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Bent in Half: Part Two of an Interview with Holly Heart

by Rich Moreland, February 2015

Holly Heart is a native Californian and veteran of adult film. In her early thirties, she is now a popular MILF performer working regularly for LA’s Porn Valley studios. Her fetish resume is highlighted by her one hundred plus shoots for Kink.com. Holly is one of their most sought after BDSM models.

Our interview continues.

*          *          *          *          *

Shooting as a BDSM submissive in adult film can be just another booking or an authentic experience, depending on the model. For some girls who make the transition into the real deal, psychological and emotional changes take place that can be a slow rising tide or a sudden bolt of lightning. My interviews with Kink.com submissives reveal that pathways awakened to discovery are very personal as illustrated in two earlier posts on this blog, Casey Calvert and Dylan Ryan.

Holly Heart now joins these performers, putting her own spin on her transformation.

The Milk Bucket

A self-assurance emerged after Holly’s shoot with James Mogul’s TTO.

“When I started doing live scenes like The Upper Floor [and] being in front of an audience doing what they are telling me to do, I started to get this slave confidence that I could obey, confidence that I could be prestigious, that I could do what I’m told in a timely manner.”

Inspiration lights up Holly’s eyes as she describes her transformation. Her intensity increases and she borders on proselytization, reinforcing my belief that BDSM adherents have their own faith, a kind of conversion that leads to peace and an affirmation of their minds and bodies.

“That’s when I started to really feel it,” she says. “It’s almost like the unknown is gone and now you can really be what you want to be because what was clouding you has been removed. Only a submissive in the BDSM community can really understand it [and] you have so much fun doing it.”

Holly has expanded her Kink experiences. Over “the last five years,” she declares, her life has “changed dramatically” because of them.

“It’s made me more respectful, it’s made me a kinder, more compassionate person, more understanding and I’m really grateful for that [and] for the community [and] for all the people that had the patience to teach me.”

Holly on Device Bondage. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Holly on Device Bondage.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Holly praises Matt Williams. “He was so gracious with me. He was my first Dom ever.” Her initial shoot was for Device Bondage, the Kink website Matt directed at the time. To make her experience proceed well, Matt employed Rain DeGrey be on the set for Holly’s live show.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into. All I knew was I had read books about bondage and I wanted to be a slave. It enticed me, it was glorifying to me to be a slave, to be on that pedestal, just to be there and be a part of that. To be available for service is just hot and sexy! It just feels good!”

Holly dips into an amusing episode during the shoot: the crew put some hot sauce between her legs.

“I was sweaty and writhing and it was so painful! At the end of the shoot I’m thinking, ‘Oh, hot sauce on your tongue? Get some milk.’ Rain brings me two buckets of milk and I’m sitting in them during the [post-shoot] interview. That was my introduction to BDSM,” she laughs.

Years later Holly came to understand that she’s “a freaking masochist,” as she puts it. More live shoots at Kink, which she characterizes as “a really amazing experience and a really amazing journey,” reinforced that new sexual self-definition.

In it’s own way, perhaps BDSM is religious-like, certainly it’s emotional impact on those who love it is intense.

Subspace

It’s time to talk about something I like to bring up in these kinds of conversation: mindfucks.

Holly smiles broadly and tells me she has two great stories she will share.

“I was afraid of the hot sauce. In my head I knew that the sauce was never going to be there again because it was on my “no” list (like everyone in the BDSM community, professional or amateur, Kink honors a submissive’s hard limits, those things that are off the board in a shoot.)

“I was on the set with Lochai for Hogtied many years ago (Lochai has since left the company and now resides in Baltimore). He tied me up to a wall with my legs and arms spread with a bowling ball crotch harness attached to me. Then he had a zipper (cord with clothespins) on my tits and stomach.”

Lochai, whose personality is humor built on a flair for rigging that is widely respected in the community, pulls out a bottle.

“I don’t know what it is,” Holly relates, “but for some reason I thought it was the sauce. I got really scared and [in my eyes] you can see the fear. He sprays my face with it and it was baby oil!” Lochai is playing the mental dodge ball that spices up his shoots.

“He sprays my whole body and rips off the zipper. I was so thinking about the sauce that my mind was in a whole other place that I didn’t even feel the zipper!”

Holly then offers an example of subspace in a recent Sexually Broken episode for Real Time Bondage, a current Matt Williams site. She describes  being “bent in half” with arms and legs tied down. Matt and his associate Jackhammer are penetrating her mouth and vagina, “just back and forth, back and forth, no-stop simultaneously,” she says.

Bent in half. Photo courtesy of Intersec.com

Bent in half.
Photo courtesy of Intersec.com

“I literally went into this complete moment of subspace where nothing existed. It was like a perfect moment where I only thought of that moment and my brain tuned out and my body just went completely limp. It was like I never wanted that feeling to stop. It’s an addiction.” She adds a cautionary note. “Because they are professionals,” the director and crew recognize when a girl is closing in on that psychological dreamland.

Should a submissive teeter near the edge, monitoring her emotional balance takes over. “They know that you are zoning out and you are going to pass out any second because you feel so good.” But Holly understands she is safe because the filming will stop if a dangerous turn in the road is coming up.

Incidentally, subspace often prohibits a submissve from using her safeword. Some models tell me they self-monitor during filming to avoid losing control so they will not be accidentally injured. Casey Calvert, for example, reserves subspace for her private life, preferring to maintain total awareness when working professionally.

Bear in mind, Holly Heart is a veteran BDSMer. This is not Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s a community of people who understand and appreciate their fetishes and are careful in their play. She joins the best professional submissives I’ve written about such as Madison Young, Casey Calvert, Rain DeGrey, and Dylan Ryan who are very aware of the sensitive nature of subspace.

Holly ranks the Sexually Broken shoot among her best. “It was the most amazing experience, especially being in the community now for so long.” This California girl understands she is able to put herself in that situation and, as she says, “really feel the utmost pleasure and not be afraid.”

