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The Training of Poe: BDSM and the Exuberant Intimacy of Queering Gaze

The Training of Poe review

A Review by tenerDuende

The Training of Poe is film about trans woman Chelsea Poe as she submits to her Mistress Bella. Often this would be a movie which we would watch with certain reservations. As noted in an article by Jes Grobman, in The Establishment:

The only problem? Porn— which caters predominantly to the desires of straight cisgender men — usually isn’t made with trans women in mind. As such, we often struggle to find porn that appeals to us; I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve gotten frustrated and given up while searching for something — anything — that I can relate to.

Gaze, and in particular, “male gaze”, as noted by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy under the entry of Feminist Aesthetics, is perhaps adequately defined as, “the frequent framing of objects of visual art so that the viewer is situated in a ‘masculine’ position of appreciation.” Queering then, while Other to these patriarchal and very often heteronormative ways of seeing, is situated not in some negative relation to these structures of power which systematize meaning and knowledge through the act of visually perceiving bodies and affect, but in its own embodied experience. The aim of this film is relate this experience to the viewer. I felt things watching this. Things I could relate to within my own experience. The Training of Poe was a powerful step towards the communication of such intimate knowledges as BDSM is very often capable. The film works to convey this intimacy of ‘exuberance’ not only through the interaction of the performer but through the ‘gaze’ of the film itself.  

‘Exuberance’, according to academic Robin Bauer in the Book Queer BDSM Intimacies: Critical Consent and Pushing Boundaries, is a defining feature of queer BDSM intimacy. It is the production of excess and abundance in the expression of queer BDSM Intimacy. Bauer writes:

Based on my interviews, I have suggested redefining intimacy as being not simply about positive feelings of closeness, but about boundaries and their transgression, about access and exposure, about violations and touch. I have replaced the problematic public/private dichotomy with a more nuanced and empirical model of social spaces that are accessible, shared contained, contained or insulated spaces, and I have looked at the practices that are contained in accessible spaces. […]  In general, my interview partners reported that BDSM generates its own unique kind of intimacy through the intensity of the practices and relationships. Therefore, dyke+queer BDSM can be usefully understood as exuberant intimacy, producing excess and abundance in various ways.

One of the most remarkable things I noted about the movie was the use of documentary style to convey a sense of authenticity, and even exuberance. While overall it has the feeling of being almost documentarian, the movie blends the feeling of realism and authenticity of expression. This blending of filmic style which of quotation rather than actual document allowed me to take this journey with Chelsea. I feel this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers as they wanted to blur the boundaries between viewer and subject.

The film opens in biographical black and white. Chelsea Poe willfully admits that this is the night before she is going to be trained, and that she is excited. Rather than convey this moment as a document, it is instead intercut with moments of what will be the narrative to come. The linear progression of her journey is sublimated into a nexus of foreshadowed experiences. We are not discovering what it means to be a submissive; rather, we are immersed in the meaning of this desire. This technique resonates as she delves into her willingness to partake in more psychological aspects of submission. She asks how deep she will truly go.

The next scene opens with Mistress Bella Vendetta, seated. She is facing the camera, what we can assume to be Chelsea’s POV. Mistress Bella Vendetta orders Chelsea to to walk sexily towards the pillow.  A scene with smiling conversation ensues. Bella Vendetta looks to the camera and informs us that Chelsea was tasked with taking some photos of herself. We are informed as well that there is a cameraperson in the room, and the gesture towards a documentary style signals to us that this is somehow more real than scripted. Our accessibility to this experience is reinforced by the setting itself. This is being filmed in someone’s home. This isn’t a set, but an attic. This isn’t a fantasy, but a slice of someone’s life.

Chelsea is asked to remove her clothing and she blushes. Her willingness to vulnerability and even coyness is touching. She has taken the first step in her transformation to being a slave to Mistress Bella, and we are allowed to see her as she has offered herself. Mistress Bella wraps her in a rope harness, and there is significant attention to the method of her bondage. It is slow, sensual, and conversant. Every wrap across Chelsea’s body is met with palpable terms to her submission. Our attention is brought to their developing relationship through the metaphor of ropework as it is embodied and worn upon Chelsea’s naked body.

Metaphors work to convey the expression of Chelsea’s sexuality as an act of submission towards her Mistress. The sexualization of her body as an object is expressed with a sense of warmth, willingness, and nurturance. Chelsea crawls on all fours naked through the kitchen. She does so in small movements and see her want to be pleasing to her Dominant. Mistress Bella gives her a bowl of water to lap up. Chelsea is told that she must do it in a way that is sexy to her Mistress. She must slurp and suck water from the dog bowl. Her consent to the sexualization of her body is given primacy through their interaction. It is a language connected and conveyed through erotic acts. Not long after, Chelsea is given the task of sweeping and scrubbing the floor, but she must not simply clean the floor, she must move in a way that demonstrates her willingness to please the gaze of her Mistress. In this relative short course of sequences, the film has anatomized a queering of traditional cis-male gaze — not in a language of dry academia, but expressed with an exuberant intimacy of two people consenting to an erotic exchange of power.

This gaze is perhaps most poetically expressed in the opening to the second day, outdoors. We see Chelsea. Her body is resting over a rock, her feet in a forest stream. Her backside is exposed, and we are allowed the vantage as her Mistress might look upon her look. Her Mistress beckons and she crawls towards Her. She crawls through moving waters, to kneel before her in a rushing stream. Her palms are open, her eyes cast downward, her face looking up. She wears a dress and a smile. This scene moved me the most, and perhaps this form of visual poetry is an important preface to the scene which follows. As an act of trust, Chelsea will allow Mistress Bella to submerge her head underwater. Immediately, Chelsea’s question of how far she would let herself go is given new relevance, and almost expressed literally through the act of breath play.

The warmth and genuine sexuality of this film is made prominent. And perhaps it needs to be said, there is no reference made to Chelsea being a woman with trans history. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter is interchange of want and desire as expressed through BDSM. It is refreshing to see BDSM play used more as a vehicle of expression. I think that is what I found most moving: to see kink as a language in and of itself. Through different interactions, sexuality is expressed with intimacies and abundance. The Training of Poe excelled in this regard. It treated BDSM as such a language of interaction. It documented the agency of sexual expression through kink, and allowed the me to feel Chelsea’s journey, to relate to her journey, and perhaps lend greater fluency to the intimate language of kink.

Watch The Training of Poe on PinkLabel.tv

 

tenerDuende is a rebel intellectual working to queer America from an underground bunker somewhere in downtown Los Angeles. tener likes tacos, glitch art, kink, and feminist epistemology. tener is currently working with ethical porn producers Severe Sex Films.

 

Posted October 15, 2017

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