getting STI checks beforehand, toys, protection (condoms, dams, gloves, so on). Editing and post-production costs money, marketing costs money, admin costs money.

Yet many porn production companies, particularly smaller, feminist, indie companies run by and for marginalized people (such as women, queer and trans people, and people of color), are finding it hard to get financing for their work. As Bitch Media’s Lyndsey G notes:

 

Right out of the gate, adult startups of all types have it tough. Investors are terrified of them. Small business loans for porn startups are virtually impossible to get due to banks’ morality clauses. Kickstarter and most other crowdfunding websites do not permit pornographic projects to raise funds on their platforms. […]

 
Getting the money is one hurdle — keeping it is another.

 

The mere mention of the ‘P-word’ sets off red flags for banks with honored morality clauses. […] Most adult entertainment startups must resort to moving their money through innocuously-named ‘holding companies’ to fly under the radar.

 
Indeed, despite the Internet being seen by some as a major boon to the adult industry, the systemic discrimination against sex workers by most of the top online payment processors — including PayPal, JP Morgan Chase, Visa, Mastercard, and Square — have made it extremely difficult for sex workers to be paid for their work online. Writer and sex worker rights activist Violet Blue calls this practice “weblining”, comparing it to the old banking practice of redlining, where otherwise-qualified clients from supposedly “high-risk” neighborhoods, largely populated by people of color, were denied service:

 

To redline a community was to cut it off from equal financial access, rights and opportunities. Being redlined was a death sentence for getting out of poverty. […]

What’s happening to female entrepreneurs in the sex business can no longer be written off as isolated incidents. Weblining’s targeted populations are porn performers, sex workers, independent retailers, erotic writers and the internet’s new generation of online pornographers: business sectors comprised of a disproportionately large number of women and LGBT people.

 

The companies that are willing to work with sex workers tend to charge exorbitant fees for their service. Lyndsey G noted that adult crowdfunding platform Offbeatr takes a 30% fee from successful projectssignificantly higher than Kickstarter or Indiegogo’s 5%; Offbeatr claims that this is due to their limitation to working with payment processors with exorbitant fees — for example, CCBill or Verotel.

Even with these challenges and limitations, some porn companies still try their best to treat their employees fairly, recognizing the value of sexual labor. Tobi Hill-Meyer, the creator of the trans-women-centered Doing It Onlineinsists on paying performers:

 

“With sexual labor it’s important to be paid because it’s often a kind of labor that is undervalued,” says Hill-Meyer. “To accept free labor makes it a norm in the industry and I don’t want to encourage people to make those decisions when they otherwise would not do so.”

 
While Hill-Meyer and many others are fighting back against free labor in the porn industry, porn consumers are making it harder on them by pirating their work, with no money being channeled to the producers and performers. Performers like Jiz Lee, who has called for “ethical porn consumption”, have noted that porn piracy can sometimes be even more exploitative than performing in porn:

 

To be honest, the only time I’ve ever felt exploited, as a performer in porn, is when my work is pirated. When I sign a contract, it’s between the producer and myself. For someone else to assume that right feels non-consensual. (Technically, it’s illegal and a breach of site usage and copyright.) But it also hurts the profit margins that allow us to keep making work. I once came across a video I was in that had been viewed over 50,000 times. If even a fraction of those views had been paid for, the small porn company would have been able to produce another feature, pay performers more, and increase the quality and frequency of their work.

 
In some ways, the issue of Willingness to Pay being close to zero for pornography connects with issues of other creative producers, including musiciansYouTubers, and writers, struggling to earn money online — and facing intense hostility when they are upfront about being paid what they’re worth. And certainly part of the resistance against paying for porn is an overall resistance to paying for creative work, plus the supposed weirdness of paying for anything on the Internet: a dire mix of Artists Should Do It For The Love of Artthe dark side of Information Wants To Be Free, and The Internet Isn’t Real Life.

pullquote-Paying-for-sex

However, porn also has to deal with additional stigmas associated closely with sex work: for instance, most sex work is gendered as women’s work, which is already highly devalued — even more so for women of color and LGBTQ women. Society still fails to recognize sex work as a valid form of labor, even from other labor unions. Paying for sex is still considered a major taboo — extending past direct sexual services towards sexual products, including porn. And while this piece has largely focused on the struggles of independent producers and performerseven larger companies are feeling the burn.

All of these stigmas, misconceptions, and taboos that are aimed at sex work and porn producers contribute to a Willingness to Pay edging closer to zero. And how do we know that people’s WTP is close to zero, if not already zero?

If their Willingness to Pay for porn was higher, they wouldn’t necessarily need to or want to pirate porn or get it from free sources — they’d just pay for it, like they would for anything else they value.

Sex workers already face immense discrimination from other avenues of making money — whether driven to sex work due to discrimination in seeking employment, having payment processors shut down fundraisers for non-sex-work-related matters due to their occupation, or being unable to get a job outside of sex work due to prior job history. Many turn to porn as an accessible source of income, as well as a creative and community-building outlet — but the significant downturn in consumers’ WTP would greatly affect their ability to survive and support themselves.

To raise our WTP for anything, we need to recognize and appreciate the value of the product or service in consideration. To raise our WTP for porn, we need to recognize sex work, as well as creative work, Internet work, and the work of marginalized people, as work with value.

Some of us will never develop any WTP for porn for any reason, and that’s fine. But all of us, porn consumers or not, can work together to dismantle the stigmas around sex work, recognizing sex work as valid and valuable labor — which goes a long way towards increasing societal appreciation for the costs of porn production, increasing Willingness to Pay en masse.

Supporting the increase of Willingness to Pay for porn doesn’t just start and end at paying for porn. We need to demand that payment processors be more fair and equitable towards sex workers, and work with sex workers on alternatives that are truly sex-worker friendly not just in access but also in cost. Investors need to be more willing and open to fund projects that involve sexuality and/or sex workers. We need to fight against whorephobia and structural violence towards sex workers, including anything that’s driving the “morality clauses” that inform institutional attitudes towards sex work. And we need to stand in solidarity with sex workers in advocating for their rights, their safety, their livelihoods.

pullquote-sex-worker-laborThrough these efforts, we can support the improvement in sex workers’ living and working conditions by increasing their ability to finance and develop such improvements — such as better pay for performers and crew, more safer sex materials, healthcare, the freedom to experiment with greater production and artistic values, and the ability to perform and produce and create on their own terms. So much can be accomplished when we recognize the value of sex worker labor, and create pathways for that value to be fairly compensated.

The price for porn, despite what some people want to think, isn’t and shouldn’t always be zero. Regardless of price — because Willingness to Pay is not affected by price — we can work towards increasing Willingness to Pay for the labor of sex workers by actually valuing them and their efforts, and breaking our assumptions of porn and sex work as not being worthy of pay.

Further Reading & Watching:

Featured article image: Underwater Porn Shop, Jeremey Brooks via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

January 27, 2016

XXX LOVE: Married Porn Couples

Married Porn Couples

by Andre Shakti

I recently had the honor of interviewing over a dozen couples for a Cosmopolitan.com profile on their partnerships; in each case, either one or both individuals per partnership were involved in the porn industry. The story was inspired by the recent Porn Kills Love campaign that’s been spreading harmful misinformation about explicit content and its supposed negative effects on our capacity to love. I tolerated the campaign for a while (Free Speech, amiright?), but when an enormous billboard went up across the street from my Oakland home I knew I either had to set it on fire or write about it. Unfortunately, through a series of heavy-handed edits, many of the relationship profiles got scrapped in the final article that went live on Friday October 23rd, including the profiles featuring the only two overtly queer couples I’d interviewed. I’d been so inspired by the strength of their commitments to each other, as well as their candor and enthusiasm for the article, that I couldn’t let the other profiles fall by the wayside.

 


Nina Hartley & Ernest Green


Status: MarriedninahartleyErnestGreene-xxxlove

Name: Nina Hartley
Age: 56
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupations: Performer, educator, advocate, and author.
Number of years in the industry: 31

Partner:

Name: Ernest Greene
Age: 63
Occupation: Producer, performer, advocate, author and past chair of AIM (Adult Industry Medical) Healthcare Foundation, the first industry-specific health clinic for adult performers.
Number of years in the industry: 31

How’d you meet?

He was the assistant director (AD) for my friend, Sharon Kane’s, directorial debut. He was the first person I’d met in porn who was there because he had something to say about sex, as opposed to simply ending up there because it seemed better than “real’ work.

Describe your relationship in one word.

Ideal.

What was your wedding like?

It was a Buddhist ceremony, 66 people in attendance, mostly blood family, with some industry friends. Parents were in their full, fancy priest robes (they’re ordained Buddhist priests). The officiant was the priest who ordained my parents. It was held at the Zen Center in SF on a beautiful July day. My little niece was flower girl, my sister matron of honor. Really lovely and sweet.

What does marriage mean to you?

Being each other’s support, safe harbor, sounding board, confidant, care provider, advisor, mirror, Lover, friend, through good times and bad, till death.

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” Campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

No. The name alone is annoying and misleading. OMG! I just Googled it. Wow. Repulsive propaganda from the usual suspects, in my view. These are the same people who don’t want comprehensive, age-appropriate, science and fact-based sex education in schools. Just a newer, shinier, younger demographic. Slick. They get on national TV to tout their views but we never get to do the same. Sex-shaming. Uses “brain science” to back up their views, not taking into account the bigger social/personal/political/cultural issues that affect people’s abilities to form lasting connections with others. Discounts the very real needs of people who cannot, for whatever reason, meet others to have sex (the disabled, as an example) and who depend on porn for their sexual outlet. Same old bullshit, new packaging.

 


 

Jesse Jackman & Dirk Caber


 

JesseDirk-xxxlove

Status: Engaged

Name: Jesse Jackman
Age: 42
Location: Boston, MA
Occupation: porn performer & in healthcare IT
Number of years in the industry: 4

Partner:

Name: Dirk Caber
Age: 44
Location: Boston, MA
Occupation: classical musician, tuba, piano, vocalist & porn
Number of years in the industry: 5

How’d you meet?

I’d just started working in the porn industry and was trying to navigate my way around the scene, so I started seeking out a community mentor who could help me. A friend of mine introduced me to Dirk Caber, who had been in the industry for about a year already, and we immediately hit it off. At the time I was dating someone who was struggling with my new career and wasn’t too keen on the idea. The very same weekend I met Dirk, my boyfriend broke up with me, saying he couldn’t date someone in porn. Dirk stepped up to support me; he held my hand and saw me through the heartbreak. After some time the relationship turned romantic, and we began seeing each other seriously. The first two years were long distance – me in Boston, Dirk in Chicago – before Dirk moved to Boston to be with me.

Describe your relationship in one word:

Honest.

What was your proposal like?

We exchanged rings on the day that the Supreme Court initially refused to hear appeals in gay marriage cases – October 6, 2014 – setting off a landslide of lower court rulings that eventually led to marriage equality nationwide. We’re having trouble setting a date for our wedding, though, because we can’t figure out where to have it. The problem is that every place that’s “meaningful” to us is like a diner or something – they’re not exactly majestic!

What does marriage mean to you?

We basically already consider ourselves married; we call each other “hubby”, and we’re sharing our life together. We’re not married in the legal sense yet, but we’re already bonded as partners, albeit with a healthy recognition and respect of each other’s autonomy. We encourage and support our lives as individuals as well as our shared life, and that’s paramount. We have one rule: Don’t bring home anything you don’t want to share. It’s applicable to everything from STIs, to sex partners, to pizza!

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” Campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

Yes we are! It was brought to our attention several days ago. It looks like they’re not being honest about the basis of the organization [funding the campaign]. In my opinion, it’s a very thinly veiled effort of the Church of Latter Day Saints. All four founders are members of the Mormon Church, and when you look to see where the organization’s domain name is registered, it comes up as Salt Lake City, Utah. In addition, their website cites incomplete “scientific” information presented largely out of context, and the neutrality of their Wikipedia page is currently under dispute. Anyway, my main issue with the organization is that they’re selling porn consumption as an addiction, yet they’re not demonizing other addictions, such as alcohol, in even remotely the same fashion. People who suffer from addiction are genetically and neurologically predisposed to it, a fact which is pretty universally understood. Our society isn’t in the habit of outlawing everything a person could possibly be addicted to – alcohol, gambling, etc. Porn isn’t the enemy; we should be focused on helping people with addictive personalities, not demonizing an industry that provides a healthy sexual outlet for millions of people.

 


Kayden Kross & Manuel Ferrara


 

KaydenKrossManuelFerrara-xxxloveStatus: Engaged

Name: Kayden Kross – TrenchcoatX
Age: 30
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: producer, director, and retired porn performer
Number of years in the industry: 10

Partner:

Name: Manuel Ferrara
Age: 39
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: Producer, Director, and Porn Performer
Number of years in the industry: 19

How’d you meet?

On the set of my very first shoot – I guess I did so badly that he refused to speak to me for three years afterwards. We met again when I was under contract for another company, and it was my first shoot for them. It was an entirely different experience – sparks flew.

Describe your relationship in one word:

Complimentary.

What was your proposal like?

We engaged on my birthday. We were out with friends, and he was so nervous that he dropped to one knee and then stood right back up again before I could even register what happened. He really overthought it and got scared; he’s very traditional in his private life. We haven’t set a date yet because he’s from Paris, and figuring out travel plans has been very complicated.

What does marriage mean to you?

A melting together of lives. There’s not a single thing Manuel does that doesn’t affect my life, and vice versa. We’re completely joined.

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” Campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

I haven’t, but it’s a nice catchphrase. If nothing else, conservative agendas can sure come up with some snappy soundbites.

 


 

Mickey Mod & Mallory*


 

*Wife does not want to be pictured.MickeyMod-xxxlove

Status: Married

Name: Mickey Mod
Age: 36
Location: San Francisco, CA
Occupation: Adult Performer & Filmmaker
Number of years in the industry: 7.5

Partner:

Name: Mallory
Age: 31
Location: San Francisco, CA
Occupation: Graduate Student studying film

How’d you meet?