Reading the Body

Holly and I have something in common, sports. As a former triathlete and marathoner, I bring up the “runner’s high” that causes the endurance athlete to transcend the stress of the race. Her interest sparked, Holly mentions adrenaline. “I love to run, too, and I get that runner’s high.” Like yours truly, Holly is also a weightlifter to go along with her aerobic fitness and it shows in her taut body that, by the way, serves her well in another line of Kink shoots she loves, Ultimate Surrender, girl wrestling that ends in good sex. The site is widely (and wildly) popular among Kink models and is shot before a live audience.

Before the match. The competitors: Holly, Audry Rose, Bryn Blaine, and Rain DeGrey. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Before the match. The competitors: Holly, Audrey Rose, Bryn Blaine, and Rain DeGrey.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

Holly promotes the feel good aspect of working out.

“I think we need to express that to people unfamiliar with [the benefits of exercise]. You can get this natural high from your body that is actually good and its not going to harm you, its actually going to be better for your life.”

During the match the audience looks on. Photo courtesy of Kink.com

During the match the audience looks on.
Photo courtesy of Kink.com

This avid sports girl then makes a quick transition to demystify BDSM. “We’re not hurting each other when we are doing corporal punishment. We know the body’s limit. We educate ourselves on [changes in skin color for blood flow] and the way a person writhes when they are getting spanked, caned, or flogged. Reading the body language, eye contact, facial expressions, that is what makes a professional dominant so good.”

Fetish education is integral to the BDSM community, Holly explains. “If we could get the world to understand that, then the world may be more open to it.”

*          *          *          *          *

Part Three of my interview with this extraordinary woman is coming next. She’ll discuss switching and learning from Kink’s Princess Donna.

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The Value of Context

by Rich Moreland, April 2013

Girls who shoot BDSM porn always risk losing work in the vanilla film world. The reason, by the way, is not because they are pigeon-holed as bondage models. Frankly, it’s an advantage for a girl to indicate a willingness to be bound, gagged, and disciplined as part of her repertoire whether she is with a modeling agency or a free agent. Hiring possibilities are expanded.

No, the reason is about that kind of work, what it does to her, the stress on her body.

Take Dana DeArmond, an A-lister who is much admired in porn. She’s employable, amiable on the set, and knowledgeable about how to elevate the quality of a porn shoot. She is every cinematographer’s dream. But even the best are challenged after putting in years of shooting.

Dana DeArmondPhoto courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Dana DeArmond
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

“I had a really good time bottoming,” Dana says, “I did it for six years and learned a lot about my sexuality.” She tested her limits for pain and fetish interplay, an exploration so enlightening that Dana describes her career as a “sexual journey.” But change may be at hand. Framed in the past tense, her remarks hint that Dana is transitioning into another aspect of her profession.

Starting out at Kink.com offered her a level of security to act out her fantasies and a sense of family when the shooting was finished. “I’m comfortable there,” Dana says, “I have no complaints about the company.” She comments on what other girls who film at San Francisco’s old Armory say, Kink is performer friendly and cares about a model’s satisfaction, artistically and sexually, in a scene. Kink.com believes all shoots should honor model consent and its directors allow a performer to “steer the scene,” Dana adds.

Kink also has a reputation for honesty. “They don’t try to trick you into anything,” Dana says. Like many companies, Kink has a call sheet with everything spelled out for the performer before the scene begins. They try to make the experience rewarding so that popular models want to return. To accomplish that requires a staff that is well-schooled in handling BDSM shoots.

“They hire really cool people,” Dana says, and gives Kink the highest compliment. Hanging out with their employees “outside of work” is a pleasure for her.

Taking Chances

Dana DeArmond’s BDSM adventures have a developed a downside over the years. She is a veteran submissive and a perfectionist with an undeniable work ethic that pushes her over the top, sometimes to her detriment.

“I got to the point where I was trying to take so much pain, and was trying to be so extreme, I thought, ‘I’m going to I hurt myself,’” she says. That can be serious because of the negative carry over to vanilla porn.

If Dana’s too aggressive with the realism of her bondage scenes, she’s taking chances with her availability and her income. “I won’t be able to work down in L.A. doing regular porn anymore,” she states, admitting that in BDSM, risks can be high. In some cases marks from flogging, electricity play, and ropes can show up in a vanilla sex shoot if a girl has one booked the next day.

Dana explains that she is also putting herself in dangerous territory with her health because age is an ever present factor. “I’m not eighteen anymore. I’m not a young girl,” a thirtyish Dana declares, “I can’t risk injury.”

Dana’s attitudes about shooting porn are evolving. She’s been around long enough to know what she is doing and what she likes. These days Dana insists that she must be comfortable working with the people on the set and is careful about the toll extracted from her body and mind. In other words, she looks for the right “context” in a scene.

If a girl is doing an aggressive scene for a site like Bound Gangbangs, Kink viewers want her to take on as much as she can even if it strains her physically and emotionally. Perhaps a few years ago Dana would not have given that a second thought, but she is reluctant today unless the circumstances align the stars just right.

“If I’m not enjoying myself, that’s not for me,” Dana explains. She emphasizes that she must be the one calling the shots otherwise her heart is not in the scene. If guys who don’t know what they are doing are all over her, “it’s miserable,” she says.

Too much rough play and extended penetration results in its own set of difficulties and Dana considers the consequences.

Understandable, some performers have voiced similar concerns. On the other hand, authenticity in BDSM shoots is desirable from a customer standpoint, so good models feel a sense of obligation to produce the best content possible. But they must have a clear picture of what they are getting into and how the booking will be handled.

“A lot of people have bad experiences because they haven’t taken into consideration the logistics of rough sex, or gangbangs, or group scenes, or porn in general,” Dana says, extending her comment across the entire industry. Getting along with co-stars and being in the right situation—the context—is what makes shooting a pleasure. “Style wise sometimes people just don’t mesh,” she remarks.

But banking scenes is a great teacher. “You’ve got to learn,” she says, and reminds us that for her it took a bit of time.

