Tag Archives: Jiz Lee

Eros: Part One

by Rich Moreland, March 2018

When I was researching feminism in adult film, my intention was to provide a historical resource for the college classroom. In the spring of 2017 that became a reality at San Francisco State University.

A student from the university was introduced to my work and contacted me concerning a film project she was undertaking. The discussion was an enjoyable role reversal for me because someone else was asking the questions.

The outcome of her effort is extraordinary considering this is a student film, not the product of a professional filmmaker. For that fact alone, it is a remarkable accomplishment.

(All visuals in Parts One, Two, and Three of Eros are courtesy of Davyana San Miguel except that of Dr. Tanya Augsburg who granted me permission to use a her image.)

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Five Minutes

The filmmaker is Davyana San Miguel and the film, Eros, is a comment on how we as a society must create a space for a woman’s take on her own sexuality and, more importantly, how she expresses it.

Early porn feminists, specifically Annie Sprinkle, a member of Club 90, the original feminist support group in the industry, and the late Marilyn Chambers, who did not openly identify as a feminist but was in control of her image, are included. For a more recent take on feminist porn, the narrative offers a moment with director Shine Louise Houston whose Pink and White Productions is a well-known studio in the queer porn genre.

Additionally, the ideas of two feminists from the heady days of second wave feminism are juxtaposed as part of Eros’s message: Andrea Dworkin’s anti-porn feminism and “the erotic is power” philosophy espoused by African-American lesbian, Audre Lorde.

By the way, the film is brief, running a bit over five minutes. But don’t let that fool you, it is smartly done with an artistic verve.

Challenging Social Stigmas

So, who is Davyana San Miguel?

“I’m a filmmaker and multimedia artist,” she says. “As of right now, I’m finishing up my bachelor’s degree in Cinema from San Francisco State with an emphasis in Experimental Filmmaking.

“I’m originally from Hawai’i and moved to California when I was seventeen, spending the first three years in Southern California and now residing in foggy San Francisco.”

Davyana explains that her filmmaking focuses on “challenging social stigmas.” To do so, she explores “open conversations about topics that may make people uncomfortable,” such as feminism and pornography.

Of course, modern artists must take care of the technical aspects of their work. In Davyana’s case, she and her “creative partner” Mehran Karimabadi operate “DSM Visuals, a production company and art collective that creates diverse and original content,” she says.

Sex-Positive

Early in her time at the university, Davyana took a humanities class, Images of Eroticism, from Dr. Tanya Augsburg, an Associate Professor of Humanities in the School of Humanities and Liberal Studies who describes herself as “a humanities-trained interdisciplinary feminist performance scholar, critic, and curator.”

I invited her to talk about her course.

First, she tells me that Images of Eroticism “is a popular upper-division general education humanities course” that has been part of the university curriculum for quite some time. Dr. Augsburg is one of several professors who have undertaken the challenge of defining the sexual and its place in our culture.

“Each instructor teaches it differently, according to their own interpretation of what ‘images of eroticism’ means as well as their own areas of expertise,” the professor points out. Though one instructor teaches the class as a porn studies offering, Dr. Augsburg’s version is not quite that.

Her approach is broader, examining a variety of erotic “representations” that focus on “art, philosophy, literature, film, and contemporary pop culture.”

To give me some specifics, Dr.Augsburg mentions that her course encompasses “erotic imagery” as it connects with “sex-positive cultural representations of women that are created by women and those who do not identify with toxic heteronormative masculinity.”

Dr. Augsburg uses a variety of sources. For example, she includes “clips from the ‘golden age of porn’ and Annie Sprinkle’s films,” on one hand, she says, and “the art of young ‘fourth wave’ and ‘sex-negative’ feminists such as Ann Hirsch and Leah Schrager,” on the other.

The professor also mentions Cheryl Dunye’s film, Mommy Is Coming.

(Note: I met Cheryl Dunye a few years back by way of Pink and White’s Jiz Lee who was impressed with what Dunye brought to the cinematic table.)