We met in film school – I was just finishing the program that she wanted to attend. We worked on some on some projects together, hit it off and started dating. Five months later we moved in together, and at this point we’ve been together five and a half years.

Describe your relationship in one word:

Laughter.

What was your wedding like?

Fantastic. We got married in a redwood amphitheater in the Berkeley Hills. We were surrounded by nature as well as our close friends and family from all areas of our lives: porn performers, college friends, parents, etc. The food was was so good that the attendees still talk about it, and there was lots of dancing. What struck me the most was how much of a community effort the ceremony turned out to be. Everyone pitched in in some way, whether they were handcrafting decorations or offering rides to arriving attendees. It was really beautiful.

What does marriage mean to you?

It’s a lot of work! Not in a negative way, but it’s a conscious full-time commitment to support, engage with, and being fully present for one another. A 24/7 partnership. Which can be difficult to do when you have all this other stuff to navigate and maintain to have a healthy well-rounded life.

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” Campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

I’m not very familiar with it aside from hearing about the billboards and bumper stickers. Porn has been around for quite a long time – I don’t think it’s hampered the abilities of people to communicate with each other. Shame kills love, not porn. And what kind of love does it kill, exactly? My love for my pets? My love for ‘Broad City’?

 

 


Angie & Colin Rowntree


Status: MarriedANgieCOlin-xxxlove

Name: Angie Rowntree
Location: New England
Occupations: Founder of Sssh.com (Porn for Women site, now in it’s 16th year)
Number of years in the industry: 21

Partner:

Name: Colin Rowntree
Location: New England
Occupation: Founder of Wasteland.com (the oldest BDSM site on the web)
Number of years in the industry: 21

How’d you meet?

At the Boston Gift Show.  I was buying and he was selling, haha.

Describe your relationship in one word:

Illuminating.

What was your wedding like?

Unique.  We really wanted to do something different — something that honored all the beautiful traditions throughout the world.  So we took elements from everything and anything that resonated with us and created our own ceremony and wrapped it up in a medieval / Pagan theme.  The wedding was held at the Rose Gardens (which is said to be haunted!) in Beverly, MA. It was amazing.  

The ceremony drew from many traditions; we had a mystery play as a way to set the mood with the guests and send an all-inclusive message to everyone in attendance. Bardic storytelling, breaking of the glass, even a traditional Scottish broom-jumping.  It was so much fun, and very interactive.  We wanted our guests to be a part of our wedding and not just watch it.  We even had Colin’s world music group playing everything from renaissance sacred music to 14th century Italian “dance band” tunes!  Nothing stuffy for us.  Hell, even my attendants had bare feet! (All the better to dance in.) 


What does marriage mean to you?

Friendship, partnership, collaboration. Having a trusted witness to your successes and failures. It also means respecting one’s individuality and giving your partner the room to grow in a safe, nonjudgmental environment.

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

I had not heard of them before you asked, but looking over their website, it seems like they’re making a lot of the same arguments other anti-porn groups make, and cherry-picking the same research and studies, many of which offer theories about porn’s negative effects that are refuted by what we observe in the real world. For example, if watching porn is making men more sexually aggressive and more likely to commit sexual assault, why does the data reported by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies show a decrease in sexual assaults in the U.S. over the years since online porn first began to proliferate? If porn really has the negative effect these critics say it does, there should be solid proof of what they claim by now — and that proof just doesn’t seem to be there.

I don’t doubt the people behind this campaign are earnest and believe what they say; I just disagree with them. I also think it’s sort of odd to say, as they do on their website, that “Pornographers pretend that what they’re selling is Love 2.0. It’s like love, they say, but easier.” Needless to say, I know a lot of pornographers, and I can’t think of more than a few who have ever suggested the porn they make is about love, at all. Although I like to think love comes through in my work, even for me sometimes the goal simply isn’t to depict love, but something more raw, compelling and immediate.

 


Lily & Sten Cade


Status: MarriedStenLilyCade-xxxlove

Name: Lily Cade
Age: 30
Occupation: porn star/director
Number of years in the industry: 8

Partner:

Name: Sten Cade
Age: 29
Occupation: cinemetographer/editor/web developer
Number of years in the industry: 8

How’d you meet?

We met at the “B-B-Queer” a back to school BBQ at USC. I had orange hair and was wearing a Nightwish teeshirt. Sten had green hair. She came up to me and asked me if I was a Freshman. I scoffed at her and told her I was a Junior transfer. I went home with another girl that night, and Sten told her friends I was “too crazy for her.” A week later, she helped me with one of my student films. The crew stayed at my place that night before the shoot, and Sten agreed to share my bed as long as I didn’t molest her. I didn’t, but I did tell her all my weird stories about pranking people in high school. She agreed that we could make out and we did, pushing the limits of “not having sex.” The next day, after the movie, she finally let me go down on her. Being lesbians, we pretty much moved in together after that. We got married in 2008 when gay marriage was briefly legal in CA between In Re Marriage Cases and Prop 8.

Describe your relationship in one word.

Partnership.

What was your wedding like?

Our wedding was amazing. We started talking about marriage while the CA Supreme Court was deliberating, but all we could make were tentative plans. When the decision came down, we need to act fast, because we were worried that Prop 8 would pass. We had three months to put our wedding together.  We managed to get the set of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. We set up chairs facing the train station. Sten and I rode in from opposite sides, to the theme from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, wearing blue pinstripe suits. Our wedding party wore black suits with pink ties. We dismounted, handed our horses to our sisters, and said our vows. I messed up the rings a little bit. We got back on and rode off literally into the sunset. My mom — who up until this moment still had a little bit of awkwardness about my being gay — threw my reception on her beautiful deck in Malibu and made all the food. It was a small but truly special wedding.

What does marriage mean to you?

Sten and I run a business together. She’s my right hand and my DP (as in Director of Photography) and I couldn’t do what I do without her. We have a long term open marriage — Sten used to watch me fuck other girls for fun, and now we do it for a living.

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” Campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

I wasn’t, but I checked it out. I don’t think porn destroys relationships, but I do think that, as with any media product, consuming porn in lieu of real human interaction can be a problem. A lot of porn is visual but devoid of emotional content. That’s not what we do. Our work focuses on female pleasure, and on telling stories that motivate the sex. As a performer, I don’t go through the motions. I don’t just provide a visual. I go in there and fuck girls like I mean it. I want to see her body shake and her chest get red and her eyes roll back. I want to see a real connection. Guys can watch me and see how to actually FUCK a woman. Sex isn’t just this animal thing, it’s an exquisite language constructed by humans on the scaffolding of our reproductive biology. It’s a skill and an art. My features are also great for couples and of course for lesbians – compelling, funny stories with genuinely hot lesbian sex scenes.

 


Jessica Painter & David Rivera


Status: MarriedJessicaPainterDavid-Rivera-xxxlove

Name: Jessica Painter
Age: 28
Location: Tampa, FL
Occupation: model, phlebotomist, producer, dancer
Number of years in the industry: 5

Partner:

Name: David Rivera
Age: 33
Location: Tampa, FL
Occupation: bartender/model/producer
Number of years in the industry: 2

How’d you meet?

While go-go dancing at a sports bar for Super Bowl two years ago and he was bartending at the event.

Describe your relationship in one word.

Thriving.

What was your wedding like?

Short and sweet!

What does marriage mean to you?

To be completely honest and loyal, and to be with someone I can’t  live without.

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” Campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

No I am not, but I can tell what it means by the definition! I actually think porn enhances your sex life in some ways — I think porn helps relationships, if anything. It certainly helps in our’s. :)

 


Sinn Sage & Drake Man-o-war


Status: EngagedSinnSageDrake-Man-o-war-xxxlove

Name: Sinn Sage
Age: 31
Location: San Diego, CA
Occupation: adult performer
Number of years in the industry: 13

Partner:

Name: Drake Man-o-war
Age: 31
Location: San Diego, CA
Occupation: adult performer
Number of years in the industry: less than a year

How’d you meet your current partner?

It’s such a great story! It was 2011, and I’d tweeted that I really wanted to go to Coachella. Some girl contacted me and sold her a ticket to me for half price, so after I was done shooting porn one day in the Valley I drove out to Newport Beach to get the ticket and then drove out to Coachella. By the time I got there it was late, and around 80,000 people were spilling out of the area. I decided to walk around by myself for a while, and soon I heard some guy yell out, “Damn girl, you’re smokin’ hot!” I stopped and thanked him, and he invited me to hang out with him and his friends. I was newly single at the time, so I said sure, and we drank and had fun the rest of the evening. The next week we went on our first date, and we fell for each other really quickly after that! We love telling people that we found each other at this massive event amid thousands and thousands of people.

Describe your relationship in one word:

Ideal.

What was your proposal like?

More logical than romantic, really — I’d call it a “pragmatic non-proposal”. He’d already been married for a brief period of time, and I wanted to wait until everyone in the United States was granted full marriage equality. We both agreed that we never really needed to get married to stay together. But as time went on, we recognized the legal benefits of it and warmed to the idea. I knew he’d never formally propose because I’d been so adamant about not having a ceremony in the past, so I did it myself and asked him one night at home on the couch! We set the date for November 21st, 2015, and it’s going to be a totally non-traditional wedding — both he and I are wearing purple and black!

What does marriage mean to you?

Rationally I see it as a legal contract that’s going to give us certain rights in regard to each others’ lives, especially regarding medical decision-making. Emotionally I also see it as being an inseparable team. When you are on someone’s team it’s always about being successful together, about having someone on your side no matter what, and not having to question it. It’s a really incredible feeling. I don’t believe in “forever”, ie “it will always be us” — I’m very realistic about our future while also being entirely optimistic it.

Are you familiar with the “Porn Kills Love” Campaign? If so, how do you feel about it?

No, but I’m very disappointed in the anti-porn movement in general. I’ve always been proud of who I am and what I do, and as soon as I met Drake I told him everything and he’s always been completely enthusiastic and supportive. It’s never been an issue. I think people are intimidated by the idea of sharing porn with someone they love, but there are so many ways to watch porn with your partner, and it can help open the door to communication about sex. It’s not just something that keeps you in a room all day jerking off in the corner, hidden from the world. There has not been an ounce less of love in my life because of porn — if anything, the bounty of love is almost more than I can handle.

 

Andre Shakti is a Bay Area educator, producer, activist, and professional slut devoted to normalizing alternative desires, de-stigmatizing sex workers and their partners, and not taking herself too seriously. She writes about sex work for Cosmopolitan online and is currently working on an anthology of sex advice anecdotes by sex workers for ThreeL Media. She recently had an essay published in the anthology Coming Out Like A Porn Star. Follow her on Twitter at @andreshakti and visit her website, AndreShaktiXXX.com

October 28, 2015

SILVERSHOES: The Carnal Power of What We Wear

Silver Shoes by Jennifer Lyon Bell

In this guest post, filmmaker Jennifer Lyon Bell shares her philosophies behind SILVER SHOES Jennifer Lyon Bell, winner of “Movie of the Year” at the 2014 Feminist Porn Awards.

My General Approach

I try to make the sex films that I myself wish I could find. It’s so hard for me to find erotic films that are quite sexually explicit but where the characters also have great chemistry and there’s an interesting story. Being true to my own quirky taste is the only way I can make movies. I pick the cast, the stories, and the styling based on what I personally think is hot. I try to tune in to my instincts and follow from there.

SILVERSHOES_MIMOSA_A2-3-girls-loving-show-500

The Carnal Power of What We Wear

I like characters that don’t quite fit the mold of masculinity and femininity that I see in most mainstream TV and ads. Studly dudes and sexy ladies in black stockings aren’t quite my taste. That’s how Silver Shoes came about. For Liandra and AnnaBelle’s scene, I wanted to explore the idea of a feminine woman who purposely plays with masculine clothes and masculine attitude at the same time. That’s hot to me. Or in Liandra and Joost’s scene, a handsome chiseled guy who’s comfortable in tight shiny leggings. That’s why Silver Shoes is about “the carnal power of what we wear”. These unexpected “carnal” clothing items symbolize so much about the personality of the wearer who chose them. They become saturated with meaning, which can linger long after the wearer is gone. In AnnaBelle’s solo scene, “Silver Shoes: The Housesitter,” I can relate to how intensely she’s trying to soak up feelings from someone else’s empty clothing. It’s so touching because we’ve all felt that way.

Personal Filmmaking Style

My personal filmmaking challenge is to balance cinema craft with the unexpected. I love spontaneity. The most exciting porn for me is where I feel like I’m watching some kind of first-time experience play out in front of me, surprising even the performers themselves. So I can’t script every word, or choreograph the sex scene practically at all, because I want to give the performers freedom during filming. If they’re still enjoying each other while the cameras are rolling, I never stop the sex scene or try to encourage them to do something else I have in mind. When people are being spontaneous and emotionally present, all these tiny amazing details flourish. A certain fleeting expression on someone’s face, a small but powerful sound — I wouldn’t jeopardize that for the world. It’s like magic. In one of the Silver Shoes stories (“Silver Shoes: Undressed”), Liandra Dahl has the most amazing expression on her face for just a second or two while she’s fucking AnnaBelle Lee on her lap with a Feeldoe. I feel lucky to have been present for that. I feel that way about a lot of the shots in Silver Shoes.

SILVERSHOES_UNDRESSED_A2-3-Liandra-gaze-squint-3

Creating the Unexpected on Set

In Silver Shoes, I’m trying to be even more true to that feeling I’m always trying to create: That the story and sex are playing out for the very first time in front of the viewer. I cast some actors/actresses with great acting skills, and then let them improvise on set around the plotlines that I thought would be cool. This was my first time asking the performers to improvise so much material on set, and I’m grateful that they trusted me enough to try it. It let them add their own personality to the role, and it let them speak in a comfortable rhythm in sync with their native accents (which was important on Silver Shoes, because we had performers from the USA, Australia, Belgium, England, and Holland!)

