Feminist Porn Awards & Conference Recap

Hail Canada! Trippin’ to Toronto to Celebrate Feminist Porn

Of course the US is full of people who enjoy and make feminist or queer or alt porn. Well, maybe not full, but we do have many people below the 49th parallel who are into alternatives to mainstream porn. However, the fabulous land of Canada is home to something we don’t have: the Feminist Porn Awards! First organized eight years ago by Good Vibrations’s sister store Good for Her, one of two fine sex stores in Toronto (the other one, Come As You Are, has hosted me several times), the Feminist Porn Awards has morphed from its first year, when it was called Vixens and Visionaries, into a must-attend fest that lasts three days and features a lecture on porn, a screening of shorts and excerpts the Good for Her’s screening committee wants to highlight, and the awards themselves — imagine the Oscars, but up at the Lucite podium are awards handed to the icons and promising newcomers of feminist and queer sex films. (This year, the awards were shiny Crystal Delights butt plugs with bunny tails!)

That would be enough reason in itself to trek to Toronto, right? Right! But this year there was more: Event producer and feminist porn powerhouse Tristan Taormino (along with her indefatigable partner Colten) had cooked up an entire conference on feminist porn; it followed right on the heels of the FPA, and also on the heels of the appearance of The Feminist Porn Book, which she edited with UC Santa Barbara professors (and feminist porn experts) Constance Penley, Mireille Miller-Young, and Celine Parreñas Shimizu.

Because so many people, especially in the USA, where this notion is very actively supported by the media, think that all feminists are anti-porn and all porn people are anti-feminist, it might be good to clarify what we mean here by the term “feminist porn.” It’s sometimes colloquially called “ladyporn,” which has a certain whiff of explicit romance or at least scripts and sensitive male leads; and indeed, porn like that exists, and many women love it. But feminist porn is way more than that; this quote comes from the Feminist Porn Book:

As both an established and emerging genre of pornography, feminist porn uses sexually explicit imagery to contest and complicate dominant representations of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, class, ability, age, body type, and other identity markers. It explores concepts of desire, agency, power, beauty, and pleasure at their most confounding and difficult, including pleasure within and across inequality, in the face of injustice, and against the limits of gender hierarchy and both heteronormativity and homonormativity. It seeks to unsettle conventional definitions of sex, and expand the language of sex as an erotic activity, an expression of identity, a power exchange, a cultural commodity, and even a new politics… Ultimately, feminist porn considers sexual representation — and its production–a site for resistance, intervention, and change.

Pretty heady stuff for a sex egghead like me. How could I ever have missed it? And once I confirmed that I could be present for the conference, Good for Her owner Carlyle Jansen graciously offered me the Featured Speaker spot. I worked up my essay-in-progress, “Absexuals and Erotophobes: Why They Hate Us for Our Freedom,” and presented it at the University of Toronto, where the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies had helped make space available for both my lecture and the Feminist Porn Conference.

Here’s how I described it:

Erotophobes understand themselves as normal -– a word they favor. They have plenty of cultural support for this as residents of a society which borrows heavily in its norms from a restrictive history. An absexual –- sort of an erotophobe on steroids -— takes these views about problematic (or dirty, perverted, obscene) sex into more radical territory. Both types decry porn, and often sexual variety. Why do erotic freedom, and sexually explicit culture, threaten their worldview? Cultural sexologist Carol Queen PhD offers a stimulating discussion about these people’s anti-sex theory and practice – and their effect on the world pro-sex activists seek to create.

Talking about this stuff interests me greatly, and helps in the process of understanding and addressing the censorious impulses that come from an erotophobic direction. While censorship looks a bit different in Canada, they certainly do have a history of it (some of you will recall the Little Sisters Bookstore case in the 1990s). So hopefully my US-generated theories and examples felt sufficiently relevant to my lovely Canadian audience.

