Porn

Candida Royalle at the 2013 Cinekink Awards. (Photo by Cropbot, via Wikimedia)

Candida Royalle at the 2013 Cinekink Awards. (Photo by Cropbot, via Wikimedia)

Candida Royalle was born in 1950 to a New York City that, to her, appeared buttoned-up and fucked-up about sex. She left that city, and the world, for good just a few days ago after several years of wrangling with ovarian cancer.

Following in her musician father’s footsteps, Royalle pursued an arts education, funded first by art modeling. The art modeling, in a career path familiar to many sex workers, quickly evolved into nude modeling and eventually into performance in about 25 feature length porn films. “I got into adult movies to support my art habit,” she explained in an August 2014 interview.

After a stop-and-start filmography, punctuated by periods of uncertainty and guilt, she left performing altogether in the hope of making a better pornography for us all by founding her own company, Femme Productions. Her first few years of film-making were particularly interesting, featuring older models; a wide range of body types; severe, “unsexy” shooting techniques; and weird, dystopian plots. Her film Revelations (1993) features a married couple living in a fascist, sex-hating future. The wife finds an old stash of dirty home movies which sexually transform her and ultimately result in her arrest. Royalle spoke frequently about wanting to create pornography that focused on feminine pleasure, and which made space for erotic storytelling that was not clichéd and shallow. Her goal was to create films that women would watch and that partners would watch together.

Over the past few decades, her production company became more successful and branched out into a wide array of sex toys, books, and even a biographical documentary which was in production before Royalle passed away. She was a heartening role model for women who could no longer directly sell their own sexual labor (by choice or necessity), but for whom leaving the industry altogether was not an option.

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afeminismmeansWhen I make porn I find it to be a positive experience. That is based on a wide range of factors that I’ve spoken and written about in depth over the past eight years. For one, trans women’s sexuality is greatly misrepresented in media and it’s important to me to be able to create representations of sexuality on my own terms. I also take great care to address and incorporate ethics into every level of production. My porn includes Audre Lorde references. My porn has been nominated for and won several feminist awards. My porn includes complex discussion of police violence, immigration politics, post-traumatic stress, and other social issues.

Yet, inevitably, I encounter individuals who point at my work and declare that it is objectifying on face—typically without having even watched it. Then they demand that I come up with a thesis worthy defense of my claim that making my porn is a positive thing. Anything I’ve already said or written in defense of my work is ignored. Any reasoning or argumentation about my informed decision to work in porn is lost. My argument is simply represented by my detractors as “because I chose it.”

Choice feminism is the idea that anything that any woman personally chooses to do is a feminist act. The most commonly given example of this argument is that choosing to do sex work—or to take pole dancing classes, be in porn, sext, fill in the blank—is empowering simply because a woman has chosen to do it and criticisms against perpetuating objectification are irrelevant.

The problem here is that in most cases women are simply trying to point out that they know their own lives and are making an informed decision. They are not claiming that any woman’s exercise of her agency is by definition a feminist act, but that denying a woman her agency is an inherently un-feminist act— especially coming from someone who doesn’t have a shared understanding of the context of that decision in her life. [READ MORE]

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Current offerings on TRENCHCOATx

Current offerings on TRENCHCOATx

In March, Kayden Kross and Stoya launched TRENCHCOATx.com, a pay-per-scene porn site they describe as “curated smut.” The performer-run and owned site is powered by the vision of its two partners and stands in stark opposition to the search-optimized tube sites that are closing in on monopolizing porn distribution. As Stoya wrote about tube sites, “I believe the worst sorts of capitalists would consider Manwin’s behavior a win of the highest order.” She spoke to us last month shortly after the launch about the origins and intent of TRENCHCOATx and about workers seizing the means.

