Endless knot/tangled web – my Middle English final paper

The evolution of a paper. I really enjoyed this research, and am considering doing more work in Arthurian stories.

This paper begins four years ago in English 302, in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, with Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of male homosociality, which exists on a “continuum between homosocial and homosexual” (2435). It takes root in various Women’s Studies classes, with the exciting prospect of uncovering queer readings and recovering feminine histories. The first green leaves of this paper, the first iteration of the thesis, is that the female homosociality of Dame Tryamour and Gwenore in Sir Launfal and Morgan le Fay and Guinevere in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is both a queer presence within the texts and an indication of the anxiety and tension between hegemonic Christianity and the paganism represented by the fairy women. This homosociality exists, said the original thesis, and it is as conflict-driven and violent as the homosociality that Sedgwick articulates for men. It was a reach towards collapsing the gender binary, recognizing women’s power and violence, and recognizing the potential for women’s queerness in restrictive Christian social contexts. It was founded on the idea that Christian conceptions of gender must necessarily be heterosexual and heteronormative, and that reading queerness into the text – a queerness that is dependant on the heteronorm – would be a form of resistance to the contemporary norm, and would contribute to a history of feminist scholarship that uncovers queer histories and exposes the ways in which patriarchy is always already undermining itself.

But this paper, an analysis of these texts, cannot flourish in the homo/hetero binary that the original thesis was planted in, because as James Schultz points out, “the heterosexual norm… clamps down on the present and… colonizes the past” (20). Both Schultz and Karma Lochrie argue convincingly that “[t]he heteronormativity of modern scholarship ends up creating its own modern categories where they did not exist before… flattening the gender dynamics of medieval sexualities” (Lochrie xvi). This paper, then, becomes an effort at decolonizing my own scholarship, at freeing my thesis from the contemporary constructions of sexuality that battened it down into intelligible, articulable binaries.[i] It shifts, and in the shifting comes back to Louise O. Fradenburg, and the productive scholarly practice of recognizing and accepting the “undecidability” of a text. My thesis tracks along both an ‘endless knotte’ of contemporary binaries and a tangled web of complexities and undecidabilities.

[i] Although Schultz and Lochrie have convinced me that an uncritical, unintentional projection of contemporary categories of identity into medieval texts is problematic, I am not convinced that an intentionally anachronistic reading doesn’t have a place in contemporary scholarship. For example, although “bisexuality” is not a category that would hold any meaning for a medieval poet, and reading bisexuality into Sir Gawain and the Green Knight would perform exactly the “colonizing” that Schultz warns again, a bisexual reading of Gawain and Bertilak could have multiple positive outcomes for both queer and medieval scholarship. We read these texts within our own time, and the ability to see ourselves represented – even if the original author may never have conceived of our identities – is invaluable. But that’s a different paper!

And here is the paper I actually wrote:

Continue reading

A Year of Curated Media, and Anchorman 2

It’s 2014, and although I no longer do resolutions, I am still a big fan of the “new year, new projects” thing. I have two major projects this year: the first is an extension of my Year of Self-Care, which will be blogged, when I blog it, over at Fibro Files; the second is a year of curated media consumption.

When I posted a facebook status about this second project, Lynn Comella (and let me just take a moment to squee over this) suggested that I post my reviews of this year’s content, so, since Lynn Comella (who is an amazing feminist porn scholar) told me to do it, I’m doin’ it. In this blog, since it’s related to my academic interests.

This project was the result of three simultaneous realizations/events.

The first was that near the end of 2013, I got very tired of all the straight white men in my media. Straight white men writing my books. Straight white men directing, producing and starring in television shows, movies, and everything else. I have always casually sought out diverse media, but always as an add-on to the default media all around me. I never seriously considered how lacking in diversity most of what I was watching and reading really was. Very white. Very, very white. Slightly less so but still very masculine. And slightly less than that but still very straight.

This fits with what I’ve found as I dive/drop further into issues of social justice – the issues that are most personally relatable are the ones that get attention first. So for years now I have pulled in more queer media, because my queer identity is the one closest to my sense of myself a person. Then more gender-diverse media. Then, and only then, more racial diversity since the whiteness on screen didn’t previously jar me – it’s the same thing I see in the mirror. Now that I’ve seen the whiteness, though, I can’t unsee it and it is overwhelming.

Second, Ender’s Game came out near the end of 2013, and that was a critical moment for me. The book was formative when I was young – the Ender saga was read and reread, recommended to my friends, discussed and pondered and analyzed and loved. But Orson Scott Card believes and actively supports some things that are just anathema to who I am and who I want to be in the world. I can’t support him. I won’t support him. (Even if, as Scalzi suggests, my refusal to buy a movie ticket has no impact at all on Card’s profits.) It became much more important to me to think about where my money was going, even if that wouldn’t have an impact on the creator. It has an impact on me, and on how I chose to interact with the world around me. That seems like enough for now.

