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8th April 2013

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Obscenity, Authenticity, and Coming Out: My Day at the The Feminist Porn Conference

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On Friday night, I attended the Feminist Porn Awards, an annual event held by my local sex shop Good For Her. I hadn’t planned on going, because I’ve been a little strapped for cash lately, but my friend happened to have an extra ticket and invited me along at the last minute. Obviously, I was thrilled.

The awards were really exciting and a lot of well-deserved films took home Crystal Delights butt plug trophies. I was especially pleased that Fifty Shades of Dylan Ryan (which I loved) received the prize for best kink film, and that so many oppressed groups were honored – for example, in Nica Noelle’s awesome trans-positive flick Forbidden Lovers, and Matthew Clark’s short film Krutch, which focuses on disability and sex.

Honestly, though, it was sort of hard to concentrate on the awards because I was surrounded by so many hot porn stars I could hardly breathe. Dylan Ryan was a few seats to my left, Wolf Hudson was to my right, and directly in front of me were James Darling and Jiz Lee. I have watched all of these people fuck, many times, and have gotten off doing it. I’ve met some of my favorite celebrities before, but seeing someone in person who’s actually induced an orgasm in you (however indirectly) is quite a different story. (And yes, I was way too shy to speak to any of them!)

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The next day, I got up bright and early for the Feminist Porn Conference, put together by Tristan Taormino to coincide with the recent release of the Feminist Porn Book (a great read which I highly recommend). My boyfriend, whose career and hobbies have nothing to do with sex, had nonetheless enthusiastically agreed to come with me, so we went together.

The first session we attended was Lesbo Retro: A Dyke Porn Retrospective, hosted by Shar Rednour and Nan Kinney, two totally captivating dykes associated with iconic lesbian porn companies like Fatale Media and On Our Backs. It was an hour of lezzie porn from the ’60s up through the ’00s. A lot of it was silly and strange – voluminous hair (both on performers’ heads and in their pubic regions), stilted dialogue, “dyke drama” screaming matches – but I walked out of it with damp panties anyhow. (What can I say? I love a good cunnilingus scene.)

Shar and Nan recalled when they couldn’t ship media to certain zip codes because of the obscenity laws that existed there. Sexual acts like fisting and female ejaculation were considered too extreme to be legal. They would have been risking jail time by distributing those materials to some areas, mostly in the south. I said a little prayer of gratitude for the internet and its magical powers of distribution, as well as for the trailblazers (like Shar and Nan!) who ushered us into our more sex-positive time.

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The second session we attended was To Be Real: Authenticity in Queer & Feminist Porn. It featured Jiz Lee (swoon), Dylan Ryan (also swoon), Shar Rednour again, and Dr. Jill Bakehorn, a sociologist whose research has focused on feminist porn.

The discussion was lively and thought-provoking. Many questions were raised: what is authenticity? How do we know if something is authentic? How can something as performative as porn ever really be authentic? Are we using the word “authentic” when we really mean something else, like sincerity or relatability? And if it gets us off, does it really matter whether or not it’s authentic?

This conversation really hit home for me, because although I’ve often told myself and others that I like “authentic” porn best, sometimes I watch porn that’s probably as genuine as any but just doesn’t do a damn thing for me – like porn where a performer isn’t making any noise, or is making noise but in a way that’s gratingly repetitive and monotonous. Who am I to say that that’s not how those people genuinely react to sexual stimulation? It would be more accurate to say that I simply like porn that suits my tastes, regardless of how genuine it may or may not be.

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Next up was a panel called Being Out Now: How Performers Navigate Sexual Morality and Media Representation. It featured Tina Horn and James Darling (both favorites of mine, both pictured above) as well as Arabelle Raphael, Bianca Stone, Jiz Lee, and Quinn Cassidy.

This panel’s contributors were amazingly diverse in experience and identity. All of them do porn, all of them have at least dabbled in other kinds of sex work (most still do it), two identify as genderqueer, one as trans. All come from different sorts of families with different tolerance levels for what they do and who they are.

There was much discussion about whether one is obligated to come out, and how to remain true to oneself even in situations where one chooses not to come out (a choice usually made out of a desire to maintain safety for oneself and/or the people one is close to). For example, Arabelle suggested that sex workers who don’t want to come out can still vocally support sex workers’ rights when talking to people they’re not out to.

It was interesting to hear the perspective of a white cis male, Quinn Cassidy, in this feminist discourse. He pointed out that the parameters of a person’s “closet” can change depending on what environments that person exists in – meaning, for example, that he often has to “come out” as a cis male in queer communities that may assume he is genderqueer.

Moderator Tina Horn asked the audience to participate in an exercise: we were told to raise our hands if we are “out” about our involvement in the sex world, first to parents, then to siblings, extended family, the world at large, and our employers. It was interesting that so many people (including several of the panelists) said they are out to the internet and the world, but not to their aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

The panel concluded with a discussion on how to be a good ally to sex workers, which included advice like “Listen to them” and “Don’t call yourself a sex worker if you’ve only shot one queer porn scene” and “Start a chapter of SWOP in your area.”

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The last session we attended was a Q&A with Shine Louise Houston, the creator of Crash Pad Series, a huge presence in today’s feminist queer porn world. I’ve reviewed a few Crash Pad scenes before (here, here, and here) and I’m a huge fan of the site.

Shine screened a video she made in which she “interviews herself” via the magic of post-production. The interview was funny and honest, like Shine herself. One thing she mentioned which struck me as particularly interesting is that she almost never jerks off to her own porn, even though the whole Crash Pad Series is based around her personal fantasies of voyeurism. She also pointed out that porn is “about more than getting off” – when done well, it can be a medium for pushing boundaries, for exercising one’s right to free speech, and for normalizing certain sex acts so people feel they have permission to explore. Hear hear!

The Q&A session after the video ended up being mostly a discussion about coming out as a pornographer, after Shine confessed that she isn’t out to her kids and doesn’t plan on changing that in the foreseeable future. While I appreciated that some of the audience members felt strongly about coming out as a form of political activism (“being militantly out,” as Quinn Cassidy had phrased it earlier in the day), I didn’t like that some of them seemed to be shaming Shine for her choices. I think everyone gets to choose whether or not they want to come out, and to whom, and it isn’t helpful to shame someone for staying in the closet if that’s what they want to do.

It was also interesting to hear that people frequently complain to Shine about her site not being diverse enough, but that she also receives complaints when she puts a cis male on the site (some past examples include Ned Mayhem and Mickey Mod). How sad that the queer community, known for diversity and acceptance, would revolt against cis guys even if they’re having sex in deliciously transgressive ways.

Just before leaving, I bought a copy of Tristan Taormino’s Expert Guide to Pegging (which had nabbed Tristan the Smutty Schoolteacher award the night before, yay!). Then I headed home, smiling and feeling wonderfully enlightened.

Photo credits: the Feminist Porn Awards, Wikipedia, Crash Pad Series, and Queer Porn Review.

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    @marie, an interesting read about feminist porn.
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