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Learning Compassion the Hard Way

I feel like I need to offer a content warning for turning lemons into lemonade, or seeing the positive side of things, or whatever. I'm not normally such a ray of sunshine and I don't want y'all to be surprised or shocked by my sudden optimism.

Last week, I came out and found my car had been vandalized. There was a tag scratched into the trunk, and one of the tires had been made flat. Another tire was missing all of its lug nuts, meaning the tire was about to fall off.  There was a gold necklace wound around my windshield wiper blade, too, which if I hadn't seen it might have led to me scratching up my windshield pretty badly. It was unsettling, especially as the car wasn't parked far from my house. Even more unsettling was finding the keys used to scratch the car in our driveway... and discovering that it was done in broad daylight, by an adult man.

I didn't call the cops, because I live in a neighborhood that's being gentrified and the police seem to take any opportunity to shoot black people. If I'm honest, I feel like this sort of push back is to be expected - Oakland is the second fastest in the US when it comes to rising rents, and it's affecting a lot of marginalized people. Gentrification is a form of systematic violence, and I totally acknowledge that as a white cis person I contribute to that by having the access to pay even a bit more. I still felt pretty shaken, even if I understood the sentiment.

Today, I had to take my car in because one of my tires ended up being totally flat yesterday (even after AAA fixed it). When I went in, I discovered that all of my tires were rotting and close to falling apart! Had that guy not tried to take that damn tire off, I might not have realized how dire the situation was until I was driving on a freeway and a tire just exploded on me.  I'm supposed to go to Fort Bragg this upcoming weekend, and having my tires blow up on the way would be an incredibly stressful addition to the trip.

It was definitely one of those moments where I realized that sometimes super shitty things happen but they have an upside that you might be even more grateful for.  I know, kumbaya, right, but I think maybe I'm moving to a better space where it's easier for me to sit with difficult situations. I'm learning how to say "I'm scared or hurt and it sucks, how am I going to care for myself" rather than "how am I going to fight back" and that's a major lesson for me.

It was generally a difficult weekend filled with hard realizations and personal processing, but I'm trying to remind myself that these moments of intensity lead to better things- better relationships, better communication, better understanding of myself, better self care. Processing is one of my least favourite things to do but god, do I love the rewards of trust and intimacy when I do it. The vulnerability is scary each time and it's hard not to want to run away and withdraw or to lash out rather than say how I'm feeling openly and with love. Loving kindness is hard fucking work, but if I am to believe that people genuinely want to do better and not hurt each other, which I think generally is true, then even when I sometimes run up against people who are just assholes I can try to feel compassion rather than anger. It's definitely improved my relationships... even if I still want to overapologize for my emotional honesty.

"We're all wounded animals" is something I remind myself of a lot when I want to take a deep breath and feel loving kindness rather than irritation at someone's behaviour.  It's a hard thing to practice and I absolutely don't get it right all the time! But I'm glad to be moving towards a place of patience rather than constant fury. I just don't have the energy to hate more than about 5 people at any given time.  I still hold that anger is a super important and needed aspect to social justice and change, and I'll still use it as such. But I want it to be a reaction I choose, rather than my default. Iwant to direct that anger energy to punching up, not down.

Categories: activism, best of, communication, love, personal

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Info on the FemmeSpiration project!

So if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you might know that this weekend I had my first gallery opening last night!

SideQuest Gallery in Oakland is doing a Femme 4Ever show for the next month, and I was asked to be a part of it. I'm still fresh to photographing people, but I really wanting to use this as an opportunity to remind folks that femme is more than white, cis, curvy women, but a huge variety of folks. I also contributed to a femme zine by Sonya Mann which you can see here.

Many of my femme inspirations when I was young weren't white cis women, but androgynous dandies, genderfucking men, and people playing with drag in different ways. Yet I feel a lot of femme representation I've come across (anywhere except tumblr) can be pretty narrow. While masculinity seems to be fine for people to play with, femmeness is still kind of pushed aside, scorned, made fun of and made invisible.

