An Open Letter to the Feminist Porn Awards

by Diane Yang for Manifesta Magazine

It’s getting close to the 10th Annual Feminist Porn Awards, an event I enjoyed last year and was looking forward to again this year. I bought my ticket to Toronto, excited to have a vacation and attend an award show that wouldn’t feel alienating to a fat femme queer. I figured I might not do the whole shebang, and wasn’t originally planning to shoot, just wanting to hobnob with other incredible feminist directors and producers.

Originally I was able to overlook a couple of things I found concerning- the Grooby sponsorship(“feminism under capitalism is hard to navigate”, I said to myself) or the flyer featuring performers that weren’t up for an FPA in what felt potentially tokenizing (“they’re trying to showcase diversity, and it’s just clumsy”, I sighed).

But it kept piling on, and with the history of the FPAs turning the other way or not doing their research on their nominees… I finally felt it necessary to boycott the FPAs, and to write them a letter explaining why it hurt my heart, but I would not be returning. I am concerned, particularly, with their new judging guidelines, which seems to prioritize consumerist values over feminist passion. There are enough industry awards that deify white, cis, able bodied, femme bodies, and middle class white cis directors/producers.

I feel like mainstream porn is having a trickle down effect of moving towards more ethical values, so, accordingly, it’s a perfect time for the Feminist Porn Awards to *raise* the bar on politics and porn, rather than withdraw.

For transparency, and for others who may also want to write letters expressing their own concerns (which may be the same, or different), I am showing the letter here. While these are my own feelings, I wish to make clear- I do not fault the directors or performers who *do* choose to participate, especially as many of them struggle to get acknowledgement anywhere else. But I think that often, earnest feminism is all we have, particularly as sex workers. And that needs to be tenderly held, loved, and recognized, far more than marketability.

I think, however, we can and should do better, both for the sake of intersectional feminism, and for the sake of the development and blossoming of ethical pornography.

Really? REALLY?!?

The 10th Annual Feminist Porn Awards is such a big deal- congratulations on surging forward and informing the mainstream industry that the combination of politics and pornography is not only inevitable, but worth welcoming and recognizing. I therefore hope that you will see this letter as an invitation, and perhaps a desperate plea, rather than a scolding. I care, a lot, about these issues, as a porn performer, consumer, and producer.

This would have been my second year, and I was so excited to have bought my ticket to fly to Toronto again- I had an amazing time last year, both at the events and the play party and just being around other feminist pornographers from all over the globe. It’s a really special place, which is why I’m sad to say I will not be attending the FPAs as I expected to this year. As my Toronto plane ticket is already purchased, I’ll be in the area anyway, but I just don’t feel welcome at these awards this year.

-I think it is, perhaps, in poor taste to feature a performer or scene that is not up for a Feminist Porn Award on advertisements, as it feels very tokenizing, like they’re there to suggest there’s a diversity that, in actuality, is overshadowed by what is considered “hot” to the mainstream- white, cis, straight, ablebodied women, which covers most of the films shown and awarded.

-I cannot be present at an award show that uses the word feminist yet offers awards and accolades to Madison Young, who joked about raping a drunk woman in college on film (in a movie that, in fact, was nominated for an award in 2010), or who has awarded a known serial rapist a Heartthrob of the Year award (Christian XXX has a terrible reputation in the industry, particularly with trans women [eta: many of whom cannot come forward because to do so often means being blacklisted for “drama” and not being able to find work, which is already tough, esp as a lower income trans woman- I do not use the word “alleged” here on purpose, because I believe the multiple survivors who spoke to me about this]). Fighting rape culture is hugely important in feminism, and especially within the lens of sex work. Giving people who engage in those behaviours comes across as condoning them in a way that I just cannot in good conscience support.

-I am very concerned with the various ways in which respect to trans women is being pushed to the wayside, particularly this year. Yes, there are several movies featuring or produced by trans women this year (and many years), and that’s great! However, having a website like “shemaleyum” a couple clicks away via a sponsorship sends a very different message. Michelle Austin has repeatedly bullied and silenced trans women who have said that no, they’re not comfortable with being called derogatory names.

Lily Cade is a world of concern all on her own. She has expressed serious fatphobia and transmisogyny around her casting choices, has been abusive when critiqued however mildly, and the film she’s nominated for jokes about Obama supporting terrorism. That is absolutely not my feminism, and it’s disappointing to see someone espousing those beliefs publicly being celebrated by the FPAs.

-I am disturbed at the new guidelines for judging the FPAs, particularly the insistence that feminist porn needs to have high production value, that earnestness is not enough. High production value requires valuable time, learned skills, expensive equipment, pricey editing software, budget to fund the project. It sets a precedent that capitalist consumerist values are more important than actual politics, which is somewhat contrary to feminism, in my understanding. Additionally for those who are not as

privileged and don’t have companies funding their projects, or who are small, independent companies, earnestness is all they often have. By seemingly setting the bar in a way that requires financial privilege, you are likely shutting out many potential feminist pornographers, which is disappointing in a space that wants to court diversity.

I have been asked to write a piece on this topic, so I welcome your comments and response, both on and off the record. I am curious whose feminism you feel this reflects, and if you are, in fact, creating a welcoming space for a diversity of feminists. From here, this looks a lot like middle class, ivory tower white feminism, and as someone who cares deeply about combatting the harms that feminism has wrought, perhaps the FPAs are not for me.

I hope to be proven wrong! I believe so strongly in feminist porn. But, as the phrase goes, my feminism must be intersectional, or it will be bullshit (if you pardon my strong language).

Thanks for hearing me out, I do hope you take this into consideration.