New Erotic Imagery

Although the college atmosphere often resists changes in methodology (we often teach as we were taught), Dr. Augsburg’s students are not passive receptacles of professorial pronouncements (my professorial words, not hers!).

“In Images of Eroticism I challenge students to create new erotic imagery that is consensual and that represents their own communities and/or interests. Students can take up that challenge for their final as long as they draw from the course material,” the professor explains.

Some will write “erotic short stories that draw from the course material as well as their own experiences,” she continues. “I’d like to think that Davyana also took up that challenge after the class was over in her film class.”

(Indeed she did. Eros was a project Davyana developed for her Experimental Documentary Workshop at the university.)

What impressed Dr. Augsburg was that Davyana incorporated elements from her course in her student production. Among the literary examples that stand out for the humanities professor occurs in the final frames.

“Davyana ends the film with a shout-out to yet another course text, the novel Story of O with the masked man and woman.”

And, of course, the young filmmaker boldly steps into her own production prompting high praise from Professor Augsburg.

“My class featured many examples of feminist art and performance so I was delighted to see Davyana doing her own performance art in the film,” she says.

The “Porn” Class

From Davyana’s perspective, Dr. Augsburg had a significant impact on a young woman’s educational journey.

“Images of Eroticism was one of the first classes that I took at SF State. I was intrigued by the name. My roommates at the time told me that it was known as the ‘porn’ class. Well, maybe, but it was more than that.

In fact, firsts were everywhere. Not only was the class new to Davyana, it was Dr. Augsburg’s first time teaching it and she was the first woman at the university to do so.

The experience was rewarding. Dr. Augsburg “gave the class a critical analysis and historical overview of erotic art and its effects on society from a female perspective,” Davyana says.

A couple of decades ago that would have been unthinkable and certainly not conventional when it comes to the erotic.

Incidentally, Davyana mentioned that the class read parts of my take on adult film feminism because it “represents a counter-narrative to the consequences of traditional gender roles.”

She goes on to say,

“My copy of your book is littered with post-it notes and I read the whole book after the course was over. When I studied your text and related films, the concept of feminism coexisting with pornography, no longer felt foreign.”

Cool. That is exactly its intent.

*          *          *

The filmmakers of DSM visuals.

*          *          *

Next we will delve a bit into Eros, the film.

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New Wave Porn: A Review of BrightDesire.com Part One

by Rich Moreland, December 2015

This is the first of a two-part review of BrightDesire.com. All photos are courtesy of the website.

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BrightDesire.com is the Australian website of feminist pornographer Ms Naughty. Advertised as “a different kind of porn,” the site offers a couples-friendly product that ditches “old clichés” and the “negativity of standard old-style pornography.” It’s a bold “new wave” claim that lives up its billing.

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The descriptors “fresh, inclusive, and intelligent” enhance the website’s mission statement. In other words, it’s a thinking woman’s eroticism that highlights fantasy and emotion while injecting just the right amount of pure sex for the joy of it.

The site is packed with content that has something for everyone—straight, gay, couples and fetish. Erotic stories, photo sets, short films, and book and film reviews are among its offerings. Be it film or print, BrightDesire delivers on its promise. It’s a breeze to navigate and visually pleasing, but keep in mind that not every model has that pornified look and the films generally avoid the Porn Valley shtick of acrobatics and opening up that defines sex for the professional. As the website’s welcome mat touts, it’s all about “smart, sensual sex.”

The site is no stranger to accolades, having received in 2015 XBIZ’s Adult Site of the Year and AVN’s Best Alternative Site. Similar noms are on tap for 2016.

Within the feminist porn universe, BrightDesire is a widely known. Toronto’s Feminist Porn Awards have honored MsNaughty’s work and the site sponsored the 2014 Feminist Porn Conference held in conjunction with the Awards week.

Curious? Check out the site here. You can get a free seven-day trial which I highly recommend.

