Feb 28, 2011

The Shelley Lubben Limited


I first met Shelley Lubben at the Exxxotica convention in New Jersey in 2009 when I went as part of the WHACK! Magazine crew. We watched her heckling people as they went by and somehow obsequiously pandering to all the big stars there as well, and we thought, this woman is a nutter. We've got to get her on camera. So we stuck our camera in her face and let her rant about how porn exploits women and makes them into prostitutes, how everyone in porn is diseased and ruined emotionally, and how she's going to save them all by shutting down the entire industry by herself. The footage of the raving, sadly, is lost. But the article I wrote about it remains. I was incredulous then that a woman of her obvious psychiatric instability could get a booth at such a large event, but then, I figured, porn conventions are kind of a whole other world, so who was I to judge?

The rest of the crew and I walked away from that thinking it would be a miracle if anyone ever took such an obvious case of hysterical, possibly-schizophrenic, self-aggrandizement seriously. But the miracle has occurred, apparently, all over the world, at various speaking engagements that Lubben has somehow managed to book for herself. Including Cambridge University (where, gods be praised, the forces of reason and pro-pornhood largely prevailed).

In case you're not aware of the Shelley Lubben Limited (which is what I like to call her, as it implies a train schedule, which therefore implies a train wreck... I really need to work on my naming skills), let me give you a very brief bit of background: Shelley Lubben was a prostitute for some years in her teens and early twenties, during which time she decided to have a go at making porn. She appeared as "Roxy" in somewhere around seventeen documented films before disappearing back into prostitution and drug addiction. In recent years, she has resurfaced as a born-again Christian on a mission to not only save porn stars from themselves because she is certain, after her traumatic porn experiences, that all porn stars are really trafficked women (she doesn't seem to feel as much sympathy for the men in the industry, as, given her typically holey line of reasoning, they are probably part of the machinery that oppresses all women in the adult industry), but also to shut down the porn industry entirely because it systematically breaks women by luring them in with the promise of money, only to rape them repeatedly and force illicit substances down their throats so it's easier for the pimps running the whole show to manipulate them. The only way back to the light of self-esteem and redemption is, of course, through Shelley's "Pink Cross Foundation" and the love our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who has been speaking privately to Shelley since she was a child.

...yeah. Anyone else hear cuckoo clock noises in their heads?

See, here's the thing about Shelley. She's obvious got a screw (or several, or maybe all of them) loose, and in some ways I kind of feel bad pointing out her apparent crazitude. From the fervor with which she regularly verbally attacks the industry and the desperation in her eyes, from the depths of ridiculousness she's willing to dive to in her rants about the porn industry and her willingness to blame her own miscarriages, abortions, and subsequent health problems on her two-year stint in porn rather than her years and years of prostitution... It seems obvious to me that this woman needs her soapbox to stand on to avoid drowning a sea of self-doubt, regret, and shame about her past. Sure, Shelley is willing to admit that she made a whole lot of bad decisions in her life, from falling into drug and alcohol abuse patterns to prostitution to acting in adult films she was apparently not entirely mentally stable enough to handle. But she's only willing to admit these things in a context in which she was not the one responsible for the decisions that were made: it was either the drugs, the alcohol, the pimps, or the producers. Never Shelley. Rather than facing her own regrets about her past, Shelley has decided to blame her actions and indeed most of the trajectory of her life on other people. Those people, she's now convinced, are hoodlums and degenerates out to rape and pillage every woman who crosses their path in the most devious imaginable ways. Those people all work in the porn industry.

Given her long-term, first-name-basis relationship with the Almighty, who in Shelley's opinion seems to be loving and forgiving, but still not so big on the sex and drugs, her past is full of big-time sins that she's going to have to either own up to... or spend her life running away from. It's a shame. Because there's no shame in admitting you regret things you've done; redemption lies just on the other side of forgiving yourself. But to forgive yourself, you have to admit to some degree, however small, of culpability. And it's easier to keep running from your own judgment by flinging it outward at other people than it is to take a long, honest, loving look inward. And the scariest thing about that last sentence isn't necessarily that Shelley is flinging her judgment around; it's that, from what I've seen, she can't look inside herself and love what she sees. She can be self-righteous. She can be angry. She can be the broken result of an industry that chewed her up and spat her out. She can tell crowds of strangers about the degrading things she was put through and the most intimate details of her experiences with Johns. But look inward and feel worthy of her own respect and love? I don't think she can.

This is sad, and upsetting. And I sincerely want to leave this woman alone to her own despair and hope that she'll someday be able to forgive herself and leave the porn industry alone in due time. But, the thing is... Shelley is not just hurting herself here. Shelley is going after an already beleaguered, belittled, and besmirched industry that's been losing profits and public respect for years now. She's using sex and drugs as catchphrases to get people to look at her. She's making wild accusations about an industry that she hasn't worked in for well over a decade, spouting racist slurs, making statements that are blatantly untrue and unfounded, contradicting herself at every turn, and yet, bizarrely enough, actually getting people to listen to her because she's targeting the most villainized, blamed, and easy-to-take-pot-shots-at industry in America by saying exactly what every conservative, anti-sex, anti-porn rhetorician has ever wanted to hear about it. According to her, sex is bad. Drugs are bad. Porn is bad. Everyone in porn is either hurting someone or being hurt. The industry needs to be shut down to save lives and souls.
The last thing the porn industry needs right now, in the face of dwindling revenue and the constant media barrage of anti-porn sentiment, is one of its own turning against it and being listened to because it's so much more juicy and tabloid-worthy to hear that all the disgusting details you ever imagined about drug-addled sex addicts are so much more interesting than learning that a lot of people who make porn are intelligent, educated, sober, and disease-free. Shelley is hurting a lot of people and helping very, very few through The Pink Cross. And it pisses me off.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one out there who's pointing out that Shelley is not only full of shit but also wildly irresponsible with her accusations. She was schooled at her Cambridge debate by the forces of pro-porn rationality, and has been taken to task in blogs across the internet. And now she's being exposed via an online documentary by Lydia Lee and Michael Whiteacre called "The Devil and Shelley Lubben." So far only parts one and two have been released, but parts three and four are on their way, and they are doing a very, very good job of presenting a coherent argument against her anti-porn rhetoric, using mostly Shelley's own words. Check it out and see if you feel as enraged and yet somewhat sad about the situation as I do.

Feb 26, 2011

Body Hair Announcement


Hello darlings. The news is making me too upset to coherently talk about what I think these days. I have a lot to say but it's all to jumbled and angry right now to be written down. So, while I'm bubbling and boiling and trying to get to a point of coherent argument... I would like to make an announcement.
About a month ago, I stopped shaving my legs. I've been shaving them, and my pits, and depending on my sexual activity level, my nether regions, since sometime in early high school. And this winter I suddenly realized, after having gotten lazy for about a week, that you can't see my damn leg hair. I'm a sweaty, stinky, hairy Celtic/northern European mix, but I got lucky in the leg hair department. The follicles down there put forth light, almost clear, downy hairs that can only be seen if you're really looking for them, or if I'm standing in front of a dark background with backlighting. Then they look like they have halos, as the above picture illustrates (no, that's not me; I stole that from DailyMail.uk). But aside from that, they're almost imperceptible; I had to inform both my boyfriend and my girlfriend that they were there. And they're almost an inch long at this point!
I just wanted to let everyone know that. Because, honestly, it's kind of awesome to have leg hair. Not only do I feel somewhat more macho, but I feel very empowered. Kind of like: nobody can make me do this if I don't want to. And even kind of sneaky--if I didn't announce it, nobody would even know I was going against a societal norm. I'm very subversive over here.
And the coolest thing? If I don't have any leg garments on, I can feel the breeze in my leg hair when I turn around! The hairs are so downy they kind of blow around in the wind. And if I'm wearing baggy pants I can feel them moving against the material. It makes me feral, like a cat with bushy whiskers. And really, I guess that's what body hair's all about. It doesn't really keep us warmer, but it can serve as a very late warning system if something weird is going on nearby. I'm digging it.
Lag out.

