Tag Archives: Queer Porn Mafia

“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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Any Identifier, or None at All

Jiz Lee, totally queer. Photo courtesy of Nikola Tamindzic and JizLee.com


by Rich Moreland, December 2011

In my search for a lead for this piece, I stumbled onto a December 14 Huffington Post web article on Rooney Mara of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

I pulled this from it;

“When she puts the hoodie on and the leather jacket, she looks like a 14-year-old boy, she looks sexless. Which is perfect. The other side of it is that when she doesn’t have that on, she’s really sexy.”

It’s the sexless part that captured my attention because it brings up an interesting question about the word. Does it mean having no awareness as to be child-like, with apologies to Freud? Or does it mean being indeterminate, not fixed, as to challenge to the traditional male-female binary? For this approach, androgyny may be the best fit.

I’m going to go with the latter interpretation because it describes Jiz Lee, a female-bodied queer porn performer from San Francisco. (A quick note. “Queer” in this usage is not a pejorative. It describes SF’s inclusive community of sexualities and gender preferences that takes pride in its own adult film genre. Within this environment, Jiz is part of a group of directors and performers known as the Queer Porn Mafia. More on them in another post.)

So who is Jiz? How about a Mills College grad who does not identify as male or female for a starters?

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The holiday season is approaching and that means preparations for Vegas in January. Once again, it’s AVN time! Network, attend seminars, look for interviews, and enjoy renewing some acquaintances are on the agenda.

The downside of this year’s excursion is no Jiz Lee. Jiz is off to Jiz’s native Hawai`i  to spend some time with family and friends. Since Jiz is one of my faves in adult film Jiz’s trip to the islands gives me a chance to revisit some of our conversations. Jiz has been instrumental in my understanding of sexuality and how its variations play out in adult film.

Before we go further, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve not used a female pronoun to describe Jiz. Jiz doesn’t like them and I respect Jiz’s wishes because I respect Jiz. Avoiding such pronouns when referring to Jiz is not universally honored I’ve discovered. At a feminist conference last spring, I ran into a well-known maker of sex toys for women. We talked briefly (actually ran into each other in the men’s room!!) before the last seminar of the day and found out that we each know Jiz. He praised Jiz for valuing his newest product, referring to Jiz as “her.” I gently reminded him that Jiz is averse to female pronouns. Laughing a bit sheepishly, he shrugged and said it’s too hard to remember that.

Perhaps, but doesn’t lessen its importance.

Not long ago Jiz courteously reminded me of my own inadvertent screw-up in an article I’d written for an industry publication. The pronoun slipped in out of habit. Spot-checking did not catch it. But that was a poor excuse because getting it right is essential to who Jiz is in Jiz’s own mind. A person’s identity is sacred.

Apologies were in order.

You’ll see no pronouns here. Hope it doesn’t make reading this post too syntactically awkward.

Having established those parameters, this is what’s on my mind today.

In his book America Unzipped, Brian Alexander paid a visit to Kink.com, an internet fetish porn company in San Francisco. I’ve been there also and the place captured my interest. I was looking for feminist attitudes in its operations because male and female-bodied queer performers shoot for Kink, including Jiz.

I get the impression that Alexander saw Kink as just another sojourn in his explorations into American sexuality. Nothing special. In fact, he seemed dismissive of the Kink stopover, using the word “bored” to describe his experience.

I understand tedium when it comes to adult film. I once got a free Hustler video (a compilation) a couple of years ago and swore I’d view the entire four hours, at least in segments. Not easy because I don’t really watch much adult film. I got through fifteen minutes over lunch one day and have never returned to it, repetitive beyond belief with a lack of authentic sex.

One of the problems Alexander had at Kink was language. He was linguistically at sea when chatting with queer performers who tried to explain their preferences and orientations. Nothing seemed certain, like shadows on the waves. Most particular his experience with the word “queer” was confusing and led him to conclude that a variety of sexual tastes, dispositions, and identifications  seemed like a “gender shell game.”

He is correct in one aspect of his metaphor. It’s hard to keep all the terminology straight because it extends way beyond the male-female binary that makes up our culturally circumscribed heteronormativity. Gay male? Not a problem for the most part, but what about lesbian, dyke, butch, lipstick fem, trans, and the like? How does all this wash out because labels can endear or offend?

Jiz helped me sort through things and led me to develop an idea I call “identity of difference.” It’s my way of trying to get a handle on some serious questions. Is sexual orientation and sexual identity biologically determined or socially constructed? Is queer a political statement? Is it about fetishes as in “what are yours and what are mine?” Are lovers of BDSM sex queer?

In trying to clarify these questions, I have decided on one point. All of us have a bit of a different slant when it comes to sexual expression, physically and linguistically. I do believe sexuality is shaped by cultural expectations and these “standards” do not fit everyone. That is the essence of queer. As queer icon Madison Young once said to me, we should not force people into boxes.

Everyone is entitled to a self-identified and selected sexuality and it should be respected because it has the right to be fluid. That is the “identity of difference.” Fetishes, sexual orientation, gender preferences, and the like are all part of a changeable and growing inner self that makes up the totality of personhood.

Jiz is not a “her” or a “him” but is a “they” because Jiz is comfortable with a sexual flow that is subject to redefinition when Jiz feels the necessity, however that is driven. This means that Jiz has every right to any identifier Jiz chooses, or none at all for that matter.

When I met Jiz at a San Francisco restaurant last fall, Jiz biked up to the front door dressed like a newspaper boy straight out of the old black and white cinema of decades ago, complete with cap rakishly tilted to one side.

Later in Toronto, I mentioned to Jiz of my interpretation of Jiz’s appearance that SF evening.

“I like that image!” Jiz said.

“It had a kid look, an androgyny,” I offered. “Sometimes with a kid you can’t tell who it is, boy or girl.”

“It’s comfortable with me,” Jiz declared in discussing the look, “and it took me awhile to find that.”

In our conversation Jiz admitted making mistakes, as I have done, in using identifiers to describe others. Jiz explained that Jiz has friends who prefer the pronouns “they” and “them.” When asked to sort through the meaning of terms like “descriptors” “identities,” and “roles,” as they apply to sexuality, Jiz remarked that the words are not “mutually exclusive.”

“We can’t tell how someone identifies by just looking at them,” Jiz concluded.

I agree. It’s best to ask and honor the response.

Now back to AVN  because you might anticipate what is on the horizon. Remember AVN is Porn Valley stuff, mainstream porn, very Southern Californiaesque Hollywood . . . and a long way from San Francisco queer.

Jiz is up for several noms at the awards show and some are in the all-girl categories. Before I congratulated Jiz, my thought was, “how is Jiz going to handle ‘girl?’”

We exchanged emails.

Just as I expected, Jiz was put off a bit with the “’girl’ aspect,’” as Jiz framed it, and thanked me for “not lumping” Jiz into the “Girl/Girl stuff” as AVN has the habit of doing.

Jiz was philosophical about it all, giving it an “oh hum.”

I’m excited that Jiz’s work is being professionally recognized. Queer adult film deserves to be feted beyond the confines of Toronto’s gala affair and Jiz Lee is one of the genre’s premier performers.

The future looks bright.

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By the way, the Huffington writer marvels at Rooney’s carnality when she “doesn’t have that on,” referring to her hood and jacket. Her sexlessness is vacated.

I contend that Jiz’s queerness moves a step beyond Rooney Mara. Abandonment is unnecessary.

Sexless is erotic.

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Check out Jiz’s website at the top of this page. There will be more on Jiz and other queer performers in the coming months.

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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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