Finally, near the end of 2013 I listened to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s stunning Half Of A Yellow Sun. It was beautiful (and beautifully narrated) and I listened to Adichie’s various talks on YouTube and realized that I really, really wanted to support her and writers like her. Not just casually happening across their work, but actively seeking it out. I want more than a single story.

This all came together and it seemed like time to start actively curating the media I consume. I am going to put my money and my time into media that fits my feminism.

Now, “feminism” is a wibbly-wobbly identifier. My feminism attempts to be pleasure-positive (meaning that I maintain a strong focus on issues of consent, autonomy, self-determination and collaboration), trans*-inclusive, anti-colonial, anti-racist, pro-PoC, pro-sex worker, and socialist. What that means, practically, is that the “feminism” is just one piece of an anti-oppressive ideology that I’m slowly constructing for myself. It would be counter to my feminism to limit myself to media that only addresses gender issues, or that is only self-identified as feminist. Because of that, and because I want to set the bar low enough that I can actually see this project through the year, I am only asking that my media meet one of the following categories:

  •  that it features well-rounded and respectful representations of people of colour
  •  that it is created by a person of colour
  •  that it features well-rounded and respectful representations of women
  •  that it is created by a woman
  •  that it features well-rounded and respectful representations of at least one member of the QUILTBAG*
  •  that it is created by a member of the QUILTBAG
  •  that it features issues of sex worker’s rights, sexual autonomy, consent, safer sex practice, or sex ed

AND

  • that it does not harmfully misrepresent the above groups or actively contribute to harmful stereotypes about the above groups

That’s really not that much. I’m *hoping* I can find a majority of media that meets multiple criteria, but that’s not this year’s project. This year, it just has to meet one. I’m even flexible on “created by” and will take any single significant creative role – director, writer, etc. (And, I will be completely honest, I’m also giving myself a couple passes. One pass will be used on the second Hobbit movie, for example. The point of this project is not that straight white men can’t make fantastic media about straight white men, it’s just that I’m tired of that being the vast majority of available media.)

I’m relying fairly heavily on reviews, and when I read this review, I was optimistic! And this review also gave me hope. So yesterday I went on a date to see Anchorman 2. An hour in, I walked out. I can’t give a full review of the movie, since I only saw half, but this is why I left the theatre (which I rarely do – I’m not much of a walker-outter).

I enjoyed Anchorman, despite my skepticism going into it. My partner assured me it was “not as bad” as I feared, so one night last year we curled up and watched. I enjoyed it! It was offensive, but it seemed intentional and satirical, and I enjoyed the final message of women’s workplace empowerment. At the very least, I didn’t hate it.

Anchorman 2, though, started to lose me almost immediately. There were things that bothered me because I don’t like seeing them represented, even though the scene appeared to be satirical – Veronica allowing herself to be sniffed and petted by a network exec in order to get a job, for example. I would have stayed in a movie full of these scenes, just like the first Anchorman was, because I do think that satire can be such a powerful tool. Making people squirm because they recognize how inappropriate common behaviours are can be a strong motivator for change. I don’t often choose to watch that kind of humour because it does make me uncomfortable (particularly when it’s created by someone in a privileged group rather than someone in a marginalized group – punching sideways rather than punching up), but I can still see the value.

And then there were scenes that bothered me because they were nothing more than humour at the expense of marginalized groups. I was starting to get angry already – Champ’s extreme racism seemed one part satire and three parts an excuse to make the jokes we’re no longer allowed to make – when Ron’s transphobic rant happened. There are no trans* characters or performers in Anchorman 2, there is no counter to the transphobia on display. Whereas Veronica proves herself competent in the news room so the sniffing and petting is clearly stupid, there is never any pushback against the transphobic (and whorephobic, and classist) rants. I almost left at that point, and I almost wish I had. But I stayed.

When Linda first shows up on screen, Ron’s response – repeating the word “black” over and over again because it’s the only thing he can say – seemed like a highlight, because it was obviously ridiculous, other characters in the scene were horrified by it, and Linda held her own. Satire. Awesome!

But Linda, set up in that scene as a tough-as-nails, ball-busting, strong woman (problematic in itself, given the unrealistic expectations we have of Black women), is immediately disempowered. Ron and the news team come up with their own format for the show, run with it without consulting her, are a huge success, and she is, in addition to being humiliated in front of her boss, apparently overcome with lust at, I don’t know, finally having been shown her place? It’s weird and gross and completely lacking in context. And it’s the reason I walked out. Or at least, it leads to it. First, she corners him in her office and proceeds to make animal noises at him and demand that he “bark like a puppy.” How upsetting was it to watch a Black woman perform aggressive animalistic sexuality on screen while people laugh at her? A lot. It was a lot upsetting. It was disgusting.

