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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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Shakti got into sex work as a means of accepting her own body. She has large inner labia, and when she was younger, she was unable to find images of women with similar anatomy in magazines, on the Internet, or in porn. "I was convinced I was deformed — that there was something wrong with me," she said.

James Darling, a trans man who is the creator of FTMFucker.com and one of the East Bay's rising queer porn stars, said that because queer porn pays so much less than mainstream porn, the people who are making it are personally invested for various reasons. "Queer porn attracts a certain kind of person who has other reasons for wanting to do it, whether they're political, for empowerment, validation, for love, or visibility." For many, it's a form of activism in addition to work they may already do surrounding sex and culture — such as lecturing at colleges, hosting workshops, and writing.

Queer porn is radical because queer sex isn't yet culturally accepted, Queen said. "There is so much homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny left to deal with .... Queer sex, depicted explicitly, makes space for queer people to exist."

There's also a case to be made that queer porn makes space for more equality in traditional porn as well. Oakland resident Nikki Silver, creator of NaughtyNatural.com, a website that features women who are unshaven, considers herself an "ethical" or "fair trade" pornographer. To her, that means paying models well and in a timely manner, being honest with them, and not pushing them to do things they don't want to do. She said she knows her fan base (which is admittedly a niche audience) cares about buying ethical porn because she regularly receives emails from men asking how the models are treated and if they are enjoying themselves.

However, the most profound impact queer porn has had on mainstream porn thus far is in the realm of transgender porn, which is the fourth most searched-for type of porn, according to the 2012 book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships. In March, after pressure from queer performers, the Tranny Awards announced it was changing its name to the "Transgender Erotica Awards." (Some transgender performers don't take issue with the word "tranny," but most of those in the queer community do.) For Chelsea Poe, a trans woman porn performer who recently moved to the East Bay from Michigan, the name change was a victory. Poe said part of the reason she first got into porn was "to influence mainstream trans porn away from using offensive terms."

"Queer porn actually shows real representations of real bodies and of transpeople," said Poe. "I get emails from trans women who say, 'When I saw your porn, it made me realize, oh, my sexuality is normal. My body is normal,' whereas mainstream trans porn is all about this overall fake look and faking sexual acts. Women have to take multiple hormones at a time, like Viagra, for months in order to perform." (In mainstream porn, trans women who have penises are expected to be able to get hard — which is difficult if they're on hormone replacement therapy.) When Poe performs in queer porn, directors ask her questions like, "What do you want to do? What is your sexuality?" She also gets to pick whom she performs with. Poe said she feels so passionately about the goals of queer porn that she would continue to perform whether she got paid to or not.

Darling said that part of the reason he makes transgender porn is to provide younger trans men with a "model of healthy consensual sex." He grew up in the South, where sex education for trans people was nonexistent. "There was nothing. When I was figuring out how to have sex and what my sexuality was, I was on my own," he said. "I'm lucky nothing worse happened to me, frankly, given the kind of risks I was taking."

Mainstream pornography rarely features trans men. Darling said when he moved to the Bay Area and began performing primarily in indie porn in 2009, he was lucky to be offered two shoots a year, but attitudes toward trans men in the porn industry have "changed astronomically" since then. The success of his website has encouraged other trans men to start performing, and he said he knows of at least two new queer trans production companies (one in San Francisco and another in Las Vegas) that are forming.

Darling said that trans performers are activists "whether they are intentional about it or not" because porn is one of the only media in which trans people see images of themselves. "It's really great for younger trans guys to see examples in the media, even if it is porn," he said. The role of performers as sex educators isn't really acknowledged, Darling said, but he thinks it should be. On his Tumblr page, commenters frequently thank him for being a positive role model. "I am glad trans men have such an aware person like yourself to look up to," one reads.

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