Feb 25, 2011

Lady Porn Week: Porn I Recommend to Everybody, Day 4


And, last but certainly not least in today's "Porn I Recommend to Everyone" as part of Lady Porn Day Week (Lady Porn Week?):

4) For those of you who are into the story and the sex, who want to see sex as part of a story, who want to see sex from new and different angles, but want to see it in ways that most porn never explores... For those who are into real looking sex where things don't always go perfectly, where awkwardness and nervousness are a part of the experience like they are in real life, and yet is filmed by someone who knows how to use a camera (amateur stuff is great, but the lighting's always terrible, the TV's always on in the background, and then the cat jumps up on the bed... ick)... May I recommend Jennifer Lyon Bell's Blue Artichoke Films. Lyon Bell, a Harvard grad and sexual pioneer, makes her own brand of "explicit erotic" film that doesn't follow any formula you've ever seen. These are films first, erotic second, and explicit third (some aren't even explicit, but are so erotic that the explicitness isn't necessary for the hotness to be scorching). They'll make you think, but only after they've made you wet. Personally, I love them. They're still new to the US, originating as they do in the Netherlands, where Lyon Bell is living and working (and teaching)--jump on a totally worthwhile bandwagon now and get your own copy of Matinee and Headshot (a remake of the original Andy Warhol short film, but this time with a more hetero bent). No matter what you think you're expecting, you won't be disappointed and you will probably be pleasantly surprised.

Feb 24, 2011

Lady Porn Day(Week): Porn I Recommend to Everybody, Day 3


Today's recommendation, for those of you who aren't so much into the mainstream straight stuff, or the traditional lesbian setups, or the annoying "plots" getting in the way of hardcore action...

3) The Crash Pad Series. This delectable, dirty, devious collection of scenes from Pink and White, started and still run by the indomitable Shine Louise Houston, is neither for the faint of heart nor the easily intimidated by genderqueerness, but it is, hands down, some of the hottest action you will see this side of heaven (I dunno about you guys, but my version of heaven is a LOT hotter than the traditional "harps and halos" scene). The Crash Pad Series, touted on its website as "Authentic Lesbian, Dyke, Trans, Queer Porn," features almost 100 scenes over 14 seasons so far, and stars some of the most beautiful people of every gender and sexual preference, color and shape, size and kinkiness level. From super-sexy standbys like Jiz Lee to Dylan Ryan to Lorelei Lee to real-life partners and non-professionals in the world of porn, the episodes encompass sexual expression, perversion, and sensuality in an honest, skillful, and often strikingly artistic way. There is very little in the way of background story or dialogue in most scenes, and once you've signed up at the website, there is so much variation from scene to scene, that whether you're a trans man who likes watching lipstick lesbians giggle through a scene or a novice bisexual woman who wants to see what a trans man does with his strap-on, you'll find material enough to get off to several times over. I can't say it enough: The Crash Pad will blow your load, and your mind, all in one place.

Feb 23, 2011

Lady Porn Day: Porn I Recommend to Everybody, Day 2


On Day 2 I might be going down a slightly unexpected path, but stick with me, people. Another porn company I'm going to recommend to ladies is...

2) Jennaration X Studios, owned and operated by the multi-AVN winning reigning princess of porn, Jenna Haze. It's way mainstream for my style, I know. But it's easy for weird, out-there, queer-porn-loving, sex-blogging me to forget sometimes that mainstream is mainstream for a reason: lots of people like it. And though I don't necessarily love all of the titles that Jenna directs, because some fit into niche categories that I personally find distasteful (like the standard industry model of "interracial" movies, which involve almost exclusively black men and white women and reinforce all KINDS of racial stereotypes), the titles of hers that I have chosen to watch have been scorching hot.

Jenna Haze is one of the first porn stars I ever met in person, and she impressed me immediately. She is all business, all the time, which is saying a lot given that her name is taken from a certain type of intoxicating, flowering plant that is somewhat more legal in Cali than in most places, if you get my drift, and she enjoys imbibing the smoke from this plant often and in quantity. But despite what might be a handicap for other aspiring businesswomen, Jenna is "on" at every moment, networking, promoting, and working her ass off to make it as a female director in an incredibly male-dominated world. Mainstream straight porn is a shark tank, no doubt about it, and Jenna is a very small lady shark, but she is very fierce.

And she makes fantastic movies. "Legs Up, Hose Down" nearly flattened me, and "Meow," an all-girl romp through mainstream lesbian heaven, was divine. Jenna stars in most of her movies, and she's searingly sexy, delightfully dirty, and powerfully in control at all times. She loves making her movies, and it shows in her spirited and vocal and raunchy performances. And, well, she's mind-blowingly hot, too. Her scenes are just that--scenes. No acting, no overly ponderous storyline. Just straight-up sex, served on a silver platter, usually with a side of anal. And not only are her movies excellent, they're directed by Haze herself and maintain a slightly off perspective for mainstream porn: you can tell there's a woman in control here, even if it's just a tad skewed from scenes directed by men. And an added bonus: Haze only films natural-breasted women. Not that I have any issue, per se, with fake breasts, but I prefer natural ones. They looks so much softer and more squeezable!

All her distribution is through Jules Jordan Video: you can find her DVDs here. For those of you who like porn to be a little easy, a little niche-y, and a little less interested in exploring politicized gender than some of the other companies I may recommend, Jennaration X is for you.

Feb 22, 2011

Lady Porn Day: Porn I Recommend to Ladies/Queers/Everybody, Day 1


Taking porn into our own hands is important.

When the world is in turmoil with protests and activism and here we are at home, staring on dumbfounded as our rights are being stripped away, we need to talk about the things we've kept silent. Maybe taking to the streets to demand our rights back isn't such a bad idea, but in lieu of that, we must at least make some noise. Where better to start than opening our mouths and beginning a dialogue with each other and the rest of the world about our feelings about porn?

Some of us hate it: why? Some of us love it: why? Some of us are conflicted about it, like I am: why? Is it because of how we were raised? Because we've seen it and didn't like what we saw?

Every position is worth discussing because some people may be basing their ideas about pornography on mistaken ideas, whether for the better or the worse. For instance, I have a friend who has always hated pornography. We used to tease her about it, calling her a porn prude and trying to make her watch porn with us. In college, we subscribed to a porn channel and made her come eat popcorn and watch it with us, hoping to show her that it's not all that bad. Of course, we always seemed to choose to do this on nights when what was being shown wasn't oh so easy to dig into as a first-timer: vegetable porn and bondage and the like.

When our friend finally broke down and explained why she felt the way she did, we all felt like jerks: the first time she'd ever taken hallucinogenic drugs was when she was fourteen. She took a handful of mushrooms and geeked out entirely, and became convinced that her parents were going to show up and take her home or to jail. Somewhere in this mostly-negative experience, someone turned on pornography--the hardcore blowjob kind. And all she could think, in her very drugged out state, was that the poor woman on the screen was being choked to death. It was extremely unpleasant for her, as a young, naive, first-time-tripping woman.

And so, to this day, porn makes her uncomfortable. I've tried opening her up to it a few more times, but some associations, when made early and especially when made under the influence of mind-altering drugs, are hard to kick. And she seems quite ok without porn in her life. But had I never found out why she had such an aversion to it, I'd assume she's just a prude with no sense of adventure. I'm glad I found out.

Similarly, there are lots of people who have just never gone near porn because they've "heard" it's bad. Or have tried watching it but found themselves in some bizarre corner of the interwebz where they were not ready to be yet, and decided "never again." These are the kinds of people, who had experiences they weren't comfortable with and never went back for seconds, that could use a meaningful conversation about their experiences and about what else is out there...

And so, without further delay, I give you some details on my favorite porn. A new company or website every day this week, starting with:

Triangle Films: So sue me. I'm a sucker for good lesbian sex. I love women. But it's taken me YEARS of searching to find any really good, accessible lesbian smut. Of course, the cast in these movies isn't all lesbians: there are genderqueers, bisexuals, and all kinds of other shades of delicious, but Triangle Films doesn't disappoint. Writer and director Kathryn Annelle writes plots that are engaging and interesting enough to keep you watching between sex scenes, and directs sex scenes that range from vanilla to pretty kinky, but they all have one thing in common: blazing hot sexual intensity. These women are paired up with other women to whom they are insanely attracted. There's none of that "Ok, when do I get out of here and get my check?" vacant look in the eye, or that uncomfortable feeling that something isn't right. These women are into each other on a whole other level. They are in need of each other, and they devour each other accordingly. The result is always hot, always (as Ms. White puts it) "Jill-off-able," and worth a look for anyone who likes women.

Feb 21, 2011

Lady Porn Day is Important

Yes, Rachel Rabbit White. YES! I hope all you readers are signed up and ready to launch for Lady Porn Day, because I am excited as can be. Alas, not enough time on my hands to be very verbosely excited, but hey, you can go read about who is here!

And yes, she's right. Women have spent far too long, as a collective, ignoring porn because it's a "a thing that guys do" in a very similar way to how we huddle in the kitchen to make dip while the guys watch football in the other room. But plenty of us love football, too, and have our own Fantasy Football leagues, place bets on games, and eat our fair share of store-bought dip so we can pay attention to the action, right? Well, we need to take the same ownership over what was once an almost entirely male industry: pornography. Porn used to be made by men, for men, because women didn't have access, freedom, or the desire to watch it.

