Attractiveness

Posted on | January 30, 2012 | 20 Comments |

Guest post by Tethys, reprinted here with m’Lady’s permission. Original post, with comments, can be read here.

Earlier today i had a Twitter conversation about the looks of trans people in porn; and i felt it raised some issues i feel are better discussed in a blog post than within the confines of the Twitter 140-character limit. :-)

My initial tweets were:

i must say i often feel intimidated by the looks of the people in ‘shemale’ #porn …. #trans #lgbt

…. but then, i’m intimidated by the looks of most people in #queer #porn, too. #trans #lgbt

i guess every type of #porn has a ‘blessed’ look associated with it ….

…. where by “‘blessed’”, i mean looks which are repeatedly publicly endorsed by various members of relevant communities as being “suitably attractive”; not using that exact phrase, but by comments like “Woah, how hot is this person!”, “This person is just so fuckable!”, “Seeing this person makes me so horny!”, and so on.

In response, @amiewee asked “How intimidated?” To which i replied:

Well, i guess i feel i’m rather ‘unattractive’ in comparison.

i mean, i know professional porn has to cater to what its target demographic deems ‘attractive’, [+]

so in that sense i see it as an issue with wider societal notions of ‘attractiveness’ rather than something specific to porn.

A basic premise of ‘queer porn’ is that it’s about diversity – showing a wide range of people, regardless of their size / gender / ethnicity / shape / sexuality / ability / looks etc. But in my experience, even though the queer porn i’ve seen does show a range of body sizes and shapes, and a range of queer sexualities, i’ve felt it often has a certain aesthetic about it which i find difficult to describe, but which i tried to describe to @amiewee as being rooted in looks i think of as ‘trendy’/’alternative’: piercings / tattoos / brightly coloured hair done in certain styles. And i further feel that there often doesn’t seem to be that many trans / genderqueer women i can identify with.

i know of a number of trans women who feel we as a group are underrepresented in queer porn; there’s been discussions about the issue in groups on FetLife, for example. i admit, i initially thought that the issue might be with attitudes/biases from queer porn producers/creators. But two things have changed my mind in this regard:

  • i tried creating a Tumblr, ‘AmateurTransSex’, seeking submissions from a variety of trans people – but certainly from trans women – showing them having sex, to show the diversity of trans people’s bodies, and how one can’t automatically assume the gender and/or sexuality of people in pictures of sex acts. i announced the project in relevant groups on FetLife, and prominent people within the queer porn community helped to promote it on Twitter.The response? Near-silence. Even after further attempts to promote the project.
  • A similar Tumblr project is the TransQueersXXX Tumblr. When it became apparent that TransQueersXXX was having more success than my own Tumblr along these lines, i ‘officially’ ended my AmateurTransSex Tumblr project and directed any interested people to TransQueersXXX. But although TransQueersXXX is getting a fair number of submissions in general, they often seem to be struggling with a lack of submissions from trans women, despite, to their credit, regularly putting out calls for such submissions.

So the overall impression i’ve been getting is one of enthusiasm from queer porn creators for supporting getting more trans women into porn, and other people making active efforts to try to display more representations of trans women being sexual – but an apparent lack of willingness on the part of trans women to put themselves forward. Which in turn has made me ask: Why might this be the case?

Some thoughts that i’ve had in this regard are:

  • i would wager that when the average-person-in-the-street thinks of trans women in porn, they think of the ‘shemale’ genre. i know quite a few trans women, and hardly any of them look like ‘shemale’ actors; they often don’t completely ‘pass’ as cis women1, which i feel many ‘shemale’ actors do2. And i suspect many, if not most, trans women are very aware of the extent to which they don’t ‘pass’, and thus feel they are therefore ‘unsuitable’ for appearing in such porn.
  • More broadly, representations of trans women in the mainstream media in general – are very limited at best; and when we are represented, we’re often presented as “eww, it’s an ugly man in a dress, gross!” So we don’t often receive societal messages suggesting that we’re an attractive group of people overall, or even that we can be attractive; only when we ‘pass’ sufficiently well does the possibility of us being ‘attractive’ begin to be assessed. In this context, it’s hardly surprising that many trans women might not feel particularly comfortable putting themselves on display, to be mocked and labelled ugly by people on the Internet – particularly when we often get that going about our daily lives in any case.
  • More specifically, however, the experience of myself and, from what i’ve read, a number of other trans women is that queer communities often seem to have an aesthetics which lauds AFAB people in a way that AMAB people aren’t – which often seems to not be apparent to people who aren’t trans women, just as straight people often don’t notice the lack of non-heterosexual people/relationships in the mainstream media. Enthusiasm for ‘androgyny’ often seems to accompany pictures of trans guys / AFAB genderqueers3; in my experience, it rarely accompanies pictures of trans women or AMAB genderqueers. So again, the overall metamessage that this can send to trans women is: “You’re unlikely to be someone who is attractive”.
  • Despite the constant message that it’s self-confidence that makes people attractive, we live in a world where pictures of dark-skinned people get modified so that their skin appears lighter, regardless of how self-confident those people might be – because ‘whiteness’ is an aesthetic that is highly valued, not only in Western countries, but in countries such as India. In this context, the metamessage that gets sent is: “Even if you do think you look okay, others won’t necessarily think so unless we change how you appear in pictures.”