SILVERSHOES_MIMOSA_B3-13-CU-almost-kiss-500

From my stage actress days, I remember that improvising dialogue can help you “click” into engaging with your costar, because you genuinely have to listen closely to the other person. I think that process helped our sex scenes a lot. Honestly it’s hard to account for the great chemistry: I actually had to leave some footage on the cutting-room floor for the first time ever, because the performers were so into each other that I captured more orgasms than I could reasonably show per storyline! I’m a very fortunate director.


Watch Silver Shoes in Full 

May 11, 2015

MIGHTY REAL: Shine Louise Houston Reveals it All.

Shine Louise Houston

By Shine Louise Houston

My name is Shine Louise Houston and I am producer, director, and founder of Pink and White Productions. We have produced four explicit queer feature films, and we run two queer pornographic websites, CrashPadSeries.com and PinkLabel.tv. We will also be expanding our operations in the next years. I want to start by pointing out a problem in some of Pink and White Productions’ own promotional materials, which is the claim that “Queer Filmmaker Shine Louise Houston brings to the web authentic female and queer sexuality.” For one thing, our productions start in my head in some senses, but they quickly grow beyond me – I think of the CrashPadSeries.com website, for instance, as a machine that I service.

With casting out of my hands, a crew of four, and performers who make their own decisions about how their scenes will proceed, I control little more than the camera I hold and some of the later decisions about the final edit. At this point I could easily put every part of the CrashPadSeries.com site into my co-owners’ and crews’ hands and the site would go on as usual. Even more importantly, we do bring something to the web, and it does involve “female and queer sexuality,” but claims of “authenticity” go against the understandings of sexuality, queerness, and radicalism that lie beneath our work. The same is true for related words that I think we do manage to avoid, like “realistic,” “natural,” and “true.”

To be clear: our performers arrive at our studio and have wild, nasty, loud, intense, and multiply orgasmic live sex in front of our cameras with positions, fantasies, pacing, gender identifications, and sexual acts of their own choosing. Our “rules” consist mostly of a few parameters to ensure safety, consensuality, and easy enough cleanup – no blood,no tears, no urine, no glitter – and of time constraints – we always start and end on time so crew can leave when promised. If “authentic” means “it really happened,” then it is as true for the sex that we film as it is for any porno. Or to give us a little more credit, if “authentic” means “these people have sex this way,” then it is true that at least on the day we shot, the models were having the sex of their choosing. The “authenticity” we do not truck in is the idea that there is a truth of every person’s sexuality and gender that we can all find if we search hard enough. This would be the same “authenticity” that would pretend that the sex viewers can watch on our site is a mirror of some sort of “real” or “true” queer sexuality. We are not taking part in a race to realness, as if queers need to occupy the land of the real that heteros have possessed for so long. Part of our joy in the work we do is the chaos we hope we’re throwing in the face of any idea that sexuality and gender are a fixed or predetermined inner essence, as if the functions of our holes were inscribed on our DNA, as if queer women are all perpetually stuck in a sexual universe of softly-lit ultra-feminine lesbians caressing each other in a scene that ends in a mutual embrace of gentle tribadism. Even if we did believe that we were witnessing something “authentic,” it would be incredibly naïve of us to try to “capture” this realness on film, a form that so clearly offers manipulated representations, not the “actual thing.” Aesthetic pleasure is a big part of our business, and we work hard to produce beautiful representations of sexual performances that we think are beautiful.

So instead of discovering real sexuality, as if we overturned a gigantic rock in San Francisco and documented the awesome slithering masses of queer sexuality that were there for the finding (see our 2007 film, The Wild Search for a spoof of this idea), we are doing what we can to be the site of production of a queer discourse of sexuality. We offer representations not of the genuine reality of queer sexuality, but of its incredible possibility. We believe queerness in many of its diverse forms can allow for ways to experience sex and gender that move away from some of the coercive and damaged ideas of sex, romance, love, and beauty that so many of us grew up with. Here are some things we think are possible: all body types being beautiful and sensual; countless gender expressions existing on countless different body types; people with non-normative gender expressions being hot; people wanting to watch non-normative queers fuck; hot sex and hot porn without a money shot; intimacy with strangers; ethical non-monogamy; consensual kink; erogenous zones that have nothing to do with reproduction; sex being hilarious; beauty and sexiness on every skin color; sexual power play being positive and healthy.

Pink and White is not inventing these possibilities; instead, we are making a space for them, disseminating them, bringing them into the realm of representation and representability. The more subscribers we have, the more people who have visited the CrashPadSeries.com or Heavenly Spire the more these different forms of sexuality, gender, and love will be available to experience. I see our pornography as offering sites of self-invention for performers and viewers, arenas for people to explore different and queerer ways of experiencing their sexuality, and a space for queer possibilities of gender and sexuality to thrive. Queerness in this sense is not who we are but what we do and what we make together.

Our pornography in this sense is queer love on screen. None of this is to say that we are somehow freely creating an entirely new language of sexuality. As an artist and a pornographer in the US, I am bound by conventions of law, film, narrative structure, tech-business models that work, capital (and restrictions on capital), and self-selection among performers. I borrow film conventions from Hitchcock, gay porn, Tony Comstock, Kenneth Anger; our films make use of centuries of representational formulae that I learned studying figurative painting and drawing in art school; I know that even gender and gendered self-presentations are matters of long-held conventions; and CrashPadSeries.com and Heavenly Spire each have their own particular narrative patterns that come from hundreds of years of film and literature about sex, love, and romance. Pink and White avails itself of all of such artistic norms much the same as we are vigilant about our taxes and 2257 paperwork. The difference between the legal conventions and the artistic and ideological ones, though, is that where we are very careful to do our business legally, we are happy to fuck with the artistic and ideological languages we’ve inherited. This is also true when it comes to our internal financial operations: we are a for-profit company, but we want to play no part in the greed and selfishness of capitalism. Instead I see our company as creating an insular economy of queers, especially queers of color. The profits we make go into expanding the range of representations we offer and into paying our employees and performers as fairly as we can for their amazing work.

The intention of Pink and White Productions is to help people transform their authentic selves and how they experience authentic sexuality and gender. Even better, we hope that we can be a part of the growth of a queer community that cares more about being with each other in pleasurable, loving, respectful, vulnerable, powerful, intimate, and mutually consenting ways than about discovering the genuine reality of authentic sexual selves.

Shine Louise Houston is the founder/director of the San Francisco queer porn company Pink & White Productions.

Editor note: Mighty Real was originally published in Porn After Porn: Contemporary Alternative Pornographies. Eds. Enrico Biasin, Giovanna Maina, and Federico Zecca. (Mimesis Edizioni, 2014).

April 18, 2015

DIRECTOR’S NOTES: Shine Louise Houston Goes Softcore in PUT the NEEDLE on the RECORD

Shine Louise Houston PUT the NEEDLE on the RECORD

A short reflection by Shine Louise Houston.

PUT the NEEDLE on the RECORD is one in a series of shorts that I’ve been writing that fictionalize my early twenties, also inspired by my love of 70’s erotic cinema, especially Radley Metzger. Some of the stories that I’m writing are really explicit, while some of them are only mildly explicit, like PUT the NEEDLE on the RECORD.

The film is definitely more of an audio piece than a video piece. The driving force in this project is Terry’s monologue, also coupled with the looping soundtrack as Sharon puts the needle on the record over and over again, and the different songs like replay, but in different context.

It’s also about secrecy and ambiguity. There are blurred lines around what’s true and what’s not. We don’t really know if Terry’s story is real. We’re not too sure if Dale and Sharon, the giggly couple, are really trying to be a secret or not. We don’t really know if Lolo and Terry even care if they’re having sex on the floor.

What I’m exploring with PUT the NEEDLE on the RECORD is expanding a moment in time. It’s not a complicated plot. There’s no real character arc, there’s barely any conflict except maybe with Terry and Lolo, but really, it’s a study of a particular moment and situation between four people.

Shooting the sex scene was very different than the way we normally shoot the scenes for CrashPadSeries.com and previous features, primarily because we weren’t really shooting any action. The only thing I wanted to capture were the reaction shots. That’s mainly because then we’ll have narrative going over the image.

Also it’s supposed to be a very, very sneaky moment, or supposedly sneaky moment. So a lot of the audio from Dale, played by Drew Deveaux is muted out, to emphasize the sneakiness, but there are also times where the audio does come in and you can hear, so you kind of have to wonder: how sneaky are they really supposed to be? Do they know they’re being watched?

I’m pretty sure they know they’re being watched even though they’re trying to be sneaky. What’s supposed to be happening is, Sharon, played by Andre Shakti, is supposed to be giving Dale a hand job. And when we finally filmed the sex, since we’re only focusing on Dale’s face, we pretty much let them do whatever they wanted to do. So, they’re doing a lot more below the belt than what the story leads on. That’s also very, very different for us, because the scene is less about bits, and more about feeling Dale’s reaction.

Watch PUT the NEEDLE on the RECORD on PinkLabel.tv.

September 22, 2014

AB 1576: The Price of Cum in California



by Syd Blakovich

Hot off the heels of the passing of Measure B in Los Angeles, known as the County of Los Angeles Safer Sex In the Adult Film Industry Act, comes bill AB 1576 which would extend mandatory use of protective barriers in adult films made in the state of California. Measure B passing and AB 1576 proposal have been lauded by their proponents as major victories for safer sex and workers’ rights.

Your initial reaction to this might be a lot like mine. I am 100% about giving more visibility to safer sex practices, creating media that makes condom use sexy and accessible, and showing by example. I want performers to be safe, respected, and encouraged to use safer sex — especially when it’s their decision.

I hate to burst this beautiful utopia, where government officials stare deeply into our eyes and say “I love what you’re doing and want to make sure your rights and health are completely supported.” Because the reality is, if government officials actually cared about the public’s sexual health and safety, they would provide accurate sex education and free safer sex materials to the general public — without morally driven agendas.  The Aids Health Foundation spent $1,654,681 USD on campaign funding for Measure B. Compare that to the $325,000 grant that the California Department of Education receives from the Center for Disease Control to provide limited statewide leadership for HIV/STD and teen pregnancy prevention. If $325,000 can’t even get you a one-bedroom in San Francisco then how the hell is it suppose to prevent STDs and teen pregnancy in all of California?

POP! There goes our utopia, and as we dig a little deeper into these policies, reality sets in…

Let’s take a closed look at the AB 1576 Bill Analysis according to the Official California Legislative Information, particularly section of Compliance, Enforcement, and Operations:

Measure B also imposes civil fines on individuals who violate the act and makes it misdemeanor for willfully non-compliance of its provisions. In regards to civil penalties, Measure B gives the Department discretion to impose fines up to five-hundred dollars per violation on individuals who violates its provisions. For a criminal offence to be found, an individual or entity is guilty of a misdemeanor if he or she violates any of Measure B’s provisions, produces or films adult films for commercial purposes without a valid permit, or willfully refuses or neglects to conform to a county health officer’s lawful order AB 1576 Page K or directive attempting to enforce Measure B. An offence is either punishable by a fine up to $1,000, imprisonment not exceeding six months, or a combination of the two. A civil action to enjoin a person or entity from filming in violation of Measure B may also be brought by the county’s counsel, the district attorney, or any person directly related to the failure of the person or entity from conforming to Measure B’s provisions.

Image from CrashPadSeries.com

Dental Dams, chosen by performers. Image from CrashPadSeries.com

“Provisions?” you say, “What are these provisions?” Well, they fall somewhere loosely around not exposing employees to “blood or other potentially infectious materials”, but the exact nature of what constitutes exposure is never fully defined. It has been alluded that these provisions will reflect the Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s for the healthcare industry, which are highly stringent and aimed at minimizing workers exposure to hazardous materials within the medical field.

1910.132(a)
Application. Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact.

I imagine that producing a porn would be mighty difficult if the adult industry was forced to abide by the medical industry’s OSHA standards. Then again I think preforming most job responsibilities in a number of industries (think entertainment, sports, education) would be damn near impossible if they too were forced to follow the medical industry’s OSHA standards. What would a boxing or MMA fight look like if the athletes were made to wear protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields as to not come into contact with their opponent’s body fluids? If a drop of body fluid lands on anyone, it could be in potential violation of the provisions. Maybe you ride public transport like I do or work with children. Then you know you are constantly in contact with “potentially infection materials”. Under this new bill, the main difference between me working a porn set or with the walking petri-dishes that are kids, I can’t send someone to prison if they snot on me.

A pissed soaked, used condom on the Bart elevator on my ride to work.

A used, pissed-soaked condom on the BART elevator on my ride to work. Photo: Syd Blakovich.

Go ahead and read that Bill Analysis one more time. According to this official analysis, YOU CAN GO TO PRISON if you violate the very vague provisions of this bill and Measure B.

But wait! There’s more…

Check out Section 1 (b)(3) of the actual bill AB 1576:
“Employer” means a company, partnership, corporation, or individual engaged in the production of an adult film…“.

Hold the phone… individual engaged in the production of an adult film? So in theory, your fellow employees could be liable for violations of this bill and could serve prison time for getting an indiscriminate amount of body fluid on someone. Doesn’t sound very fair if you ask me. AB 1576’s motto may be “Performers deserve the same worker health and safety protections every other Californian enjoys”, but the reality sounds quite the contrary if workers can serve prison time for on the job accidents.

Humor me for a moment. What if AB 1576 AKA “California’s Condom Law” applied to other industries where employees were exposed to to diseases via contact with blood or general skin to skin contact? (Think MRSA! Google Image Search it, if you are feeling brave). We’ve got boxing, MMA, wrestling… pretty much most contact sports). Now take this idea and apply it to AB 1576 — Mad-Libs style. I provided an example below and highlighted some of the original language making it incredibly dangerous. Here are some examples of how AB 1576 might sound if it applied to contact sports:

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST

AB 1576, as introduced, Hall. Occupational safety and health:
adult films contact sporting events.
The California Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1973 establishes certain safety and other responsibilities of employers and employees. Violations of the act under certain circumstances are a crime.