And then… and then!… Ron Burgundy goes back to the news team and says he thinks he’s been raped.

And I walked out.

Fuck. That. Noise.

What works in a movie like this is when a character believes something bigoted and the story around them reveals the belief to be false. What does not work is when the story itself believes something bigoted. When the story itself believes that trans women are not women, or that Black women are dangerous, aggressive, hypersexualized animals, or that “rape” is something you can joke about.

When the story itself believes something awful, the story is awful.

I wanted to like Anchorman 2. I was excited about seeing racism and sexism challenged in a movie that will appeal to straight white men who might not be watching a whole lot of other overlapping media with me this year. But while the misogyny directed against Veronica was challenged in the film, the misogynoir directed against Linda was not. And the transmisogyny was not. And the racism was not nearly enough. And that’s just not good enough.

I’m not willing to say that Veronica is enough to give the movie a “well-rounded woman character,” but even if she was, the misogynoir and transmisogyny would disqualify it. (Disqualifiers will be harder to catch going in to media – I suspect those will have to be analyzed in my reviews after watching or reading something, unless I’m lucky enough to find a review like this AutoStraddle critique of Dallas Buyers Club.) Anchorman 2 definitely isn’t worth a pass, and I wish I hadn’t spent the money on it.

So, there we go! One of my two major projects for 2014. I’ll try to blog as many reviews as I can.

* Queer, Undecided, Intersex, Lesbian, Trans*, Bisexual, Asexual, Gay

You’ve Got Something On Your Face – second draft

It seems somewhat appropriate to end this symposium with a discussion of the money shot.

This iconic pornographic trope, the cum shot that often signals the end of the sexual act or scene, has been subverted and reimagined, and finally excluded, in Courtney Trouble’s queer feminist pornographic film, “Nostalgia.”

It is relevant to this discussion that Trouble’s feminist pornography is queer. There are no biologically male performers in “Nostalgia” and this necessarily changes the focus from male ejaculatory orgasm onto something else. And it is critical to recognize that Trouble’s queer feminist pornography is not the only iteration of feminist pornography, and that not all feminist pornography is queer and not all queer pornography is feminist. Alison Butler has said that “women produce feminist work in a wide variety of forms and styles,” and this applies to feminist pornography as much as to any other feminist cultural practice. It is important that we not look for all the answers in Trouble’s film – she cannot represent the heterosexual feminist in this film, or answer the question of where the biologically male penis fits within feminist pornography. These are important questions regarding the role of ejaculation and ejaculatory imagery in feminist pornography, but they won’t be answered here.

But she asks and perhaps answers other interesting and important questions.

Nostalgia reimages four scenes from iconic, “Golden Age” pornography. Her film is framed by transitional shots of Trouble and her girlfriend watching porn together. This is an important insertion of Trouble and her girlfriend as viewers into the pornographic scenes, and implicates us, as viewers, as active participants in the same pornographic scenes. Active participation is a theme throughout Nostalgia, and is important because of how it subverts the ejaculation trope of the active male penis ejaculating onto the passive female body. A trope that is pervasive in the scenes that Trouble reimagines.

When I watched the original porn films that Nostalgia is based on, Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat, Babylon Pink and The Devil in Miss Jones, I thought two things. First, I was incredibly grateful to be studying feminist pornography instead of this type of mainstream porn. If my only material was this racist, misogynist and heteronormative… I would be studying something else. Second, I thought wow. That is a lot of semen flying through the air! Behind the Green Door features a 7-minute, slow motion, psychedelic money shot montage that is both surreal and disturbing to watch.

It was the narrow fixation of the original porn films on the money shot – to the extent that the scene in Babylon Pink actually does not include any female orgasm or even attempt to reach orgasm, and centres solely around two men ejaculating onto a passive woman’s face – and the complete lack of this fixation in “Nostalgia” that lead me to the topic for this presentation.

I wanted to know what Trouble was attempting to say about ejaculation, and about its place within queer feminist pornography. She chose four films that explicitly centre around male ejaculation, and she called her film “Nostalgia”! Deep Throat is cited by Linda Williams as the first significant instance of the money shot, the first time that ejaculation onto a woman’s face was given pride of place in the scene. What is Trouble nostalgic for? The original scenes are horrifying in their representation of passive feminine sexuality as little more than a receptacle for male sexual pleasure. But, Deep Throat redefined the focus of pornographic depictions of sexuality. And that redefinition is what Trouble is nostalgic for. That redefinition is what she accomplishes in Nostalgia.