Membership information is available in FAQ found in the banner. The first month is $19.95 with recurring months at $9.95. Or, $34.95 will get you ninety days non-recurring. New content is posted weekly.

What You’ll Find

The heart of BrightDesire is a plethora of short films that will stoke the erotic fires in every porn fan. Selected scenes are included in Part Two of this review.

From "The Scent of Her"

“The Scent of Her”

A variety of authors have contributed stories that are quick reads, just enough to fill a few pleasurable moments during a busy day. Among the list I found appealing are “The Scent of Her” about a couple who play an odd game of seduction involving another woman and “Memo from the Boss,” a brief tale that involves a female executive who seeks stress relief from an underling at the office. Both stories use bondage as focal points. In “Scent,” passion oozes from the page; “Memo” is a safely underplayed workplace routine kept private.

"Purple 80s Porn"

“Purple 80s Porn”

There are sections for columns penned by MsNaughty, a blog she maintains, and news updates. Also, photo sets original to the site, along with some from other production studios, can be viewed in the traditional magazine approach to still photography. They feature straight, gay, multiple partners, fetish, and people of color. One of particular interest is “Purple 80s Porn,” a retro look at adult film. The write-up points out that the shots are from an old film and the actors are not known, though one of them looks remarkably like the infamous Traci Lords who was in the business from 1984 to 1986.

The interview section contains short vids of selected people featured in MsNaughty’s films. Typical of the BTS segments found today in DVDs, performers talk about what is important to them, things like attitudes about sex work, shooting porn, and feminist porn as a political and social statement. The website explains that the interviews are integral to “ethical, feminist porn” and “personalize” the performers, not all of whom are professionals. Unfortunately, I did have a few technical problems downloading a couple of interviews.

Jay and Kim

Jay and Kim

After reviewing their BDSM shoot for Part Two, I tuned in to Kim and Jay’s interview. They explain how they met online and the mutual pleasure that comes from acting out their fantasies. It’s a must see for all fans of D/s relationships.

The interviews frame those who make porn in all their naturalness. Sex workers have been around since the beginning of recorded time and many enjoy what they do. In her segment, Livia Vye (who appears in “The Birthday Wish” also reviewed in Part Two) adds a euphoric touch to her sex worker persona when she talks about choice and the freedom to express herself on film.

Livia

Livia

There is much more to explore at BrightDesire. The “Under the Bed” section contains more photos and short films (“Tea or Sex?” is a personal favorite). Reviews highlight books and films. Jiz Lee’s “Coming Out Like a Porn Star” and Jacky St. James’s groundbreaking “The Submission of Emma Marx,” both offerings I’ve reviewed for this blog, are included.

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Speaking of reviews, a look at a few of MsNaughty’s films, all of which are individualist without being egoist, are next in Part Two. Needless to say, the quality of her work is excellent.

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Whatever Name I Choose: A Review of “Coming Out Like a Porn Star”

by Rich Moreland, November 2015

Snugly bundled against the chill of a cloudy April day, I was leaving Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel when I stepped aside for a porn performer I recognized but had never met. I held the door and offered a brief greeting.

A few hours later an impromptu dinner significantly influenced the direction of my research at the time. My dining companions that evening were in town for the same reason that brought me to Canada, the Feminist Porn Awards.

Among those at our table was the performer I passed earlier that day, Jiz Lee. A handful of interviews with Jiz followed over the next couple of years and we developed a modest friendship.

Jiz became a central figure in my manuscript on feminism in adult film and now Jiz has a book out. It’s sensational, smartly edited, and I highly recommend it.

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Author Jiz Lee has redefined “page turner” with Coming Out Like a Porn Star. The collection of personal essays are told with varied emotion–some hint of anger, others steeped in frustration and dark humor. Most are upfront with grinding doubt and the bravery required to deal with what everyone associated with the sex industry ultimately faces.

“Does your family know what you do?”