I had hoped for it to be a 12 image project initially with femmes I adore like Mattie Brice, Toni Rocca, Virgie Tovar, Jetta Rae, and Cinnamon Maxxine, but it was a busy couple of months and hard to schedule. I still have my fingers crossed though, and I'm so grateful to the models I did get to photograph so far for sharing of themselves and their time! Once I've expanded this, my hope is to show it as a collection again, maybe even at the same gallery.

Each photo is displayed with a written statement from the model about what femme means to them. You can see the images and the statements at the end of this post.

The framed images are for sale and will be available for pickup after May 11th, when the show is over. They're $60 each - $12 goes to the gallery, $12 goes to me to cover the frames/printing, and the rest goes to the models as a thank you for their initially unpaid labour (they also got all the images from the shoot for their use). 8X10 signed prints will also be available for $10 each plus shipping and handling.

If you're interested in a framed image, please contact SideQuest Gallery at sidequestgallery@gmail.com.

Want a print? Email me at miss.kitty.stryker@gmail.com.

Are you femme identified, in the Bay, and want to be a part of this project? Also feel free to email me at the above address!

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Categories: activism, art, best of, community, definitions, don't tell me how to live, femme, identity, personal, photos, queer

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A First Stab at Defining Feminist Porn

I'm going to be brief. I don't know if you can make truly feminist porn marketable to the capitalist patriarchy. In many ways I think these goals are contradictory, and I think one of the biggest excuses for not implementing feminist ideals in porn is "marketability" i.e. money and catering to the male gaze, which is, again, the complete opposite of the feminism I subscribe to.

I get it- making money is important!

But I also don't think "making money" is more important than abolishing sweatshop labour, or protecting what's left of our environment, or the myriad other ways we critique capitalism being raised above compassion and care.

Here's what, in my mind, feminist porn would reflect in terms of values. I imagine this will be a living document as my feminism is informed and critiqued further, and that's how it should be, I hope. Feminism is, to me, ultimately a process more than a destination.

Worker's Rights on Set - I would expect feminist porn performers to be paid equally, contracts to be clear and reviewed thoroughly, performers to be allowed to use safer sex techniques that work for them without being rewarded/penalized for those choices, performers to be paid on time, in full. I believe performers should be allowed to safeword out of a scene if they need a moment, and they should be able to voice complaints about unsafe treatment by fellow performers without being blacklisted for it. This also means having a comprehensive and transparent process for dealing with sexual assault on and off set.

Representation -  I feel feminist porn should take on board the various ways in which white, slender, cis femme women are deified under the male gaze, and not perpetuate that harm further. Ethnic diversity (including shades of Blackness), size diversity, gender diversity, orientations across the board, people with various disabilities, all of these things should reflect in our pornographic landscape - not as a token, or as a fetish, but as part of the rich tapestry that is human sexuality. I also think this means showing BDSM, rough sex, creampies, erotic humiliation, double penetration, porn with and without plot. Far too often "feminist porn" gets stuck in the "porn for women" rut... as prescribed, again, by the capitalist patriarchy, which values feminine virtues over what women actually find sexy.

Politics -  Look I'm going to be brutally honest here and say no, I don't think you get to call porn feminist and also say porn isn't political. Of course it's fucking political, otherwise you wouldn't use a political movement to differentiate your porn from the mainstream. I don't think that means your porn needs to embrace political themes all the time, but I think that to make feminist porn is to critique your work through the lens of multiple feminisms, including anti-porn feminism.

Understanding Sex Work is Work -  "Authenticity" is another branding bullshit scam. Porn performers perform. Stop pressuring us to express "genuine" pleasure when you already have an idea of what pleasures are allowed to be genuine. It's silencing, it's belittling, it's reductive, and it's gross.

Marketing - Using slurs to market your porn is not challenging the status quo, it's perpetuating and supporting it. I suppose that means you can't be lazy about your marketing by humiliating your performers, but instead have to maybe even coin new terminology. It'll be an uphill and often seemingly thankless battle (as is feminism generally, mind). You should be doing it anyway.