Busy Signing at the Adult Convention in Las VegasPhoto courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Busy Signing at the Adult Convention in Las Vegas
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Of course, a porn education is ongoing and now Dana is dealing with a career change other performers like Bobbi Starr have successfully navigated. Dana’s working on learning to top or dom, trading in the “just let it happen” experience of being submissive for the other end of the spectrum. She’s discovered that taking on a domme’s responsibility is mentally stressful.

“You have to think of so many things simultaneously when you’re domming,” Dana explains. Circumstances dictate the play. Most important, planning is required. Anticipating the steps ahead of time, like configuring a move in chess, needs a quick mind. The pace of the scene and the careful application of any instruments like canes or floggers designed to stimulate and arouse must be taken into account. Obviously everything is consensual, Dana says, repeating the Kink mantra, and it is imperative not to injury anyone. Those are obligations the domme has to her submissive.

“I do care a lot about the people I work with,” Dana says. At the end of the shoot, it’s personally important that the submissive thank her and brag about the “good experience” he or she had. No matter which end of a flogger—application or reception—is given to Dana she will leave her mark on the scene.

That’s Dana DeArmond, the consummate pro, popular with her fans and her co-workers. From my personal contacts with her, I can clearly see why. In the business, Dana cultivates friendships with performers and directors whom she regards as reliable and honest, and reciprocates when she can. She refers to the women with whom she is very close, like Princess Donna, Aiden Starr, and Joanna Angel, as her “porn wives.” It’s an endearment that carries an emotional connection not often found in any career.

Call it the wisdom of age and the lessons of experience.

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A Humanized Porn Star

by Rich Moreland, March 2013

If adult film ever decided to make a movie of Mata Hari’s adventures she would be portrayed as an enchantress and wanton woman, exotic and sultry, dark and promiscuous.

The supposed double agent of World War I was an exotic dancer pre-war. When she married, her choice was a captain in the Dutch Army stationed in what is today Indonesia. This femme fatale had a strong military connection, a provocative sense of exhibitionism, and a sharp mind. During the war she mingled with the top brass of Germany, France, and Britain, getting herself into trouble and unfortunately right in front of a firing squad.

If such a porn movie were ever made, Mata Hari would sexually exploit every man she met (and perhaps a woman or two for good measure), leading to some interesting on camera romps. In film image is everything and the usual porn stereotypes would not work for this legendary seducer of men, no cute blonde, sweet girl next door, or dim witted bimbo for this production. Mata Hari must be mysterious, sensuous, and alluring with a powerful manner of persuasion.

My choice for the leading role of this fantasy tale is Dana DeArmond.

An interview with the talented actress highlighted my recent visit to the adult film convention in Las Vegas. After a couple of years of relying on good luck, I finally caught up with her thanks to the fabulous people at GirlFriends Films. Dana and I had briefly met in 2010, but only for a hello. I wanted more on this fascinating woman for my upcoming book on adult film feminism. I was not disappointed.

Dana DeArmond at the GirlsFriends BoothPhoto Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Dana DeArmond at the GirlFriends Booth
Photo Courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

The following is an introduction to this almost decade old veteran of the industry. It’s an excerpt from my  book and comes from our Vegas conversations. In a manner that would have delighted Mata Hari, Dana DeArmond captivated me with her charm.

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Be Nice to Everyone

“Like other women in pornography, I tend to be third wave, sex-positive, porn-friendly, sex-friendly, and non-man hating,” says Dana DeArmond, a self-proclaimed feminist who is a blend of feminisms. We’re sitting in the Girlfriends Films booth at the 2013 Adult Entertainment Expo in Vegas. The company is feminist in its filming and its attitudes toward performers so talking here seems natural.

Describing herself as an “army brat,” Dana is a product of liberal parents, a bit unusual for the military. “I don’t have the traditional football watching dad and the housewife mom,” she laughs. Her mother entered the service to pay for college. Dana’s father is gay, HIV positive, and noted for his cooking skills. He’s a “pastry chef” who can turn out “crepes and glaze,” Dana says with noticeable affection.

Her parents’ child rearing wisdom is evident in the aphorism they often repeated to her when she was a teenager, “If you act like an adult, we’ll treat you like an adult.” Important advice because unlike most young people, Dana found no purpose in organized education, dropping out of high school before eventually getting her GED. She tried community college to no avail, remarking that “structured education” is not part of her agenda. Dana pursued her own path relying on her determination and a self-education to “think outside the box.” The result is a woman who understands expectations and responsibility, a formula she uses to market her talents in a tough business.

Dana DeArmond thinks of herself as “a humanized porn star.” It’s an entertainment persona that gives her fans free rein “to do what they are interested in sexually,” Dana explains. She sends her message with an acting verve that has carried her career.

Some studios, she mentions Kink.com and Girlfriends, give her particular satisfaction. Shooting for Dan O’Connell’s all-girl company is especially exciting because she can use her intelligence and her “acting chops.” She likes improvising on the set. “It’s a fun exercise and good for your brain,” Dana says. Of course, filming with a female cast is enticing because of her “porn wives,” as she calls them, performers for whom she feels a special affinity.

Though she may lack the credentials of formal learning, Dana DeArmond is capable in ways that strengthen survival, perhaps the most important kind of smartness there is. I suggest she is a skilled businesswoman. Dana smiles and reminds me of the road to success in porn, “Stand out, be unique, market yourself, and be nice to everyone.”

Raised in Orlando, Florida, Dana discovered early on that entertainment was her bag of tricks. She began as a dancer for Universal Studios and worked parades for the Disney resort complex. But it was another kind of dancing that lured her. After turning eighteen, Dana appeared in gentleman’s clubs while keeping her day job at Universal. She relished both gigs and nightly twenty dollar lap dances wedged between minimum wage choreography became her employment reality.

A porn career eventually came calling but not until Dana was into her twenties. In February 2004 she gave adult film a shot in San Francisco. “I didn’t think I was going to be a porn star when I walked into Kink.com,” she says. Now years later, Dana has paid her dues. A well-respected industry personality who shoots in both the L.A. and San Francisco adult markets, Dana describes her career is a “sexual journey” that highlights adult film as an art form. Dana is an artist, she believes, a performance artist who captures the imaginations of her fans.