Stoya: For years, because we were both under contract together at the same company, on set or when we were signing stuff together or just like sitting at a coffee shop, we would do a lot of complaining about, “This is how it should be done, this is what I think would be the right process for having barrier-optional performance choices with regards to safer sex procedures like condoms and dental dams, how adult material should be described,” and our shared distaste for the way it was moving more and more to tags. Kayden described it best as “kindergarten Mad Libs of naughty words.” For years we’ve been both sitting there saying “This is how it should be and it would be perfect and magical!”
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Kitty Stryker with Andre Shakti. (Screencap from Ban This Sick Filth, courtesy of Kitty Stryker)

Kitty Stryker with Andre Shakti. (Screencap from Ban This Sick Filth, courtesy of Kitty Stryker)

I’m in the middle of being flogged by Courtney Trouble for Banned in the UK (NSFW), an anti-censorship porn critiquing obscenity laws. It’s getting a little hot and heavy and my ass is getting red when the tails whip around and smack the cameraperson, my lover, in the face. We all dissolve into giggles.

And they say there’s no authenticity in porn.

I have a boner to pick with Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation), an actress and one of the producers of an “intimate and ultimately harrowing” documentary about porn performers (because even when a documentary is expressing disgust and pity for sex workers, it’s still sexualized). Directors Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus are very concerned about the impact of porn on culture; it was the subject of their first documentary, Sexy Baby. During an interview at the Sundance Film Festival about the film (which was bought by Netflix), Ms. Jones said, “Women should feel pleasure and have sex and feel good about it—and there’s a lot of shame involved with porn,” adding that “[i]t’s performative, women aren’t feeling joy from it.”

I’m an amateur-ish porn performer and one of the directors of a little company called TROUBLEfilms. As a queer owned, queer focused operation, fulfilling cis male fantasies is not really high up on our list of priorities, but I guess since everyone knows that “only men are visual” all porn is basically the same, right? And of course as the casting director of this company, I am blasé about performer safety and health—it’s not like we have a multi-page document of model rights and our ethical standards.

If only porn was as progressive as Hollywood—oh, wait, except there’s more representation in the porn industry for female directors and producers than in the mainstream film industry.

But I’m going to put aside my sarcasm for a minute, because this is a serious issue with serious consequences. There’s been a lot of discussion about “authenticity” in porn and how amazing and valuable and feminist a quality it is, but I call bullshit on that discourse. Indie porn performer Arabelle Raphael made a great point last year by stating that porn is still labor, and as such, it is by its very nature performative. All labor requires some sort of performance, from smiling at customers you dislike to being polite when you hate your boss. Labor in the entertainment field, whether that be acting on stage, screen, or in adult movies, is even more explicitly staged. Activist sex worker Siouxsie Q wrote about how when she was working with a feminist pornographer, the actual, negotiated sex she wanted to have with a real life play partner was considered “too much” to be “authentic” as defined by that director. So who decides, then, what is authentic and what is performative? Are these actually opposite ends of a spectrum?

(Editor’s note: Content warning—NSFW images after the jump.)

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War Machine's rationalizations (Screenshot of War Machine's tweet)

War Machine’s tweeted rationalizations—note the number of retweets and favorites (Screenshot of War Machine’s Twitter feed)

“Don’t hit women or whores” reads an oh-so-helpful comment under one of the many reports of the brutal assault and attempted rape of porn actress and dancer Christy Mack by her ex partner, War Machine (formerly known as John Koppenhaver), this past week. And that’s one of the nice ones. Most of the not-nice ones start with “what did you expect?” and get worse from there. Koppenhaver himself seems to see his role in the attack as a tragic victim of fate, a “cursed” man who had hoped to be engaged to the woman he broke up with in May, whose house he broke into in August.

While, in the face of the graphic and horrific story that Mack released, Koppenhaver’s view seems woefully out of touch with reality, the truth is, he’s right to predict sympathy for himself. Assaulting a sex worker, especially one that you once deigned to be in a relationship with, is viewed as pretty understandable. Just by watching TV or using the internet (ever), how many hundreds of jokes and not-jokes did Koppenhaver encounter excusing and encouraging him to do just that? It might be tempting, for the sake of our views on the state of humanity, to label his on-the-run tweets as a disingenuous ploy for public understanding, but I believe it is the less likely explanation of the two. What reason have we to believe that Koppenhaver was special, that he was somehow immune to the prevailing cultural narrative about the worth of those who do sex work? Why wouldn’t he think of himself as a lamentable casualty of an unfair system?

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