I'm off to go talk about porn all day- expect this to be added to. What else should be included? Comment below!

Categories: activism, capitalism, community, feminism, male privilege

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The Stifling Nature of the Phrase "But You're So STRONG"

I have made it my mantra ever since my last suicide attempt, now almost 2 1/2 years ago, that vulnerability is strength. I tell myself that, I tell my friends that, it informs my writing. It's a concept that's very precious to me, because for a long time I felt very trapped by my own perceived strength. Big Girls Don't Cry, etc etc. When I said I was having a hard time, which was usually a very gentle, not-wanting-to-alarm-people way to say "I am having suicidal ideation pretty much nonstop right now", the #1 response I would get back then was "but you're so strong!"

It is probably not a surprise to my regular readers that I am actually a ball of anxiety and self-criticism. I have absolutely considered what my life would be like if I got surgeries to make my body acceptable, if I medicated myself more heavily to take the edge off my constant state of mild panic. I have tried to break up with my partners because I know they can do better and I worry I take up too much space, in every sense of the word. I spend a fair amount of time punishing myself for not being more.

I am also incredibly sensitive.  I notice when people say "omg, we should TOTALLY HANG OUT" at a party and then they don't contact you again til the next party. I notice when someone only talks to people who they want to flirt with, and when that means conventionally pretty and slender. I notice when I'm snubbed at events as a guest or as a performer, and frankly it's one of the reasons I've withdrawn from a lot of the performance scene here in the Bay. Am I being overly precious? Perhaps, but it's telling to me that friends of mine who have intersectional awareness have also reflected that this happens to them, too. There is a hierarchy of friendship, it seems, and if you're fat, or disabled, or Black, or trans, god forbid a combination of those things, you're probably being shunted to the bottom of the pile, much like with dating. It's painful to witness, and I spend a lot of time gaslighting myself because I don't want it to be true.

And this all comes back to the stifling nature of being seen as "strong". I think I'm a pretty strong person, not least because I bear witness to my humiliation and devaluation every day and I'm still alive.  But in order to maintain that strength it feels like a disappointment to say when I feel hurt, or when the weight of the world's scorn is just too much. In addition, I think people forget that I'm actually severely socially anxious and need them to approach me sometimes, and I think they forget that no, I don't get a lot of flirtation or offers to hang out that actually manifest. Being "strong" or seeming "confident" doesn't mean I have my shit together any more than the rest of you. I know some folks in my communities frown on the practice of being open about feels on the internet, but for me it's important to hold myself accountable to letting myself be vulnerable, as well as reminding people that even strong people break down.

It's nice that people tell me I'm pretty, but it's a whisper against the constant roar that is the diet industry, the fashion industry, the medical industry, the sex industry, even my own friends. I don't know how to explain that to people who don't have it to the same extent. Like, yes, we're all given shit about how our bodies aren't good enough, but fat women are told regularly to kill themselves for being fat. As a fat porn performer and sex worker, I have been told that I deserve to be murdered for how my body looks. It's hard to be "strong" in the face of that, but I feel like I have to be defiant, because people look up to me. It's part of why I feel so strongly that showing fat, diverse bodies in feminist porn is so vital, because with every feminist company that still maintains that thin, cis, white body norm, they are actively hurting other women who get hurt enough. Being "strong" isn't enough to combat this, we need solidarity.

I guess it's because I'm so vocal I'm told how strong I am.  That loudness isn't my strength, though, that's a cry for help. My strength is in my waking up alone every day, putting my clothes on, getting through the work day, writing things like this. Being angry at the world is just protective.

Categories: anxiety, assumptions, best of, body stuff, community, fake it til you make it, feminism, love is a dog from hell, media, parties, personal, support

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Five Love Songs for a Longing Heart

I thought that maybe, during the Summer of Fun (more on that later) I'm implementing for myself, one of the things I would do at least twice a month is put together a small playlist around a theme. I loved making mix tapes, and enjoy hearing new music via playlists sent to me by friends and lovers, so I'm hoping maybe this will be a way to introduce you all to my internal musical psyche! 