Thus, even when queer porn creators actively seek trans women, there are factors working against trans women responding to their call. And this creates a catch-22, because this reduces the representations of trans women in queer porn, which then reinforces trans women’s notions that we’re not attractive enough for it.

To me this is yet another example of how we need to start critiquing standards of ‘attractiveness’; there’s an interesting post on the Radical TransFeminist blog on this issue called “Significant Othering: Attraction Down the Privilege Gradient“. Still, that’s a long-term task; what can we do in the meantime?

Clearly more of us trans women need to either be putting our hands up to appear in queer porn, or start making more of it ourselves. It seems to me both things are happening: i’m a fan of Tobi Hill-Meyer (@Tobitastic) and Maya Mayhem (@Maya_Mayhem), and there are other trans women whose work i’ve not yet seen, such as Drew Deveaux (@DrewDeveaux). i would suggest that trans women can work to increase their profile and visibility, and if finances permit, pay for porn featuring them. (i myself had a subscription to QueerPorn.TV which i unfortunately recently had to cancel due to financial constraints.) Further, whilst acknowledging that we regularly receive many messages that we’re inherently unattractive, we can, as an act of political resistance, try to put such messages into their broader sociopolitical context, and work on reevaluating societal notions of who is and isn’t considered ‘attractive’. And i say this as someone who certainly does not think she’s attractive enough for any porn, including queer porn; i don’t feel i have ‘trendy’/’alternative’ looks (despite my body piercings :-P).

If we can work on rejecting notions of the extent to which we’re ‘attractive’, it increases the possibility that we would feel comfortable making our own porn. Of course this is not an option for many trans women, for various reasons, including:

  • overall body dysphoria;
  • not wanting to provide ‘evidence’ (e.g. still having a cock) that one is “not a real woman”;
  • not wanting to ‘out’ oneself as having been AMAB / that one is trans;
  • having other life / community / activist / personal commitments which take up the bulk of one’s time/resources;
  • more generally, social sanctions – which include such things as losing employment, when unemployment is already very high amongst trans women – for appearing in porn in general.

But even if there are at least some of us who do have the option to consider appearing in professional or amateur queer porn, and even if only some who do consider it end up actually choosing to do so, i would feel that’s progress which might well help many other trans women feel better about themselves and their bodies.


1. i note here that i feel there are significant issues involved in the ‘passing’ concept; but i feel those issues are relatively tangental to the issues i want to discuss here.

2. Hence the term ‘trap’ often used by cis men to describe trans women; “It looks like this person is a woman; but the pants come off, and Woah! there’s a cock. So this person isn’t really a woman – the whole thing was a trap!” i find it terribly offensive, particularly when it’s used by “tranny chasers” who think it’s a term of endearment. :-P

3. Cf. this old post of mine on ‘androgyny’, which explains why i tend not to identify as ‘androgynous’, even though, as a two-gendered transgenderqueer, it should technically apply to me. To my satisfaction, in more recent times i’ve seen increasing numbers of people making similar critiques.

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Comments

20 Responses to “Attractiveness”

  1. Scar
    February 1st, 2012 @ 9:45 pm

    I suppose I could do porn (I’m conventionally attractive and have that ‘look’ you talk about, with the tatts, etc) but why would I want to do it specifically as a trans woman?
    Given the option, there would be no mention of ‘transness’ because I don’t see why it is at all relevant (disclaimer: I’m post-op).

    Have a read of this post, which delves into the whole trans/porn issue a little further:
    http://www.scarletsorceress.com/2011/12/porn-and-us.html

  2. Tethys
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 2:24 am

    Scar:

    If you feel ‘transness’ would not be relevant in your particular case, should you decide to make porn, all power to you! But for many trans women, such as myself, we will never ‘pass’ (i.e. be read as cis women) until societal notions change with regards to what a ‘woman’ looks like; i have no intention of having genital surgery, and so my trans status can’t be avoided. And in any case, not all trans women have ‘passing’ as their end goal ….

    Thank you for the link; i feel at least parts of it echo the dot points i made towards the end of my post.

  3. Scar
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    I think it’s a bit self defeating to say that you will never ‘pass’.
    Of course, if you don’t *want* to pass, then that’s certainly going to prevent you from doing so.

