I like porn. I don’t like most porn, but I like it enough to seek out things I enjoy. As a sexual outsider (a dyke, a trans woman, a devout pervert, and a variety of other things), I rarely find porn that depicts anything resembling my actual sex life. My relationship with porn has been a happy one. Porn has never made me feel bad about my body, until recently.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Roxie Theater in San Francisco to see Pornucopia, a mini-festival of queer (mostly dyke) and trans (ftm) porn. I like seeing the latest shoestring-budget projects of people who make sex films for a reason. I like seeing porn that expects to change the world by its very existence. My friends and I got tickets in advance–such events almost always sell out–and we arrived very early to be sure to get good seats.
A couple of hours later, we walked out of the theater irritated and feeling robbed. What masqueraded as a mini-festival turned out to be a promotional scheme. The majority of the program was comprised of material from one porn company. This was not a bunch of independently produced DIY queer erotica. This was primarily a showcase for Pink and White Productions. Pink and White has done an admirable job of making erotic film that represents queers. The company is run by people who started with the idea of making what they wanted to see. I don’t think Pink and White organized the evening: I’m guessing that they put up money to get the theater in exchange for promoting their stuff. I would expect that they thought they were doing something good for themselves and good for the audience. But the show was not what it had been advertised to be.
One of the main pieces to be shown (not by Pink and White) wouldn’t play properly. From what I saw of it, I was almost glad.
Maddeningly, one of the most interesting pieces was a behind-the-scenes mini documentary consisting of interviews with a couple who did a scene for Pink and White’s Crash Pad series. It was frustrating that I didn’t get to see the actual porn they were talking about making: It looked good. There was lots of smiling. They were a sweet and cute pair of thirty-something dykes, one kind of butch, one moderately fat. The camera work was intimate and you could easily imagine yourself in the room.
This confirmed the little bits I had heard about the Crash Pad series. These were real queers. From the few seconds I saw interspersed with the interviews, the sex looked real and hot.
As a special treat, we got a sneak peek at Champion, Pink and White’s newest feature (which I also wished I had gotten to see more of). In the end, I paid ten bucks to see more advertisements for porn than I saw porn. I was pissed, but not so much that I didn’t investigate the website for the Crash Pad series when I got home.
I was not ready for my response to the website: I felt bad. I looked at the models and I felt old and ugly (neither of which I am anywhere near). I wasn’t prepared to respond this way. I look at plenty of pornography and while I know that porn images push many people’s body image buttons, they never have done that for me before.
It took me a little while to figure out why I was having this unexpected reaction.
In most porn, no one looks anything like me or like most people I know. I select carefully from the ocean of mainstream garbage for the things I find hot, but people who look like me and mine is rarely one of the things I have the luxury of finding. I have always thought of this as a shortcoming of the porn industry, but maybe it’s not. It was because the people in the Crash Pad series looked like me and people I know (except for being generally somewhat younger, prettier, and skinnier) that I was comparing myself to them in a way that I am generally not inclined to do.
Is this progress?
Am I supposed to feel empowered by the fact that my queer sexual outsider culture is being commodified?
The people that charged me ten bucks to watch commercials by selling them as a film festival and the people who are making queer-looking porn with a modified application of mainstream beauty standards are part of my “community.” I’m not sure I want them in it. I’m not sure that the commercial success of stuff that looks more like my life is good. I think it brings the evils of capitalism closer to home.
Audre Lorde said that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. I’m afraid the master just built a little cottage behind the big house for his queer cousins.