I also love the idea of making these minimixes as a form of advice to various issues people are having, so email me if you need a mix for a specific situation- maybe you're going through a breakup and it's sad but you know you're better off, or maybe you need a pick me up for the job you're going to when you're anti-capitalism? Whatever it is, I'd love to see if I could make a mix for you.

Today's 5 song minimix is for those who are housing a bittersweet heart, the kind where your gut wrenches but you welcome the ache. It's a mix of nostalgia, missing lovers that were bad for us but whom we sometimes wake up looking for them in our bed, and of longing, wistful and dreamy unrequited or unspoken love. I don't know about you, but even when I'm perfectly happy in my relationships, I love to listen to songs that make me feel like a teenager lying in a pile of records wishing to be with someone who isn't thinking about me. These are songs that make me feel like that- in love, and in pain, and embracing both fully.

1. "Year of the Cat", Al Stewart

"She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
Like a watercolour in the rain
Don't bother asking for explanations
She'll just tell you that she came
In the year of the cat"

When I was a little girl, I would sing this song to my cat Pixel, a very tolerant Maine Coon lookalike. I was sure, as a kid, that I was going to marry my cat and we would live in a cottage by the ocean. It makes me think of summer love affairs, where we don't know how long it'll last, or care- we let ourselves love as fully as we can, for as long as it feels good. This may be my first exposure to the idea of a manic pixie.

2. "Breathe Me", Sia

"Ouch, I have lost myself again
Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found
Yeah, I think that I might break
Lost myself again and I feel unsafe"

I heard this song for the first time on an airplane from London to San Francisco. It was on a mix cd made for me by a lover as a goodbye gift, though I didn't know it at the time. I was attracted to him because of his vulnerability, his willingness to lay himself open to me, and this song seemed like a heartfelt plea for our arguments not to cause us to abandon each other. Instead, he left my heart a wasteland, and me devastated by the loss.

3. "Hostage-O", Warren Zevon

"I can see me bound and gagged
Dragged behind the clown mobile
You can treat me like a dog
If you make me feel what others feel"

I like a little bit of bondage, and I seem to like a little bit of suffering too. A mixture of kinky imagery and clowns mixed with the plea to learn how to now to be numb is definitely up my alley for plucking my heartstrings. I was introduced to it by a casual lover, and fell more for the lyrics than for the person who played it for me. I'm still working on my feelings about romance and sacrifice.

4. "I Love You More", The Softies

"I can't compete with that boy
I can't make you feel like that
I can't love you the way he does
I can only love you more"

I struggle a fair amount with jealousy, though it's not often the sort of jealousy that makes me want to split people up. Instead, my jealousy manifests in putting myself down, and sadly withdrawing from the person's life because I feel they have lovers around them who make them happier than I do. In my darker moments I second guess why my lovers would be with me when they can have so much better (and sometimes do), so songs like this that talk about those feelings help me wallow, cry a little, and then let those feelings go.

5. "Quiet Little Place", K's Choice

"In this quiet little place
You run your fingers through my hair and whisper "Hey"
And no matter how I try
I can't seem to think of anything better to say"

I'll end on a note that fits with the soft and sort of sad sounds of the previous songs, but that offers a slightly more peaceful feeling. K's Choice is a great band for feelings of "I'm in love with you and it's kind of confusing but I'm into it" and I have those feelings often. I fall in love easily, if not often. This song speaks to that moment when you're with someone you love and you're speechless... not for any bad or awkward reasons, but because there's no need to fill the empty space. That joy and calm of just sitting with someone you care about, whether they're a lover or a friend, and just existing, is a beautiful feeling.

I hope you enjoyed this new potential feature, please let me know what your thoughts are!

Categories: list, loss, love, love is a dog from hell, memories, mixtape, music, personal

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I HATE April Fool's Day.