But the numbers show that we damn well have that access, freedom, and desire now. And the only way to get more of what we want, and find more of what we like, is to be as open and honest about our tastes and desires with each other and with the people who make it as we are about our dip preferences. Porn is still a male-dominated industry, but the more women say out loud, and loudly, what we want to see, feel, and experience through porn, the more it will be made for us and by us, too. The face of porn is a changeable, always fluctuating thing, and it responds to consumer demand faster than almost any other industry (with the possible exception of cell phone apps). We can make change for better porn that gets us off better, but we have to know what we like and want first, and if we all keep our proclivities hush-hush, nobody will know what that is. We'll get even more stabs in the dark (forgive the pun) than the last few decades have already given us, and we'll end up with more porn that puts us to sleep or offends us, and the ubiquity of online porn will continue to be mildly disturbing and foreign to us.

Women-folk, we make up 51% of the human population. Technically, we're a majority. We've made our voices heard in politics, business, entertainment, and media, but we are still suspiciously quite on our lusty viewing habits. In a time when our politicians are blatantly trying to take away our reproductive and sexual rights and we are being called upon to stand up for ourselves, talking about porn may seem trivial, but it's not. It's just as important to assert our sexuality and desires--our similarity to the men who have long made the rules about what we are supposed to desire (ie, we like porn too because we are also sexual beings with minds of our own)--in our viewing preferences as it is everywhere else. If we are too timid to talk about these things, we may end up being too timid to talk about why we deserve the right to terminate a pregnancy, be sent to a war zone as a correspondent, or decide whether or not we want to make that damn crab dip again and miss the whole game. Now isn't the time to choose our battles, it's the time to abandon our hesitation and jump, full mind and body, into the fray.

Feb 20, 2011

The Vibrator in the Bedroom: Friend or Foe of the Straight Man?

Not featured: human beings.


In a noteworthy article on Salon today, Tracy Clark-Flory brings up a very cheering topic: straight men are starting to get less intimidated by sex toys. Granted, Tracy lives in San Francisco, where things tend to be a bit more sexually progressive than elsewhere, but it's encouraging to hear coming from anywhere in America, really. For far too long, vibrators and other sex toys have been looked at as women's liberation from the sexual ineptitude of men, and men have often learned to loathe and fear their "competition." A vibrator by the bed, it's been often thought, is a sign that a woman doesn't need a man to get her off, and it's long been assumed that a woman who doesn't need a man is too independent, headstrong, or, well, lesbian.
Personally, I've been annoyed by this idea for a while now. Sure, a vibrator and the rest of its plastic and silicone ilk can be used in place of a man on sexy evenings in, and sure, they can get me off all by themselves, but any man who really thinks that a soulless piece of machinery is going to replace the physical presence of another living, breathing, human being has got confidence issues out the wazoo. And that, I think, is the thing gets me annoyed the most.
As far as I can see, whether a man can "measure up" to a vibrator or not is completely beside the point. There really is no basis for comparison between the two, nor should there be. And it annoys the bejesus out of me if a guy gets intimidated or frightened by the presence of a sex toy. I mean, sure, some people just don't enjoy them that much, and as a matter of personal taste or preference, do whatever works for you. I won't judge. But as a matter of principle, any man whose confidence in his ability to make a sexual, erotic, emotional connection with a female partner that will result in good sex is so low that he's intimidated by a toy that can do something he never possibly could is in need of years of therapy before he should even go near a woman or her sex toys. Think about it: sure, vibrators are great. Women love them. They can provide external stimulation easily, proficiently, and effectively, and get us to orgasm pretty darn fast. But should a man feel his sexual prowess is being knocked down a few pegs by a vibrator, I'd say he's a dolt. If there was any part of a man's body that could vibrate with the speed and intensity of a vibrator, then of course that man should feel a bit of competition from his lady-friend's Magic Wand. But since there is no part of the human body that can vibrate like that, there's no competition.
Even toys that simulate oral sex with more tongue-like appendages can't replicate what a real mouth feels like down there, and while dildos used for penetration are all well and good, the positions one has to wiggle oneself into in order to use them to replicate actual sexual intercourse are so ridiculous that I think one would be hard pressed to find a woman who compares her at-home, by-herself ministrations to what she experiences with a male partner. They're just not the same. It's not even apples and oranges; it's bananas and the banana tree. Being jealous or frightened of a vibrator because it means a woman is having orgasms without you around would be the same as a woman being intimidated by her boyfriend's hand: "I know what you do with that thing when I'm not around!"
But since both sex toys and hands can be used for the pleasure of both parties in a heterosexual romp, let's just enjoy the added bonuses both bring to the table, shall we? And let's get over this idea that the male penis is the be-all and end-all of the sexual experience. Because it's not. Decades, nay centuries, of scientific inquiry have proven this idea over and over again. Sure, the cock is a main course on the menu of sexual satisfaction, but it's not the only one. There's also the appetizers--foreplay--and the primi course--oral sex--and the side orders--sex toys. And the penis. And the vagina. And the mouth. And the butt. And the all-around experience of another human being. That's the intimacy part. And that's where confidence in one's ability to be a human being, not a disembodied penis that seems capable of superhuman feats--like much mainstream porn tries to tell us that men really are--comes in.
As Syd Blakovich said to me in a recent interview, "It's not the penis that represents the man, but the man that represents the penis." And the presence of a man in the bedroom, if that's what you like, will beat the presence of a vibrator most times, because no matter how fast and how hard that thing vibrates, it's never going to have a good conversation with you after the fact. It's not going to be able to giggle with you about the stupid face you made when you had an orgasm. It's not going to replace the human experience. Which, let's please try to remember, is what sex is really all about.
So I say, "Go, you!" to the guys Tracy Clark-Flory is talking about. Vibrators are our friends, not anyone's foes. They are enhancements to the repertoire of things you can enjoy in the bedroom. They are en expansion of sexual horizons. And they feel great on all erogenous zones, male and female, by the way.

Feb 19, 2011

'Unrated: Sex in Cinema' Panel Recap

Ok, guys, I’m going to go ahead and ignore the fact that the House of Representatives passed legislation denying all Federal funding to Planned Parenthood yesterday. I have to ignore it right now. Because if I start thinking about, one of two things will happen: 1) my head will explode and I’ll be done blogging forever, or 2) I will write five pages of vitriolic (totally justified) bile about how fucked up it is and never get to tell you about my amazing night Thursday night. So I’m going to go ahead and place my faith in the Senate (did your stomach just flip over and your brain start ringing warning bells? mine did) and hope this bullshit is stopped. And I’m going to tell you about my Thursday night.

On Thursday, March 17, I attended “Unrated: Sex in Cinema,” a discussion panel at the Museum of Sex here in New York, during which museum curator Sarah Forbes moderated a discussion between five heavy hitters in erotic cinema. Making up the panel were no less esteemed figures as Lisa Vandever, the brains behind and co-founder of the annual CineKink festival; Phillipe Diaz, director of numerous groundbreaking indie films out of LA, including Now & Later; Eliot Borenstein, professor of Russian and Slavic studies at NYU who focuses on sex in Russian cinema and literature, and author of Overkill: Sex and Violence in Contemporary Russian Popular Culture; Howard Gertler, producer of Shortbus; and John Cameron motherfucking Mitchell, writer/director/creative genius behind Hedwig and the Angry Inch and more recently the insanely well-received masterpiece Shortbus. (I am a huge fan of this man’s work, and it’s kind of awesome that I’m so lazy I hadn’t really read about who was going to be on the panel before deciding to attend, because when I realized why that guy’s face was so familiar to me [mostly because I’ve seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch at least fifteen times], I got one of those delicious thrills of adrenaline running through my body, tingly fingers and all.)

After I got past the first few minutes of brain-numbness, during which I stared at John Cameron Mitchell and tried to will myself to stop thinking, “Holy fucking shit that’s fucking HEDWIG! That’s John Cameron Mitchell! I’m ten feet away from him! Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod!!” I started taking notes on what the people in front of me were saying. I got a little jolt of “Oh my god that’s John Cameron Mitchell” every five minutes or so for the rest of the two-hour panel, but I muddled through in a semi-able-to-think fashion and I’m glad I did, because the conversation was fascinating.