The first scene that Trouble reimagines is from Behind the Green Door. In the original, the main character is abducted and “ravaged” for the enjoyment of an audience that is commanded to be silent and still. She is restrained through much of the scene, passively but clearly without her consent, and the scene climaxes with 7 minutes of cum.

Nostalgia’s reimagining of this scene, more than any of the other three, closely mirrors the format and structure of the original. However, in Trouble’s remake, there are significant differences. The audience claps and participates – the viewer again brought into the scene. There is no abduction, and the main character is submissive, but she is not passive. She is actively engaged with the sex acts throughout the scene, actively participates in her own pleasure and orgasm, and when two female characters ejaculate onto her torso she makes eye contact with them, she is not restrained, and non-consensual passivity is replaced with consensual submissiveness.

This scene centres around ejaculation, echoing the original. Female ejaculation, yes, but still fully embodied – still a body ejaculating bodily fluid onto another body. And still the climax of the sexual scene.

The second scene in Nostalgia is the reimagining of Deep Throat. Deep Throat is the infamous “clitoris in the back of her throat” film. It was, and is, a controversial film and one that exemplifies the abuses we often associate with the porn industry. Linda Lovelace, who stars in the original, suffered incredible abuse on the set. Trouble’s choice to include Deep Throat in her nostalgia gave me pause. This is not a film I ever wanted to watch, and it was as disturbing to actually view as I had feared it would be. It is a ridiculous, cheesy, distressing film. Linda Lovelace is “fixed” when the doctor discovers her clitoris deep in her throat, and she experiences an orgasm that is marked by bells ringing and rockets literally taking off when she deep throats him and he ejaculates on her face. This language of being “fixed” implies that the inorgasmic woman is broken and requires a penis to fix her. She goes on to fall in love with a man whose fantasy is to be a rapist, and who complains that she’s not afraid enough. Her response is that he’s just so manly, and she’s so turned on by him that she can’t fake the fear. Like I said earlier, if this was the only material I had to work with, I would be doing a very different project.

In Trouble’s reimagining of the scene, the casting is important. Madison Young, who not only performs but also directs her own feminist pornography, plays the role of Linda Lovelace. Young is vocal about her enjoyment of fellatio – not just in this scene where she plays the part convincingly, but also in her life, where she gives workshops and presents talks on the topic. Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich, the two other performers in this scene, are also known for their work as performance artists and activists, as well as porn performers. This casting of three highly recognizable performers who do work on and off-screen mitigates the potential for the implication that Trouble is mirroring not only the film but also the production practices. These three, perhaps more than any other three performers could, make it clear through their acting and their identities, that this is a fully consensual performance.

The doctor finds Young’s clitoris in her throat, just like in the original. And just like in the original, this causes her to orgasm. Rather than rockets launching, however, this orgasm involves glitter. A lot of glitter. Earlier in the scene Young says that she wants to squirt glitter, and the orgasm features glitter fireworks on the screen, and ends with glitter all over the doctor’s condom-covered, silicon cock and Young’s face. It is unclear where the glitter ejaculate comes from. Clearly, throats do not ejaculate. Neither do silicon cocks. Certainly not when they’re wrapped in a condom. This ejaculatory scene, then, shifts the focus away from the fully embodied, supposedly “natural”, ejaculatory orgasm, to an ambiguous, winking, sort-of embodied ejaculation.

Trouble then takes the scene in a direction that does not in any way mirror the original. Both the doctor and the nurse are wearing strap-ons and, critically, Madison Young is active in asking for what she wants and directing the action to achieve her own orgasm. This orgasm, entirely glitter-free, is the result of penetration and clitoral stimulation – inserting the biological female body into a scene that fantasizes about the misplaced clitoris. This is important, because the misplaced clitoris fantasy allowed the original Deep Throat to completely elide actual female pleasure and to place male ejaculation as the primary focus of the scene.

By placing the two orgasms in the Nostalgia reimagining side by side, the one clearly fake, with ambiguously originating glitter ejaculate and dramatically acted porn-orgasm screams, and the other involving no ejaculate and a much more seemingly authentic orgasm, Deep Throat’s original act of placing ejaculation as the focus and the point of the pornographic scene is undone. Trouble pulls the rug out from under this trope by contrasting the two orgasms, highlighting the ridiculousness of the money shot, particularly when it does not include any efforts at mutual pleasure and active participation by all sexual players. This scene also moves away from closely following the original, as the first scene did, and towards more radical revisioning of the original texts.

The final two scenes barely even resemble the original texts.