This bill would require an employer engaged in the production of an athletic event adult film to adopt prescribed practices and procedures to protect employees from exposure to, and infection by, sexually transmitted diseases  diseases transmitted through physical contact and fluid exchange, including engineering and work practice controls, an exposure control plan, hepatitis B vaccinations, medical monitoring, and information and training on health and safety. The bill would define terms for those purposes. Because a violation of the act would be a crime under certain circumstances, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program by creating a new crime.

(a) The Legislature finds and declares that the protection of workers in the adult film industry sports industry is the responsibility of multiple layers of government, with the department being responsible for worker safety and the county being responsible for protecting the public health. Therefore, this section shall not be construed to prohibit a city, county, or city and county from implementing a local ordinance regulating the adult film industry  sports industryprovided that nothing in the local ordinance contradicts any provision of this section.

(b) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:

(1) “Adult film Contact Sporting Event” means any commercial event film, video, multimedia, or other recorded representation during the production of which performers athletes actually engage in sexual intercourse, including oral, vaginal, or anal penetration physical and body fluid contact such as blood.
(2) “Employee” means a person who is an employee or independent contractor, regardless of whether the person is performing in the athletic event shown in the adult film, who, during the production of the athletic event adult film, performs sexual intercourse, including oral, vaginal, or anal penetration comes into contact with others and their bodily fluids.
(3) “Employer” means a company, partnership, corporation, or individual engaged in the production of a contact sporting event an adult film. There shall be a rebuttable presumption that the name on the material for commercial distribution is the employer unless there is evidence to the contrary as demonstrated through contractual or employment records.
(4) “Sexually transmitted disease Contact transmitted diseases” or “STD CTD” means any infection commonly spread by physical conduct, including, but not limited to, HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, hepatitis, genital human papillomavirus infection, CA-MRSA (Community-associated Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), Scabies, Shingles (Herpes zoster),and genital herpes…

Go ahead and add your own libs to the AB 1576 Bill! Just don’t let it pass.

May 9, 2014

POINT OF CONTACT: Author Shanna Katz on Shooting Explicit Sex Education



by Shanna Katz

I think it’s really important to look at the diversity of experience for queer folks around sexuality, and so it was important for me for Point of Contact to include not only the “usual suspects” as far as queer/ethical porn (a butch dyke, a femme, and a queer set of folks including a trans* person), but also include gay men, who I think have been incredibly silo-ed in the porn conversation; we say there is straight porn, gay porn and queer porn, but I think there CAN be gay men in queer porn, there just isn’t always the space.

I chose to focus on masturbation, rather than more “traditional” sexual activity, because outside of CrashPadSeries, and maybe a few Good Dyke Porn scenes, I wasn’t able to find much about it… but how can you share your needs and wants with others, if you don’t know them about yourself? Showcasing self-love was about normalizing and sexualizing this personal time, reminding people that not only is masturbation (solo or mutual) informative; it can also be hot, sexy and an incredible turn on. As a sex educator, the more I can support people in exploring their own bodies and desires, alone and with partners, the happier, healthier, more satisfying sex lives people tend to have. This was an amazing opportunity to work with a wide array of identities, and a diverse spectrum of self-pleasure, and then being able to share it with folks all over the interwebs.

I really enjoyed shooting the two folks (Maya Mayhem and Misch Masochist) in their mutual masturbation scene. We actually shot it during a Sex 2.0 conference, so we had spent all weekend discussing sex positivity, sexuality, identities and more, and then I got to witness and document such an amazingly connective and communicative adventure between those two.

I learned a lot about camera work — I actually had to re-shoot the entire solo shoot with Dani Starr, because the whole bloody thing froze about 20 minutes in and we had to factory re-set the camera. Luckily, she was willing to keep on coming, so it worked out ok. I loved being behind the camera and getting to be the person somewhat unobtrusively viewing these amazing moments of self appreciation and self love!

Watch Shanna’s Point of Contact.

Shanna Katz is a queer, disabled, cisgender femme sex educator and board certified sexologist and professional pervert. From topics like vaginal fisting to non-monogamy, and oral sex to how sexuality and dis/ability intersect, she talks, writes and teaches about the huge spectrum of sexuality, both from personal and professional perspectives. She’s using her Master’s of Sexuality Education to provide accessible, open-source sex education to people around the country. For more info, please visit her sexuality education site, ShannaKatz.com, or follow her @shanna_katz on twitter.

May 7, 2014

QUEER PORN TIME CAPSULE: James Darling’s Directorial Debut in Point of Contact

James Darling Point of Contact

by James Darling

Point of Contact was one of the very first opportunities I had to create my own porn. It was my directorial debut and it was incredibly powerful to be able to have complete creative control and breathe life into my fantasies by putting them on video! At the time I started Point of Contact, I had just gone through top surgery and was a month out of recovery, so I’m very curious to see how different my body looked then as opposed to now. It also includes my first ever solo scene!

I would absolutely say that participating in Point of Contact and having a taste of what it was like to be behind the camera inspired me to later continue on with FTM FUCKER. Learning to organize a shoot, budget, and direct while also performing gave me a lot of perspective and respect for the production side of porn.

I’m very excited to finally see this out in the world and hope people enjoy watching it as much as I did creating it!

Watch James Darling’s POINT OF CONTACT on PinkLabel.tv

May 1, 2014

QUEER PORN REVIEWS: Fumbling Towards Humanity – How “Trans Grrrls” Helped Me Open Up to My Partner

Trans Grrrls Porn Review

Fumbling Towards Humanity: How Trans Grrrls Helped Me Open Up to My Partner
by Amy Dentata

I was single by choice for years before I felt the dating itch again. I took to OKcupid and, on the rare occasion someone actually responded, met up with a stranger. Without fail, we would realize we lacked chemistry, and never see each other again. After each dating failure, I felt a mixture of sadness and relief. A failed date meant I didn’t have to worry about physical intimacy. It meant I didn’t have to worry about taking my clothes off in front of another person. It meant I didn’t have to face the chance of, at best, another Teachable Moment regarding transphobia, or at worst, mortal danger.

I lose no matter what. Giving cis partners the Trans 101 talk is exhausting. When dating other trans people, I still feel gross because of my body. I’m pre-op and very uncomfortable about my genitalia. It’s hard for me to get off even just masturbating. I have to cover myself in blankets and touch myself just right so my anatomy feels like it’s configured the right way. Sometimes I’m ok using my current equipment, but even then it feels weird. It’s just weird in a way I can enjoy.

At least when masturbation does work, I know exactly what buttons to push. I know just the right way to jiggle the door handle, the right twist to turn on the faucet. Teaching that to someone else takes time. It requires a partner who is willing to listen, and who can handle freakouts when my body upsets me. The stars have to align just right to find a partner like that. Dating is a crap shoot for anybody, but for me the odds are stacked even higher.

The stars did align recently, though. I’m seeing someone new, a wonderful cis girl I will call Kate. (Disclosure: Even though I exclude identifying information, I asked her permission before writing this article, as it includes personal details of our sexytimes.) In Kate I found a partner who not only thinks I’m sexy, but understands my body issues, and is willing to learn all the quirks involved in getting me off.

Our first physical exploration involved cuddling. Cuddling is amazing with her. It usually takes a long time for me to warm up, but with her I get turned on almost immediately. Once I try to move beyond cuddling, however, I freeze. My first time with her, I was reluctant to take off my clothes. I was scared of rejection and felt mortified about my body. I also felt alone. Profoundly alone, in a way that’s hard to describe.

Cisgender people have representation everywhere in the media. Images of them dating, making out, and getting dirty are on TV, movies, books, commercials, billboards, just about everywhere. Mainstream representation of women like me, on the other hand, is rare and usually follows a predictable script: cis man unwittingly goes out with trans woman, cis man finds out she’s trans (always in the form of a joke at the woman’s expense), cis man vomits and/or kills her.

There is no romance for trans women in the media unless the plot involves a tragic ending. We are either a punchline or a Very Special Episode of Blossom. We can’t just fall in love, get in normal fights, have hot makeup sex, or any other romantic activity cis people take for granted. In mainstream porn, we are made into fantasy creatures that exist only to fulfill the taboo fantasies of cisgender straight men. There aren’t widely-known cultural stories and dating norms that include trans women. We are always on the frontier, and while that can feel exhilarating, it’s also alienating.

The first time Kate and I had sex, I was too nervous to orgasm. It wasn’t for lack of support, either. She was a caring, listening lover. She eagerly learned the ways I like being touched, and what to avoid so I don’t get dysphoric. Our second time together, as I reached the same impassable plateau, I asked her to stop and lay there crying. Dysphoria and anti-trans baggage won out. I felt disgusting. She wished she could do something to help. We sat on the bed and chatted for awhile. To pass the time, I showed her my strap-on harness and my porn DVDs. Trans Grrrls in particular caught her eye. As the night ended she reassured me, “You don’t have to apologize.” For anything: for my body issues, for crying, for feeling insecure.

Trans-Grrrls-Chelsea-Maxine-street

Kate and I fell head-first into the infatuation phase of our relationship. The next day during work, she told me over Facebook that she was reading through my blog, because she just couldn’t get enough of me. That scared me, because I’ve written a lot about my dating frustrations as a trans woman, and the ways cis people have hurt me. Would she get offended by me talking about cis people in a negative light? Would she think I’m too angry? I was convinced she would find a reason somewhere in my blog to hate me. But she still made plans for our next date. This time, I was sleeping over.

At her place we cuddled and immediately got turned on, like our previous times together. It was our third time together in the sheets, and my anxiety levels were increasing with each encounter. Surely, that night my transness would ruin everything. I was too broken and strange for anyone to love.

“You wanted to watch one of my DVDs, right?” I asked. I’d brought several, but out came Trans Grrrls, the subject on the tip of both our tongues. We lay together, bodies wrapped around each other, and watched the opening scene with Chelsea Poe and Maxine Holloway.

“That place looks familiar,” she said.

“They filmed the opening part at the Dyke March last year.” We both lamented having missed the march.

“It’s so hot that they’re actually doing it right there in public,” she said. I agreed, mostly by moaning, because at that point her hands were traveling all over me.

Then the scene cut to an apartment, and Chelsea and Maxine tore off each other’s clothes. There on the screen was someone like me, having sex with someone like Kate. They were both happy, enthusiastic, and into each other. No “surprise reveal”, no horrified reaction shots, no cis gaze ruminating on how a trans partner might affect a cis person’s feelings about their sexual orientation. Just two women fucking.

It made me feel human. And naked, even though my clothes were already off. A layer of psychic armor hardened by slurs, stereotypes, and violence melted off my body. It felt like the universe said to me, “We have a place for you. You belong here.”

I said to Kate, “In a little bit you’re going to find out something I love about Maxine.” Maxine laughs when she comes, and it is so adorable. Kate agreed. Sometime after the second scene of the film, I had an amazing orgasm, all thanks to Kate. The isolation I felt during our previous encounters washed away. That orgasm was a revelation, a moment of healing, and I laughed like Maxine through the intense torrent of emotions. That was the first time I’ve ever laughed while coming instead of crying.

Trans-Grrrls-Chelsea-Maxine-bed

I regret to say I had a hard time paying attention to the rest of the film. By the end of the night I was completely exhausted, in the best way possible. I didn’t think the evening would end with me lying in bed with her, catching my breath, but there we were.

“I read in your blog that cis women scare you,” she said. Oh no. The exact words in my blog were, “Cis women scare the shit out of me.” Their bodies make me feel inferior, masculine, fake. Their mere presence can feel like it’s erasing my identity.

“Yeah,” I said, hiding my face in her boobs like I’d suddenly forgotten object permanence.

“Does that mean I scare you too?”

“Sometimes.” I didn’t want to say it, but I wasn’t going to lie.

She was supposed to get offended. Supposed to say, “We’re not ALL like that, you know!” Supposed to dismiss my problems as whiny hypersensitivity, like countless people before her. Instead, she cooed and petted my hair. She said hopefully she can be less scary. She kept holding me. She wouldn’t let go, and I didn’t want her to. I belonged there.

Amy Dentata is a writer, game designer, and performer who touches on topics including trauma recovery, mental illness, sexuality, futurism, and transgender issues. You can find her work at amydentata.com.

Watch Trans Grrrls on PinkLabel.tv

April 21, 2014

Tina Horn’s Exhibitionist Slut Time Capsule

Tina Horn Point of Contact Essay

by Tina Horn

I’m ecstatic that Point of Contact is finally going to see the light of day!

Usually, when I perform in porn, the video is released within a month or two, and I get to experience my current sexuality on display for all to see (a dream come true for an exhibitionist such as myself!). In the case of Point of Contact, I am about to enjoy the rare opportunity to see footage of my erotic self of five years ago.

These scenes really showcase what a serious exhibitionist slut I was at the time. I treasure my slutty friendships; I’m so grateful to everyone who performed with me! And in my jerk-off scene you can see me just getting to know a dildo that is still my all-time favorite sex toy.

Most of my scenes were shot in one day, in an East Bay bondage house that is very near and dear to my whore heart. The fact that I went from playing an attention-hungry slave to a spanking top to a little boy in the space of a few hours makes this sort of a documentary of the campy, switchy, genderflux nature of my sexuality.

I really must thank Ex Libris, who did a lot of the camera work, for teaching me the most important rule of filming porn: a poorly composed shot of an orgasm is always preferable over a pretty shot of the floor.

With this project, Shine Louise Houston and the gang really gave me a platform as a sex worker and queer artist. This project empowered me to transform a lot of my ideas about sex and BDSM — age play fantasies, bondage, gender-fucking — into hardcore films. It was certainly one of the things that inspired me to co-create, produce, and direct the multi-Feminist Porn Award winning QueerPorn.Tv.