Between the five of them, the panelists seemed to agree on the fact that America is fucked when it comes to the idea of sex in film. Deeply, deeply troubled. The words “Puritanism” and “repression” came up a lot in reference to Hollywood and American morality, in comparison with countries in Europe where many of the films under discussion have been received with open arms while screenings were shut down by riot police in Russia and largely ignored in America. Eliot and Phillipe both pointed out several times the strangeness of our distinction between sex and violence in cinema in this country, noting that while children are exposed to shocking violence daily, they are protected from sex. “If I had children,” said Phillipe“I would hope that as adults they would be exposed to sex every day in a good way and never have to face violence like this. So I would teach them about sex, not violence.” Violence and sex, he said, “are two sides of the same coin,” and in cultures where sex is repressed it seems that violence becomes more prevalent. John Cameron Mitchell (ohmygodohmygodohmygod!) agreed and ventured to say that, as an uncontrollable human need, sex is policed by militarized states and replaced by violence to fuel war efforts. In countries where war and invasion is a way of life, he said, sex is repressed. But not in less warlike countries: “Sweden, for example, hasn’t invaded anyone in a long time.”

Yet here in the US, Lisa Vandever piped up, her Cinekink festival, which prides itself on sex-positivity and celebrations of the human body, gets screened in advertising and communications because its press releases and advertisements often include the words “sex” and “porn.” Her e-mails go into spam folders and her advertisements are almost never accepted. Sarah Forbes of the Museum of Sex said she’d had the same problem: the MTA in New York would only allow her to advertise on subways and buses if, she said, she didn’t use the museum’s name in any ads. Which would rather, it would seem, go against the purpose of advertising.

Eliot said that, due to the absolute terror of young people being exposed to sex, he is always afraid that a line will be crossed in his classroom without his knowing it. “Even though I’m dealing with adults, mostly students between 18 and 22,” he said, “young people are often easier to upset than older people about sex.”

At this point, the conversation took a very interesting, but frustratingly brief, turn toward what had been on my mind throughout. Young people, sex, and porn. Lisa pointed out that our mainstream perception of sex seems to be expanding in that, with the proliferation of online porn, there is more openness to the idea of sex in public, but that it’s being reacted to in an infantile, “giggly, Jersey Shore kind of way.” John agreed and voiced the correlation I’ve made in my mind for years between the explosion of sex culture in young adults in America and the ever-rising numbers of alcohol-poisoning related deaths in colleges. If we were more open about these things, he suggested; if we let kids have wine at dinner when they were twelve, we wouldn’t have such high alcoholism rates and early deaths from over-drinking nearly as often. If we let people talk about sex and be more open about in public discourse, we wouldn’t have this kind of na├»ve, childish behavior around it in the media, which brought him around to a big point.

He said that in his experiences of having sex with young people, “people in their twenties have sex differently” because they were taught about sex by watching porn. He said he gets the feeling that they are always thinking about how they look. “How can you fully embody [your sexual experience],” he asked, “without being able to let go with it? There’s no surprise or spontaneity anymore,” he said, which is what sex is all about.

The idea that most of the panelists were working around, and which they all deal with on some level every day, is making sex part of the cinematic experience again, in a real, honest, open, and responsible way. Rather than porn films that are all sex and only sex, these are people who seek to put sex back into the artistic and creative experience of film-making and watching. To make sex and integral part of the story rather than the part that gets skipped over because it’s obscene. To take back their titles as artists and thinkers rather than perverts and degenerates. To bring America up to speed on its own sexuality and the things it’s been missing, in a responsible way.

It’s a good feeling to know that these people are out there. Being steeped as I am in pornography most days, I have great respect for the porn industry as it faces the ever-present face of public scorn for its interest in performative sex. But there is, and has been for a long time, something missing. A vast gulf between “legitimate film” and “pornography,” across which few people venture to try to leap or even shout at one another, has opened up. Bridges are few and badly constructed—reminiscent of rope-bridges in a Looney Toons cartoon rather than structure anybody pays attention to or uses, but there are people crossing them from time to time, trying to even stand strong in the middle and open their arms to both hardcore sex and emotion, arousal and understanding, and bring us all a little closer to each other and ourselves.

Feb 18, 2011

Today in News That is Heartbreaking and Heartwarming All at Once

I can't belIEVE we're still talking about this, you guys.


I have exciting news to share about a film panel I attended last night, but first, to continue the round-up of ridiculous and frightening and amazing news about sexual issues from around the world... Today's installment!

1) The White House has called for the immediate rounding up and bringing to justice of the Egyptian attackers of CBS reporter Lara Logan, according to the NY Post. President Obama called Logan at her home and spoke to her during her recovery a few days ago, and now is demanding something be done in retribution. Logan, the Post reports, has suffered serious internal injuries after being brutally attacked in Cairo last week. This is good. The Egypt Mission in New York agreed with the White House's statement that "those responsible for these acts need to be held accountable." This is also good!
Meanwhile, however, Nir Rosen, in apologizing for his nasty tweets about Logan earlier this week, apologized by saying "It is never OK for a man to mock the sexual abuse or humiliation of women. If I saw her I would try to find a way to apologize." This is bad. Because... well... he's ALMOST there. I mean, he's sort of right. It's never ok for a man to mock the sexual abuse or humiliation of... wait for it... wait for it... anyone! Not just women! Anyone! You're so close to making yourself sound almost decent, Rosen! Keep trying! And remember, men suffer sexual abuse, too, and so do trans people, perhaps more than anyone else. Case in point:

2) When I read this headline: "Thai Airline Recruits Transggender Flight Attendants," I got so excited, you guys! I was all ready to write this jubilant post about how I know that in Thailand, "ladyboys" are much more accepted than trans people here in the US, but how this was nevertheless a great story and one we should celebrate for the symbolic victory it represents... Until I read the story on Reuters. Turns out Thai airline mogul Peter Chan, who runs PC Airlines, hired a full four ladyboys, versus 19 females and 7 males. The numbers aren't exactly staggering, and neither is his reasoning for hiring them: Chan has decided to recruit more ladyboys as flight attendants because it's "aiming at a unique identity to set itself apart from competitors as it sets out for the skies" in April, according to the Reuters article. Not because the company believes in equality or trans rights or anything. And Mr. Chan isn't exactly treating all genders equally here: "For transsexuals," he said of the interviewing process, "we can't just spend 5 or 10 minutes with them, we have to spend the whole day with them to make sure they have feminine characters." Because god forbid any of them are just themselves. Strike one for discrimination that seems like non-discrimination.

3) But at the same time, someone of a not-typically-victimized gender, race, socio-economic class, and power level, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, has stepped forward in a new book saying that he was, in fact, the victim of sexual abuse as a child, both at the hands of older bullies and a camp counselor. It's so damn important to remember that men--even powerful, wealthy, white men in politics--can be on the receiving end of abuse, but because our culture, like most others, doesn't condone men admitting to any kind of sexual victimization (they're the hunters, after all, the aggressors, dammit!), we rarely hear about it. It takes courage to be so open about one's past when the entire world is looking at you as some kind of indomitable source of power, and Scott Brown. It takes serious cajones to admit that you are indeed vulnerable and traumatized while appearing "normal" to the public. It takes great bravery and years of healing to come forth and admit that as a child, an adult warned you that if you told anyone about the abuse, he'd kill you. It's terrifying at every level to admit to such things, and doesn't he know it.
After his appearance on "60 Minutes," commenters had a field day with his story in true Internet Anonymity Syndrome style. I'd love to say that comments like, "
Real men suck it up. They don't go on national TV to play a victim card," and "OK Scott, you get your free pity pills" came from some weird backlash at the idea that Brown is trying to steal Lara Logan's spotlight in the sexual abuse department, because that would at least show some kind of compassion for someone in the hearts of these idiots. But I'm pretty sure these comments are nothing more than ignorant refusals to admit that a man whose whole life has seemed, to the public eye, to put him on top of the world could have at one point been actually hurt and victimized.
It's ridiculous the pressures we put on men to maintain impermeability to abuse, or silence when their shiny veneer is cracked. Abuse is abuse is abuse is abuse, and men, women, trans people, and everyone else all suffer because of it, and just as much because of the shame we layer upon them for things they have not been responsible for. So bully to you, Scott Brown, for being brave enough to take on the anonymous haters of the world and tell your story--it's so important that someone takes a stand for victims' rights, no matter what that person looks like.

4) And last but certainly not least, on the most hopeful note of a scary day during which it's likely that Congress will vote on a bill to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, the organization without which unwanted pregnancies would soar and back-alley abortions proliferate, here is a video of California Congresswoman Jackie Speier telling the House of Representatives and the world at large not only that she had an abortion (holy women exercising freedom over their reproductive health, Batman!) but that the debate over Planned Parenthood and abortion in this country is a crock of shit that doesn't deserve the time we're spending on it. Hear, hear! Well said! Tonight, Rep. Speier, I will raise a glass to you. Cajones, you say? Yes, but more than that: common sense.