Jiz Lee Photo courtesy of GlennFrancis/PacificProDigital

Jiz Lee
Photo courtesy of GlennFrancis/PacificProDigital

That question, wrapped around issues such as stigmatization, feminism, gender preferences, and fetish proclivities, jumps from the book as the reader begins the journey.

Lee contributes the first essay and from there acts as editor, sorting and arranging the contributors who willing offer what they do and why. Sexuality’s personal definition for each writer is woven throughout the pages.

Coming Out Like Porn Star is certainly a seductive title, but the book is not an expose as we think of it. Rather, it is an intimate inside look at the people whose choices are in their own words. They are literary volunteers with a sense of accomplishment that refuses to succumb to shame.

What’s in a Name

At its most fundamental level, Coming Out Like a Porn Star is a lesson in social behavior and prejudice. Frustration, resentment, and shame, often resulting from religious upbringing and family disapproval, are crushing negatives. But they are ameliorated by the power of community and sex worker activism in which pride, joy, and a sense of strength are celebrated.

Here’s a quick look that is a mere sampling of well over fifty short entries.

Casey Calvert Photo Courtesy of David Hilton Photography

Casey Calvert
Photo Courtesy of David Hilton Photography

Casey Calvert talks about how she feels pretty in porn. “I have amazing new friends and strangers on the internet think I’m beautiful,” the fetish star writes. In a vibrant story of self-esteem, Casey loves a life without secrets, she says.

In their respective essays, “queer identified trans woman” Drew Deveaux and Connor Habib question what’s in a name? While Deveaux draws on a larger issue, noting that our culture is “reflected and reshaped” via the “medium” of porn, Habib asserts that having “sex publically” permits sex workers to “talk about integrating private and public aspects of life”

Adult company owner Courtney Trouble’s moving account of conversations with her father is an intimate expression of father-daughter love that contrasts markedly with bondage star Denali Winter, who recalls that the adult industry community saved her when family difficulties seemed insurmountable.

Both Denali and author Dale Cooper touch on the shame foisted on sexuality by religion.

The reader can choose preferred essays or take on the book cover to cover. Each writing is unique though limited, as Jiz Lee admits, to personalities of recent generations. The exceptions are legendary icons such as Nina Hartley, Annie Sprinkle, and the late Candida Royalle.

That is my Real Name

Regardless of how the book is tackled, two essays are a must read. Lorelei Lee’s finely crafted statement on “Naming” is balanced effectively with Stoya’s humor in “Noooooooodie Girl.”

Lorelei Lee Photo courtesy of Rick Garcia

Lorelei Lee
Photo courtesy of Rick Garcia

In fact, Lorelei Lee’s essay is the book’s linchpin. She is brilliant when speaking of her empowerment. “Naming a thing makes it real,” she says, then remarks with pride that “slut, whore, sister, freak, artist, wife—all of it is truly, wholly me.”

Her bottom line? “Whatever name I choose, that is my real name.”

My only criticism of Coming Out Like a Porn Star is really a historical comment. Feminism in porn today is heavily tilted toward the San Francisco queer porn community, though smart and resouceful women in Southern California are challenging adult film’s traditional patriarchy. Feminists, like the previously mentioned Nina Hartley and Casey Calvert, are making their voices heard. Others on Porn Valley’s expanding list–Jackie St. James, Tasha Reign, Jessica Drake, Dana Vespoli, Mason, Ela Darling, and the now retired Bobbi Starr, to name a few–have their own empowered statements.

Jiz Lee’s extraordinary work is worth six stars out of five for anyone interested in the adult film industry.

The book is available at Amazon.

 

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: ThreeL Media (October 20, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0990557162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0990557166

 

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Crunch Time and Changing Times

by Rich Moreland, December 2014

book cover porn.fem.

It’s crunch time for me and I don’t mean holiday shopping. John Hunt Publishing of the UK is preparing my book, Pornography Feminism: As Powerful as She Wants to Be for distribution. The official release date is January 30, but it is available now at a pre-release price. You can find it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

I’m beginning a new phase in the life of an author, marketing. It has become my holiday version of “got to get this done” and I’m learning as I go, just as I did when I first ventured into the adult film community.