Babylon Pink, the third scene in Nostalgia, originally featured a short scene of a woman fantasizing about being placed on a table at a dinner party and having two men ejaculate onto her face, with two women also present. In the re-imagining of this scene, the woman having the fantasy is an active participant in the sex acts with her two female companions. The sex acts are widely varied, with elements of dominance and submission and each character playing both dominant and submissive roles. The scene ends with the woman whose fantasy we are watching smearing cake onto the faces of her companions. This is fully disembodied ejaculatory imagery – moving further and further from the phallocentric focus of the porn films being reimagined. Most interestingly in this scene, none of the performers in this scene appear to orgasm, or at least their orgasms are not the focus of the scene. Rather, the focus is on power exchange and the interactions between the three women.

This shift in focus from orgasm as an end-goal to sexual pleasure as an on-going process allows Trouble to interrogate the purpose of pornographic sex. The ejaculatory moment in this scene, with cake being smeared across two women’s faces but nobody experiencing or performing orgasm, challenges the idea of ejaculation as proof of pleasure. The cake-ejaculate is constructed, manufactured, and fully disembodied. In fact, it is vegan cake, which takes it entirely out of the realm of bodies and their products. It is the moments of sexual interaction – the active participation of all performers in the sexual act – that are given the weight of authenticity.

Finally, Nostalgia ends with The Devil in Miss Jones. Both the original and the reimagining begin with Miss Jones’ suicide. This is the only thing that they have in common, and it is relevant because unlike the abduction that is removed from the reimagining of Behind the Green Door, Miss Jones’ suicide is an act of personal agency. It is a choice that she makes. In the original, she is given the opportunity to experience lust before going to Hell for her sin of suicide. In Trouble’s reimagining, she is also given the opportunity to experience lust. She and the angel that meets her in limbo are transported into the room with Trouble and her girlfriend. This is important because it highlights the point made by Trouble in her framing of the film as interactive, that the viewer is part of the pornographic process. That we shape the porn that we watch through our choices in what we watch, and how we respond to it.

There are no similarities between the pornographic scene in Trouble’s bedroom and any scene in the original film. There is no sadistic teacher, there is no ejaculation of any kind, and there is no punishment. The four women engage in a variety of sex acts, experience or perform orgasms that do not appear to be the focus of the camera or the scene, and end the scene and the film tangled together asleep on the bed.

There have been moments in porn that shape cultural ideas about what sex is and how we do what we do when we get in bed together. Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and The Devil in Miss Jones are considered the three most influential films of 70s porno chic, they changed how we film sex. They situated male ejaculation onto female bodies as the critical, defining moment in the pornographic scene. And we still see the money shot as the most common ending to scenes in heterosexual mainstream pornography. This focus on the money shot, and on the active male sexuality that it evokes, is about power.

A fundamental argument underpinning the anti-porn feminist critiques that were sparked by films such as the Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat, Babylon Pink and The Devil in Miss Jones is that pornography is about power, and that it is about male power over women. The image of the passive female recipient of the explosive male ejaculate is exactly what feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon were enraged by. And yet, not all pornography is about the passive female and the active male.

Not all pornography is straight, for one thing. And thankfully some feminists responded to the appalling state of mainstream heterosexual pornography by creating their own pornography. Annie Sprinkle said that the answer to bad porn is not no porn, it is more porn. I would add, better porn. Feminist porn.

If it was true in the pornography of the time, as Catherine MacKinnon said, that “women/men is a distinction not just of difference, but of power and powerlessness . . . power/powerlessness is the sex difference,” then feminist pornographers such as Courtney Trouble and others like her – Nina Hartley, Jiz Lee, Madison Young, Erika Lust, Tony Comstock, Buck Angel, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Shine Louise Houston, Ned and Maggie Mayhem… These pornographers are smashing that binary. Imperfectly, incompletely, but resolutely.

There is power in pornography; this power is obvious when we look at the long legacy left by Deep Throat and the introduction of the money shot.

Courtney Trouble was nostalgic for that power, for the ability to redefine how we think about and perform sex in pornographic scenes. She took four films that shaped pornography and reimagined them through her own queer feminist lens. This is what feminist porn does, and why I am happy to study it and support it. To be the active participant that Trouble imagines.

You’ve Got Something On Your Face – First draft

It seems somewhat appropriate to end this symposium with a discussion of the money shot.

This iconic pornographic trope, the cum shot that often signals the end of the sexual act or scene, has been subverted and reimagined, and finally excluded, in Courtney Trouble’s queer feminist pornographic film, “Nostalgia.”