I'm a clown who hates April Fool's Day. Weird, right? This should be a special day for mischief, it's the Day of the Clown, a day for laughter and silly hoaxes. It's harmless fun... or at least it should be. That's how it began, anyway. And I love many of the corporate gags, which are usually absurd enough to be obvious but not emotionally stirring... like Grouber, where all the drivers are cats. Whatever, right? I can smile, shake my head and keep on with my day. But it seems sometimes like now it's a day for getting pleasure out of the confusion of others, and to celebrate successfully manipulating them in ways that comes off pretty unfunny to me.

As someone who is keenly aware that many people in my community are suicidal and otherwise unwell, "jokes" about a sudden and drastic life change doesn't come off as obviously made up, to me. It comes off as a warning sign that this person is struggling, that they're reaching out for help. I *like* this part of myself, who cares deeply about other people I'm in touch with, however well we know each other. I don't want to feel publicly humiliated for being concerned when someone suddenly announces they're quitting their job or moving to another city suddenly or giving up a core part of their identity. We should be encouraging this sort of mutual care, not punishing it.

Not only that, but for people who aren't neurotypical, this kind of manipulative "pranking" can be really confusing and difficult to navigate. Feeling made fun of because you believe what people are saying at face value is kind of shitty. I was reading about how some kids with autism dread today because they take the fake tests or other jokes they might experience at school seriously and it stresses them out, not only that the surprise thing happened, but that they were then laughed at for their response.

I mean, ok, granted, I'm considered a humourless feminist anyway, so all this should come at no surprise.  But I think there's a difference between a gentle joke and pretending you have a terminal illness or are suicidal. I hate that a day that's supposed to be playful and fun just teaches people to be suspicious, not trust each other, try to "win" at being more of a dick, and gain pleasure from causing other people anxiety or pain. I read in a private group that it felt like the whole world was gaslighting you and I think that rings very true.

So please, keep that in mind, this April Fool's Day and every day, really. Not everyone feels safe enough to be fucked with, even by their friends. Be considerate and kind, not cruel.

Categories: best of, communication, community, consent, personal

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Poly PTSD

I always thought that the way in which my muscles spend more time tense than relaxed was normal. I figured waking up in the middle of the night because my legs had cramped, again, was probably a sign of not drinking enough water or something. There are areas of my body I thought were bone, and later discovered were in fact muscles so tense they were like painful rocks. Similarly, I thought my stomach issues were caused by not eating enough vegetables (I eat a lot, but figured maybe they weren't the right ones) or being in an unhealthy environment (which probably didn't help, tbh). I figured that waking up with your mind racing was just part of the human experience.

Now I realize so many of these symptoms relate to having an anxiety disorder. And learning how to be true to myself, and engage in self care, while also being a good and compassionate partner, is taking up a lot of my life right now.

Reminiscing about past relationships, both good and bad, is pretty normal I expect, but I literally get relationship flashbacks. The way a hand rests on my lower back, the way a lover's eyes light up when they see another partner, the casualness of discussing yet another threesome, all of these things have caused me to tense up with some sort of poly/relationship PTSD, and I'm still trying to figure out what to do about it.  I have nightmares about my lovers dumping me for not being pretty or sexually available enough or that I state a boundary or ask for a need to be met and I get hit. I wake up in tears a couple of times a month. I have had some terrible experiences with nonmonogamy- lovers pitting me against other metamours, being lied to about safer sex, being left without warning while in another country. It makes it difficult for me to breathe and accept that a person wants to be with me. I spend a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop, while also worrying that my lovers will eventually get fed up with my anxiety and walk.

Part of me wants to avoid the panic altogether, quit polyamory, dump my partners and become a solo cat lady, while part of me wants to challenge myself and be uncomfortable in order to work through it. Yet I'm not sure if I am, in fact, working through these feelings, or if I'm just retraumatising myself in the hope that eventually the nerve will numb. It's been difficult to admit that I am actively traumatised by sex party spaces, and that maybe my relationship to them is not something that's fixable if I just work hard enough. Sometimes I feel like I'm smiling while I dig a fork into my thigh, afraid not to reassure my lover that I'm ok with everything, I'm super GGG. It has not always been safe for me to have boundaries, and now I navigate my feelings and the reactions of others to them like a complex laser alarm system. And I'm clumsy.

