April 13 work

I’m disappointed with the work I’m producing. I feel like the information is in my head, but I can’t shake it loose. I made myself a list of goals to accomplish in yesterday’s work but then I totally failed to accomplish a single one of them. I’m also considering whether a chronological approach to the lit review is actually the best way to go. I’m leaning away from that, and am thinking about reorganizing it to be more thematic. (So, rather than anti-porn -> anti-censorship -> pro-porn, which is basically chronological (though there are two waves of anti-porn), I’m leaning towards grouping it thematically and looking at writing about ejaculation and about queer interpretations of pornography. So it would be two sections rather than three/four, and when I’m writing about ejaculation, I’d be talking about the gendered power dynamics of the act, etc. And that leads in to a discussion of the queer issues.

In more positive news, I emailed Courtney Trouble yesterday and got a fantastic reply back from her with some insight into why she chose the scenes she did. So, that’s awesome.

I’m feeling really discouraged about this process, and worried that I’m just kidding myself if I think I’ve got what it takes to be an academic. It’s disappointing and frustrating.

My goal for today is to get 2000 words written, since I was 450 words shy of my goal for yesterday.

Anyway, yesterday’s work:

New work:


–       Outline paper, with approximate page numbers

–       Finish anti-censorship pornography section, and flesh out anti-pornography section with specific focus on writers who talked about ejaculation

–       Combine first wave and second wave anti-pornography feminism sections

–       Start work on fleshing out the close-reading of Nostalgia (1-2 pages per scene?)

–       Collect all the little sentences and incomplete thoughts from the last week of work, put them in a separate document or pull them down to here and start working on fleshing out those thoughts and incorporating them into the flow of the paper


Contested Definitions

This paper is full of terms with no universally accepted definition. The words queer, feminist and pornography are all deeply contested, as are other words that come up frequently in the literature being cited, such as words like woman, or obscenity, or objectification. Similarly, the categories of “woman” and “man,” necessarily define and inscribe limitations on the meanings and possibilities of physical acts of ejaculation. I will not attempt to create a universal definition of any of these terms.

Writing about feminist approaches to performance studies, Jill Dolan states that it seems “important to take a stand and to state it at the outset of one’s writing” (Dolan Feminist x). This seems particularly important when writing about a topic as contentious and divisive as pornography, with so many contested definitions sprinkled throughout the piece. Impartiality on the topic is, as Isabelle Barker notes, incredibly challenging. The debate has been framed as one in which feminists “would need to choose sides, … either for pornography or against it” (Barker 643). Though I cannot claim impartiality as a researcher, this research project attempts to inhabit the challenging liminal space between sides. In order to “take a stand and to state it” (Dolan Feminist x), my own personal definitions of these contentious terms is necessary.

I identify as a queer, pleasure-positive (INSERT FOOTNOTE: This is a term used by Maggie Mayhem to describe her sex politics. This is an alternative to identifying as sex-positive, a term that can exclude the asexual community and that has been problematized by feminist writers (FIGURE OUT HOW TO CITE “GUEST BLOGGER” – http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2012/02/07/an-asexual-map-for-sex-positive-feminism/), and one that I have adopted.), pro-porn, intersectional feminist activist and academic.

I strongly identify with Asher’s definition of queerness, that “[q]ueerness… is about far more than homosexual attraction. It’s about a willingness to see all other taboos broken down” (n.p.). When I use the word queer, I am referring to this expansive, transgressive definition, one that is also grounded in academic writing about queer theory. Dana R. Shugar says “queer theory often positions identities – sexual and otherwise – as a series of performances in which people choose to engage. As ‘‘performativity,’’ sexual identity can be disconnected from other social identities, bodies, or any sort of physical marker” (14), and it is in this ability to disconnect identity from fixed physical markers that Asher’s “willingness to see all other taboos broken down” (n.p.) is realized. This definition has legitimately been read by some feminists as a threat. Shugar notes that “[i]f we deny the social power that concepts of fixed identities still carry, the goals of our activism are too easily boiled down to, by default, the agendas of white, well-to-do men whose only ‘‘difference’’ resides in sexuality and whose ‘‘queer’’ politics allow them to avoid any analysis of their privilege” (17). This is a relevant critique, and one that I believe can only be addressed through intentional awareness of the ongoing social contexts of heteropatriarchy and racist, sexist, classist and cissexist structural oppressions. This sort of self-policing is always problematic, and I have tried as much as possible to interrogate the places in my argument where my definition of queer may create blind spots to oppressions that still exist as a result of identities that I believe do not need to be fixed, but that are none-the-less fixed.