It is relevant to this discussion that Trouble’s feminist pornography is queer. There are no biologically male performers in “Nostalgia” and this necessarily changes the focus from male ejaculatory orgasm onto something else. And it is critical to recognize that Trouble’s queer feminist pornography is not the only iteration of feminist pornography, and that not all feminist pornography is queer and not all queer pornography is feminist. Alison Butler has said that “women produce feminist work in a wide variety of forms and styles,” and this applies to feminist pornography as much as to any other feminist cultural practice. It is important that we not look for all the answers in Trouble’s film – she cannot represent the heterosexual feminist in this film, or answer the question of where the biologically male penis fits within feminist pornography. These are important questions regarding the role of ejaculation and ejaculatory imagery in feminist pornography, but they won’t be answered here.

But she asks and perhaps answers other interesting and important questions.

Nostalgia reimages four scenes from iconic, “Golden Age” pornography. Her film is framed by transitional shots of Trouble and her girlfriend watching porn together. This is an important insertion of Trouble and her girlfriend as viewers into the pornographic scenes, and implicates us, as viewers, as active participants in the same pornographic scenes. Active participation is a theme throughout Nostalgia, and is important because of how it subverts the ejaculation trope of the active male penis ejaculating onto the passive female body. A trope that is pervasive in the scenes that Trouble reimagines.

When I watched the original porn films that Nostalgia is based on, Behind the Green Door, Deep Throat, Babylon Pink and The Devil in Miss Jones, I thought two things. First, I was incredibly grateful to be studying feminist pornography. If my only material was this racist, misogynist and heteronormative… I would be studying something else. Second, I thought wow. That is a lot of semen flying through the air! Behind the Green Door features a 7-minute, slow motion, psychedelic money shot montage that is both surreal and disturbing to watch.

It was the narrow fixation of the original porn films on the money shot – to the extent that the scene in Babylon Pink actually does not include any female orgasm or even attempt to reach orgasm, and centres solely around two men ejaculating onto a passive woman’s face – and the complete lack of this fixation in “Nostalgia” that lead me to the topic for this presentation.

I wanted to know what Trouble was attempting to say about ejaculation, and about its place within queer feminist pornography. She chose four films that explicitly centre around male ejaculation, and she called her film “Nostalgia”! Deep Throat is cited by Linda Williams as the first significant instance of the money shot, the first time that ejaculation onto a woman’s face was given pride of place in the scene. What is Trouble nostalgic for? The original scenes are horrifying in their representation of passive feminine sexuality as little more than a receptacle for male sexual pleasure. But, Deep Throat redefined the focus of pornographic depictions of sexuality. And that redefinition is what Trouble is nostalgic for. That redefinition is what she accomplishes in Nostalgia.

The first scene that Trouble reimagines is from Behind the Green Door. In the original, the main character is abducted and “ravaged” for the enjoyment of an audience that is commanded to be silent and still. She is restrained through much of the scene, passively but clearly without her consent, and the scene climaxes with 7 minutes of cum.

Nostalgia’s reimagining of this scene, more than any of the other three, closely mirrors the format and structure of the original. However, in Trouble’s remake, there are significant differences. The audience claps and participates – the viewer again brought into the scene. There is no abduction, and the main character is submissive, but she is not passive. She is actively engaged with the sex acts throughout the scene, actively participates in her own pleasure and orgasm, and when two female characters ejaculate onto her torso she makes eye contact with them, she is not restrained, and non-consensual passivity is replaced with consensual submissiveness.

This scene centres around ejaculation, echoing the original. Female ejaculation, yes, but still fully embodied – still a body ejaculating bodily fluid onto another body. And still the climax of the sexual scene.

The second scene in Nostalgia is the reimagining of Deep Throat. Deep Throat is the infamous “clitoris in the back of her throat” film. It was, and is, a controversial film and one that exemplifies the abuses we often associate with the porn industry. Linda Lovelace, who stars in the original, suffered incredible abuse on the set. Trouble’s choice to include Deep Throat in her nostalgia gave me pause. This is not a film I ever wanted to watch, and it was as disturbing to actually view as I had feared it would be. It is a ridiculous, cheesy, distressing film. Linda Lovelace is “fixed” when the doctor discovers her clitoris deep in her throat, and she experiences an orgasm that is marked by bells ringing and rockets literally taking off when she deep throats him and he ejaculates on her face. This language of being “fixed” implies that the inorgasmic woman is broken and requires a penis to fix her. She goes on to fall in love with a man whose fantasy is to be a rapist, and who complains that she’s not afraid enough. Her response is that he’s just so manly, and she’s so turned on by him that she can’t fake the fear. Like I said earlier, if this was the only material I had to work with, I would be doing a very different project.

In Trouble’s reimagining of the scene, the casting is important. Madison Young, who not only performs but also directs her own feminist pornography, plays the role of Linda Lovelace. Young is vocal about her enjoyment of fellatio – not just in this scene where she plays the part convincingly, but also in her life, where she gives workshops and presents talks on the topic. Jiz Lee and Syd Blakovich, the two other performers in this scene, are also known for their work as performance artists and activists, as well as porn performers. This casting of three highly recognizable performers who do work on and off-screen mitigates the potential for the implication that Trouble is mirroring not only the film but also the production practices. These three, perhaps more than any other three performers could, make it clear through their acting and their identities, that this is a fully consensual performance.