I guess I dread discovering that my feelings aren't entirely under my control. I spend a lot of time trying to logic my gut feelings away, reminding myself that people DO genuinely like and desire me, and that no, that love isn't because of or in spite of my body. I keep hoping that perhaps I can find the magic words to reassure myself that I don't have to compete with other lovers by being up for anything or emotionally stoic, I can be myself and that's enough, that's what's wanted. I keep pushing myself to feel uncomfortable and to figure out why so I can process through it, but I'm beginning to suspect that I'm doing myself more harm than good.

The irony is that I really like my metamours. They're all people I get along with really well, and enjoy spending friend time with. I don't have any fear that they're seeking to shut me out. But it's been difficult not to compare myself to them and worry. How can I possibly measure up to a woman who has financial stability and privilege and doesn't struggle to find money for food some weeks? Or a woman who finds group sex easy and fun, for whom threesomes come naturally and not like a hive of anxious hornets? Or a woman who shares more interests and points of connection with my lovers than I do? I see how amazing my metamours are, and I look at my panicky, fat, hand-to-mouth, sexually complicated self and think "but you're already doing so much better".

I can't feel jealous of these metamours, because I don't want to take them away from my lovers, they're great! So instead, sometimes I'm eaten up by sadness and a feeling that it would be better if I just withdrew so they could have more awesome experiences with them rather than sit with me and my seemingly endless processing. I worry, often, constantly, that I'm not fun enough, that while I value my commitment to social justice and enacting change that taking care of me when I'm drained is too much to ask. I worry that I'm not sexual enough, or that my sexual currency isn't high enough. It's not so much that I think I'm unattractive, but that I'm very aware that society deems it acceptable to laugh or shudder at my body and I'm afraid that impacts my partners.  Am I holding them back?

I've read a lot of poly advice and it so often seems like either you need to be able to put these feelings aside or you need to give up open relationships. There's not a lot of information on balancing mental health issues and nonmonogamy, or how to heal yourself when poly was used as a weapon (mentally and sometimes physically) against you.  I don't have any answers, obviously, but maybe just coming out and saying these things is a good first step.

Categories: abuse, anxiety, boundaries, caution, communication, dating, fake it til you make it, gfe, love is a dog from hell, nonmonogamy, parties, personal, psychology, reflection, self care, sexuality, sweeties

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Nesting for Springtime

It's been a bit of a heartbreaking week, and there's important things I should probably be writing about- stuff delving into whose feminism informs feminist sex work, looks-based employment and the balance of ethical values with patriarchal "marketability", why we cannot be incredulous when people who have been mistreated don't come forward with their stories when they are so often abused further for speaking out. Important stuff. Hard stuff. Intense stuff.

But, you know what? Instead, I want to talk about something fun, because fun, as I have been reminded, is important for self care.

I've moved into a new apartment, and am living independently from a partner for the first time in a while. And it's fantastic! A couple years ago, I found being alone for days on end uncomfortable, but I'm reveling in having a bed all to myself to starfish on, and decor that fits my aesthetic. My room is colourful, filled with framed art that inspires me, and femme accessories that are both organized and displayed nicely. It's been a lot of fun problem solving, figuring out how to store my laptop, setting up a pink hue light, installing a mirror over my dresser to give it a vanity feel. I even have a housewarming wishlist, for those who are into that!

I'm finally close to my friends and my lovers, rather than dreading an hour plus in traffic any time I want to do something.  It's felt uplifting and exciting to make plans in the spur of the moment rather than weeks ahead. It doesn't hurt to have awesome food close by, and a cute garden on the side, and a fantastic housemate I get along with really well. I've felt comfortable nesting here, and have some hope this can be a forever home for me after a few years of moving because of circumstance. I enjoy coming home, and look forward to quiet time. Some of that, I'm sure, is growing up, and some of that is generally feeling more comfortable with my own company.