Six years ago I began to mingle with pornography people. I listened, took notes, watched them work, and paid for my share of meals. Never did I imagine that a blog would come out of my industry networking. In fact, it was a student of mine who suggested I begin a journal. Inevitably, a twitter account followed and then the big break, an offer to write for Adult Industry News, an online publication out of LA. It’s among the websites included under the Links of Interest tab at the top of this page.

To make a go of the book I wanted to write, I sought out feminist performers and directors. Of course, feminism and pornography aren’t exactly bedfellows (pun intended) in American social history. Consequently, I never knew where the field work would lead and I did have my surprises.

What is missing in Pornography Feminism is an epilogue. Because careers in the adult film industry can be absurdly brief (as in why did she even give this a try?) to five plus years, a lifetime in porn, I never knew if or when contacts I valued would suddenly decide to hang it up.

Two things I have learned when girls step out of the limelight. First, some will immediately disappear, drop off the radar without a forwarding address. Negotiating life after porn is a tricky proposition that can inhibit available options in rebuilding a civilian normality. In some cases, an “I don’t want to talk about it” mentality takes over and must be respected. Second, and this is related to the first, some girls show up again in the industry with renewed purpose. The most recent example is Nadia Styles who was “saved” by anti-porn Christians but has returned to filming with the message that she is glad to be back.

Nadia’s story, as reported by Adult Video News, is here.

Another example is the legendary Aurora Snow who retired to the American heartland a year ago. Word is that she will be around during the AEE convention in January, but has no intention of stepping in front of the camera.

Transitions and Change

Since the presses are now rolling, it’s appropriate to update a pair of retirements with personal “thank yous.” Each performer contributed significantly to my field work. First, Bobbi Starr, without whom Pornography Feminism would be an unfinished shell of a book. Recently retired after eight years in the business, Bobbi now lives quietly in married domesticity. Raising a family takes all her energy, she tells me.

I’m not surprised. I remember meeting Bobbi for breakfast a few years ago in Vegas. In our conversation, she mentioned that adult film was a phase of her life she was doing the safest way possible. When she started a family, the formally trained oboist insisted, all on-screen appearances would come to screeching halt.

The native Northern Californian always had a plan, a sense of responsibility, and a ton of industry respect to go with it.

Bobbi and Jiz Lee in Toronto. Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Bobbi and Jiz Lee in Toronto in 2011.
Photo courtesy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

Transitioning from performer to director, Bobbi understood what it meant to call her shots in a male-dominated industry. Undoubtedly, the statuesque brunette could have remained behind the camera for decades to come, but she walked away on her own terms, contented and ready for the next phase of her life.

Next is Tara Lynn Foxx, who like Bobbi Starr, was always generous with her time and opinions. I remember talking with TLF when she was just breaking into the business. Over the years, catching up with this sweetheart had its amusing moments. Once I interviewed Tara while she was taking a time out in Vegas. She was without her undies, a violation of convention protocol, and was waiting for their delivery! In another instance we chatted as she sat in the make-up chair. That night, everything was a rush.

TLF in Vegas. Photo couresy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

TLF in Vegas in 2012.
Photo couresy of 3hattergrindhouse.com

The San Francisco girl who started in webcam paid her dues and on occasion suffered the vagaries of being in the business. Over time her personal grit forged a solid career that, like Bobbi’s, will be worthy of eventual induction into the AVN Hall of Fame.

For an understanding of TLF’s time in porn, turn the pages of Pornography Feminism. She, along with Bobbi and a handful of others, are featured.

In the meantime, Tara Lynn Foxx informs me the end is at hand. “I’m actually retired and not shooting anymore. I’ve changed paths.” The performer I watched develop from a teenager into a sultry young woman is moving toward a new profession in the culinary arts. For more on Tara’s plans, check out her website.