Not a New girl.

After years in the business, Dana’s radar picks up situations that are not a fit for her. “I am not a new girl,” she says. “I’ve been around the block. I know what I’m doing.” Using gangbangs as an example, she insists that she doesn’t want “a bunch of idiots who don’t know what they’re doing” all over her. “It’s miserable,” she says. Dana buys into what feminist-oriented directors preach: chemistry on the set. Some performers don’t “mesh” either “personality-wise or sex-wise,” Dana explains. But in time a girl will learn and select her scenes judiciously because the pleasure of being on camera is a reward in itself. Making adult film is challenging both mentally and physically and for Dana to appear upset and stressed out in a shoot isn’t her style or how she defines her art. Like Bobbi [Starr], Dylan [Ryan], and the others, she seeks satisfaction in her sexual expression.

thoughtful responsePhoto courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Thoughtful Response
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Dana stands her ground in the face of criticism. “My parents don’t judge me and I don’t let people make me feel weird,” she says. Icy disapproval is of no consequence to her, a response I’ve heard from other adult performers. Though Dana’s attitude reinforces a tough exterior, her determination to do what she wants under circumstances she selects has honed her longevity. Behind it, however, is an intuitive understanding of the people who perform in adult film and a desire to protect them because working in pornography is a team effort. Dana mentors girls when needed, “take them under my wing” is how she phrases it. Dana believes in fairness regarding others. In her mind, it is part of being a feminist. “I don’t know if there is a word for my kind of feminism,” she adds, it’s all about how “people should treat each other.”

Dana DeArmond may lack the formal education necessary to speak academically of feminism, but she carries the commanding dignity of a feminist. She’s a businesswoman who is in control of her image and her filming experiences. Above all, Dana knows what it means to be there for friends, “to stick up for other girls,” as she puts it. She is well aware of the downside, particularly what it means to enter the business with naïvete and inexperience. She has seen it.

“There are girls who lock themselves in the bathroom crying,” Dana says of breakdowns on the set. “They’re so young and clueless.” Jumping into porn too early can become a nightmare. “You’re eighteen, you’re still a baby,” Dana observes. “Try something, anything other than porn.”

*          *          *           *           *

Dana DeArmond continues to build her career with a seductive flair that lures her fan base. I suspect that Mata Hari in all her feminine wiles would have found adult film had it existed in her time. But could she have equaled the sultry sexiness and the intelligence that is Dana DeArmond? After all, would not  Dana make a good fantasy spy when she comes in from the cold to seduce you?

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The Barbarian Queen

By Rich Moreland, November 2012

In October, 2010 I visited San Francisco’s Kink.com for research purposes. CEO Peter Acworth graciously gave me access to the company’s many websites. This brief account comes from a shoot for The Training of O website filmed in 2008 and is included in my upcoming book on feminism in adult film. Photos are courtesy of Kink.com.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s Day Two of an episode of The Training of O featuring Dylan Ryan. Her encounter with Director James Mogul is destined to be ratcheted up. Wanting to confront her personal struggle with her anger and her inability to let it go, Dylan accepted the four-day stint with James. She will yield to his master/disciplinarian approach to “training” knowing the resistance she hopes to quell in herself will inevitably rear its ugly head. This is a personal journey she has decided to take, one that will transform a pornography shoot into a kind of therapy. After her first day facing James’s whip, Dylan reviews her feelings and talks of rage and BDSM as a psychological force.

“When I am in super amounts of pain I get really enraged. I get a hateful and nasty feeling, like . . . ‘I hate you and I want to hurt you as much as you hurt me.’ And then I just shut off. I do want to let go. . .   [By] giving up . . .  control you can be free, not from your mind, but from your conscious continual effort to determine everything all the time. I really want to do that, to just be.”

As the drama plays out, an unrelenting James stays with her until the end, using the Hitachi Magic Wand’s pleasure to push her past her anger. During the final post-shoot interview on Day Four, James surprisingly expresses reservations about the Day Two scene, how he refused to take timeouts at crucial moments. He admits it “was a risky little gamble, trying that scene with you,” he tells her, “but it seemed like the proper thing to attempt.” James has an intuitive “feel” for his work, he understands the emotion and behavior surrounding BDSM play and how it can become a liberating experience. His years of experience prove invaluable in persuading Dylan, a self-proclaimed submissive, to self-engineer a psychological leap to “the other side.”

The Day Two test begins with a nude Dylan standing on a slightly raised expansive wood platform. Resembling every bit the barbarian queen captured in battle and put on display, her feet are shackled and wide apart, her hands, cuffed and chained, are at her side. Extended chains from both ankle and wrist restrains are attached to rings embedded in the platform. Her neck is encased in a wide black leather collar. Two chains lead away from opposite sides of the collar to the wall where more rings offer attachment convenience. The chains permit some mobility; Dylan is able to stand or sit, according to James’s will. Her breasts are bound above and below in leather, as are her thighs. The sense is that she is a prisoner, diabolically and cruelly prepared for public display and torture by her captors. She will be able to struggle with her fury, but she cannot escape.

James commences his task that will include a brief flogging, the application and removal of a ball gag, and the inevitable Hitachi to conclude the session. The episode ends with a brief distant camera shot that is a frozen moment, the psychological resolution to the scene’s fury. A kneeling Dylan is facing a wall, hands attached above her bowed head. Still in chains and looking every bit the whipped and psychologically beaten prisoner, she is emotionally drained of all resistance. It is a visual classic, reproduced for decades in graphic novels and bondage prints.

But the final photographic denouement is the result of a titanic struggle. Dylan fights the session, wildly thrashing around and firing angry expressions at James, verbally assaulting him with profanities. Throughout it all, he is desperately trying to apply the Hitachi to her. At one point in their tussling, James snaps Dylan’s hands behind her back, pushes her into a sitting position—legs splayed—and places his boot on her upper back pressing her downward. He is determined to drive her through her psychological barrier to “that special place” that BDSM submissives hope to go, an ecstatic transcendental state of pleasure few people ever experience in a lifetime of sexuality.