    I agree though that ‘passing’ should not define one’s womanhood. Society does need to get to a place where ‘non-passing’ women (cis or trans) are accepted as women.

    My concern for ‘non-passing’ porn would be that it was purely fetish driven and would be erasing of the trans participant’s identities (i.e. “I love wanking to men in dresses getting fucked!”)

  4. Tethys
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 11:07 am

    Scar:

    Well, as someone who is two-gendered – i’m a woman, yes, but i’m also a man – it is true that i am leery of wanting to ‘pass’ as either one cis gender or or the other. But also, i politically disagree with the notion of having to ‘pass’ to have one’s gender identity recognised. Getting to the point of ‘passing’ can often require resources (in terms of time / energy / finances) that not all trans people have access to. (For example, a given trans person might feel that their limited resources are better directed at caring for a chronically ill partner.)

    i certainly agree with you that the ‘shemale’ genre in mainstream porn is probably primarily driven by chasers; but the point of queer porn – i.e. porn that self-describes itself as thus – is that it is about quite consciously and deliberately representing diversity, including in the area of gender identity and presentation. So queer porn is not coming from the same place as i feel ‘shemale’ porn often is, and is, i feel, much more likely to not be erasive of identities. Certainly that’s been my observations of both creators of, and participants in, queer porn thus far.

  5. Scar
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 7:11 pm

    So it seems that the point of having this diverse porn is so that it can be said that porn has this diversity.
    Which is all rather too circular for me.

    I don’t watch much porn (I am not a terribly sexual creature at the best of times), but I thought porn worked on a supply/demand model?
    So if this kind of porn was desirable, there would be a market for it.
    Which there isn’t, so clearly there isn’t much demand for it.

    Again, it seems that your saying that it *should* exist, so that it can be said that there is diversity in porn.
    This feels a bit like hiring certain ethnicities to claim that your workplace is culturally diverse.
    Which I feel is even more tokenising than having dudes jerking to the idea of me once having a penis.

  6. Tethys
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 7:50 pm

    Scar:

    It is trying to increase diversity in porn, yes. However, for me at least, it’s not for its own sake – not simply to say “there is diversity in porn” – but so that a greater diversity of people see themselves represented as sexual beings enjoying their own sexuality for their own sake, rather than as a fetish object to help a cis (and probably straight) person get off.

    i know, for a fact, as i said in my post, that there are many trans women who would like to see more of a diversity of trans women in porn in general, and in queer porn in particular. (Presumably because, like me, they’d like to see in porn that they can personally identify with.) i know this because i’ve read their comments saying so, on places like FetLife. So even if this is not an issue for you personally due to you not being a particularly sexual person, it /is/ an issue for a number of trans women.

    However, as i’m sure you’re aware, trans people often face significant financial hardships, so that does depress the amount of financial resources available to express demand. Further, as my above post pretty clearly states – and as the article you linked to also states – there are barriers to trans women entering porn, so the ‘supply’ side is restricted due to broader societal issues. Last but not least, queer porn studios, whose focus is not on what cis “tranny chasers” want, are often (usually?) operating on shoe string budgets – heck, many of them are substantially running on love and passion – can’t necessarily offer trans women the levels of financial compensation that might induce trans women to accept roles /despite/ the barriers and risks.

    So i feel your “supply and demand” argument is oversimplistic at best.

    Finally, people don’t only make porn in order to make money; amateurs make lots of porn for free, as seen all over the net. But the barriers to entry i’ve mentioned can affect both professional and amateur porn; which in turn affects the extent to which trans women get to see representations of themselves in sexually-explicit media.

  7. Scar
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 8:00 pm

    “but so that a greater diversity of people see themselves represented as sexual beings enjoying their own sexuality for their own sake”

    Well, that’s where you lose me, because I don’t see why you need porn to do this.
    But as I said (and as you reiterated) I’m not a very sexual person, so this is all rather beyond me.
    Nor do I know enough *about* porn, it seems, to continue this discussion.
    But thanks for engaging with me anyway; it’s been enlightening :-)

    On a different note, have you written much about being bigender? I’d enjoy reading about it, if you have.

  8. Tethys
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

    Scar:

    “Well, that’s where you lose me, because I don’t see why you need porn to do this.”

    Er. So if not through sexually explicit media, how are people going to “see themselves represented as sexual beings enjoying their own sexuality for their own sake”? Live sex shows? *is confused*

    “But thanks for engaging with me anyway; it’s been enlightening :-D”

    Well, you’re welcome. :-)

    Re. being bigender, well, i don’t identify as being bigendered nowadays (though i certainly used to), because it seems it’s most often used to mean:

    * Someone who is a crossdresser, i.e. someone who lives their daily lives as one gender but enjoys dressing according to societal notions of what is ‘appropriate’ for another gender;

    and/or

    * Someone who constantly shifts between living as one gender and living as another.