Feb 17, 2011

Today in News That Makes Me Smile

Ok, at the moment, I'm officially off of writing about porn and onto writing about women's rights because this shit is just getting ridiculous. I'll be back to sex in film tomorrow, after attending a panel on the topic at the New York Museum of Sex tonight, so never fear! In the meantime, here are some news stories that DON'T make me want to curl up and die:

1) THANK GOD. The disgusting South Dakota legislation that would have classified murdering abortion doctors for trying to harm a person's unborn child as "justifiable homicide," about which I was just about to rant today is being put on hold. It somehow got through a committee vote and was due to hit the floor any time, apparently, when the governor's office called the bill a "very bad idea." The bill's main proponent, Rep. Phil Jensen, had said that it had "nothing to do with abortion," and that he was just trying to clarify what justifiable homicide meant in the state of South Dakota. But when you put together this new definition of "what you can get away with," with the already existing laws in the state that force women to undergo counseling, then wait for 24 hours before proceeding with an abortion, no doubt feeling terrible the entire time. Doctors are required to offer the woman a sonogram so she can see the fetus, and to read women a script meant specifically to discourage them from going on with the procedure, which tells them that "abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being." If that's not manipulation of a woman to try to convince her that she doesn't know what she wants or what's best for herself and her body, I don't know what is, and I find it offensive and disgusting. But it's not just degrading to women, it's degrading to abortion providers themselves: there are no abortion providers in the state of South Dakota because the climate there is so unwelcoming to them.
All in all, I don't know if holding this bill is a step forward or just the hesitation before moving one more step back.

2) Women in the military are fighting back against the way sexual assault is handled--or, not handled. A group of former service members, both male and female, are officially suing the US Military for its mishandling of sexual assault amongst its ranks, saying that a third party should handle rape allegations instead of troop commanders, who routinely advise victims to keep mum about their experiences because they don't want their records to show their command as having been plagued by rape issues. Slate reports, "Victims of sexual assault are often encouraged not to report that they've been attacked. If they do, they may be demeaned by colleagues, forced to live in close quarters with their attackers, or just ignored." And in one case that makes me sick to my stomach, "a female service member says she was raped by two men who were serving with her in Iraq. They videotaped the assault, but when the commander she complained to saw the tapes, he dismissed her allegations because she 'did not act like a rape victim''' and 'did not struggle enough.'" Sound familiar? Sound a little Boehner-esque? We all know, of course, we all know, now that our lawmakers have told us, that if there's not enough struggling, then it's not really rape, and therefore it's not a crime, either in the military or civilian world.
...excuse me while I go vomit...
The ranks of the military, where one is perpetually at risk from enemy attacks, should be the safest of places. One's brothers and sisters in arms should be trustworthy and supportive. In the midst of a battle, if you can't trust your fellow soldiers to respect your boundaries and decisions about your own body, you're lost. I can't imaging the emotional and mental anguish these people must have gone through, far from home and far from anyone who cared about their experiences, too.
I agree with one of the plaintiffs, who stated that, "The entire culture needs to be changed." Damn skippy, it does, and I'm so glad some of the victims are trying to change it.

Feb 16, 2011

Today in News That Makes Me Want to Curl Up And Die

Lara Logan, a CBS correspondent who bravely reported on the uprising in Cairo over the past few weeks, is now at home recovering from "sustained sexual assault and a beating" she suffered in Tahrir Square on February 11, as the frenzied mob around her was "celebrating" former-president Mubarak's stepping down. Separated from her crew by the jubilant crowd, she found herself surrounded by a cadre of people who apparently aren't so much into celebration as rape, and was at their (lack of) mercy until a group of women and soldiers saved her and returned her to her crew.

Since CBS reported briefly on the incident, the news world has been on fire with name-calling, victim-blaming, and general excitement. What a story, huh? A beautiful, fiery-spirited female reporter in a Muslim country getting brutally attacked by a celebratory mob! Gee willickers, it's what every anti-Muslim fear-monger could possibly want, and a chance to place blame squarely on the shoulders of an incredibly courageous and independent woman: a dream story to scare the Western world even more about the consequences of being blond, pretty, outspoken, female, and anywhere near a bunch of men. Muslim men, at that.

Of course, not everyone is ululating over this; most news outlets and bloggers and journalists have been respectful, and Nir Rosen, journalist and teacher at NYU, actually resigned his position in shame after making some victim-blaming statements about Logan's looks after being shamed for several abysmally disgusting tweets on the subject, in which he made light of her assault by comparing it to Anderson Cooper's almost-violent experience. So it's not that the whole world is out to get Lara Logan, exactly.

But the way in which this story is being handled so far points to a serious failing on the part of our general sensibility. As much as one wants to blame the media for focusing on the most incendiary bits of information (Rape! Mob brutality! Beautiful blonde!), and one certainly can and should blame irresponsible journalists for doing so, it's important to keep in mind that: A) they're trying to sell papers and get reads online--headlines including words like the above attract readers, plain and simple, and B) they are writing about what they think we want to read. And are they wrong for thinking we want to read about sexual assault? Mad-eyed Muslims in a frenzy of excitement savaging an American woman? No, they're probably not wrong. And that's the sad part.

Because here are the other parts of the story they could be highlighting: in Egypt, a country in which the rights of women have been steadily broken down and spirited away for the past several decades, a group of women came to Lara's aid to save her from the men assaulting her. Rallying the efforts of 20 or so Egyptian soldiers to back them up with weapons and force, these women swooped in to save Lara Logan from the most terrifying and horrible experience of her life. These women saw what was going on and probably had to risk their safety and the approval of the people around them to help her, but they did it anyway. If that's not a beautiful story (borne of violence, yes, but beautiful nonetheless for the power of human conviction it shows) of courage and female empowerment, I don't know what is.

But is anyone focusing on that? I haven't seen a single story highlighting this aspect of the tale. Of course, the details are spotty. CBS has declined any further comment and Lara Logan is, as she should be, recovering in silence from her ordeal. So there's not a lot of information on who these women were or exactly how they went about saving her. But there are still plenty of reporters in Cairo--couldn't we find out more about these women? Tell more about the story of Egyptian women caught up in the frenzy of protests, civil unrest, and triumph? Hear more about what it means to be a woman in Egypt right now, with the possibilities of a more free, more equal life opening up rather than closing down for the first time in over a quarter century?

And where are the indictments of sexual violence in what was supposed to be a celebration? Sure, we don't know exactly what happened or who these men were, and sure, they're from an entirely different culture from our own, but rather than commenting on how "hot" Lara Logan is and how "she put herself in a dangerous situation," maybe the comments should be on how, no matter what the situation or where in the world it's happening, this kind of behavior is never ok. What happened to these men? Were they arrested by the police who saved her? If not, why? Are the police doing anything to try to find and punish them? If Egypt is to find a new order based on freedom and justice, then these men who used the cover of a jubilant crowd celebrating its freedom to brutally attack a woman who was there to report on their victory should be the first to be rounded up and put through the justice system for their violent crime.

And, lastly, where is the concern and appreciation for Lara Logan herself? Where is the outpouring of sympathy? This woman, some have said, did indeed put herself in a dangerous situation on purpose. There she was, a beautiful young blonde in the midst of an all-out mob frenzy... because she was a fearless, intelligent, and daring journalist. Lara Logan saw herself as an essential part of the world's understanding of what was happening in Cairo, and I am personally so fucking proud that we're finally at a place in our human history where a woman can be the front-line reporter on dangerous and semi-violent situations like this. Women have been held back from the front lines of everything from education to civil rights to war to reporting, and it is not and indictment of her character that she was willing to put herself in danger to report back to the rest of us; it is an indictment of the world we live in that she could stand proudly at the forefront of American journalism abroad and end up suffering for it at the hands of brutal criminals who saw her as nothing more than a "hot blonde." It is an indictment of all the rest of us for clicking our tongues and saying "She should have known better," as if what happened to her was in any way a necessary consequence of her doing her job--her difficult, probably sometimes terrifying job, which, even ten years ago or less, would have been done by a man. Just like when a young woman goes out with her friends in a short skirt and walks home alone, only to be assaulted by a man who thinks he has a right to her body because he can see her thighs, Lara Logan is being treated as if her courage and independence are bad qualities only because she is a woman, and it is an indictment of all of us that we are not holding silent vigils for her recovery and the swift bringing of justice onto the heads of those who hurt her.