A disentangling results with James as Dylan’s antagonist. As her physical and emotional explosiveness builds Dylan is suddenly overwhelmed with understanding, engulfed in a revelation. Her face is transformed into the slightest of smiles that reads ‘I’ve arrived.’ Dylan’s eyes look directly at James with appreciation. She relaxes, he caresses her genitalia, and an ethereal calm of sexual satiation and sublimation descends on the scene.

Dylan later explains:

“What I learned about myself is that I have this place beyond rage and through pain I can go there. The room [was] full of energy and emotion and what happened today when I was chained and James was just beating me and pulling my hair and talking to me and just pushing me past all of the limits that I had, where I had been screaming and thrashing around and trying to punch James in the face because I fucking hated him at that moment. I felt like an animal and I couldn’t really hear anything because my ears were shut off, it was just coming out of me, just pure emotion and intensity and energy and violence.

I felt like all of a sudden this door opened up in the room and the energy in the room changed. It wasn’t subspace necessarily, because I’ve been in subspace before, and usually subspace connotes some sort of shutting off and this was the complete opposite. I was entirely present, it was an over sensing of everything, it was absolutely overwhelming. I started laughing like a maniac because I didn’t know where to put that feeling. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a feeling quite like that before.”

 

The drama releases Dylan. She struggles to give way, exclaiming that letting go is “not easy.” But the payoff for her version of the scene is an invigorating renewal. James comments on the risk they took.  “I’m glad it worked out. We both go lucky on that one,” he says to Dylan in final Day Four debriefing. “You were searching for something that you couldn’t articulate.”

Dylan tells him she wasn’t sure what she expected to discover, but that she wanted to learn more about herself through exploring new avenues of BDSM. She concludes that the “extreme emotion” of the four days allowed her to view priorities differently. Some of the concerns in her personal life seem less so now. Looking back, the shoot was rewarding for her, though, according to Dylan, the “hardest I’ve ever done.”

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“We Evolve to Now”

by Rich Moreland, October, 2012

On a recent Los Angeles evening, I sat down with the husband and wife team of Carlos Batts and April Flores. He is a film director; she is his artistic muse and leading lady. A couple of years ago at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto, we informally exchanged brief “hellos,” but accomplished little else beyond that. This time around, with the help of Coast Anabelle Hotel staff, we made arrangements to talk. I wanted to delve into their views on making film and the porn community to which they belong. I got something I never anticipated, a profound insight, artistically and intellectually, into the genre we call feminist pornography.

Here are some segments of our discussion.

Making a Statement with Your Body

When we discussed definitions for feminist pornography, April began with her background in film work.

“I did my first scene in October 2005,” she began, emphasizing that an adult career was not her goal. The shoot was an intended “one time thing.” “I wanted to experience it and move on,” she said. Her thoughts reflect those of other performers I have met.

For April, her professional horizon quickly expanded. Stepping into the adult genre opened doors leading to friendships and an enrichment of her art. A “natural progression” began, she said, as one film led to another.

However, like other women who have entered adult film, April had the expected moment of reconsideration.

“By my third or fourth film I had to take a step back and evaluate what I was doing. If I’m going to keep doing this, why am I going to do this? It’s my body and I’m exposing myself on a really intense level.”

April’s hesitancy was not unusual; it was her resolve that shaped her future. She discovered feminist porn and wanted to be a part of it. “If I’m going to do this [appear in adult film],” April decided, “I want to have a message behind it, not just do it for frivolous reasons.”

Searching for meaning in her work, April found that feminist porn offered “real feminine pleasure.” Women create the product, defining a comfort level for her. “My peers and I are enjoying what we do and some of us are running businesses and using this medium as a creative outlet.”

Her selectivity has enriched the genre. Mention the name April Flores around those who are knowledgeable about feminist porn and affirmative nods result. She is an established star.

April and Carlos
Photo by Bill Knight

April sees a mission in her work. The projects she accepts are carefully chosen. “I have turned a lot of work down because I knew it would portray me and fat women and just women as a whole in a bad way,” she declares. For her, feminist porn is film with a woman-friendly attitude.

Incidentally, money is not central to her work. “Adult has never been my primary source of income,” April says. Her approach is a fit with the makers of feminist porn. The “primary motivators” for feminist filmmakers and performers is “expression,” she confirms, “making a statement with your body and your work.”

Feminism is not new to April. “I always considered myself a feminist,” April says, a feeling that is rooted in her childhood. She moved out of her family home at eighteen, becoming instantly independent. April never considered herself to be a “weak woman,” as she puts it, though she didn’t develop her sense of feminist empowerment until she matured into her late twenties and early thirties.

Carlos took his turn at defining feminist porn and credits Annie Sprinkle as his starting point. Adopting a feminist lens in shooting adult film, Carlos discovered April and other feminist performers to be “very strong and powerful” with “their own spirit and energy.” He considers himself lucky.

“I’m fortunate to be around people that have a very strong vision to not only create in that environment but be inspired by it,” Carlos believes. He goes on to affirm that “women artists can be strong spirited, feminist in their own way, and independent with their own voice or vision. Women record their sex and want to perform and fuck from a creative point of view.”

His words bring my thoughts to feminist talent like performer/directors Courtney Trouble and Madison Young.

Carlos identifies April, Jiz Lee, and Dylan Ryan as “a progressive group of performers, a very unique trifecta.” He praises them for caring about the product they make and his ability as a director. They believe in him, Carlos says, “there is no judgment and they are comfortable in their sexuality.”

Carlos credits feminist performers with caring “a little bit more about the outcome and how they are being portrayed which keeps you on your toes.” He’s blunt about mainstream film and television, pointing out that “there is a difference between an actress that cares about her performance and one that just shows up.” The same thing, I might add, can be said for mainstream adult film.

Asked about a timeframe for a movie, Carlos delves further into his filmmaking philosophy. “My own personal process is four to six months,” he answers, “we make one or two movies a year.”