Having a nest is hopefully the first step to me letting go of my attachment to social media and getting out into the world more. I've been suffering from a lot of burnout and frustration at a lack of recognition for the work I'm asked to do and I need to recharge! While there are still, absolutely, injustices to fight and behaviours to call out, I'm finding myself more eager to spend time offline, exploring my neighborhood, drinking tea and reading, listening to records. I'm hoping to embrace more fun in my life, rather than continuing to work nonstop as a way of keeping my brain busy. I'm tired of being the one people come to with rape reports, needs for conflict resolution, an angry voice to speak up about whatever the thing is now. I need a respite, and for a while, that'll be enacted through bicycling instead of driving, making plans to hang out with people without a political agenda on the table, and maybe getting back into crafting and creating.

I'll still be writing, of course! And I'll still be addressing important issues. But I'm going to make a solid effort to also write more about topics I find fun and invigorating, like fashion tricks or home decorating projects. I'm also really looking forward to having more time with friends I don't fuck, bringing my partners to interesting art events and pig roasts and pretty much anything but sex parties, carving out a niche for myself with other people who enjoy sexuality but don't need it to be EVERYTHING in their lives. I want to look forward to events I rsvp for, rather than dread them. I want to forge myself a new community, one that genuinely gives a shit about mutual care and accountability, but also likes to just chill and not process every minute of the day. I still want to change the world, but I think I'm beginning to realize the best way to do that is to show by example and live the life I want to see for others while reaching out and giving them access.
Right now, I'm glad to have new pillows, and to have broken in my new bed properly (hot sex is self care!), and to have a room that's softly pink all the time. And right now, that's enough.

Categories: activism, balance, boundaries, community, fake it til you make it, feminism, personal, reflection, self care

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An Open Letter to the Feminist Porn Awards

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.

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.

Categories: activism, best of, capitalism, causes, community, feminism, I'm a feminist too, money, politics, porn

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying About My Love of Money

I have always had a tense relationship to money. As a child, I was deeply self conscious of the class divide that was apparent in my clothing and in my bagged lunches, and in the amount of work I was expected to put in for my allowance compared to my peers. I remember desperately wanting a pair of a.d.i.d.a.s  tearaway pants, the only thing that would make going to gym worthwhile, and my parents bought me similar pants... but with four stripes instead of three, and a zip that went up the calf instead of fully unsnapping. I felt embarrassed by these pants, and chose to pretend they didn't exist, sitting out PE instead of wearing something that I was certain would get me laughed at.

I felt strongly, as I browsed the delia's catalog and wished desperately to one day be able to afford those denim skirts and platform sneakers, that what I needed for success was more dollars. I would've sold my soul for a pair of shoes from Candies because I believed they would make me popular. Lacking that I made do with the clearance rack at Hot Topic and thrift stores, going Goth just as much because I could find clothes that fit than because I actually loved the style. I knew, somewhere in my gut, that if I just had more money so many of my problems would be solved.

I still believe that’s true a good portion of the time- more than people want to admit. People say all the time that money doesn't buy happiness, but say that to poor people and they'll laugh in your face. Money may not buy happiness directly, but it does buy security, safety, health, access, all things that help one be a happier person.

Before I did sex work, when working three minimum wage retail jobs at a mall an hour and a half walk away, any money I made went automatically to rent, then cat food, then my food, then anything else if there was any left. Any free time went to playing computer games late into the night and masturbating while chatting with my long distance lover because, as I often said, "masturbation is free entertainment". I didn't go out much, didn't really have friends, quit school because getting up at 5am to get ready, make breakfast, and take the bus an hour to be at school at 7:00am wasn't practical or possible while also juggling these jobs.

I started doing sex work when I was 18, though I probably wouldn't have called it that. A local stranger I was chatting with on AOL (back when that was a thing) asked me on a date, and I told him I couldn't because of my work schedule. So, he offered me a day off- he'd pay me whatever my daily take would've been, and I'd get a vacation AND a date. Because I was a little on the impulsive side, I agreed.

