fine cut

F-Rated
by Erin Bosenberg

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PhD student Loree Erickson describes the day she presented her video to an activist film class with no warning of the sexually explicit material they were about to see. She asked her teacher if anyone had ever made porn for the class. The professor answered, “No,” and with that Erickson pressed play and said, “There’s a first time for everything.”

At last year’s Feminist Porn Awards, Erickson’s documentary, Want, was awarded the prize for sexiest short film. It was the first porn Erickson produced and performed in and the second video she ever made. Her video can be categorized in a variety of ways: porn-activism, porn-documentary, video art, social porn or video diary.

Alison Lee organizes the awards and manages Good For Her, a sex store that prides itself on being accessible to marginalized communities. Entering the store, there is a kettle, some tea and mugs to the right. Around the corner is a miniature living room surrounded by books on all things related to sex. Upstairs is a small office cluttered with piles of paper and books.

Lee has an assertive presence and a collected voice. “I think that people sometimes don’t understand that porn can be feminist,” she says. “They really like porn and they don’t want it to be feminist or they strongly consider themselves to be feminist and don’t imagine how porn could possibly fit in with that term.”

Feminist is a powerful, proud and celebratory word. Why then are so many people threatened by such celebration? Perhaps its attachment to the term ‘movement’ is intimidating enough.

Porn is also a word with many stigmas attached. Both terms have become labels. Paired together, some see these two words as being at odds with one another. The Feminist Porn Awards are in their fourth year of bringing these two identifiers together.

Lee says Chanelle Gallant, the previous manager of Good For Her, recognized the importance of feminist porn. Lee explains how the awards grew into a reality. “They basically started out of a conversation that Chanelle and some of the other people in the store had one day, talking about how nobody was really recognizing some of the interesting and groundbreaking porn that’s being made out there.”

Groundbreaking porn does not look anything like the porn that is thrust in front of your face without warning while perusing the Internet; it recognizes the importance of sex as a subjective experience. The criteria for anyone submitting porn to the awards is a woman must have had a hand in the production of the film, it shows genuine female pleasure and it expands the boundaries of sexual expression. But everything the Feminist Porn Awards represents cannot be completely expressed in a brief list of requirements. Lee goes on to describe how inclusive feminist porn can be. Queer sex is also celebrated and this includes transgender sex. Acknowledging the sexual experiences of people of colour as subjective experiences is included as well because the eroticization and objectification of women of colour is rampant within the mainstream porn industry.

More than anything though, the Feminist Porn Awards seem to differentiate themselves from the world of mainstream porn by the association with women having a sense of pride surrounding their sexual experiences. “To me, it’s about agency and about women choosing to be involved in sexual situations that are based on their own desires – it’s about what they want to be doing,” Lee affirms, her eyes gazing upwards as she searches for her next words. “It doesn’t include using a woman as a sexual object. It’s about women’s pleasure and women going after that.”

Pleasure is not restricted to one body type because in reality all body types engage in sex. At the awards, you can expect to see porn that recognizes all body shapes and porn that is political, because in an industry where highly prejudiced porn dominates the market, there is no avoiding political and social implications at an event promoting feminist porn. Erickson’s piece is an example of this.

Her activist video interlaces sex scenes with a personal monologue and day-to-day scenes from her life as someone who uses a wheelchair. It reveals the ways in which societal constructions have framed our physical world to exclude those with disabilities. “There is, very clearly embedded, a critique of how structural barriers in the world contribute to the desexualizing of people with disabilities and contribute to sex as being inaccessible to people with disabilities in a lot of ways,” she says.

Ironically, Erickson had to fight for the removal of barriers at many of the festivals that wanted to recognize her work. She has been told to sit at the back of the theatre with everyone else who happens to use a wheelchair because in the aisle she is considered a fire hazard, and she had to miss other screenings because the spaces were inaccessible. The Feminist Porn Awards stood out for Erickson as a ceremony that was accessible and felt like a real awards show, complete with fancy dresses and trophies. “It was actually really redeeming for me, as an artist, after having been to these other film festivals where I’ve had to fight and advocate for myself just to be in the space. It was just really, really nice as a filmmaker to have this acknowledgement.”

The Feminist Porn Awards are more than just an awards show - they also function as a gathering place for feminist porn activists to share ideas and collaborate. There are performances as well as workshops accessible to anyone interested in getting involved within the community. Courtney Trouble was a special guest at this year’s awards. Trouble is the founder of nofauxxx.com, a website that started as a support network for ‘fat positive girls’. The site has evolved into a place where users can share feminist porn and link to others within the community. “I started noticing that the content was getting really sexual and that people were starting to talk a lot about erotica and porn, and being a fat girl and not being able to get involved in that whole alt-porn scene.”

As a “chubby” woman and as someone who has produced and managed a prominent website in the feminist porn world, Trouble is an empowering representative for a body type that is not found in the mainstream porn industry. She says this event is a great platform for new filmmakers to let feminist businesses and collectives around the world know about their work. After being in contact with Good For Her for the past three years, Trouble says she was excited to finally be a physical presence at the awards and to promote her film Roulette, which won the award for Most Deliciously Diverse Cast.

Trouble also took part in a panel discussion at the Royal Theatre Feisty Feminist Porn Screening, along with feminist fetish model and adult performer, Madison Young. This was Young’s first time attending the awards and her second time winning an award – this year for Indie Porn Pioneer and last year for Best Kink Film. After a three hour long workshop focused on making your own porn, Young agrees to sit down for an interview. She is a slight woman and her body language exudes class. It’s difficult to believe this is the same person involved in onstage sexual antics the night before. “I try to get everyone in their body, locating their erotic centres, finding those erotic images and really thinking about their fantasies as photographs,” Young says of the workshop. “As you come up with shots, there’s one erotic image after the other.”

With the continual evolution of the Internet and the growth of social networking sites, now more than ever it seems the perfect time for feminist porn to break out of its shell. “The great thing about the Internet is that it is a lot more accessible for people to make their own porn and show it to people,” says Lee. “It’s not that hard and it’s not as expensive as making a movie.”

For a small membership fee, Trouble’s website functions as a social networking site as well as a library of sorts for the feminist porn community.

Erickson’s activist porn is reaching classrooms in disability studies programs and promotion for the Feminist Porn Awards is getting easier and easier as its network of contacts expands. This year the awards show moved to a larger venue, the Berkeley Church, and, for the first time in the show’s history, there were sponsors for the event.

Now connected to the feminist porn world, Erickson returned to the awards this year. Her connection to this world is important to her, as it may influence and inform her future studies in sexuality and disability. Her video has already crossed boundaries into the academic and feminist porn communities. By being shown at academic conferences, it is reaching those who might not identify with any porn community. Her video, like most feminist porn, is about expanding how we imagine sex.

“It has to be seen as possible. That’s part of what my work is out there to do – to put it out in the cultural imaginary world as a possibility. Until somebody can actually imagine or realize that in the realm of possibility there exists hot queer-crip sex then they’re not going to actually see it as being a possibility for them.”

 

Fine Cut 2009