Of course, budget is a consideration. If Adam and Eve or Good Vibrations are in the mix, things are done more quickly. For example, Carlos references one big budget film he made for Adam and Eve. The movie, Voluptuous Biker Babes, was “inspired” by the 1960’s classic sexploitation film, Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill, Kill, and was nominated for an Adult Video News (AVN) award.

Photo Courtesy of Carlos Batts

No matter the financing picture, Carlos emphasizes that to do a film is a “personal process” that entails casting and examining shooting locations, among other things. Because “the sex is a very small percentage of the film,” he moves more slowly in determining “exactly what I want to do.” By comparison, a Porn Valley director once informed me that a two and one-half hour film may only have 20 plus pages of script. The average sex scene can last up to fifteen minutes or more.

Outsider Porn

I want Carlos and April’s take on San Francisco’s Queer Porn Mafia, a self-identified cadre of directors and performers. As a historian, I see the QPM as a film community and an informal support group. Carlos expanded my understanding of the QPM by suggesting that it is part of a movement, as we shall see momentarily.

April notes that they are late comers to the group. The QPM was around before Carlos and she “heard about it and met Courtney [Trouble].”

In 2009-2010, Carlos and April became part of the San Francisco film making scene. Inevitably, they met the QPM. “We became friends with them and started shooting with them,” April says, in an atmosphere that was different for Carlos and her. San Francisco is not Southern California. It’s “a different city,” she explains, “it’s small and the sexual presence is way more huge than it is here [in LA].”

April and Carlos share common perspectives about casting and filming with the QPM that are “very different” from “mainstream porn.” The QPM is a group of artists with “like-minded ideas,” April says, who are frustrated with the mainstream. We’re “outsiders from mainstream porn,” she declares, but we are “sticking together” and, she adds with conviction, “we are going to continue moving forward.”

Carlos points out that the QPM is “a select group to work with” which made developing and sharing an artistic vision “fun.” He pays them the ultimate compliment, “with all due respect to April and Courtney and Jiz, everyone works really hard. I respect them and their work ethic,” he says.

April defines their collective product as “indie porn,” sometimes referring to it as “outsider porn.” In short, feminist porn is apart from traditional adult film and the annual Feminist Porn Awards celebrates this difference.

Vanilla is Becoming Smaller

My final question concerns the overarching term queer as an umbrella identifier of a variety of sexualities. Carlos sees it as “more like an ideology” that revolves around “individual taste.” April describes her queer sexuality as “fluid, not straight or gay or bisexual,” simplifying her description by saying that it’s about “the person rather than their genitals.”

What I hear from Carlos and April is typical of what other adult film feminists associated with San Francisco say. Exactly what it means to be queer is difficult to define and individually based. April repeats the accepted norm. To be queer is a personal statement and “I guess you would have to ask them,” she says.

I mention to Carlos that I tend to categorize things into boxes. He agreed, saying, “When you are a historian and you are looking back, things do fall into compartments.” Taking the historian role a step further, I ask him if feminist porn is a movement, or merely a collection of individual attitudes. His observations summarize what I suspected, but needed to be confirmed.

From Carlos’s perspective, we are living in “an interesting time.” “Fifty percent of the population is like vanilla and the other fifty percent is filled with thirty-one flavors,” he says. “Everyone thinks that everyone is having the sexual desires of their parents.” But this idea is being challenged. Carlos points out that now all manner of sexualities are coming out. In other words, our parent’s sexuality does not have to be ours.

“The outsiders are maybe fifty-one percent, vanilla is becoming smaller.” Marginalized sexualities are recognized, voluptuous women are seen as attractive, he asserts. There is this “whole consciousness of what we want to see and how we want to feel. It’s not like it was fifteen years ago.”

Carlos characterizes this new revelation as “our movement” that’s “been cooking since the Nineties.” Then he adds, it has “spawned a bigger broader generation of understanding whether it is sexuality or color or culture.”

At this moment, he is drawing my research into feminist porn together.

“The biggest secret about the feminist movement,” Carlos proclaims, is its creativity. “It is dominated by the consciousness of freedom and expressing yourself.”

This is the Toronto scene where electric audiences at the Feminist Porn Awards turn the work of these artists into a love fest.

“The movement just happens,” he believes. “We will inspire another set of women to make movies, and people of color will make movies they want to see themselves. I just see the consciousness and being different. More young women will see April and say, ‘hey I want to do that,’ or Courtney or Jiz and say, ‘I look like them, that’s how I want to express myself.’”

“I don’t think anyone is purposely or consciously trying to be different. I think people are just expressing themselves in a very bold way.”

There’s more. Referring to marginalized sexualities, Carlos states, “We are all kind of banning together to make it more comfortable with coming out.” He believes technology is the tool that encourages people to “feel a bit more comfortable in expressing themselves.”

The movement is in the present, continually redefining itself. “We evolve to now,” he says, and hints that the end of this evolution, or revolution depending on point of view, is nowhere in sight.

April authenticates her husband’s analysis. I get “a lot of emails from girls saying I want to do what you’re doing and how do I start this?” She concludes, “So I do think it’s spreading.”

We indeed have evolved to now. And the journey is just beginning.

It’s time for dinner. The waiter offers us a table and our conversation continues, the remainder totally off the record.

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A Re-Visioned Pornography: A Woman’s “Right to Be Horny”

by Rich Moreland, September, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her introduction to Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming our Lives, Our Relationships, and Our Families, Pamela Paul writes that pornography is “seamlessly integrated into popular culture,” creating an “all-pornography, all-the-time mentally” that is literally “everywhere.” Sweeping generalizations rarely take into account personal tastes, cultural and political variances, or in this case, alternative views on sexuality. There is little doubt that sex is commodified; in fact, it is ubiquitous in advertising and popular culture. But continued presence does not translate into unrelenting offensiveness. In fact, sexuality can be enlightening, educational, and a tool for women’s equality, especially when reconfigured to celebrate a female “gaze.” Feminist pornography is doing just that and Anne G. Sabo’s newest study is a welcome addition to the debate

In After Pornified: How Women are Transforming Pornography and Why It Really Matters, Sabo amplifies feminist scholar Linda Williams’ concept of re-vision and explores a reconfigured porn for women. Sabo’s book is a montage of female filmmakers with samplings of their work embedded in summary reviews. Following the trail of American film visionary Candida Royalle, these new century women are not merely playing on the edges of a man’s world. They have a message for society’s “neo-Victorianism,” a cultural condition the late feminist Ellen Willis insists circumscribes female sexual expression. A reworked feminist pornography is symbolic liberation for all women.