I think the best thing about the current release of Point of Contact is that it coincides with the recent launch of my newest project, “Why Are People Into That?!” a podcast about the whys and wherefores of human sexuality. Five years ago, I was using porn performance to connect with an audience, and now I’m happily writing and making media to explore those same subjects. I’m in a completely different time of my life now. The only thing that’s stayed the same is my irrepressible versatile pervyness, which is on pretty glorious display in these clips.

Watch Tina Horn’s Point of Contact on PinkLabel.tv.

Tina Horn is a writer, educator, and media-maker. She produces and hosts the sexuality podcast “Why Are People Into That?!”, and her first book is slated for publication in 2014. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing. Her publication credits include Best Bondage Erotica 2010, Fleshbot, and Gaga Stigmata; she was also the co-creator/director of the Feminist Porn Award winning QueerPorn.Tv. Tina has spoken at Good Vibrations, Red Umbrella Diaries, Lesbian Sex Mafia, and the Feminist Porn Conference. She once sold a golden dildo to Beyoncé. Born in Northern California, Tina now lives in Manhattan with a very sweet bear. @tinahornsass / whyarepeopleintothat.com

March 12, 2014

HOW I GOT INTO PORNO: Sex in San Francisco Part 2



Ok, ok so this is long overdue since part 1: HOW I GOT INTO PORNO + A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON IN LESBIAN PORN happened like two years ago. I had taken a hiatus from porn to focus on other things, but here I am again and the story continues…
 It was 2003-2004 and I had moved to the Bay area after college picking up odd jobs, interning at On Our Backs Magazine and other art organizations. Toward the end of the year I landed a young lesbian’s dream job: slinging dildos and education at a local, women’s own, sex toy cooperative. I was bestowed with wonderful knowledge about non-porous butt plugs, lubes for the chemically sensitive, how to talk to strangers about their sex lives and helping people find what porn was best suited for their personal tastes. I would take videos home for research, hand wash Cyberskin floor models that got handled on a daily basis, and learn about the ever expanding universe of human sexuality. In my free time I would still make art, collaborate and volunteer for feminist art organizations.
The Crash Pad - Dylan Ryan & Jo

The Crash Pad – Dylan Ryan & Jo.
Photo by Cody T. Williams

The world can be a funny and magical place sometimes. Call it destiny or divine guidance, but all the pieces seemed to fall into place. It’s at this little sex shop I met founder of Pink & White Productions, Shine Louise Houston. The year was 2005 and she was in the process of producing her first commercially available film, The Crash Pad, which would soon take the world of independent porn by storm. Shine asked me with some help with web development and marketing for her new company and I eagerly jumped at the chance to be a part of such a groundbreaking and hot project. I enlisted friends and colleagues I had met along the way to also be a part of it. After being involved with the Crash Pad and witnessing the quality of Shine’s work, I knew that I wanted more. I immediately signed up as a co-producer when offered the chance investing both my time and money in a company I believed in. Around the same time,  I was also introduced to Courtney Trouble, party promoter and founder of NoFauxxx.com, who has been making smut since 2002.
CrashPadSeries - Episode 5: Rozen DeBowe & Syd Blakovich

CrashPadSeries – Episode 5: Rozen DeBowe & Syd Blakovich

 Despite the cold ass weather, the Bay Area became this virtual, warm, moist incubator for the prolific explosion of what became known as Queer Porn. I think a lot of it has to do with the city’s history of being a refuge and playground for the sexually liberated. Combine this with the Bay’s booming tech industry and historical interest in experimental cinema, it’s no mystery why Queer Porn found it’s home here. This was the perfect cocktail and all the stars aligned in this way that the only place to go was forward. In 2007, after several feature length, award winning, films, we decided to branch out and start our own membership site. Little did we know we were sitting on the cuspse of the Great Recession that would literally wipe out 50% of the Valley’s porn studios within a years time. However, Queer Porn became the honey badger of online entertainment and not only did we thrive as a company but made it into the black the first year of the sites launch. People started to notice.
Stay tuned for Part 3… hopefully I will write it before 2015.
-Syd Blakovich

September 25, 2013

FILM CRAFT: Valencia the Movies & How CrashPad Made Me a Better Filmmaker



by Alexa Shae

This month, CrashPadSeries.com celebrates its 6th anniversary. 

The best part about the CrashPad is that there’s value in not talking. The value lies in the sultry looks, the beckoning body language, and perhaps a good prop. If you really think about it, it’s a great film school. Tell a story with out words. Go.

Use the non-verbal. When I first started rehearsals for Valencia, a lot of the dialogue I had written didn’t sound or feel right. That’s really common in scripts, especially for newer scriptwriters like myself. As the words fell out of the actors’ mouths, I edited and replaced them with shrugs, glances and subtle eyebrow raises. There’s actually only one line of dialogue in the entire short that matters, “We don’t eat food that’s been cooked in bird muscle sweat.” And then at the end of the scene she binges on food that’s been cooked in bird muscle sweat. The average dialogue in a CrashPad shoot? One line from each performer. The math is perfect.

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Valencia: The Movies

Keep close. Another rule of thumb we follow at the CrashPad is shooting with a specific lens length. We secretly (secrets out!) film with 50-millimeter lenses to capture what the true human eye sees. Well, that’s not really why we do it. It started because we were shooting two cameras and needed them to edit together well. We figured out that if we kept the same lens length, then most shots edited together smoothly. Also and most importantly, our various sets were always small and DIY designed, so keeping this tighter lens meant softer backgrounds and a greater feeling of intimacy with our performers. With Valencia, I shot mostly mediums and close ups. Whenever I shot a wide, I just didn’t feel close enough with the characters. My entire short only has one true wide edited in with a collection of close shots. And I don’t really like it.

Be collaborative! At the CrashPad, we let our performers do whatever they want. If they arrive with a storyline idea, they get to perform it. They decide what kind of sex they want to do in their scene, and we just follow like a documentary film crew. The only rule is you have to do everything on the bed because that’s where the light is shining. During rehearsals for Valencia, people started writing their own dialogue. I had written words that helped shape the character, but then during rehearsals I said they could translate that however they wanted. Of the dialogue that remained in the short, a lot of it was rewritten during improv rehearsal sessions. This resulted in funnier and more genuine moments from non-actors.

And then of course, a handful of my actors were cast directly from the CrashPad. They had the most acting experience of everyone, only had a few lines each and gave a lot of good face.

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Valencia: The Movies (Hey, it’s Dallas from CrashPad!)

VALENCIA: THE MOVIES premieres at Frameline37 and features directors: Peter Anthony, Sharon Barnes Rubenstein, Aubree Bernier-Clarke, Cary Cronenwett, Bug Davidson, Cheryl Dunye, Lares Feliciano, Dia Felix, Hilary Goldberg, Silas Howard, Alexa Inkeles, Michelle Lawler, Jerry Lee, Olivia Parriott, Jill Soloway, Sara St. Martin Lynne, Samuael Topiary, Courtney Trouble, Chris Vargas, Greg Youmans
More information and Tickets

June 18, 2013

ETHICS & BUSINESS: Sustainable Porn



By Syd Blakovich
Co-Producer of Pink & White Productions

First off, the great “America Scheme” of getting rich quick is something that is a big part of our cultural history. Think back to the beginning of colonization where you have merchants, developers and traders looking for market expansion. Fast forward to the manifest destiny driven westward movement and of course the Gold Rush. California was essentially constructed upon these ideologies. Open up on the current day tech boom, Silicone Valley, Google and Apple… the success of these companies doesn’t do anything to dissuade from this belief system. We like these rags to riches stories because it reinforces the idea of America, The Land of Opportunity.

The inherent fallacy within this pursuit is that wealth is limitless, which is compounded by the idea that excess is god. This couldn’t be further from the truth since wealth is based upon resources which are set, if not a dwindling, asset. Excessive wealth breeds excessive poverty.

In terms of business dynamics, it’s more of a wealth bigots wealth scenario. Takes money to earn it, investors so to speak. High investments, high risks and quick turnarounds are a stock market game and to some extent a part of tech industry cycle. Porn occupies this interesting territory overlapping tech and entertainment. The average individual is more familiar with the entertainment aspect and falsely attributes the potential for quick financial gain to this instead of what it truly is tied to… the tech side of the business. Basically if you want to “get rich quick”, you’re better off getting into stocks or the tech market and obviously having the capital to play the game is a part of it.

If you want to make porn, or any other form of arts based product, and have limited funds to begin with, sustainability comes before profit. Most individuals in these fields lack access to large start up capital, so it’s a very DIY beginning and a lot of time and elbow grease. Grassroots business, especially in communities without a lot of financial support rely heavily upon connections from friends and family. A “get rich quick” mentality will not last long in these spaces since it involves community effort which results in a division of labor and profits. It is not about the financial gain of one individual, but rather creating on going financial support for many while drawing from each others skill sets.

The nitty gritty of creating a sustainable porn business comes from balancing the creative with the business forward practices, budgeting, organizing, making sure people on your team feel valued for contributing to the project. It’s just as much prep as it is production.

Some basic advice I’d offer to aspiring film makers and directors is to start now with their best business practices and professionalism…

During production this means treating talent and colleagues with respect, offering appropriate compensation and collaborative opportunities, using model release and age verification documents (see 2257), feeding talent and crew during shoots, not using copyrighted material and music you don’t have permission to use, and have a sober set. These are some of the musts at Pink and White Productions.

Once you have these elements in place and a final product, getting distribution will be a whole lot easier. All US based distributors for adult video require age verification and consent documentation as know as 2257 paperwork. If your work includes music you don’t have permission to use, it cannot be distributed or sold.

The easiest form of distribution these days is online. Companies like PinkLabel.tv are creating distribution avenues for independent artists looking for ethical and fair trade opportunities to sell their work. DVD distribution is a bit more rare and has a lower profit margin because the over head costs of selling a product are much higher, think inventory management, shipping, packaging etc. Physical distribution also contains the added complication of dealing with numerous obscenity laws which will limit the type of content you can shoot or sell regionally. These not only vary state to state, but also internationally. It’s even possible to be fined or serve jail time if your product DVD is sold in a state which prohibits certain content. Web based distribution of e-product offers more creative freedom. However, this is still regulated by credit card processors, but if you do your homework, you can find one that suits your needs.

I hope this information was helpful to all the aspiring creatives. If you have content you would like to seek online distribution for which doesn’t violate copyrights and has all the 2257 paperwork complete, please check out PinkLabel.tv!

April 24, 2013

SUPERFREAKY: Queerness, Feminism, and Aesthetics in Queer Pornography



SAN FRANCISCO – (Originally published at PinkWhite.biz on Jun 14th, 2009):
Sarah Wheeler, a senior at University of California at Riverside shared her Senior Thesis Project with Pink & White Productions, granting the company permission to publish her project here on our website.

Superfreaky: Queerness, Feminism, and Aesthetics in Queer Pornography

By Sarah Wheeler

Senior Thesis Project
Thesis Advisor: Dr. Jane Ward
Completed for a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Women’s Studies Department of the University of California at Riverside on June 11, 2009.

“It is often assumed that it is the explicitness of porn that titillates [sic], whereas in fact it is the possibilities evoked that arouse. . .” Sara Dunn, p.166

It is Andrea Dworkin’s 1 worst nightmare: a naked woman writhing onscreen. She is seemingly unaware of any objectification perpetrated by the camera lens that is sweeping voyeuristically across the expanse of her sweaty body. She moans out of lips painted a bright pink, offering no resistance as she and her partner rearrange themselves into a plethora of positions. Though she is certainly the more feminine of the pair, there is no doubt that she is in complete control, regardless of the fact that the leather harness of a strap-on dildo is fitted snugly around the hips of her female partner, and not her own. Her eyelids flutter closed, her hoop earrings bounce with every gyration, and the soles of her four-inch heels point toward the ceiling. She seems so swept up in her own eager, enthusiastic passion that she does not appear to notice when the bedroom door suddenly swings open, revealing the surprised but intrigued faces of a second couple. One of them makes a move to leave, but the other grabs her arm, shaking her head. But our heroine must not be quite as oblivious to their presence as her demeanor initially suggested: her eyes lock onto the second couple without shame nor shock, and the naked woman, now on all fours, beckons for one of them to join while the other happily remains a voyeur.

Though it wouldn’t make much difference to Dworkin, this scene is not one pulled from any standard porn film, but the opening scene from what would become the poster child of all lesbian-queer porn: Shine Louise Houston’s The Crash Pad. Aided by increasingly accessible technologies that encourage amateur creations, the “democratization” of pornography in the last ten years (Hardy 61-62) has made it possible for members of the queer community to escape obscurity and develop their own representations of sexuality and gender through pornography.

As I searched for representations of queer sexual culture in porn, there are two companies in particular whose names came up over and over again, both in interpersonal discussions about available queer porn, and during informal surveys of industry blogs, news feeds, and discussion boards.  Pink and White Productions and NoFauxxx.com have played particularly pivotal roles in providing foundational works of queer pornography. According to Alexa.com, a website that tracks the statistics and traffic of other sites, both of these companies received the most traffic via searches for phrases like “queer porn” and “queer pornography.”2 For these qualitative and quantitative reasons, I will be using the materials of NoFauxxx and Pink and White Productions as my primary examples of the intentions, endeavors, successes, and potential failings of queer porn.