The doctor finds Young’s clitoris in her throat, just like in the original. And just like in the original, this causes her to orgasm. Rather than rockets launching, however, this orgasm involves glitter. A lot of glitter. Earlier in the scene Young says that she wants to squirt glitter, and the orgasm features glitter fireworks on the screen, and ends with glitter all over the doctor’s condom-covered, silicon cock and Young’s face. It is unclear where the glitter ejaculate comes from. Clearly, throats do not ejaculate. Neither do silicon cocks. Certainly not when they’re wrapped in a condom. This ejaculatory scene, then, shifts the focus away from the fully embodied, supposedly “natural”, ejaculatory orgasm, to an ambiguous, winking, sort-of embodied ejaculation.

Trouble then takes the scene in a direction that does not in any way mirror the original. Both the doctor and the nurse are wearing strap-ons and, critically, Madison Young is active in asking for what she wants and directing the action to achieve her own orgasm. This orgasm, entirely glitter-free, is the result of penetration and clitoral stimulation – inserting the biological female body into a scene that fantasizes about the misplaced clitoris. This is important, because the misplaced clitoris fantasy allowed the original Deep Throat to completely elide actual female pleasure and to place male ejaculation as the primary focus of the scene.

By placing the two orgasms in the Nostalgia reimagining side by side, the one clearly fake, with ambiguously originating glitter ejaculate and dramatically acted porn-orgasm screams, and the other involving no ejaculate and a much more seemingly authentic orgasm, Deep Throat’s original act of placing ejaculation as the focus and the point of the pornographic scene is undone. Trouble pulls the rug out from under this trope by contrasting the two orgasms, highlighting the ridiculousness of the money shot, particularly when it does not include any efforts at mutual pleasure and active participation by all sexual players. This scene also moves away from closely following the original, as the first scene did, and towards more radical revisioning of the original texts.

The final two scenes barely even resemble the original texts.

Babylon Pink, the third scene in Nostalgia, originally featured a short scene of a woman fantasizing about being placed on a table at a dinner party and having two men ejaculate onto her face, with two women also present. In the re-imagining of this scene, the woman having the fantasy is an active participant in the sex acts with her two female companions. The sex acts are widely varied, with elements of dominance and submission and each character playing both dominant and submissive roles. The scene ends with the woman whose fantasy we are watching smearing cake onto the faces of her companions. This is fully disembodied ejaculatory imagery – moving further and further from the phallocentric focus of the porn films being reimagined. Most interestingly in this scene, none of the performers in this scene appear to orgasm, or at least their orgasms are not the focus of the scene. Rather, the focus is on power exchange and the interactions between the three women.

This shift in focus from orgasm as an end-goal to sexual pleasure as an on-going process allows Trouble to interrogate the purpose of pornographic sex. The ejaculatory moment in this scene, with cake being smeared across two women’s faces but nobody experiencing or performing orgasm, challenges the idea of ejaculation as proof of pleasure. The cake-ejaculate is constructed, manufactured, and fully disembodied. In fact, it is vegan cake, which takes it entirely out of the realm of bodies and their products. It is the moments of sexual interaction – the active participation of all performers in the sexual act – that is given the weight of authenticity.

Finally, Nostalgia ends with The Devil in Miss Jones. Both the original and the reimagining begin with Miss Jones’ suicide. This is the only thing that they have in common, and it is relevant because unlike the abduction that is removed from the reimagining of Behind the Green Door, Miss Jones’ suicide is an act of personal agency. It is a choice that she makes. In the original, she is given the opportunity to experience lust before going to Hell for her sin of suicide. In Trouble’s reimagining, she is also given the opportunity to experience lust. She and the angel that meets her in limbo are transported into the room with Trouble and her girlfriend. There are no similarities between this pornographic scene and any scene in the original film. There is no sadistic teacher, there is no ejaculation of any kind, and there is no punishment.

The four women engage in a variety of sex acts, experience or perform orgasms that do not appear to be the focus of the camera or the scene, and end the scene and the film tangled together asleep on the bed.

There have been moments in porn that shape cultural ideas about what sex is and how we do what we do when we get in bed together. Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door and The Devil in Miss Jones are considered the three most influential films of 70s porno chic, they changed how we film sex. They situated male ejaculation onto female bodies as the critical, defining moment in the pornographic scene. And we still see the money shot as the most common ending to scenes in heterosexual mainstream pornography.