Re-vision does not mean revision, Sabo explains. It is not a cleaning up process, but a radical rewrite. For clarification, she quotes German-born director Petra Joy who asserts that “erotic and pornographic images” are not exclusive to men. “Why should women not create and enjoy films that express their sexual desires . . . ?” Why not, indeed? Joy wants women to target men as “objects of desire” who focus their sexual expression on pleasuring their female lovers. Joy believes feminist adult film captures authentic sex in a way that creates a different entity, “transformed porn,” an alternative to the established male product that carries a female objectifying label.

A Swede now living in Spain, Erika Lust is part of this new breed of filmmaker. “I see porn as a tool for excitement, education, and pleasure,” she says, and a very powerful one at that. I agree and share Sabo’s delight for Lust’s short film, “The Good Girl” which takes one of the oldest stag film formulas, the delivery boy, and turns it around. When the pizza is delivered and the sex ensues (not without some doubt at first) the female protagonist captures the standard male “gaze” and alters the outcome. By seizing the action to get what she wants, our heroine moves from object to subject, possessing her own “gaze.” The story can stand by itself, but Lust has more in mind. She artistically infuses her film work with an urban MTV flavor that is a tasteful delight of energy and sex, in this case swirling around a pizza box!

The opening chapter on Candida Royalle is a must read for any novice to feminist pornography/erotica. If nothing else, Sabo’s review of Royalle’s professional standards from safer sex to “content and style” is an educational primer. Royalle is unique. As a filmmaker she weathered the political storms of feminism’s second wave “sex wars” when anti-porn feminists excoriated adult film. Her political efforts fighting censorship in Feminists for Free Expression and her classic film on oppression, Revelations, preserve for the New Yorker a seat among the liberal icons of our age.

Modern sex-positive feminists package adult film into a fast-paced, music dominated product. The short vignette is their cinematic bread and butter. Of particular interest is the “cell phone art porn” of another Swede, Mia Engberg. Her question, posed in the Dirty Diaries collection, is central to feminist pornography: how do women “liberate” their “sexual fantasies” to escape the commercialization of porn that Paul sees around us everyday? Offering takes on that question, Sabo deconstructs film narratives, casting a light on the message of all the filmmakers she presents. This process is particularly informative in the Dirty Diaries series. Incidentally, I commend Sabo’s emphasis on the Dirty Diaries manifesto, an enumeration of the elements composing the mission of feminist porn. Here are a few that stand out. “[B]eauty ideals” are of no consequence in feminist porn, it is a sexual collage of any body and every body. The genre confronts “narrow gender categories,” encouraging “gender plurality.” And, best of all, the practice of safer sex is foremost because feminist porn supports a woman’s “right to be horny.”

Sabo raises a contentious question that is still a work in progress among feminists. The chapter on Puzzy Power films hints at this conundrum. The Puzzy Power credo prohibits scenes “where women are subjected to violence or coercion,” though “rape or assault” passes muster if the woman is “living out her fantasy” with someone she can trust to accommodate her desires. Sabo references second wave feminist Robin Morgan whose fantasies of sexual stimulation via domination presented difficulties for her though she apparently got off on her mental images. Likewise, Sabo mentions third wave journalist Martine Aurdal who frequently “caught herself in a role-play right before orgasm” that centered on “power relations.” This was vexing for Aurdal because it represented “gender roles” locked in a Paleolithic mentality. But one suspects she liked it. The question then becomes: Can women enjoy role-play if it means they are submissive and dominated? Take a look at Erika Lust’s two short films, “Handcuffs” and “Love Me Like You Hate Me” to get a spin on this question. Later when reviewing the work of feminist directors Anna Span and Tristan Taormino, Sabo brings up a another issue that is also divisive among feminists: gonzo porn, a method of filming often condemned for degrading women. Sabo lets us know that both Span and Taormino shoot in a gonzo style: the camera and director participate in the action. Character portrayal is abandoned and performers play themselves for the pleasure of the sex alone.

Can women like rough BDSM oriented sex if it suits their fantasy and they are equal participants in it? Can they actively support close-ups of piston shots, oral sex, and external ejaculations that might be deposited on the eyes rather than the belly? Tricky issues for a female cinematographer because gonzo has a male reputation dating to the early work of Evil Angel’s John Stagliano’s Buttman series. Sabo’s suggests that gonzo female-style is more about legitimating the voyeur in all of us; and those who are watched are there by “mutual agreement.” Fair enough. I’ve always believed women can have sex for its pure raw fun. Now that feminist porn is inching closer to the longstanding male gaze, gonzo represents a long awaited evolution for women. Like Sabo, I believe that it works if it is framed from a female POV, represents the director’s artistic vision, and is a legitimate turn on for both performer and viewer.

My interviews with feminist director Bobbi Starr (who as a performer is noted for her BDSM, rough edged gangbangs, and anal shoots) reveal that gonzo is her filming taste. Starr is open about how she does things her way and being male-identified, should that criticism be raised, is not a concern. Queer feminist performers Dylan Ryan and Madison Young (who sits in director’s chair on occasion) also relish the submissive role and are no strangers to anal scenes and facials. So, what does this tell us today about feminist re-visioned porn? Are women directors succumbing to an ensconced filming that appeals to a male fan base? Or have women, mainly through their indie companies, seized ownership of the very thing that anti-porn feminists insist is their source of oppression? Sabo introduces this question and for that alone, After Pornified is worth a read.