According to interviews and website manifestos, both companies were born out of a perceived lack of “authentic” porn made for the queer community (No Fauxxx; “Dyke Porn and Trans Porn”). In early 2005, Shine Louise Houston was working at Good Vibrations, a woman-positive San Francisco-based adult bookstore, when she first noticed the situation:

. . . We had a lot of women and straight couples come in looking for lesbian porn. And they were looking for good lesbian porn. We didn’t have a whole lot of selection. There’s not a lot of queer-made, lesbian porn out there, it’s very limited. So, I had a film degree, I was interested in making porn, and I was also interested in making money. But you know, believe it or not there’s not as much money as you would think in pussy. So this whole project is more a labor of love than a get rich scheme. I’m really in it for my artistic purposes. (Feministe)

By the end of 2005, Houston had directed and released The Crash Pad, her first adult film. Its premise was intriguing: somewhere in San Francisco, there is an apartment where lucky queer women can meet for sex, but only if they are lucky enough to have the key passed to them. There is, of course, a catch: they can only use the apartment seven times, and after that their key will no longer work. What they don’t know is that the anonymous “Keymaster” watches their escapades from a safe distance via hidden cameras installed throughout the apartment. The charismatic performers, combined with Houston’s laissez-faire directing style (meaning that she does relatively little dictating and interfering, preferring instead to let the actors do what they enjoy doing), made the film an instant local success. After partnering with a distributor, Blowfish Video, Houston went on to make 3 additional adult films, Superfreak (2006), In Search of the Wild Kingdom (2007; sometimes referred to as The Wild Search), and Champion (2009), as well as to develop The Crash Pad into both a DVD series and a website series.

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However, Houston was not the first person to notice the lack of queer pornography. In 2003, Courtney Trouble, a young activist for fat positivity and amateur photographer from Olympia, Washington, started a “small personal project” that eventually became NoFauxxx.com (NoFauxxx; Doll). Claiming to be the Internet’s oldest queer porn website, as well as the only one to “mix alt, gay, lesbian, straight, trans, kink, [and] bbw3 genres,” the site has grown to include over 130 photosets, 15 videos, and released its first DVD, Roulette, in April 2009 (No Fauxxx).

Though both companies profess rather straightforward motivations for creating queer pornography—namely, to provide a queer audience with more “authentic,” self representative images to get off to—I will argue that their media actually takes on several other ambitious projects, though not all necessarily imply a conscious intention on the part of the directors. Besides the obvious mission of inciting viewer arousal, this new wave of queer pornography also serves to 1) approach the creation of pornography through a feminist perspective, 2) re-imagine and “queer” situations and sex acts that are commonly seen in mainstream, male-oriented heterosexual porn, and 3) develop a distinctly queer erotic aesthetic through a variety of methods. I will also discuss the problems and complications inherent in creating an aesthetic that specifically markets itself as “queer” in nature.

Queer pornography, despite being a niche genre with relatively low distribution, actually offers an impressively broad spectrum of sexualities, identities, and practices to its viewers. Given this range of possibilities, it would be impossible to adequately explore all of them within the confines of this paper. Therefore, I have limited my examination only to those scenes that feature female-bodied performers; however, it is critical to note that the gender inclusivity characteristic of queer politics is also evident in queer erotica. Transmen, transwomen, queer men, and even the occasional heterosexual couple are featured within the films and websites I will examine. Within scenes featuring female- bodied performers, I focus mainly on those that can be explicitly read and interpreted as lesbian, though I also give attention to several solo masturbation scenes.

I must take a brief pause here in order to further elaborate on some of the terminology I will be using throughout this paper. I use the word “lesbian” not to make a declaration or presumption about the identities of the casts and crews involved in the production of the media I’m reviewing, but instead as a way of descriptively identifying a set of practices and bodies that exist within the broader, less definitive context of “queer.” Because the performers and models themselves represent a wide spectrum of gendered identities, any other definition would oversimplify the complications that exist between terms of sexual orientation and their gender-dependent origins.

A New Position: Combining Feminism and Pornography

To say that mainstream feminism has had a conflicted relationship with pornography is a gross understatement. Prominent anti-pornography activists and writers such as Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin dominated conversations regarding visual representations of sexuality during the 1970s and 1980s, claiming that sexuality itself inherently puts women in a submissive and exploitative position (MacKinnon 258-259). The rise of sex-positive feminism argued against such a stance, claiming that a woman’s sexual freedom was a key part of her overall liberation from patriarchal oppression. Pro-sex feminism fell under many attacks, being frequently criticized for depoliticizing sex too much, and for offering a “shallow” version of feminism with limited applicability; some even accused it of representing women’s complete internalization of the dominant culture’s message that women exist simply “to be fucked” (MacKinnon 265; Radicalesbians 173).

For queer women, the seeming incompatibility of feminism and the celebration of sexuality had polarizing effects, resulting in what has been dubbed the “the Sex Wars” or “the Porn Wars” (Duggan and Hunter). While some lesbians argued that sex and the “goal-oriented” orgasm were products of patriarchal and male-identified culture, others felt that lesbian sexuality was free from such power relations (Faderman 230-235). However, a burgeoning queer culture further complicated these arguments by resolutely promoting sex radicalism and defending the right to view and engage in pornography, sadomasochism, and a host of other controversial activities. Gayle Rubin’s influential essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” bolstered this position by arguing that all ideas regarding sexual behavior were socially constructed and existed on tenuous hierarchies of good/bad, moral/immoral, acceptable/unacceptable (Rubin).

To entangle my arguments within this messy minefield of politics is far too great a task to attempt with one paper; rather, I instead use this history to emphasize what a brazen and difficult task it is to try and reconfigure pornography within a feminist framework, particularly from a queer perspective. However, in examining how queer women have commenced new relationships with pornography both in the past and present, I believe a new way of discussing feminism and pornography emerges. Rather than being content to condemn pornography as sexist and exploitative by nature, many queer women have viewed it as what it is: a social product, one that has the potential to be stripped of its failings and altered in order to align with diverse perspectives. This is what anti-pornography feminists often failed to acknowledge during the height of the Porn Wars; in seeing pornography as an entirely and unalterably male enterprise, they have forfeited their own ability to affect changes within it.

What queer porn has attempted to do, however, is to reconstruct pornography as a medium through which feminist principles—which call for the respect and equal status of all women in society—can be exercised and promoted. The earliest example of this is perhaps also the most famous and influential example of lesbian pornography, On Our Backs magazine. Lisa Henderson aptly situates and describes the magazine:

So, in 1984—at the height of both Reaganism and the feminist sex debates in the USA—a group of uppity women with few resources devote what they have to launching a declaration of sexual independence, appropriating, in the process, sexual stances and strategies rooted in San Francisco’s gay men’s community. . . On Our Backs came out celebrating a range of lesbian sexual roles, practices and fantasies . . . [providing] an inventory of anti-repressive lesbian sexual portrayals, which is not to say ‘doing what comes naturally’ so much as ‘doing what comes pleasurably’. Envisioning a deeply sexual world among women, these images trade at once on liberatory imagination and subcultural cachet. (Henderson 176-177)

The recent wave of queer porn I am discussing has modeled its creations after the foundational work done by On Our Backs, which itself constituted a new approach to lesbian sexuality and eroticism. After rejecting both feminist calls for censorship and the heteronormative pornography that catered lesbianism to a straight male audience, sex radical lesbians had to invent new ways of their combining feminist principles with their
desire for erotic material that felt authentic to their community. The main ways through which they achieved this delicate balance—by eradicating beauty standards, centralizing female pleasure, and avoiding the dehumanization of women through their sexuality—are now being evoked by queer pornographers for their similar endeavors.

Avoiding female dehumanization

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At the center of most feminist porn debates is the female actor, or porn star—the extent of her consent, her awareness of potential consequences, and her silence through objectification have all been issues used to question the ethics and legitimacy of her participation. Obviously, her consent is required by law, but the seeming straightforwardness of this fact becomes complicated under the feminist gaze. Did she ever experience doubts about participating, or feel pressured to perform acts she didn’t want to do? Did she feel she had input and a voice onset? To begin to answer these questions and emphasize the performer’s absolute consent and self-awareness to the viewers, both Shine Louise Houston and Courtney Trouble have found a variety of ways of conveying their respect for the women they film and photograph.

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In the case of Houston’s DVDs, a multitude of revealing post-production interviews and behind-the-scenes features serve to flesh out the personalities and perspectives of the performers. Though such extras are not entirely uncommon on adult DVDs, Houston’s are notable for both their honesty and intimacy, particularly during the interviews filmed after a scene’s completion. In the extras for Superfreak, Houston asks all of the performers about what they found most challenging during their scene. They respond honestly: it was difficult for Dylan Ryan to lift Madison Young up as they were having sex standing up against a wall; Shawn and Jiz Lee’s scene, in which they sprayed each other with a sink’s extendable faucet, made the surfaces so slippery they had trouble not sliding around; and a rough, uncomfortable strap-on base made Guy Handful’s scene with Rozen a little painful. Giving her actors a forum where they could openly express what was hard about their jobs contributes to an atmosphere of transparency, where it is more important for a woman’s voice to be heard than it is to maintain the fantasy of perfect, seamless sex for the audience.

Jiz & Syd Superfreak

The elaboration of personal lives and personalities also helps to de-objectify the performers and re-contextualize them as intelligent, empowered women. Revealing details situate them outside of the sexual acts they are tied to onscreen. Lorelei Lee mentions that she’s a writer in addition to be a porn star, then shyly mentions that she’s writing a screenplay. When discussing the scene she had just performed with Jiz Lee, Shawn admits that both the sex and filming were quite different from the last (and first) scene she and Jiz had filmed for Houston; at that time, she explains, she and her wife had just opened up their relationship, and tensions were running high since she’d begun dating Jiz.

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Such insights not only humanize the performers, but serve to credit Pink and White’s claims of queer authenticity as well. In the behind-the-scenes feature for Superfreak, Houston states, “The mission for Pink and White is to create beautiful cinema that’s representative of today’s blurred gender lines in the queer community.” This remark is later followed up by several of the performers discussing their femme, androgynous, and genderqueer identities. Jiz Lee, who is both androgynous and genderqueer, discusses how wearing a wig for her scene underscored Houston’s intentions to represent gender fluidity:

“. . . Shine wanted the character to be, um, kind of this punky, rocker chick. . . For me, being able to be femme in this porn was, um, maybe something that doesn’t seem original or new for people who are viewing it, but for me as an individual playing around with my gender within the context of Shawn and I, um, was actually, it was a really interesting experience. . . And as the scene continues, as it progresses, I end up pulling the wig off, which kind of brings our dynamics more from maybe butch and femme or androgynous and femme, to androgynousandrogynous. Shine’s work tries to, like, blur gender lines and show the fluidity that women have within their gender expression and their sexuality, so I think that, um—and the wig was my idea, to pull it off and have like, you know, the more androgynous, punky version of the haircut underneath. And I feel more comfortable in the androgynous role. So I think it was nice to, um, to be able to have that fluidity and have it expressed.”

This sort of thoughtful statement—which is not by any means a rare occurrence when these performers speak—illustrates many things. For one, it demonstrates Lee’s political awareness and familiarity with terminology frequently used within the queer community, thus distinguishing her as a “real” queer person. Secondly, it shows how Houston values the input and ideas of her performers, and how they willingly and enthusiastically involve themselves in the creative process. Their own desire to promote sex positivity and gender expression both within and outside of their scenes renders feminist concerns about exploitation and victimization unnecessary. In fact, while I conducted my research, nearly every review or blog post I found about Houston’s movies or website had been commented on by one or more of her performers in the appended comments section. The fact that they frequently sought out, responded to, and, if necessary, defended Houston’s work speaks volumes about the mutual respect they all seem to have for one other. Even so (and perhaps anticipating potential feminist anxiety), Houston has made sure to explicitly address how her performers are treated. In a recent interview with Feministe, a feminist blog, Houston said, “The core values [of Pink and White Productions] are to stay true to my ideals of sex-positivity, so both onscreen and off screen we are extremely respectful of the models. We really work with them to make them feel comfortable, we don’t ask anybody to do anything they wouldn’t otherwise do in their normal sex life” (Feministe).

Because NoFauxxx’s Courtney Trouble works mainly in a different medium—the majority of her site’s content is made up of photo galleries, rather than video—she finds other creative but similar ways to give voices to her models. Namely, she pays special attention to the setting and props she uses in a shoot, and what they are able to convey about the model:

“There’s really a personality behind the photos, and it’s not just in a model bio or a message board presence. I actually make it a goal to post content that looks personal. I use real settings, real outfits, real couples. I’ve shot porn stars like Lorelei Lee, but the difference between my photos and some other work that she’s done (even though it’s all wonderful!)—I got the chance to take intimate photographs of her in her bedroom, in her favorite outfit, surrounded by the books that have inspired her most in her life. That’s what I’m going for really, an intimacy that could never be read as fake, posed, unreal, or contrived.” (Doll)

The photoshoot Trouble refers to does exemplify her strategy. In a set of 84 photographs entitled “Smart,” Lorelei sits nestled between tall stacks of books, slowly undressing throughout the set’s progression. But at times, the covers and spines of books threaten to upstage her; it’s no wonder, given that one rarely sees a woman’s breasts sandwiched between Art Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Hence the emphasis is not so much on her nudity, but on her personality, here represented by her reading habits, and this is what gives Trouble’s erotic photographs an especially feminist gaze.

Fighting beauty norms

Besides add depth to the viewer’s understanding of and familiarity with performers, queer porn also takes on the feminist challenge of rejecting the beauty standards idealized in Western culture. Both companies take pride in featuring people whose appearance doesn’t conform to the images associated with mainstream porn; that is, blonde hair, white skin, large (enhanced) breasts, slender build, and as little body hair as possible. Instead, their inclusivity of a variety of bodies becomes a source of pride and symbolizes their resistance to mainstream culture.

What’s more remarkable is that this deviation from beauty norms is not accented within the materials themselves. Though Houston and Trouble both indicate their receptiveness to people of all sizes, races, etc., and encourage all who wish to apply to be performers or models to do so, they do not explicitly convey this principle within their films or photographs. On their websites, their content is not sorted in categories like “Trans” or “BBW,” partly due to their queer resistance to labeling, and partly out of respect for their models, who may fall into overlapping categories, or perhaps no categories at all (Doll). As a result, those whose appearance may depart from traditional beauty standards manage to avoid the oppressive fetishizations that are often forced upon them. Our culture’s stigmatization of fat is not what eroticizes a fat woman’s body; she isn’t sexy solely because of it, nor in spite of it. Asian women are not saddled with stereotypes that paint them as exotic or subservient, and African-American women are not shown in ways that are de-humanizing or hypersexualize their bodies4. Unlike mainstream pornography, no person is ever reduced down to their crudest or most exceptional characteristic.