Courtney Trouble was nostalgic for that power, for the ability to redefine how we think about and perform sex in pornographic scenes. She took four films that shaped pornography and reimagined them through her own queer feminist lens. This is what feminist porn does, and why I am happy to study it and support it. To be the active participant that Trouble imagines.

You’ve Got Something On Your Face: Ejaculatory Imagery in Courtney Trouble’s “Nostalgia”

I’m presenting at the English Undergraduate Symposium on Saturday! I am equal parts terrified and excited.

Here’s my outline. It’s super messy. But it’s something! I’ll post as it gets fleshed out. And I’d love feedback.

– Introduce the idea of feminist pornography, Trouble as a queer feminist pornographer (specifically state that not all feminist pornography is queer, but this film is) and introduce Nostalgia and the films it remakes (I estimate 3-5 minutes for this bit)

– Talk about ejaculation and how it has been theorized by feminist critics (starting with the critique of it as misogynistic and aggressive, moving into contemporary critiques that are more nuanced) (1-2 minutes)

– Run through the ejaculation scenes in the original porn – every. single. scene. includes male ejaculation onto the female performer’s face, and in Behind The Green Door this scene is a psychedelic, 7 minute slo-mo loop of semen flying through the air and landing on Marilyn Chambers’ waiting, passive face (2-3 minutes)

– Analyze the ejaculatory imagery in Nostalgia.

 – In the remake of Behind The Green Door, two female-bodied performers ejaculate onto the torso of the “Gloria” character. I believe that using this as the first scene centers ejaculation as the culmination of the sex act/scene, and it is relevant that this scene is the one that most closely mirrors the original film. Unlike in the original, the moments of ejaculation are not ejaculator-onto-passive body – she is making eye contact, she’s not restrained, and she engages with the two performers who are ejaculating onto her. This sets up the rest of the film, which is marked by active participation on the part of the character who was primarily passive in the original films. This also recovers the D/s elements of the Behind The Green Door scene by showing voluntary rather than forced submission on the part of the Gloria character. This ejaculatory scene is fully embodied – we see the female-bodied performers squirting onto Gloria’s chest and belly. This is also the final scene in this sequence. Another possibility is that this scene irrevocably (within the film’s universe) queers the act of ejaculation. There are no biologically male performers in the film, but this scene makes it clear that sex acts are not aligned to sex parts in the way that much mainstream heterosexual porn portrays them to be. (ie – not just cocks are capable of ejaculating, and not just passive heterosexual or fetishistically bisexual women are the recipients of ejaculate.)

 – In the remake of Deep Throat, glitter! Still simulated as coming from a body – either the strap-on or Madison Young’s throat. This is a further queering of ejaculation. In this scene it is entirely ambiguous whether the glitter ejaculate comes from Young’s throat (earlier in the scene she says she wants to “squirt glitter”) or from the condom-covered silicon cocks. Either way, it is not a ‘natural’ way for ejaculate to get out of a body and onto another body.

 – In the remake of Bablyon Pink, cake! Moving further and further from the true-to-original style of the first scene, and also moving further and further from the embodiment of ejaculation and into a fully constructed/disembodied model of ejaculation.

 – In the remake of The Devil in Miss Jones – no ejaculation AND no punishment for female sexuality. This completely decenters ejaculation as the culmination of the sex act/scene. (10 minutes)

 – Brief discussion of what this might mean for heterosexual pornography, where ejaculation from male bodies still needs to be recovered and re-imagined, so that we are not left with the idea that male ejaculation onto bodies is always misogynist or aggressive. Cite that facials article. (1 minute)

This post is long, but absolutely worth the read. It is a nuanced, convincing piece about how criminalization does not help sex workers, and how the harm caused by criminalization is real and tangible, and putting sex workers at risk.

I couldn’t help thinking about it in terms of Measure B, another legislative measure that is supposedly for the benefit of the people it impacts, but does not take into account their own concerns about how it will increase their risk (link NSFW).

Feminist Ire

“If you drive it underground so no one can find it, it wouldn’t survive.” – Rhoda Grant, 2012

In many ways, Dana fits the profile. She’s a twentysomething woman with a drug addiction. She was abused in childhood and her partner is occasionally violent towards her. They’re in and out of homeless accommodation, and she works on the street to fund both their habits. You could hold her up as an example of someone who does not want to do sex work, and you’d be right. You could score points with her story. You could insinuate that anybody who rejects total eradication of the sex industry simply doesn’t care about her. And that’s pretty much what the campaigners were doing when they lobbied for the criminalisation of her clients.

It’s late 2007, and the Scottish Parliament recently passed the Prostitution (Public Places) (Scotland) Act, outlawing kerb-crawling. Dana’s clients are now…

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