I have not heard back yet, though there hasn’t been much time since I sent the letter til right now, and I’m hoping that it means the FPAs are taking this seriously. I love intersectional feminism, and I love porn. I love both with an earnestness I cannot and will not apologize for, because I really believe in them both and their capability to transform people’s lives. I am fascinated by the idea that I have written this to somehow market a product, considering it’s probably killed any last chance of working in mainstream porn (which is why I’m doing it, and not several other performers). If being an angry feminist made big bucks, man, I’d have disappeared to form a commune with my poly cabal by now, kittens! I do this because I care, deeply, and believe, strongly, that we can change attitudes, and should.

If you, too, would like to let them know how you feel, you can email them at whats@goodforher.com.

8 Comments

  1. Thanks for the mention Kitty. Is the issue with the Grooby sponsorship, solely based on our usage of the terminology (which I’ve addressed elsewhere, and many, many trans girls don’t take issue with) or is it that we’re a trans company (or something else?).

    Also I think your statement “Christian XXX has a terrible reputation in the industry, particularly with trans women” is absolutely incorrect. Christian has an excellent reputation particularly WITH trans women and models are often disappointed when they have requested to shoot with him but we’re unable to, purely because of over-exposure issues. He’s very professional, he produces great scenes and I’ve very rarely heard complaints about him, so I don’t know where you’re getting that information from.

    Thank you – Steven

    • I sat at a table with 4 women at AVN who told me a very different story while informing another performer that she should be wary about working with him. As I have no interest in them getting harassed, and the stories were told in confidence, I will not out survivors of sexual violence. If you have very rarely heard complaints, perhaps that is because the few complaints you did hear were not enough for you to take action, and so performers do not find you a safe person to speak to on the subject. Worth considering.

      I don’t care, frankly, if you have some trans performers who “don’t take issue with” derogatory names. If it’s a word that is, in other contexts, considered hate speech, it is feminist porn’s responsibility to be mindful of that fact. It’s also worth mentioning that taking issue with these sorts of terms often leads to performers being unable to find work because they are then termed “difficult” for raising concerns, so OF COURSE they’re not going to tell someone who pays them that they dislike the term, there’s survival money on the line! If I depended on mainstream porn for my income, I might say I was fine being called a whale or a pig in the marketing of my image, because as a fat performer, that’s the sacrifice I have to make to get paid. Thankfully, I am not under that constraint.

  2. Christian X is a woman manipulator, controller, stalker, pathological liar, thief, cheapskate, tormentor, cyber bully, active crossover, narcissist, diva.

    Never trust @christianxxx1 with anything.

    • I have no issue with a performer being a “crossover” performer (meaning, for my readers, someone who performs in gay and straight porn). In fact, when it comes to cisgendered men, I exclusively work with crossover performers. I have a problem with the stories I have received that he is sexually coercive and ignores boundaries.

  3. My response: http://www.donotlink.com/eake

    (K: edited to create a donotlink, as I don’t feel like giving Lily Cade analytics from my readers)

    • I’ve added an image to prove Lily Cade cosigning the idea that working with trans women would be forced and therefore rape.

  4. Thanks Kitty, Keeping the edge feminist porn sharp is not always a comfortable thing.
    I was sad to hear about this boycott. This was my first FPAs and not finding several people I wanted to see in Toronto was cause for alarm.

    You brought up many interesting points and I think its great that a conversation (even a sort of disjointed one) has been happening.

    The points you and Lily Cade make about money in feminist porn are both accurate but seem to have become a matter of diction. Should the FPAs require “high production values” or “substantial quality” ?

    Maybe you can address each other and come to a kind and mutually supportive way of helping us readers consume and produce better porn.

    • I mean, I think that Lily and I have very different attitudes about porn. I think it sounds like there are some ways in which the work she does is highly ethical, and that’s great! I just don’t think that her transphobia or fatphobia can be excused because she’s doing things right in other areas, just as I totally fuck up and should be called on that when it happens (and am).

      It’s also not just about Lily, but about a wider issue about porn and politics. This is where the rubber hits the road- are we just feminists idealistically, or are we striving to have it reflected in our hiring practices, in our marketing, in how we shoot? It’s important to survive under capitalism, sure, but I think it at least makes sense to say that’s what you’re doing and that you understand that it means straying from ideals. I really question how possible truly feminist porn can be under capitalistic patriarchal white supremacy. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to do better. Do we value capitalistic value over political value? I guess I’d like to see more transparency and an indication of understanding intersectionality and institutionalized oppression’s influence over this work, and indeed all work.

      To be fair, I didn’t call for a boycott. It ended up being treated like a boycott (of *one event*, mind, not of Good For Her, or the sponsors), but that was more how it got portrayed. I just said I personally wasn’t going, and that maybe other people would want to think about if the values the FPAs are highlighting are their feminist values. A lot of people decided not to go after that reflection. I don’t blame people who did go, and in fact encouraged some of them to do so- both being a part of an event and expressing concern while there and not going as a way of expressing concern are valid ways to try to make change. I hope the FPAs decide to continue a dialogue about that fact, rather than blaming me (one of multiple letters that were written, mind, I’m just the one who spoke publicly) for this reaction. It’s been brewing for years. I’m just the person who said it out loud. I just feel strongly that if they DID want a dialogue, they wouldn’t have been signal boosting those who chose to trash talk folks who wrote letters to the FPAs to say how disappointed they were, while ignoring and not retweeting the critiques. To me, that sounds like being defensive, not really listening. ::shrug:: Their loss.

This post and the comments above originally appeared at http://kittystryker.com/2015/03/an-open-letter-to-the-feminist-porn-awards/.

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