Postscript

Establishing a respected porn resume is an accomplishment fueled by an irrepressible spirit and when the inevitable arrives, fan accolades and generous checks for shooting scenes are hard to replace. However, times do change. The body wears down, especially with the modern definition of rough sex, and an exit strategy moves center stage.

Nevertheless, memories often linger because transitioning into civilian life is not always easy.

Will either Bobbi or Tara return to porn? My guess is no, but one should never say never. If they do, their fans will be back, lined up and ready for a moment’s attention, an autographed photo . . . and a smile.

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A Dirty Little Secret?

by Rich Moreland, August 2014

 

Recently, Assembly Bill 1576 requiring the use of protective barriers in adult film was tabled by the California State Senate. As a result, the adult industry will avoid further government oversight statewide except for Los Angeles County where a similar ordinance remains on the books.

The story of AB 1576’s demise as reported by XBIZ can be found here and Adult Video News’ version is referenced here.

The following commentary is about AB 1576’s unanticipated impact on the industry.

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Casey Calvert sends the message. Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Casey Calvert sends the message.
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

“Here’s the dirty little secret about porn production in California: it’s just work,” says Assemblyman Isadore Hall, whose effort to require condoms in adult film has just expired in a Senate committee.

The Honorable Mr. Hall confirms what everyone connected with the adult industry has known all along, porn people are entertainers who pick up a paycheck. Their job is hardly “a dirty little secret.”

What is missing from Assemblyman Halls’ sardonic comment is the acknowledgment that an effective industry wide blood testing protocol is already in place, and has been for years, to take care of what AB 1576 purports to address: worker safety. Adult entertainment can take care of its own and do it without burdening the taxpayers of a state rife with financial problems.

From California’s standpoint, money is the issue. Driving a multi-billion dollar industry underground or into the friendlier neighborhoods of Nevada, Florida, and New Hampshire (yes, it is legal to shoot porn in “The Granite State”) makes little sense. Enforcement of any protective barrier law demands more government spending, a difficult prospect in tough economic times, and increases unemployment as businesses move elsewhere.

Unfortunately, for LA county the expenditure already exists and state coffers are taking a hit anyway. Segments of the porn industry have vacated California as indicated by dwindling film permits.

Better Equipped

Having said that, only the naive are persuaded that the protective barrier fight is over. Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Health Foundation (AHF) will carry on his private war with the industry. It’s a moral imperative for him just as it may be for Isadore Hall, though both claim performer safety is their concern, an astounding assertion since the public has traditionally cared little for people who make their living selling sexuality in any form.

But for now, the issue is tabled and it’s time to assess the benefits from an industry standpoint. Here’s a quick review.

A degree of political unity is emerging. In the condom debate, the Free Speech Coalition led a vanguard of concerned groups that stood against AB 1576. The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Transgender Law Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Law Center, Project Inform of San Francisco, and the AIDS Project Los Angeles, are among the associations who voiced their opposition. And, the valuable support of the business oriented Valley Industry & Commerce Association cannot be overlooked. It has a stake in keeping porn dollars in the LA economy.

While this is a beginning, other longer term developments are taking shape.

The latex controversy has revealed that performers, always known for their renegade attitudes, can organize to express their opinions. The earliest, most primitive rumblings occurred in raucous protests before Measure B became law in LA county an election cycle ago. At the time, it was too little, too late and haphazard, at best. But as reality settled in and the battle moved to Sacramento, performer interest intensified. Stars like Chanel Preston, James Deen, Casey Calvert, Lorelei Lee, Jiz Lee, Nina Hartley, Annika Albright, Alex Chance, and others lobbied legislators.

Bottom line? Porn performers can advance their agenda and may have more political clout than they realize.

A performer organization, the nascent APAC (Adult Performer Advocacy Committee), is emerging. Among APAC’s successes is Porn 101, a video educating talent about STDs. Porn people are sex workers foremost, just as Isadore Hall suggests, and where better to help than with health issues. As APAC grows, the political entanglement over condoms adds to its importance and performers are now better equipped to fight the next round.