He was cute, though now I'd question how much older he was- about 15 years. And he was true to his word, putting some money on a side table as we chatted very casually. Now I wonder if he had seen sex workers before, my cynical mind curious if this was his Thing. Anyway, he gave me a really lovely massage, ate me out with my full consent, and we had a meal and that was that. Afterwards I pocketed the money and thought idly about how easy it had seemed. I went back to my jobs and didn't think much about it.

But then the working nonstop and the lack of social time with humans began to destroy me. I found myself contemplating suicide just to be done with the constant fear of how I'd pay the next bill, and I'd stay quiet about my thoughts because I knew I couldn't afford a trip to the psych ward. A friend from the internet gifted me with a plane ticket to California, and my grandmother - without that boost of money there is no doubt in my mind I would be dead right now. I moved, I transferred my job, I tried to restart my life.

The money was still a problem, though. Still undiagnosed for my anxiety issues and overmedicated for depression, I was still struggling with self harm and suicidal thoughts often centered around my fear I was not meant to survive adulthood. I didn't know how I could make ends meet when I wasn't yet back in school and I didn't have the emotional energy to handle a full time job. Everything I was struggling with came down to a need for financial stability. I needed a car? Money. I needed social time with friends? Money. I needed to pursue interests and hobbies? Money.

To go to school and have a life, I needed to find a better way to make money. That's why I got into sex work - not because of my love of sex, or because I enjoyed the attention, though those things did help, but because I was in dire need of cold hard cash in order to survive. I was teetering precariously on the edge of being homeless and I knew I needed to find a way of making fast and easy under the table cash. Being as I was straight edge at the time, drug dealing was not going to be my savior. So I turned to sex work.

I found an ad for professional domination, figured that as someone who liked kinky sex I could probably hack it, and I tried for a couple months. The woman in charge seemed to hate BDSM, hate sex work, resent her clients and allowed copious drug use on the premises... between that and her obvious disgust at having hired a fat woman (I was perhaps a size 16 at the time), it ended up not being the job for me. So I went independent, started to learn how to advertise on the internet (I had a Moonfruit site I believe, back in the day, and advertised carefully on Craigslist) and didn't look back. I made more in an hour than I used to in a week after taxes. I also did fetish modeling, cam shows, custom written smut, anything I could find.

Post sex work, I learned to keep my living expenses low, that even a small cushion could be vital. I went to school finally. I started to learn how to save money, how to budget for practicalities and the occasional fancy thing, because I had money enough to make actual decisions with. I could go on vacations, I could take care of my medical needs, I could buy clothes that were more cute than practical. Suddenly I could afford to engage in self care, because I had the things I needed- time and money. And I began, secretly, to fall a little in love with those bills in my wallet.

There’s a lot of judgment when you’re a broke activist queer who decides to fight tooth and nail to eke out a living, maybe even a comfortable living. I’ve been accused of being capitalist scum because I don’t want to ever be homeless again, because I am unapologetic in my love of making money and having a safety net, however tiny. While I have survived in part because of people being generous with my money, and part of what I love about money is being able to share it with others (huh, kinda like polyamory), having cold hard cash as an interest is often frowned upon. But exposure doesn't shelter your head, and goodwill doesn't clothe you.

I wouldn't be here without the kindness of others, not just through positive thoughts but through resource redistribution. And I wouldn't be able to help my friends in turn if I didn't work to make money for my own education to better serve, to create sustainable resources, to upkeep a car so I could see them or help them out. I can fight capitalism and hate it, but at the end of the day I live under it, benefit from it and am crushed by it, same as everyone else. I can't realistically opt out and also take care of my mental and physical health.

So I'm done with feeling uncomfortable with my desire to make money. This photo shoot, by Courtney Trouble, was done on the floor of the TROUBLEfilms office, surrounded by money I was about to use for rent on a new apartment. Call it an intention, call it a spell, but this year I am done with living hand to mouth. Survival is self care.

I invoke the Power of the Hustle. For me, for you, my readers, for your loved ones.

May 2015 be prosperous for us all, both financially and emotionally.

Categories: best of, capitalism, community, disability, don't tell me how to live, escort, fake it til you make it, help, money, personal, sex work is work, why I do what I do