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Our Kind of Sex

Oakland has become the epicenter of a movement to create a more realistic portrayal of queer- and female-centric sex.

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Although feminist and queer porn still appeals to a niche audience, it's having an impact on the broader porn industry, evident by the fact that local queer and feminist pornographers and performers have been recognized for their work at mainstream industry award shows. (Trouble's film Introducing Alaya Stone also won "Best Orgasm" at the Express' indie erotic shorts competition, BRIEFS, this year.)

Meanwhile, local pornographers continue to expand the definition of queer and feminist porn. Sam Solo, an Oakland resident who is the creator of GirlBullies.net, a fetish site that specializes in female dominance and humiliation, said that he makes porn with feminist intentions. For example, he deliberately avoids using oppressive language when he gives direction on dirty talk and how his male and female performers interact. His work could even be considered queer, he said, in that variance in gender is treated as "totally normal." He tries to think of hot situations that don't play on negative clichés. "I want to feel good about what I'm doing," he said. "I want to make money and get people off, but I also want someone to watch this and not become offended. That's my biggest goal — for any person to be able to watch my work and feel good."

He added that the porn he makes is still fantasy — "it's just fantasy rooted in reality."


When Carlyle Jansen opened Good for Her, a Toronto-based store that sells sex toys and DVDs, she was disappointed by the kinds of porn available. "When we first opened in 1997, there wasn't a lot I felt great about offering," she said. "There were a few titles here and there, but I had many reservations about the quality of the films — more specifically, about who was getting pleasure, especially queers. The diversity and breadth of what queers like to do wasn't being represented."

But in the early 2000s, when the cost of film production dropped, women, queers, people of color, and trans people began getting behind the camera, and the porn they filmed was quite different from mainstream porn, said Jansen. Although the feminist porn movement began in the Eighties, she continued, the trend has grown significantly in the last six or seven years. To recognize and celebrate these emerging filmmakers Jansen created the Feminist Porn Awards in 2006. The event was received so enthusiastically that it has been held annually ever since. At this year's show, which was held last weekend, several East Bay pornographers — including Trouble, Young, James Darling, and Nikki Silver — won awards.

Generally speaking, feminist porn can be defined as "porn made by and/or for women and/or couples (and interested men) that represents women's agency and sexual desire, response, and power," wrote Dr. Carol Queen — co-founder and director of San Francisco's Center for Sex and Culture and staff sexologist and historian at Good Vibrations — in an email. Queer porn encompasses not only those who identify as LGBT, but also "people whose sexual identity and interest veer away from the heteronormative." To Queen, feminist porn may not necessarily be queer, but there's an argument to be made that all queer porn is feminist.

Young, a pornographer who has created, directed, and produced more than forty feature-length pornographic films since 2005, said that her identity as a queer and a feminist extends into everything she creates. "My work is always going to be feminist and queer, no matter whom I'm having sex with or how I'm directing a film, because of my gaze, my politics, and my writing," she said. "Feminist porn is an extension of my politics." Trouble views queer porn as a political movement that "embraces all kinds of people across the gender, race, sexuality, size, and political spectrum."

For example, in Trouble's award-winning film Trans Grrrls, two women have sex after meeting at San Francisco's Dyke March. Their dialogue and actions convey mutual respect and satisfaction — they ask each other for permission before doing things to one another and look happy when the other partner verbally agrees. The scene also feels far from being staged.

Betty Blac, an Oakland resident and woman of color who has performed in Trouble's films and is in the process of starting her own film company, PulpCore Films, with another woman of color, said she enjoys watching queer porn because it turns her on without compromising her politics. "I don't have to worry about whether someone is stressed out or uncomfortable," she said.

It's not as if mainstream porn doesn't feature plus-size women, women of color, and transgender people, Shakti explained. But mainstream porn is very invested in categories. When sex between two non-white and/or non-straight people is depicted, it's almost always in a way that's fetishistic and dehumanizing. "The way the mainstream porn industry sells sex is by marginalizing a group of people or a quality," said Shakti. This is especially true of mainstream transgender porn, which is often marketed as "she-male" or "tranny" porn — terms that are considered offensive to many people in the queer community.

Of the dozen performers interviewed for this story, nearly all described getting involved in the industry for the same reason — because they didn't see people who looked like them and fucked like them on screen. In that way, queer pornography is very much about the politics of representation. "I didn't see the kind of sex I like to have or the people I like to have it with," said Siouxsie Q, creator and host of The Whorecast, a weekly podcast about sex work, and author of The Whore Next Door, a new weekly column in SF Weekly. "Which is not to say that I don't jerk off to mainstream porn, but [lack of] inclusion and representation inspired me to start performing."

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