Personally, I hope that Lara Logan takes as much time as she needs to recover, and immediately goes back out to report on important stories around the world and never feels the need to tell anyone, if she doesn't want to, the details of her story (unless that "anyone," of course, is a doctor or a prosecutor aiming to put those men behind bars). I hope she goes on to have a full, exciting, successful career as a journalist, not as "the journalist who got raped in Cairo." And I hope, against all understanding of the world we live in, that she is respected as the brave and professional woman she is.

2)

Feb 15, 2011

Sex Noises, Brought to You By Cold, Calculating Women


Courtesy of the indomitable Violet Blue, I give you all a study that provides evidence of women using their "copulatory vocalizations" to influence their male partners' behavior and ejaculation. No kidding? You mean women actually modulate the way they respond to their partners to get what they want out of them? Moan louder when they think he's about to cum so they can get back to whatever it was they were doing before? Pay enough attention to what he's doing to respond accordingly? Why, what a surprise! ...I kind of want to yawn over this, but then again, it's always cool when science backs up things we've all always known but never really talked about.

Anyway, sorry, but no time today for a more interesting post. Enjoy the above article and forgive me for my busy-ness! Will write more tomorrow!

Feb 14, 2011

Happy V-Day


Ahh, V-day! Vagina Day to some, Valentine's Day to us all! I know a lot of people out there hate this holiday. They say it was invented by Hallmark just to make those of us without significant others on this special day feel shitty about ourselves, and they get all surly and angry and say nasty things to me about it. And part of me sympathizes; I mean, it is rather a bullshit holiday as far as tradition and underlying reasons go. I won't deny that it's ridiculously commercial and overdone.

But I personally love Valentine's Day. Not just because I happen to be lucky enough this year to have two lovers in my life who I care for deeply and who I can share special moments with, but because it's the day after my birthday, and when Valentine's Day rolls around I'm always still basking in the glow of my birthday celebrations. Or the hangover. Or both, as this year would have it.

Today I'm nursing a pot of coffee and planning a scrumptious meal for my girlfriend tonight, and musing on how much I don't want to run into any of those Valentine's Day Scrooges today. And my own personal reasons aside, I think I'm in the right wanting everyone to have a splendid, love-filled holiday. Because, you know, Valentine's Day should be about celebrating ALL the love in your life, not just the love that your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife shares with you, but also the love of your friends, your family, your pets, and most importantly, yourself. I've always seen this day as an opportunity to send someone flowers or chocolates or sappy cards; even if you just send treats to yourself to remind yourself how awesome you are, or if you send stupid elementary-school cards to everyone you know reminding them how great it is to have them in your life, it's an opportunity to celebrate love itself, which is a great thing, whether or not you're in the middle of a passionate love affair!

My recommendations for those of you who are single and getting bah-humbug-y about the day are twofold, depending on what your personality is like:


1) Spend a special, sexy night in with yourself! This can go any number of ways for different types of people, but I think it's perfectly romantic to spend an evening with yourself, being pampered and loving yourself right. Get some candles, some sexy music, maybe a bubble bath, some chocolates. Pop in your favorite movie and indulge, or your favorite porno and your favorite sex toys, and love yourself, baby. Cause you deserve it, and nobody knows how to hit all your sweet spots like you do, baby! Spend a whole night loving your body and forgetting about all the cares of the world! It's an old adage, but it's true: if you don't love yourself first, nobody else will! So love thyself, sex kitten, and do it allll night long.




2) If the idea of staying home alone on Valentine's Day makes you feel awful, don't do it! Go out and get a drink! Keep your options open and expectations low, but at least go out and give yourself an opportunity to meet someone and find at least one night's worth of love. There are a TON of people alone on Valentine's Day, and the more adventurous ones will be out and about hoping to make the day special; maybe you'll find someone super cool to share the evening with! And even if you don't find a love connection, you can VERY easily find someone else who's bah-humbug-y about the special day and share a few bitter laughs over a brew together. Who knows, romance can blossom even in bitter Pale Ale!

Just enjoy it, peeps. Love it and yourself and whoever you find yourself with!

Feb 13, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me, and My Boobies


A quick post to remind you all how wonderful boobs are! Check out this just-in-time-for-Valentine's-Day study of bazongas, from Sarah Forbes of the New York Sex Museum:

If You Have Breasts or Love Breasts, This One's For You

I LOVE boobs! Happy birthday to me!

Feb 11, 2011

Let the Festivities Begin!


It is now Friday, which marks the start of the official Miss Lagsalot/Lynsey G BIRTHDAY WEEKEND! There's a chance I'll get inspired in between parties and hangovers and decide to post a new blog entry, but I won't promise anything!

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that, just like so many previous times in my life, Tristan Taormino has made me feel much better about the world of pornography after yesterday's descent into Khan Tusion-fired depression. Danny Wylde, of course, helped a lot.

Check out this outstanding interview on Danny Wylde's blog as part of his "ethical porn project." Tristan Taormino, my personal hero and consummate feminist director of high-class, super-smart smut, dishes on consent, sobriety, and personal choice on her sets, and it makes me kind of feel like there are flowers and birds chirping outside and rainbows and butterflies on every one of her movies. If only all directors were so concerned with ethics! But hey, some are, and hopefully outspoken advocates like Tristan will help turn it into the industry standard! You go, lady!

Feb 10, 2011

Shivers and Shudders over Khan Tusion

Ok, so, yeah, guys, this is what scares me about aggression in blowjobs and in porn in general: it's a blog post on Hey, Epiphora about Khan Tusion's legacy of "edgy" porn that drove women to near collapse. It's upsetting, but it's important to read and think about, because it brings up the fact that, for all the absolutely beautiful, consensual, super-sexy porn that's out there being made by intelligent and responsible people, there's always somebody trying to fuck it all up and prove people like Gail Dines and Natasha Vargas-Cooper right. Porn of this kind is borne of evil and out to help nobody. And it makes me so sad to think about it, hear about it, see it, or be confronted with it that I try to just stay away from it in general.

But staying away from it--ignoring it, in other words--helps exactly nobody, too. The article I'm linking to up above and right here puts together only a minor compendium of the wrongs that Khan Tusion committed against his contracted stars in his heyday, and it's both disturbing and rage-inducing. Because this guy, Mr. Tusion, went around victimizing women on camera for years and because people were willing to ignore the fact that he was obviously going past the point of consent and well into rape and aggravated assault territory, he made money and became fairly successful.

Looking away sometimes just proves anti-porn people's points and allows truly atrocious things to go on. This kind of stuff isn't just upsetting, it's downright wrong and I am depressed as hell to know that it ever happened. This is where porn performers themselves and porn consumers, too, need to stand up for what's right and demand that standards of ethical conduct be applied to everyone who wants to make professional pornography. In an industry that's already everybody's scapegoat for virtually every evil humankind indulges in, keeping people like Khan Tusion (and Max Harcdcore? maybe? I'm pursuing interviews with women who worked with him to get more on that story) out of the mix is absolutely essential. People like him, who are in it to hurt and degrade other people, are the reasons that fears about sloppy blowjobs and misogyny can sometimes be justified. They are the reason that Gail Dines and Shelly Lubben and her ilk can get away with bald-facedly blaming porn for things: because, even though the majority of the industry is ethical and full of lovely people, as long as even a small amount of professional, nonconsensual, violent pornography is being made, distributed, and purchased, that's proof of the caterwauling naysayers' doomsday predictions.

I'm just so sad right now. I'm going to go. Sigh.

Bondage

Today I had my first experience with real bondage. It was amazing. And I am exhausted. I will write more later. Snoooooze!

Feb 9, 2011

Critics Make Me Meditate on BJs

This morning I got up, turned on my computer, and saw a tweet referring to this article on PopPorn by Bobbi Starr, referencing my blog entries on blowjobs in queer porn a while back (Part I and Part II) and referencing me as an ivory-tower gazing academic who thinks all blowjobs are rooted in misogyny.

I was like. Woah.

I was like, "I don't think that at all! What the hell! I was trying to say in those posts that I was surprised to see rough blowjobs in queer porn because it's easy to see them in straight porn as misogynist, but maybe they're not misogynist. Here's why it's easy to think that they might be, but here are people who aren't coming from the same background doing it... maybe people just like it." I was all sad, because I thought people were attacking me without reading what I was really writing. But then I re-read the posts and, though I do think I made the points I was going for, actually, I realized I didn't make them very clearly. I spent way more time talking about why it's easy to see a lot of blowjobs in porn as gross and upsettingly anti-female than I did talking about why maybe they're not that way. I think, in my mind, I was trying to explain how I got to the point of turning these assumptions on their heads by explaining why those assumptions might be made, but kind of forgot to make my own point.