The organization of the chapters merits comment. Sabo reviews various movies to give the reader a feel for her thesis. I am a social scientist/historian, not a film studies scholar, so I appreciate her in-depth look at the narrative and stylistic format of film. Sabo sets off her movie analysis in gray print to distinguish it from the rest of the text. I found this to be an effective tool that enabled me to get a complete picture of her message. It is a boon for any reader who, like yours truly, is largely unfamiliar with the intricacies of film study techniques.

Sex-positive feminist porn filmmakers are making a difference in how a “pornified” society looks at modern adult film. Anti-porn acolytes in the manner of Pamela Paul will continue to fire salvos at pornography as intrusive on society and debasing to women. Give them their due and move on. Take porn, re-vision it, and in the process pay close attention to Anne G. Sabo’s newest book.

 

 

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A Triumph Over an Adolescent Male Mind

by Rich Moreland August 29, 2011

When I discovered there were feminists making adult film I was astounded. Not your mother’s feminism, I assure you. In my limited experience with the women’s movement a feminist was, when it comes to sex, not exactly ready to take on all comers.

My interaction with adult film was equally as limited. My adolescent male mind was focused on the action, not the value of the people who created it, their intelligence, their politics, and their art.

With little prompting, intellectual curiosity got the better of me as it often does. I decided to seriously investigate the adult film business. Rather than living with myths, or what others told me, I wanted to know the people who work in the industry because I suspected they were pretty interesting. This decision was the beginning of the end of my adolescent male mind.

Shortly after beginning my research, I discovered performers who identify as feminists—Nina Hartley, Madison Young, Bobbi Starr, Dylan Ryan, April Flores, Jiz Lee, and Lorilei Lee, to name a few—who are staking out their space in a male-dominated business. And the roll call includes innovative directors like Shine Louise Houston, Courtney Trouble, Tristan Taormino, Nica Noelle, and Carlos Batts, all artists in their own right.

Further investigation revealed I had only scratched the surface because no current feminist in adult film can celebrate her/his craft without paying homage to the past. The pioneers of feminism in adult film, actresses like Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle and their sisters from the 1980’s known collectively as Club 90, set the standard for today’s feminism in the industry. They surpassed all expectations of women who made their reputations in adult film. Annie with her performance art, Candida with FEMME productions, Gloria Leonard with her political activism, and the two Veronicas—Vera and Hart—deserve icon status.

So, where did this leave me? I realized how wrong I was in broad brushing feminism. Chalk up a feminist victory over the adolescent male mind.

In truth, I admire the traditional feminist movement for its political and social contributions in changing America’s cultural landscape. Unfortunately, a few decades ago the anti-pornography faction of the broader movement seized the media limelight, preaching an anti-sex, pro-censorship message while decrying the evils of porn. Thus a feminist reputation was created and shaped my reference point on the movement.

I was not alone. My conversations with Candida Royalle revealed that she struggled with reconciling feminism and her on screen career in adult film. She drifted away from the movement when demonizing pornography was feminism’s popular mantra before returning under a pro-sex feminist banner.

As with all movements feminism was not monolithic; factions developed over all sorts of issues. Some feminists disaffected with the movement’s anti-sex direction encouraged a woman’s ownership of her sexuality. They identified as sex-positive feminists and countered the movement’s popular belief that porn promoted harm and degradation toward women. These feminists supported a woman’s right to buy, watch, perform in, and get off on porn if that was her desire. In time, sex-positive feminism gained a foothold in academia and spread to adult film.

Though the earliest of the sex-positive crowd wasn’t real thrilled with Linda Lovelace’s talents in Deep Throat (1972), the film actually celebrates her sexual pleasure. Remember, she is seeking orgasm. But feminists wanted to see the narrative from a woman’s point of view and felt short-changed. Some were not opposed to Lovelace’s performance; they just thought porn/erotica could be made better and more appealing to women.

Beginning in the mid-1980’s that demand became reality and feminism found its place in the pornography industry. Today, the space they own is home to a variety of expressions. To give you an idea, consider the following samples: the erotica of FEMME Productions and Girlfriends Films, the mainstream films of “Porn Valley’s” Tristan Taormino and Belladonna, the edgy genderqueer performances of San Francisco’s Queer Porn Mafia, and the BDSM internet offerings of Kink.com.

Remember, it is all about choice. Everyone’s sexual expression is legitimate and never deserves to be stifled by anyone. So watch an erotic movie if you wish or a hard edge bondage scene if that is your thing. It’s choice and feminist porn celebrates that.

An addendum. Embedded in this venture is a celebration of women’s sexuality that has endorsed each woman’s individual pleasure, regardless of her interest in porn. Businesses like Good Vibrations in San Francisco and Good For Her in Toronto have given women the permission and privacy needed to explore their individual desires. And, no venture into sex-positive feminism is legitimate without mentioning the innovative art space in San Francisco known as Femina Potens.

So, I decided to tell the story of sex-positive feminism in adult film, seeking to discover how modern day feminists in the business got to their present state. In other words, how did veterans like Royalle, Sprinkle—and their close friend, Nina Hartley—spawn the likes of Madison, Bobbi, Jiz, Courtney, and the others listed above? The most effective way to handle that mission was to ask them personally and then tie their stories together with scholarly writings on the subject and the actual history that took place.

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I’m happy to report that my adolescent male mind has morphed into a more mature state and is now feminist oriented, at least the sex-positive kind and its vital connections to adult film. I credit feminist scholar Linda Williams with the academic insight I needed to figure it out. By the way, if you have any inclination to read a brilliant work on the ways to view pornography check out Williams’ books, especially her classic, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the ‘Frenzy of the Visible.’” (University of California Press: 1999).

In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away and just maybe get all this finished so the story is recorded for America’s cultural history.

A final and honest word is in order here. For all you out there who excoriate the adult film business, I understand your views. However as you moralize, criticize, and vilify, consider taking a moment or two to actually sit down and talk with people who work in the business. As a group, they are well-educated, articulate, and very middle class. People very much like you and me.

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