Next day: the screening of Public Provocative Porn: and it certainly was! I loved the first short film, Aussie director Gala Vanting’s Taken (made with Viva and Aven Frey — and hey, Best Porn Name award to Gala!). It had a sophisticated erotic narration, very much a strong part of the whole. Jumpcut by Saskia Quax was dark and atmospheric, featuring, among other images, a bound woman in a light silk chemise jumping rope: so, so striking. Because I Want You to Watch by The Madame, homegrown Toronto porn, featured a gorgeous punky woman named Nymph, masturbating in a vacant warehouse in 20-below weather — I’m telling you, Canadians are fierce! — and all beautifully shot on an iPhone! I guess if you do not like the porn that exists, there is currently no reason not to just make some right now.

German director Christian Slaughter’s Biodildo featured San Francisco’s own (and FPA favorite) Jiz Lee, and I’m not even going to tell you what else, because you have to see it and that’s that. Suffice it to say that it proves anew that Jiz is a great performer, and it is hot hot HOT genderfuckery at its very best.

Bound Rubber Dolls by Julie Simone featured hotties in latex, and whether or not you have a fetish for latex, it’s very easy to develop a fetish for looking at it. Yummy. Krutch, by Clark Matthews, was the other short that got people screaming with delight — delightful, smart and hot porn by and about disabled folks, it featured adorable and fierce Mia Gimp and was made by wheelchair-propelled Matthews (“I was able to serve as my own dolly,” he quipped) very mindfully to bring attention to disability issues and sexiness. It inspired quite a love-fest. And finally Nina Noelle’s Forbidden Lovers was a very sensitive and erotic look at a transwoman and cisguy’s love affair, without the overlay of fetish that so often pervades the appearance of transwomen in porn.

All this and a smart and interesting panel. Bravo! And the next night, the awards themselves — I won’t give tons of detail about these, as all the winners are posted online, but it’s worth mentioning that they were waaaay funner than the Oscars and that for their Trailblazer award, we had Fatale Media’s Nan Kinney there in the flesh, and Shar Rednour (who worked with her at On Our Backs, back in the day) to introduce her and speechify a little, just in case there were people in attendance too young to know just how important Nan is to the genesis of feminist and queer (or, as we used to say, dyke) porn. Shar, in fact, was there to show her Lesbo Retro clip show of dyke and girl-girl porn going way way back; she and Nan were a hit at the Feminist Porn Con. Oh, and our Good Releasing movie Billy Castro’s Naughty Squirters won a Feminist Porn Award for Most Tantalizing Trans Film! Congratulates to that naughty Billy and all his naughty femme conquests. Billy wasn’t there, but many other Good Releasing stars were: Dylan Ryan, Jiz Lee, Courtney Trouble, Madison Young, April Flores, and more.

I wish I could have been in every single session at the FPC; I was doing a gig with Lynn Comella and Carlyle Jansen when Shar showed her flicks, discussing the importance of women’s sex stores to the rise and availability of women’s, feminist, and queer porn. We listened to a kick-ass luncheon plenary panel with Tristan, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young, and I had to tweet about sexy brains. I thrilled to talk of Irigaray and Althusser in Sex Education Discourses in Feminist Porn, and followed that up myself with Feminist Porn XXX-Ed, sharing the panel with Smith College’s Emily Nagoski (another sexy, sexy brain, who asks why even feminist porn seems to give short shrift to the way most women’s arousal works), and Kali Williams, who makes online kink education and who fiercely resists terming this porn — especially because she wants to reach people who may be scared of, or turned off by, porn, and educate them anyway. It’s a very good point; my counter was that many people who are anti-porn can’t differentiate explicit sex ed from it.

Oh, and so much I missed. Many brilliant academics; tons of hot and creative directors and performers; many new colleagues and friends met, and some old friends caught up with. It was a little like the Feminist Porn Book come to life, and I could have stayed there and kept doing it for at least a week. I only played hooky once: Shar and I snuck out to see the Bata Shoe Museum, and if you’re even half the fetishists Shar and I are (remember, she once made a film called Hard Love and How to Fuck in High Heels), you must put that on your itinerary for your next jaunt to fabulous, feminist-porn-positive Toronto.

(Photo credit: TC/Pink & White Productions, featuring: Shar Rednour, Nan Kinney, Dylan Ryan, Jill Bakehorn, and Jiz Lee) 

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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1 Response

  1. luv2sex.info says:

    Quite an eye-opener indeed ! 1st time I came across a term called Feminist Porn !