And so, Bobbi, touche. I deserve the criticism for not saying what I wanted to say. So now I'm going to say it, and explain a little bit more about my perspective.

My entrance into the porn industry as a professional (rather than a casual masturbator, which I'd been before and which had given me my only exposure to pornography hitherto) was as a DVD reviewer for a print magazine. As a sometimes-online-porn user, I'd been hoping that "real" porn wasn't quite as violent and wild as online porn; I had it in my head somehow that they came from different places, or that some of the upsetting images I saw on my computer screen were the most extreme stuff out there. That "real" porn would be a little more relaxed and less intense. Cause honestly, we've all been there. We're clicking around finding video clips and jerking off and then when we've got our rocks off and start thinking about the things we just masturbated to, we're like, "Woah, that was... I might be a bad person for liking that."

Of course, I come from an incredibly rigid background when it comes to what makes a good person vs. a bad person. I'd been raised in an environment where not just irresponsible or violent sex was bad, but all sex outside of marriage was bad, and where anybody who enjoyed thinking about it or doing it was bad, too. So I'd found myself particularly vulnerable to recalling the gaping buttholes I'd just seen on my computer screen and thinking, "I am terrible. How could I have found that sexy?" I think I still do have serious issues with enjoying some of the things I see while watching and thinking about and writing about porn, and that's where a lot of my perspective comes from. I'm trying to deal with my own puritan past, and it's tough.

But anyway, back to the career in writing about porn. The thing is, when I got my first DVD review assignment, I was all chipper to see some "real porn" and feel better about things. And when I popped that DVD into the player, one of the first things I saw was a really intense, gagging, choking, mucousy, almost violent, gonzo-style blowjob. Even with all my online porn clicking, I'd never seen anything so extreme involving a mouth and a penis, and, well, it kind of terrified me. I realized all at once that: 1) "real" porn was the same as online porn and I was going to have to overcome some of my conservative upbringing to deal with it, 2) I was going to be watching a lot of this, and 3) there was a lot I had to learn.

I'm still learning. But put yourself in my place at that point: young, naive, starry-eyed, and with absolutely no knowledge of went into actually filming a porno. When I saw a girl choking on a penis and gagging, coughing up mucous, etc, my instinctual response was, "This doesn't look like fun. It looks like she's about to vomit. And that guy is saying things like, 'Suck it, bitch' to her. It seems like she's being abused. Holy crap. Should I be watching this?"

I think this is an instinctual response that many people might have. It's like when you accidentally walk in on your parents having sex when you're a kid; it looks, sounds, and seems very violent and upsetting at the time. And if they don't bother telling you later that they were actually enjoying themselves and that everything's ok, you might walk away from that experience thinking that Mom and Dad have some serious issues they need to work out, and that sex is primarily a bad thing. It takes a while to get past this idea, based solely on how little you know and what you saw: sex itself is an almost-violent act. It's intensely physical, often aggressive, and accompanied by sounds and facial expressions that are very much akin to those we make when we're in pain.

I had the same kind of gut reaction when I saw that first "real" porn blowjob: looking back I realize a lot of things I thought weren't true. That woman wasn't being abused--she was on that set being filmed because she wanted to be. She'd signed the paperwork, voluntarily performed the BJ, and gotten paid for it. That guy saying rather impertinent things to her didn't hate or think she was just a hole to fuck: he was playing along and enjoying himself and doing what he was getting paid to do. And the act itself, with all the mucous and gagging, was most likely being very much enjoyed by both parties. In later years, I've talked to and heard many performers talk about how much they love sloppy, extreme blowjobs. They love to give them and receive them. It's a way to make the experience of sex more extreme, it pushes their bodies further, it's hot that they're so into it that choking is just part of the performance. And I realize all this is true; gagging on a cock can be just another way of showing one's devotion to getting your partner off, and it can be really erotic in its own way, just like being spanked or tied up or called names or any number of other things that, to an outsider, can seem really negative.

And here's where I think I got mixed up in that last blog post that Bobbi took offense to. I'm no longer as much of an outsider as I was when I reviewed my first DVD. I realize that extreme blowjobs are not necessarily acts of misogynist rage, and as a matter of fact, particularly when they're on film, they are almost always the exact opposite of that. Both performers want to be doing what they're doing, or they wouldn't, duh, be doing it. But when I was an outsider, they appeared different to me. It looked, from the outside, like this woman was being degraded by this man. Like she was being humiliated and made to choke against her will. And that illusion alone can be really hot. But when I first saw it, well, I was traumatized.

And I think a lot of other people might easily feel the same way when they see their first gagging blowjob scene. From the outside, they very often look like unpleasant experiences. Depending on how they're filmed and presented, they can look like anything from the abject debasement of the woman being "forced" to take them, or like a woman with rabies is devouring a poor, unsuspecting man with an erection. The physical acts being performed don't always scream "super erotic and really fun." And that's where my hesitation around blowjobs like this comes from: my own first, traumatic experience and the realization that other people with my same type of mindset and upbringing, who know nothing about the process of filming pornography professionally, might have the same kind of reaction to it. It's hard to show someone with no background in these things a video of a girl gasping for breath, drooling, coughing, and gagging and say, "No, really, she's having a blast!" She probably is having a blast, but all outward appearances don't tend to show it.

So I think about the outsider, the person who doesn't know about these things, watching a scene where someone is doing this, and I think that this person might assume a lot of things. Firstly, that this is misogynist. At the practical level, it's kind of anything but. But from a viewer's perspective, it can very easily be interpreted that way. It looks like, in many cases, a man is force-feeding his penis to a woman who is gagging on it. And that looks kind of un-PC. And un-PC kind of makes people uncomfortable. Of course, the point that can be made here is that what's PC and what people want to do in the bedroom are only very tangentially related, and that lots of women WANT to be force-fed cocks. (Big reveal: I like giving sloppy, gaggy blowjobs, too. I really do. Ask my boyfriend.) But what something looks like and what it actually is are very often miles apart. So when the uninitiated viewer sees this stuff, especially if that person is a woman who was raised like I was, wrong assumptions are easily made and porn can easily be labeled as "bad" and written off.

And that would really be a shame. Andrea Dworkin and her posse of anti-porn early feminists sure thought that porn was "bad" because it objectified women, probably based on similar experiences of seeing something and misinterpreting what they saw, then developing a philosophy around it. I'd dare say we've come a long way since all that crap in the 70's. But the visuals of a woman on her knees choking on a dick can easily misled women now to think those same kinds of thoughts.

My first experience of giving a blowjob was a little traumatic, too. I didn't know what I was doing or even want to be doing it, but I sure wanted to make my boyfriend happy, and he sure as shit shoved that thing as far back into my throat as it would go. And that made me incredibly unhappy. It made me choke. And I didn't like that. Of course, that was long ago and at the time I was in no way ready to deal with that, but the experience traumatized me and made me have my first startling thought, as a rebellious teen, that maybe my mom was right and sex was shameful and bad, because I felt pretty ashamed that I'd let him do that to me. Looking back I realize that the shame I felt was primarily a result of being forced to do something I didn't want to do, whether it was sexual or not. It was the loss of dignity in not being given a choice that upset me, but because of its nature I wrote it off as sexual shame. And I know that I'm not the only person out there with an experience like this in her past. We are so conditioned to find sexual things shameful that we often overlook the realities of the situations we're examining. Like blowjob scenes in porn. We've heard for years, most of us for our whole lives, that porn is demeaning to women and full of mancentric images, and then when we see these blowjobs that are so easily misinterpreted, we can project our own shame issues onto it and think that the woman must be feeling ashamed and debased. Not empowered and super sexy, like she probably is.

And so, though I obviously have some biases based on experience and some deep-rooted issues with my own sexuality in general, the main issue I have with blowjobs that include gagging isn't that I think it's impossible for people to enjoy them. (Again, I do enjoy them, myself.) The issue is that people already have a tendency to think badly of porn, and it's very easy to project seriously wrong-minded ideas onto the things we see porn performers doing, based on our biases and cultural conditioning. I've done it, and I'd like to think I'm working on overcoming it. But it's worth thinking about that people might come into an experience trying to be open-minded and come away thinking that Dworkin and her minions were right, that porn DOES degrade women and that it IS bad.

It's not. I LOVE porn. I think porn is necessary, important, vital. I think that porn is a reflection of who and what we are. And many of us are lovers of extreme blowjobs. But it's all about context, and sometimes it's jarring. It can particularly jarring, or it was for me, when it's in queer porn, where the gender binary I was expecting not to find seemed to be mimicked in women given women blowjobs with fake cocks. I thought there could be no point, and why would a woman do something to another woman that can so easily be misinterpreted as misogynist?