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In some cases, the threat of fetishization is not only avoided, but actively resisted. For instance, the final scene from Houston’s directorial debut, The Crash Pad, is a solo masturbation scene featuring Jo, a black woman. It breaks the format of all the film’s previous scenes, in which the performers were seemingly unaware of the camera’s presence. Instead, Jo maintains long, steady eye contact with the camera (and thus the audience) at regular intervals throughout the duration of the scene, breaking “the fourth wall” during the most intimate, private of scenarios. I believe her gaze can be interpreted as a direct challenge to the ways in which black women have been systematically sexualized and silenced within American media, particularly within pornography. Symbolic moments such as this one stand as powerful examples of a multicultural, antiracist feminist awareness.

Furthering this anti-racist agenda is the abundance of interracial sex that also occurs without comment or unnecessary emphasis. A large and controversial subgenre within mainstream, heterosexual pornography, interracial porn reveals just how many racial myths and stereotypes remain disturbingly close to the surface of America’s cultural memory. It predominantly focuses black men’s domination of white women, essentially reaffirming the slavery-era belief that African-American men were rapists with an animalistic desire for white women. These violent connotations are further exaggerated by an obsession with portraying black male genitalia as huge and overpowering, especially in comparison to white female genitalia (and with titles such as Big Black Beef Stretches Little Pink Meat, such violent connotations are difficult to overlook). Queer porn, however, normalizes cross-racial desire by refusing to spotlight interracial sex as something unusual. In not addressing it as an act that breaks the taboos of dominant racial paradigms, queer porn subtly fights against such racial stereotypes and sexual segregation.

Focusing on female pleasure

Finally, the centrality and importance of female sexual pleasure inherently inscribes queer porn as a feminist project. To understand this, we must first look to the reasons why it this treatment is exceptional. In heterosexual pornography, it is, for the most part, unsurprising that female pleasure remains a marginal element, if it is indeed present at all. In addition to the viewer’s gaze being presumed as male, heterosexual sex is presented as an entirely male-oriented act. The scene only ends once the male partner has climaxed, and only begins with the phallic entrance. Lesbian porn with an intended male audience especially reinforces this; it is not uncommon for a scene to begin with two women having lesbian sex, only to have the male arrive and initiate the “real” sex, essentially rendering lesbian sex as precursive foreplay.

Given this prioritizing of male pleasure, female pleasure can only remain peripheral at best. When attempts are made to explicitly convey the female orgasm, it does not represent a pivotal point within the scene; its overall insignificance, then, merely demonstrates its function as a boost to the male ego, meant to exemplify his sexual prowess and ability to conquer or decipher the female body.

Queer porn counters this portrayal by celebrating female sexual space and autonomy. The quest for genuine female orgasms is at the crux of this feminist vision, as it represents a commitment to relaying truths about female sexuality; though there is certainly still a performative element to be considered, overall, the means by which women orgasm are displayed in their honesty and diversity through queer porn. Houston has even gone so far to say that she is on a mission to capture the “female pop shot” (Lesbian Sex and Sexuality), referring to the porn industry’s terminology for the moment of male ejaculation on screen. The difficulty of this is that the female orgasm can prove to be far more visually elusive than the male orgasm; it is often internal and hidden, and only occasionally ejaculatory. However, it is important to note that when it is ejaculatory—and the phenomenon is not too uncommon in these materials—it is naturalized, much as interracial sex is. In recent years, female ejaculation has become its own niche genre within heterosexual pornography; through these “squirters,” as they are called, the female body becomes a fetishized site of spectacle. But for the purposes of queer porn, it is but one possibility of the female body, rather than an example of some women’s exceptionality.

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But because female ejaculation is not guaranteed, other methods must be used to convey the internal orgasm. Shots must closely follow the action in order to pick up on subtle facial cues, sounds, and/or body gestures. In place of close-up shots on the genitals, Houston and Trouble must capture the curl of toes, a quickening of breath, the furrow of a brow, or a sudden arch of the back to suggest the inarguable event of an orgasm. They rise quite impressively to this challenge; Trouble especially has developed a talent for managing to capture such fleeting moments in powerful, energetic photographs.

It is also worth pointing out that an orgasm does not necessarily mark the end of a scene; the capacity of the female body for multiple orgasms presents an opportunity for creating a new sexual chronology on screen. In the span of one scene, the receptive and active roles may switch back and forth between partners, each orgasming several times. In the few short movies available on NoFauxxx, further chronological experiments are conducted when, due to its brief length, a scene may not have an orgasmic culmination whatsoever. These are various ways of skewing traditional cinematic interactions with sex, signifying how lesbian sex, unlike most heterosexual sex, is not necessarily immediately over after orgasm.

Without a doubt, the pairing of feminism and pornography sounds as though it would make for strange bedfellows (pun intended). However, through the examples I’ve documented here, I think it can be concluded that there is certainly room for feminist principles in porn. It first requires a careful deconstruction of what it is about pornography that fails women, and then the tenacity needed to think through every aspect of its re-conception; but it can be done. By treating pornography as a malleable medium that has the potential to operate under the tenets of feminism, queer pornographers have entered into a dynamic process of challenging and rethinking the patriarchal presence that has permeated mainstream pornography until now.

Queering mainstream heterosexual porn

For all of its imagination and rethinking, queer porn still descends from decades, if not centuries, of pornographic materials. Though it has begun to forge to new ground within the genre, it cannot completely disregard either past or current mainstream productions, and frankly, it doesn’t seem to try. Rather than rejecting the tropes of heterosexual porn and attempting to make porn that solely resonates with their own community, queer porn embarks on the much more interesting project of queering the imagery commonly found in mainstream heterosexual porn. I would like to first focus on two specific sex acts—blowjobs and threesomes—that are predominant in heterosexual porn, but have now been claimed and interpreted by queer porn; following this, I will discuss its additional implementation of drag and camp humor.

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The Lesbian Blowjob
Based on biology alone, a blowjob between two female-bodied performers doesn’t just seem unlikely, but impossible. Queer pornographers are nothing if not inventive, however, and the integration of dildos and strap-on harnesses makes it possible for this activity to take place. Blowjobs have a particularly strong, symbolic visual power; generally, the partner who is performing the act is at a vertical disadvantage, often kneeling at the feet of the standing recipient. As a result, it is an act that is nearly always imbued with dominant/submissive power dynamics, and when performed between male and female bodies, the gendered distribution of power is further accentuated. Regardless of whether or not the female is enjoying the act, or who is actually in control, it nearly always results in a visual reproduction of patriarchal inequalities and female subservience.

When it is a blowjob performed between lesbians, rather than a heterosexual couple, the power dynamics shift considerably. Whereas issues of power are rarely (if ever) expressly confronted during heterosexual blowjobs, power is the central component of the lesbian blowjob, because no direct genital pleasuring necessarily occurs. Instead, its erotic effects rely on the psychological implications of desire and power, as well as the creation of an immediate power hierarchy. The lesbian who performs the blowjob on the other’s dildo is, in essence, acknowledging her partner’s dominance, only if temporarily; the erotic charge of the act comes from her symbolic willingness to please her partner not only on sexual or visceral levels, but on a psychological level via role-playing. Embracing and experimenting with the effects of power on sexual interaction queers an act that, in heterosexual porn, may only serve to reaffirm the unequal power balance of the gender binary.

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Even when utilized for purposes other than blowjobs, the use of dildos and strapons can facilitate queer readings of heterosexuality. For example, the phallocentric nature of heterosexual porn specifically fixes concepts of masculinity and manliness on the penis. The presence and efficacy of phallic replacements in queer porn reveals the constructed nature of gender roles (Smyth 157). In fact, at any time either female sex partner could choose to literally take off or put on the male appendage; this goes a step beyond simply denaturalizing the gender-biology link, and instead creates a queer realization of gender fluidity.

Threesomes

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The other queered act I wish to discuss is the infamous threesome. In the narratives of heterosexual pornography, threesomes manifest in a vast variety of ways, each a bit more unbelievable than the last. They are predominantly comprised of two women with one man, although the combination of two men with one woman has become increasingly popular in the last two decades. Both porn and popular American culture imagine the threesome as the ultimate male sexual fantasy, and a theme of ownership persists throughout the vocabulary used to discuss it; for example, no man “does” a threesome as he might “do” other sexual acts—a man “has” a threesome, and “takes” two women at once. Threesome scenes are also well-known for their exploitation of lesbian sexuality; as I previously mentioned, innumerable threesome scenes have falsely started with two women having sex, only for the scene to “really” begin when a man stumbles into the room and spontaneously joins them.

Threesome scenes in queer porn are much different. Though similar “stumble-in” scenarios are evoked—the one I detailed in the opening of this paper is but one example—their ambiance and treatment are much different. Because queer culture does not epitomize group sex as the ultimate sexual fantasy to the same extent that heteronormative culture does, it has a different currency in queer contexts. When sex is initiated between three or more queer people, the focus cannot be on achieving or conquering some perceived sexual ideal, because it either doesn’t exist or is simply irrelevant; instead, it is about sharing and seeking a pleasurable experience. Such a comparatively laid-back, fluid approach to threesome sex scenes is perhaps indicative of larger queer tendencies toward sexually radical behavior. Given the frequency of open and/or polyamorous relationships within the queer community, threesome scenes may not represent sexual fantasy at all, but rather the recognition of diverse sexual realities within the community. And so the sensationalist aspect of threesomes in heterosexual porn is lost, and substituted with queer understandings of group sex that locate it within a separate cultural cache.

Drag and Camp Humor

While NoFauxxx tends to publish more serious content that emphasizes its highly artistic sensibilities, the films of Pink and White Productions generally focus on the incorporation of a sense of humor instead. Of course, this humor is not arbitrary, but specially relevant to queer culture. In using elements of both drag and camp humor, Pink and White further queers the heterosexual domain of pornography.

There can be no doubt that drag has long been one of the most successful and unique productions of queer culture. Crossing normative boundaries by putting on the clothes, make-up, and hairstyles of another gender not only denaturalizes these imposed categories, but stresses the performative nature of all gender identities. Using drag in pornography, then, presents an interesting juxtaposition. Pornography spotlights the two things that puritanical American culture tries its best to shame and hide—sex and nudity. Nudity in particular is used as the ultimate evidence of one’s “true” gender identity: in viewing the naked body, the categorization of genitalia as either male or female is assumed to predict one’s gender. Thus, as nudity reveals supposed truths about body and identity through pornography, the contradictory presence of drag veils it.

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The plot of Pink and White’s film Superfreak offers an opportunity for such a contrast, but instead chooses to show how nudity/pornography and drag are related. In the movie, the attendees of a house party are one-by-one possessed by the spirit of Rick James, played by director Shine Louise Houston in drag. After Rick James jumps into the bodies of partygoers, they are compelled to indulge their inner “superfreaks” and initiate passionate, impromptu sex with whomever is nearby. While the plot is certainly amusing and entertaining, it is even more fascinating when read metaphorically. Until the influence of drag—here represented by Rick James—arrives at the party, guests seem somewhat listless and bored. It is only when he intervenes that the party becomes exciting and interesting. If we interpret the drag king version of Rick James as a symbolic ambassador of queerness, we see that it is the queer spirit that induces sexual liberation, and creates pornography as a byproduct. Then, for all of its sexism and heteronormativity, the larger porn genre becomes fundamentally queer, and drag becomes the catalyst for both upsetting gender norms and convincing repressed people to succumb to their baser sexual urges.

Camp humor developed synchronously with drag, but is used with slightly different intentions for the purposes of queer porn. At the heart of any camp humor, of course, is a critique, as well as a degree of artifice, and the use of camp in this context is no exception. No film exemplifies it better than In Search of the Wild Kingdom. The premise of the film is rather complicated for porn: shot as a mockumentary, Houston’s fake camera crew is following another fake film crew as they try to document “real lesbian sex.” The documentary crew is led by the character of Georgia Mann, whose desperation to discover the reality of lesbian sex drives her to use rather unethical research methods. The film’s title alludes to way in which lesbians are treated like the animal subjects of National Geographic; much to the distaste of Mann’s crew, they are required not only to track the lesbians, but to trespass into their homes and hide while filming the lesbians’ sexual habits. At one point, they even employ a “lesbian decoy” (a mannequin wearing a short-haired blonde wig, a t-shirt that reads “I Can’t Even Think Straight,” and a flannel jacket) in order to determine if lesbians cruise like gay men do.

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The element of artifice runs strong throughout the movie. Though the audience presumably realizes that everyone is an actor, the documentary crew upholds the ruse admirably, always seeming to undertake their project with the utmost seriousness. However, their somber demeanors are undermined by their unbelievable circumstances. While “secretly” filming the lesbians, their methods of hiding involve standing in plain sight, often inches away from the faces of their subjects. Even the post-scene interviews with the performers are contrived in a way that maintains the illusion; the performers stay in character the entire interview, and some even admit to never having noticed the presence of the cameras. At one point, even the crew is surprised when their inanimate lesbian decoy works, and appears later in the film next to Houston (in another cameo appearance) as she lies in bed and has a post-coital cigarette.

But the campy humor thinly veils an inevitable critique of society. The mockumentary’s underlying question is not about how lesbians have sex, but about how heterosexists mystify lesbian sex and construct queer people as “others.” A series of interviews with the intrepid Georgina Mann character, shown between sex scenes, parodies the sometimes invasive curiosity of heterosexuals who try to “figure out” queer people. She explains her mission:

If we are ever gonna know the true inner nature of ourselves, then we must move past our clear understanding of heterosexuality, and into the darkness of homosexuality. Lesbians are obviously different from women like myself. I’m straight, I like men, no doubt about it. But what I want to know is what makes them so different than [sic] me. I mean, sex between two women must be completely different than [sic] normal, heterosexual sex. By tracking their sexual behavior, I hope to get the answers I want.