In the meantime, two gutsy industry executives are creating their own political dust ups with AHF. First, Vivid’s Steven Hirsch has filed an appeal in the 9th U. S. Circuit Court involving the enforcement of Measure B. Second, Peter Acworth of Kink.com is taking on Michael Weinstein in a direct confrontation. In Acworth’s view, the company was unfairly fined over $78,000 for OSHA “violations” in San Francisco. When he moved some production to Las Vegas, AHF tailed him into town and initiated legal complaints over unprotected oral sex. “Baseless” is Acworth’s word for their accusation (this has gotten irritatingly personal) and Nevada, which envisions a porn biz financial windfall, is stepping around AHF for the moment.

At present, Peter Acworth is ahead in his fight; Steven Hirsch’s efforts remain in limbo.

So, where are we now? The condom push fell victim to state funding, the oft-cited reason for failures to increase government regulation. But, in this case, the aftermath is bringing together an industry willing to wrestle for its life. The message is awareness coupled with united action, ingredients for an effective voice in every political scrum.

Simply put, the porn world is not what it used to be. The people who are committed to adult entertainment understand that porn is a career and are better educated and more professional than ever before. They safeguard their working conditions and have a blood testing protocol to protect against STDs.

All the while, shooting scenes remains what they have always been. In this case, Isadore Hall is right on target, “it’s just work.”

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After posting Isadore Hall’s comment on porn and work, I decided to clarify that many performers enjoy their profession and believe it is an artistic expression that goes beyond making a living. With that in mind, I will quote awarding winning director Jacky St. James:

“Sex at work can feel very good, but at the end of the day, it’s still work. There do not have to be emotions involved…and having sex with a variety of people does not invalidate what you feel for your partner. Most of the long-term, stable relationships in adult are between two individuals that possess a strong sense of self and can see their profession for what it is – a job.”

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A Spark of Activism

by Rich Moreland, July 2014

In her recent Huffington Post article “Why I Don’t Want Condoms: A Porn Performer’s Perspective,” Casey Calvert explains the irony of AB 1576, the condom legislation that will alter California’s porn production landscape should it become law. Casey argues that the bill would lessen her sexual well-being at work because its provisions are less rigorous than the current industry requirements. At present, she points out, the Free Speech Coalition’s Performer Availability Scheduling Services (PASS) updates an actor’s status and protects everyone by identifying those who are not cleared to shoot. The system is based on a fourteen-day protocol that tests for seven infections including HIV, gonorrhea, and Chlamydia.

Casey goes on to discuss the realities of condom use. The downside of lengthy penetrations can negatively affect female talent’s availability if condoms are required, a fact apparently ignored by Michael Weinstein and the AIDS Health Foundation. Friction creates soreness and irritated vaginal and anal corridors can limit a girl’s work schedule.

In her argument, Casey repeats what everyone connected with the business fears if AB 1576 becomes a legal reality. Some companies will go underground to avoid compliance while others will depart for friendlier confines (Las Vegas heading the list), or go out of business altogether.

Self-Explanatory Photo Courtesy of Casey Calver

Self-Explanatory!
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

It’s not so much what Casey has to say that is the attention-getter. Rather, it is what her article reveals about performers that could spell changes for the future.

Michael Weinstein’s machinations aimed at curtailing adult film production is a call to action. He has pushed to the industry to the wall and there are hints that moving forward in a political way is more than just a discussion board topic. The testimony against AB 1576 in Sacramento is an indication of what porn people can do when they demonstrate a modicum of organization.

Some performers with sex-positive feminist leanings—Casey, Nina Hartley, Tasha Reign, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, and Lorelei Lee to name a few—have never shied away from their political opinions. Now we have the addition of a delegation that recently visited the Compton offices of Assemblyman Isadore Hall, the bill’s sponsor. Led by Nina Hartley, the group, which included Alex Chance, Anikka Albright, Mia Li, and Charli Piper, made the performer case against AB 1576 to a staff aide representing Hall. The account of their appearance can be found here.