I also identify as a feminist, though my relationship with this word and with the movement is strained.


Revision in this section:

Much of the feminist academic writing about the two sides of the pornography debate frames the debate as anti-pornography or anti-censorship (Boyle Boundaries 9, FIND MORE CITES), with later writers recognizing pro-pornography feminism as another important voice in the debate. Karen Boyle notes that this debate treads over “well-worn and increasingly muddy ground” (Boundaries 3). In her 2004 anthology, Porn Studies, Linda Williams claims to move beyond the “[f]eminist debates” (1) of pro- or anti-censorship. Williams’ move can be seen mirrored in Courtney Trouble’s own approach to making pornography. Trouble has said “A majority of us [ethical pornographers] identify as feminists, but my work specifically doesn’t inherently speak to feminist issues. My own work is ethically made, queer—and yes, I am a feminist—but I don’t think my goal with making porn is to address feminist issues” (qtd. in Vasquez 33).

Boyle’s response to Porn Studies, and to its move away from, and even rejection of, feminist critiques is important. Boyle notes that a rejection of feminist debates includes, at least in Williams’ anthology, “prematurely discarding important questions raised in feminist debate” (3). She includes among the things being discarded issues of regulation, consumption practices, and something more than a “cursory engagement with foundational feminist texts” (4). That Trouble similarly refrains from attempting to “address feminist issues” (Trouble qtd. in Vasquez 33) is relevant to this research and gestures to the on-going tension between queer theorists and activists, even those who claim a feminist identity, and feminist theorists and activists. There is a move to align more explicitly with queer approaches to sexuality, and to distance from feminist approaches, or perhaps more accurately to distance from what is often seen as hypocritical and sex-negative feminism. Trouble says “I actually find it degrading when women try to tell other women what kind of jobs they should and should not have. Feminism is about equality and it’s also about choice” (qtd in Vasquez 33). This interpretation of anti-pornography feminism as anti-choice is supported by the responses of some anti-pornography feminists to feminists whose choices don’t align with their views. There is a sense in Trouble’s response that she’s not making feminist porn because feminists don’t want her porn. This distancing makes it challenging (TO WHAT?)


Revision in this section:

Karen Boyle notes that “where and how pornography is distributed and consumed… is essential to its meaning” (Boundaries 10). Given this, it is important to look at the context within which Trouble’s film was produced, distributed and consumed and to examine the film with this context in mind. Trouble’s film invokes two distinct contexts, and these contexts potentially offer different meanings. Both the “overt imaging of sexuality in an economic context constructed for and controlled by men” (Dolan Feminist 59) and the “new modes of marketing and distribution that could reach previously marginalized groups… the feminist sex-toy store” (Comella 80) are referenced in Trouble’s film, which gestures back to the masculine-dominated early porn context, but emerges from the “new modes” (Comella 80) of the sex-positive feminist movement.

These are two disparate contexts, creating and selling distinct pornographies. Nostalgia is firmly planted in the feminist porn context –produced by Reel Queer Productions and Good Releasing, companies that are affiliated with feminist sex-store giant Good Vibrations – but gesturing to the mainstream porn context by choosing to reimagine scenes from four iconic porn films. It is reasonable to assume that Courtney Trouble, a queer feminist pornographer who “has increased the visibility and social legitimacy of sexual and gender minorities who, until very recently, were treated as mere fetishes for straight male porn consumers” (Vasquez 32).

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