But when I saw that, I started questioning my own assumptions about why people do these things. I didn't see any evidence of misogyny in these scenes; maybe the performers were just so used to seeing more mainstream performers do this that they thought they had to... Or maybe gagging blowjobs are just ubiquitous now. Maybe there once was misogyny in the act, but now it's just what we do because we've all seen it done, tried it, and liked it. I realized that I, little miss conservative-upbringing, give head with mucous, gagging, and intensity. That I like doing it. And, holy crap, by extension, I finally realized that most of the time, when it comes to sex, people do what they do not because porn tells them to or because they hate other genders, but because they want to. And even though watching someone drooling and gagging might make it seem as though blowjobs and porn itself are both evil, they're not. They're just complicated.

Feb 8, 2011

Do Porn Performers Get Gas? No, I'm Serious.

Today is going to be one of those "running around like crazy all day" days during which I will surely have many fascinating ideas to blog about but few opportunities. But I want to leave the possibility that I may get back to blogging later tonight open, so rather than writing a big, thoughtful post at the moment, here's a question:

What happens if you're a female porn performer and you're suppose to be doing a scene shortly and you have... well... gas? Like painful, swimming around in your guts gas that you know will want to be expelled soon but isn't quite ready yet? This just occurred to me because I got an e-mail from a friend this morning who was supposed to go to a class and who was worried because she had monstrous gas pains and was afraid she'd let one rip in the middle of her MFA class. That would be embarrassing. And it got me to thinking. We've all been in a situation at some point in our lives when we had an unexpected bout of gas and feared going into a public situation, but think how this must compounded if that public situation involves taking off all your clothes and letting some poke you with things. It must be nerve-wracking.
And then I thought, well hey, maybe porn performers have some advice for the rest of us! I've never heard a story of a woman having a massive fart-attack during a scene (although maybe I'm just missing out on some of the funniest stories in porn history). Maybe porn people have the best gas cure in the whole world! Maybe they know some move you can perform in the bathroom that will take care of it!
Then again, maybe they just eat carefully the day before to avoid these situations, but that's not nearly as much fun to imagine.

Anyone out there know any details? Anyone have any fart stories? Help a girl out here!

Feb 7, 2011

Madison Young and Me


Aw hells yeah! Every time an article of mine goes up on TheWomansPOV.com I get all tingly. Here's my review of Triangle Films' River Rock Women's Prison, which absolutely astounded me. Kathryn Annelle is one hell of a writer and director. Regardless of the fact that I LOVE lesbian and queer porn and she makes it, she puts together erotic films that hold together as artistic wholes better than, well, just about anyone else working out there at the moment. And, um, Syd Blakovich is SO hot. And, speaking of ladies I like, working with Madison Young is such a privilege; that woman blows me away.

And I mean it. I just watched a scene of hers in another Triangle Films movie (which will be reviewed on TheWomansPOV next month), and you know, at first I was thinking that she kind of terrifies me. And she does. But in a good way. In that "She's my boss kind of, but I've never met her, but I've HEARD about her, and she's a legend, and I really want to impress her" kind of way. And also in that "She's such an empowered woman, I don't want her to think I'm nearly as naive and lame as I really am" kind of way. And even in that, "This woman would TEAR ME UP in bed" kind of way. But mostly, mostly, Madison makes me crazy impressed and scared at the same time because of her ferocious performances.

Madison Young is fearless. I mean really, totally, completely goddamn fearless. She is into just about everything that would usually earn someone the label of "freak," and she owns all of them with pride and passion. When she goes on camera, she leaves behind every ounce of inhibition and self-consciousness, does what she's there to do, loves every second of it, and to hell with what it looks like. Well, that's not entirely true: she's an artist in that she cares very MUCH what her films and scenes look like. But Madison makes the exact opposite of "pretty" porn. When she goes into a scene with another woman, she gives not one iota of a flying fuck about what's traditionally thought of as "nice" to look at. She doesn't give a hoot what people think a woman is supposed to do to look "sexy." She doesn't bother with fluttering eyelashes or pouty faces or cute gasps or soft, demure actions. She is the opposite of "gay for pay" lesbian porn, the antithesis of socially acceptable femininity. She doesn't care if what she's doing is really intense, or if her body isn't shown at its most aesthetically pleasing angle, or if her face is contorted because she's so intent on what she's experiencing. She doesn't do things quietly or cutely; actually, when she gives head she kind of sounds like a dog lapping at a water dish, panting and slurping and lapping. She's balls-to-the-wall into what she does. And, you know, it's really kind of scary.

I'm just being honest here, and I'm glad I realized that the intensity of her performances is daunting to me. It jolts me out of that "Oh my god, why is she making that face?" mentality that my experience with super-feminized "lesbian" porn (and a larger culture that tells us women should always look cute) has ingrained in me. It makes me realize that I'm still expecting women to look and act a certain way, and you know? That's bullshit. If I was with someone in a sexual situation and they told me I was making too much noise or not looking pretty enough with my O-face, I'd storm right the hell out of the room. But part of me, until I started thinking about what it is that intimidates me so much about Madison, was still expecting women in erotic films and porn to look "cute" for me all the time. And that wasn't cool. I don't want to be a sexy-time hypocrite.

So, thanks, Madison! And just know that, when I finally meet you, even though I'll try to use my brave face, I'll be quaking in my boots.

Feb 6, 2011

My Super Bowl Sunday

You may not be surprised to learn that I am not a big football fan, my dear readers. I can watch a game and get into it if I really try, but my attention span is only about as long as one typical play, and I'm only ever in it for the chips and dip. So today, instead of ogling heavily padded men in helmets piling on top of each other (which, I'll admit, can be funny and sexy at the same time), I'm going to see Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, and Lindsay Duncan in Henrik Ibsen's "John Gabriel Borkman" at the BAM Theater in Brooklyn. And then I'm going to come home and do naughty things to myself while thinking of Alan Rickman because, frankly, he makes me all gooey inside. Squee!
So have fun with your chips and dip! I'll be having fun with this:




Prrrrowr!

Feb 5, 2011

Networking and Sex Working Awareness


Hm. Twitter will not work for me at the moment. It's been a day and a half, and when I load the page it says it's "Done" but there's nothing there. Is this an issue everybody's having, or is it just me?

Anyway, so I can't advertise my new FB page on Twitter. So I'm gonna do it again here. HEY YOU! Go LIKE ME on Facebook! I can promise no NSFW photos and only small words like "porno" and "sex" in my updates, so you won't get stared at by your next-cubicle-over coworkers. Really. A promise is a promise.

At any rate, last night I was super-excited to attend the "Sexy, Speak Up!" fundraiser at Madame X on Houston Street. The fundraiser was to support "Speak Up!" media training for sex workers. I attended as press for WHACK! Magazine (and you'll be able to see the super sexy footage there within a few days), so I can't give all the horny details to you here, but I was excited to meet a whole lot of really amazing people, from burlesque dancers to a Ninja Sex Poodle & Ronin of Love to the founder of the CineKink festival, Lisa Vandever! Oh hell yeah, networking is my middle name, baby.

The most exciting part of the evening for me, though, was getting an invite to Momentum, a conference in April in Washington, D.C. which is "geared toward anyone interested in intelligent conversations about the influence of new media on sexuality." Presenters will include Ducky DooLittle, Dr. Carol Queen, Dr. Ruth, Dylan Ryan, and Tristan Taormino. Suffice it to say, I'm going. And it's going to be absolutely incredible.

I'm a big fan of what Momentum and Speak Up! both are doing: opening up the conversation about sex workers and those involved in the sex community to themselves. Speak Up! trains sex workers on how to deal with the media on all levels, from talking to journalists and media about their own work in conscious and empowering ways that give all sex workers a better image, to using social media and the internet to their best advantage. Sex workers are still the one class of person that many of find it easy and nonprejudicial to look down upon and speak about with contempt. But, as cofounder Tess pointed out to me last night, sex workers are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, daughters, and sons. They are human beings with lives and minds, and it's absolutely behind the times to treat them as anything else. One important way to elevate them out of the dregs of society, where so many are willing to leave them, and to shine a light on the fact that they are thinking, breathing human beings is to give the power of positive representation directly to them. And I'm all about it.

I just read a great article on these same ideas at GoodVibes magazine, by Penny Barber, about raising children to understand sex workers are people, and it really rang true with what I talked about last night. More to come on this topic, I'm sure. In the meantime, give that article a read; it's great stuff.