Performers are learning that activism is possible in an industry unaccustomed to touting its political side beyond the work of the Free Speech Coalition (FSC).

Incidentally, should AB 1576 become law, the studios may be forced to regard performers as employees rather than independent contractors. If defined as employees, porn talent would then have organizational options. How much of a political voice they can muster may determine outcomes that are beneficial to them.

Organization demands leadership and its vital components, intelligence and commitment. Performers are exploring that scenario now with a new entity, the Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC). Using education as its tool, APAC has established worthy goals that include the creation of a safe, professional work environment and a knowledgeable, respected performer.

Will APAC consider a more formal direction in giving porn talent a greater voice? The discussion has come up before. Industry vets will remember performer, director, and producer Ona Zee and her support for unionization some years ago.

Of course, talk of formal organization is problematic in an industry that tends toward libertarianism; porn performers value their unwavering independence and in the end, APAC may amount to nothing. But the specter of Sacramento, with its rules and regs, now looms over everyone and unless there is a dramatic shift in direction, the future is going to demand greater political involvement.

With a law on the books enacted under the auspices of AB 1576, would not performers be better off with a strong organization that would exclusively represent them? How, for example, is the law to be enforced on the set, who takes the blame if condoms are ignored, and how would workman’s comp issues be handled?

Nina Hartley, who believes organization is a good thing, once told me in a moment of frustration that performers lack an institutional memory about the business. They often assume that the way things are now in adult film is the way they have always been. Some performers do seem to get it, however. Like the outspoken Casey Calvert, they can become powerful activists if they choose to explore that possibility.

Here’s an example of the attitude needed for success. Casey says in her article that if studios “stay in California and flaunt the law,” AB 1576 will result in unsafe working conditions. Underground production is the easiest way out and sets up a scenario in which testing protocol evaporates and a host of problems can arise, endangering everyone.

“We self-regulate very well right now, but that’s bound to fall apart if we have to do it in secret. I’m not going to work if I don’t feel safe,” she declares.

What a feisty Casey does not say is she’ll leave the industry and she is adamant that she’ll not shoot underground. The Florida native and others will fight for all porn performers and their spirit of activism, evident in Sacramento’s legislative halls and in online articles and social media, will take up residence in APAC.

Positive changes begin with a spark, an attitude, and almost always a fed-up person. Remember Norma Rae and Erin Brockovich? Porn women are just as gutsy.

*          *          *          *          *

Postscript

At the hearing from left to right, Sid, Owen Gray, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, Casey Calvert, and Lorelei Lee Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

Performers making a statement by attending the hearing. From left to right:  Sid, Owen Gray, Jiz Lee, Chanel Preston, Casey Calvert, and Lorelei Lee
Photo courtesy of Casey Calvert

On the day of the Senate hearing, Casey and others from the industry appeared in the chamber to offer their views. Though each person was recognized, Casey reports, only designated speakers were allowed to make statements. The FSC’s Diane Duke and Kink.com-based performer and director Lorelei Lee presented arguments against the bill; the remaining interested parties were allowed a brief individual moment.

“We all got a chance to go up to the microphone, but all we were allowed to say was our name and that we oppose,” Casey states. As for the other side, “There were some people there to support the bill, but not as many as we had,” she adds. “The oddest one was Jessie Rodgers, who was literally in tears because she got herpes on set.”

Casey later mentions that herpes is “fairly common” in the industry and is often considered a “nothing disease” whose danger is hyped by drug companies. “It can’t hurt you at all,” she says and questions why Jessie was so over-the-top about it.

Former performers Sophia Delgado and Cameron Bay endorsed the bill along with Jessie Rogers, whose personal view on AB 1576 and the industry abuses she perceives harms all porn talent can be found here.

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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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