At the end of movie, after finding no easy answers to her questions and being abandoned by her increasingly frustrated and morally comprised film crew, Georgia confesses to Houston’s cameras:

The project has fallen apart. My crew and I no longer see eye-to-eye, and I’m no closer to finding the essence of what makes lesbians lesbians. On the surface they seem so different, but I’ve seen them engage in the same sexual acts as heterosexuals! I mean, they have sex just like I do in a lot of ways. Maybe that’s why I find it so hot. But if I can’t make the distinction between these lesbian sexual behavior [sic] and my own, then where do I draw the line between heterosexuals and homosexuals? What could this mean? I filmed the lesbians in hiding so that I could catch them in the act of really being themselves. But in my quest to penetrate the truth and extract their secrets I’ve only come up with more questions. I’m so confused. . . I don’t know what I think anymore. I don’t think any amount of data collection or categorizing will help me come closer to answering my questions. [sighs] Maybe I’ll have more luck with the sadomasochists.

Although the character was unable to articulate it for herself, her confusion arose from the fact that there was no essential, universal difference between lesbian and straight sexual behavior. The designation of lesbians—or any queer identity, for that matter—as “others” relied only upon misperceptions. This sociopolitical critique of heterosexism may be punctuated and slightly overshadowed by the humor Houston employs throughout the movie, but her stance is made resoundingly clear and lends an edge to the film’s campy qualities.

Undoubtedly, queer porn makes numerous efforts to interject recognizable aspects of queer culture into its products. As filmmakers enter into an arena dominated by men in nearly every way imaginable, it becomes vitally important that they approach their own work with a conscientiousness that allows them to queer heterosexual influences, and apply a perspective that creates pornography that is culturally relevant to the queer community. Such a project makes queer porn a highly politicized endeavor, one that seeks to question heteronormativity and claim equal access to spaces and subjects that may have been presumed to be inherently heterosexual.

Toward the development of a queer erotic aesthetic

Up until now, I have concentrated more on interpreting the content and deciphering the messages of queer porn. At this point, I will transition to reading the aesthetics that distinguish it from other, more mainstream pornography. During the course of production, a number of decisions are made that effect the overall look of the resulting materials, and many of them contribute to a uniquely queer visual. I have identified the three main elements that I feel are most responsible for the development of a specifically queer erotic aesthetic.

Cinematic qualities

The media of queer porn usually contains signifiers that indicate both its lowbudget restraints and subcultural origins. The market for queer porn is significantly smaller than that of mainstream porn—for example, in April 2009, Houston estimated that she had nearly 300 subscribers to her site CrashPadSeries.com (Feministe), while ClubJenna.com, the website of porn star Jenna Jameson, is reported to have had thousands of subscribers and an annual revenue of $30 million in 2005 alone (Forbes). Naturally, queer pornographers have far fewer financial resources with which to make their content. Undaunted, they frequently resort to a method that is rather characteristic of the queer community: the DIY, or do-it-yourself, method.

As a result, the ornately designed sets seen in mainstream pornography are foregone, and in their place are the lived-in apartments, bedrooms, and even rooftops of friends and contacts, and sometimes even the models/actors’ own homes. Rather than detract from a scene or photo’s overall quality, the intimacy of these unstaged spaces make them far more believable, and thus more consistent with the companies’ aim for authenticity.

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In keeping with their DIY theme, there is sometimes an amateurish element to their filming and photography styles. In viewing the works of NoFauxxx or Pink and White Productions chronologically, it is easy to see the vast technical improvements that have taken place over the last few years; the occasional bad angle or poorly lit shot decreases in frequency as one moves from the past to the present. Over the course of four films, Houston’s work has become noticeably more professional, and seems to be moving toward a more mainstream aesthetic (though her content is assuredly not). While Trouble’s photographs (as well as those taken by collaborating photographers for her site) have also increased in technical proficiency, they have tended toward a more artistic and sometimes abstract approach. For example, among NoFauxxx’s video content, the film quality is frequently grainy, and the spaces dimly lit. One movie, entitled “Gay Bar,” is partially shot sideways in the dark bathroom stall of a local nightclub, with the actions of the starring couple barely discernible in the shadows. Another movie, “Sex Tape,” is entirely lit by and filmed on a cell phone. In the photo shoots, too, the artistic merit and subversive style sometimes comes at the cost of erotic potency. In many sets of photographs, the model may only appear nude in the last few shots out of several dozen. This unconventional treatment of pornographic material—as an endeavor of aesthetics and artistic experimentation, not just titillation—is quite queer. In NoFauxxx’s refusal to conform to the traditional standards of the industry, and cultivate its own underground style instead, it has begun to tentatively map out what a queer erotic aesthetic looks like.

Performers

The main focal point of any pornographic feature is, unsurprisingly, the performers. In movies and photographs where identity is the key to credibility, performer selection becomes a particularly crucial process. When a production company markets itself as specializing in a certain “type” of person—be it goth women, hippies, or queer people—the pressure is high to maintain the stylized aesthetic that makes such groups easily identifiable to consumers. In the case of queer porn, which promotes itself as more “authentically” queer than other companies, it is then not enough to publish material that shows two (or more) same-sexed people engaging in sexual behaviors; there must be other signifiers that contextualize them as specifically queer-identified people who are participants in, or at the very least, are already familiar with the queer community. The bodies of performers become the most obvious and effective sites for the implementation of messages and cultural cues.

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The majority of performers follow a very recognizable regime of style: tattoos, body and facial piercings, shaved heads, femme presentations, butch presentations, androgynous presentations, and hair dyed every color of the rainbow are all common, almost predictable in their frequency. As in other subcultures and countercultures, such alternative fashion modes are meant to fly in the face of normalcy, and place the wearer apart from mainstream culture. Some have also theorized that these postmodern body modifications carry more complex layers of meaning when applied to the female body. While writing about the popular alternative porn site SuicideGirls.com, Shoshana Magnet discusses how the presence of piercings, tattoos, and dyed hair create an image of the “female grotesque”; in the case of SuicideGirls.com, she believes they represent an eroticized rejection of traditional feminine beauty standards (Magnet 581). While I believe such characteristics can also be read as a rejection of mainstream beauty standards in the queer community, I think they serve two additional purposes: one, they also reject heteronormative expectations of feminine presentation, and two, they act as visible signifiers of queer identities. These things all interact to situate the performers’ bodies within a queer political and social network while they are on screen.

Sex

In popular culture, women’s desire is often presumed to rely on emotional connections and romance. Essentialist notions of female sexuality are characterized by the passionate lovers painted on the covers of Harlequin romance novels, the serendipitous encounters of romantic comedies, and the “will they or won’t they” dynamics of sitcom couples. Rarely does the media portray female sexual agency outside of the context of romance.

In queer porn, however, women’s sexuality is rarely this delicate or sentimental. While it is not uncommon for the actors to be affectionate and playful with each other, one would not necessarily describe the sex as loving or emotive. In addition to stripping away the pretext of romantic connection, queer porn also attempts to dispel the stereotypes created by mainstream lesbian pornography that is made by and for a predominantly male audience. In these movies, lesbian sex consists mainly of coquettish giggles, soft caresses, exaggerated kissing, and diffident licking; in other words, to the queer eye, it lacks both believability and sincerity.

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The lesbian sex of queer porn, however, is intense and frenetic. Rigorous and rowdy, it seems to blurs the lines of distinction between “regular,” “vanilla” sex and sadomasochistic practices. For example, Houston’s latest release, Champion, is the plot-driven story of a mixed martial arts fighter who struggles to reconcile her sexual relationships with the homophobia that permeates her profession. There is a strong motif of conflict in both the plot and sex, with the sex scenes including aggressive behaviors such as hair-pulling, slapping, scratching, choking, biting, and fisting. This is not entirely out of line with the larger trends of pornography, where extremist sex behaviors seem to be gradually moving from niche to normalized. However, the rest of the porn industry usually prefers to carefully sort these acts into separate categories, mostly under the label of BDSM. Queer porn’s lack of differentiation between different types of sex is characteristic of the queer movement’s overall reluctance to label identities and behavior. However realistic or representative it may actually be, queer porn does challenge the preexisting images of lesbian sex that outsiders may have, and even daring to reconstruct it as a contrastingly rough and severe act.

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Finally, the queer erotic aesthetic also emphatically promotes safe sex. Given how the queer movement developed during the sweeping tragedy of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, this decision is not surprising. Because some types of sex toys cannot be sterilized (namely, those made out of porous jelly rubber and PVC materials), and others may still be shared with multiple partners, condoms are almost always used on dildos. Latex gloves are sometimes worn for digital penetration, but are far less common than condom use, and dental dams are essentially non-existent. Even though the latter two items have no major presence within queer porn (at least not currently), even their intermittent use is still quite exceptional for the porn industry, where unprotected sex is highly eroticized. Such safe sex practices work as visible references to the history and health consciousness of the queer movement.

Erotic monopolies and the dilemma of queer authenticity

Both NoFauxxx and Pink and White Productions actively work to make their content readable and relevant to their intended queer audience. However, it is precisely this queer readability that must be critiqued. If part of the project of queer politics is to encourage fluidity and non-specificity, creating an identifiable queer erotic aesthetic seems somewhat counterproductive. Any discernible aesthetic is, by its nature, one that is also predictable; quite conversely, queerness is about resisting easy assumptions and generalizations. Though this incompatibility is more theoretical than practical, it is nonetheless important to consider the potential hypocrisy of such a position.

There is also the companies’ problematic and recurring use of the word “authentic” in the promotion of their products. How can something be touted as “authentically” queer, when queerness inherently delimits space and removes the confines of labels? Rather than unite people through their shared identities, such terminology more often becomes a tool used to police members of a community, forcing them to align with the dominant opinions of the group. It is impossible to concern oneself with authenticity without also implementing a measuring strategy; this then instigates unnecessary conflict and accusations, as some find that they are suddenly not queer enough. This is not solely the responsibility of these companies; after all, they are only trying to convey their own place in and commitment to queer politics. However, the
community as a whole must question such potentially divisive terms of qualification, and avoid their evocation if solidarity is to be sustained.

One must also be aware of the standardization that may occur when monopolies exist within the genre. This is the reality of the situation: erotic queer media is currently being produced by very few companies that frequently share the same set of rotating performers between them. Nearly all of these performers conform to a very youthful, trendy, and punky way of being queer. Part of this, of course, is due to local availability, travel limitations, and the companies’ scarce financial resources. Certainly, public representations of non-heteronormative identities and sexual practices are a positive step toward the recognition of sexual diversity, and we should absolutely applaud the courage that these performers, models, directors, photographers and companies have to take on the taboo and publicly assert their queerness. But even so, can the queer community risk the possibility of standardization? Or perhaps even the normalization of its sexual outsiderness? We must carefully consider how images of an ideal or average queerness are being produced, what it is that they are saying, and whether they are able to accurately represent the greater politics of the queer community. Queer porn provides an excellent opportunity for queer perspectives to be heard; but it shouldn’t delegitimize the lived realities of queer people whose bodies, styles, abilities, and sex lives don’t resemble what’s on screen before them.

The resolution of such a dilemma is complicated. It is easy enough to encourage queer pornographers to hire an even wider range of performers, to avoid predictability by constantly experimenting with style, or to invite more people to make queer porn from their perspectives—but none of these strategies are simple, or even feasible, to implement. What can be encouraged, and more easily implemented, is self-reflexivity. As the pioneers of queer porn, NoFauxxx and Pink and White Productions must closely examine their work and the latent messages it may be sending. Small-scale communities are easily susceptible to the influences of well-known insiders, and these companies must consider the consequences that their influence could have on future queer politics.

Conclusion

If we are to build more insightful epistemologies within the fields of both queer studies and women’s studies, we must be willing to examine, analyze, and critique all the facets of a given culture, even those as stigmatized as pornography. In the case of queer culture, where sexuality and sexual expression exist at the crux of personal and community identity, pornography becomes even more significant as a byproduct of cultural beliefs and perspectives. Through the films and photographs I’ve discussed here, a great deal can be learned about how queer people are confronting and re-imagining the media being produced by a heterosexist society. Sex acts previously associated only with certain bodies and genders are now being reclaimed for all, and existing stereotypes are being challenged in fundamental ways. Even so, a critical gaze must still be adopted in order to avoid reproducing new stereotypes with new confines, or compromising the very principles that set the queer movement apart.

We must also support an integrative approach that seeks to unify feminism and queerness both in research and personal creative endeavors. Instead of citing irreconcilable differences as the reason for a lack of cooperative spirit between the two, we must pay more attention to the solutions people are finding outside of academia and theory. In the face of great criticism and failure, queer feminists like Shine Louise Houston and Courtney Trouble are demanding a right to rework pornography, one of the last strongholds of sexism and racism that exists today. They are challenging traditional representations and devaluations of female sexuality, resisting beauty norms, endorsing principles of anti-racism and anti-sizism, and representing the multi-faceted personalities of their performers. Their project not only increases the visibility and agency of queer individuals, but also tries to promote the status of all women and gender-variants. Through their example, we can see that pornography need not be static; but like any other social text, it must first be softened through in-depth reading and critical analysis before it can be made malleable, and thus receptive to new themes of equality and inclusivity.

March 27, 2013

From Twitter

Meanwhile, at the Crash Pad:

#SexEdPornReviews CrashPad 230: Kitty Stryker and Jetta Rae

We've invited sexual health educators and sex bloggers to share their #SexEdPornReviews for our new queer porn episode starring (recently married!) Kitty Stryker and Jetta Rae. We […]

The Blog Post #SexEdPornReviews CrashPad 230: Kitty Stryker and Jetta Rae appeared first on Crash Pad Series.