This is the talk I gave earlier today to my honours seminar class. (Links added after the fact.)
My name is Tiffany and I love porn. I’m writing my honours thesis on the topic of feminist pornography.
As a genderqueer individual, pornography is one of the few places I can see representations of people like me. It is one of the few places where I can learn what genderqueer bodies are capable of, how lovers negotiate sex that respects the genderqueer body and doesn’t cause dysphoria or alienation. So, on a deeply personal level, I have experienced the liberatory power of pornography. When I can’t see myself represented anywhere else, Jiz Lee (link nsfw) is doing something to somebody somewhere in a way that reflects my experience. That’s important, and scholars like Weinberg, Williams, Kleiner and Izirarry have found evidence of the potential for empowerment and education as a result of viewing pornography.
The other part of my project is feminism, because I’m interested in porn that self-identifies as feminist. Feminism is critical to my own worldview. I believe in intersectional feminism, and consider myself a queer feminist activist. This is not a theory that I am interested in, this is my life. And just as pornography has been educational and emancipatory for me, and yet is also a site of oppression and marginalization for many, so feminism has been educational and emancipatory for me, and yet also deeply conflicted. Conflicted because not all feminisms are sex-positive, or even genderqueer-positive (if I reject the label of “woman,” can I still be a feminist? Some would say no.) Anti-porn feminism is vocal and convincing in casting pornography as a universal evil, damaging to women everywhere and especially to the women in porn themselves.
My supervisor is R.S., one of the first people I met at the University when I was considering whether or not to pursue academics. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to pursue this topic if she hadn’t been so enthusiastic about it last year. In my first conversation with Dr. S. three and a half years ago we talked about pornography and feminism, so it seems fitting, in retrospect.
With this project, I hope to reconcile the sometimes fraught relationship between my feminism and my love of porn. This project will be in many ways subjective, personal. Using an approach similar to other feminist scholars such as Elizabeth Whitney in her fantastic essay “Cyborgs Among Us,” I will attempt to situate myself in terms of my privileges, my biases, and my agenda.
I want to learn what feminist pornographers are doing, and how academia is engaging with that work. How is the work different, if at all, from mainstream pornography? What place is there in an explicitly feminist academic engagement with pornography for the voices of porn performers, which are conspicuously absent from so much academic writing? The Feminist Porn Awards have existed for years now, and scholars like Linda Williams have been viewing pornography through feminist lenses for at least as long, but the most common question I am asked regarding my topic is, “Feminist pornography? Is that a thing?”
I will examine two winners of the Feminist Porn Awards; Courtney Trouble’s film “Fuckstyles of the Queer and Famous” (link nsfw) which won for Most Deliciously Diverse Cast and Erika Lust’s film “Cabaret Desire” (link nsfw) which won for Best Movie. I will attempt to answer two questions: What is feminist pornography? And do these films qualify, given the criteria that I will generate?
My project is exciting for multiple reasons, not least because I anticipate a long and torturous struggle with the language and the theory of both pornography and feminism. I am excited by the opportunity to engage with a topic that I think should receive more rigorous academic attention than it currently does. I am especially excited to attempt to bring my activism fully into my academics, and to produce an academic work that meets the requirements of the intersectional feminism that I believe in – a work that engages with performers’ own voices, and leaves space for non-academic ways of knowing to inform academic understanding.