    Neither are me, because i don’t see my clothing choices as being socially ‘non-appropriate’ for my overall gender identity, and because i regard myself and being /both/ female /and/ male, all the time, simultaneously.

    So the term i tend to use to describe myself specifically is ‘two-gendered’, and ‘transgenderqueer’ more generally – i’ve gone through the gatekeeping process, i’ve gone on hormones, but i’m not ‘transitioning’ to a single gender.

    But to answer your question: i’ve really not written about being two-gendered as much as i should have; really should change that. :-)

  9. Scar
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

    “Er. So if not through sexually explicit media, how are people going to “see themselves represented as sexual beings enjoying their own sexuality for their own sake”? Live sex shows?”

    I didn’t know they needed to “see themseleves represented as sexual beings enjoying their own sexuality for their own sake”. I thought people could do that in the comfort of their own bedrooms.
    I mean, that’s how I do it. I don’t need porn to enjoy my sexuality, nor do I need to see other people like me to…I don’t even know how that should finish. “Feel represented” perhaps?
    I don’t actually need that.
    But I can only speak for myself; I suspect our experiences may be so poles apart that it may not be possible to communicate these ideas to one another.

    “Because it seems it’s most often used to mean…”

    We seem to dwell in very different trans spheres to one another – I haven’t heard those descriptions for years.
    Two-gender is a perfectly valid identity though, as are all identities.
    If you end up writing about it, please flick me a link!

  10. Tethys
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 9:37 pm

    Well, why do any members of any marginalised group want to see themselves in any media? i mean, black people, queer people, fat people – many people from all these groups have, quite rightly, complained about lack of positive representations of themselves in various forms of media, whether it’s tv shows, movies, books etc. Do you feel these people shouldn’t need to see positive representations of people like themselves in such media, and that they should just take their own lives as sufficient representation? If not, why should sexually explicit media be any different? Why shouldn’t people want to see representations of sexual activity that they can relate to?

    Re. being in different spheres, quite possibly! Due to my health issues, most of my interaction with the world-at-large is via the sexuality anti-privilege-activism-related circles i either move in or observe online, both Australia-based and internationally more generally.

  11. Scar
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

    “Do you feel these people shouldn’t need to see positive representations of people like themselves in such media, and that they should just take their own lives as sufficient representation?”

    Someone had to figure this stuff out for themselves for this stuff to even exist, right?
    If we can get decent representations of trans people in mainstream media, then maybe after that we can look at getting it in porn too? I think perhaps there’s a bit of cart-before-horse here; if we can’t even get a sitcom where a trans person is represented with accuracy and respect, how can we get unproblematic and empowering representation in pornography, where we are so universally fetishised?

  12. Tethys
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 10:23 pm

    Well, i think the problem here is that you’re conflating /mainstream/ porn with self-identified /queer/ porn; the latter is most certainly not a subset of the former. The former is most often produced primarily with simply making a profit; the latter would often /like/ the porn thus produced to be a profitable proposition, but also very much concerned with showing the diversity of human sexuality and gender. For some examples of the latter, see queerporn.tv and crashpadseries.com.

    So here’s the thing: i personally interact with queer porn producers and actors, in places such as Twitter. As i wrote in my post above, when i called for submissions to my Amateur Trans Sex Tumblr, such people were happy to help promote the project, because they’re queer / trans / genderqueer themselves, and want to help build representations of queer / trans / genderqueer people outside of the stereotypes one sees in various forms of mainstream media, including mainstream porn.

    Now contrast that with say, mainstream television. How accessible are the content creators to a highly marginalised person such as myself? Are they likely to even vaguely begin to give a damn about lowly me? i’ve tried contacting various media organisations about representations of trans people, and i usually get little to no response.

    So i don’t think that i’m putting the cart before the horse; quite the contrary, in fact.

  13. Scar
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 10:29 pm

    “Well, i think the problem here is that you’re conflating /mainstream/ porn with self-identified /queer/ porn”

    No, I mean mainstream media, like prime time TV and mainstream news sites.
    Anyway, how would queer porn be a subset of mainstream porn?

  14. Tethys
    February 2nd, 2012 @ 10:46 pm

    Scar:

    You wrote:

    “if we can’t even get a sitcom where a trans person is represented with accuracy and respect, how can we get unproblematic and empowering representation in pornography, where we are so universally fetishised?”

    and it was in relation to the second half of that that i made my comments. You’re talking about ‘pornography’ as though it’s a monolithic homogeneous entity, and that’s not the case. Within the overall genre of ‘pornography’ there is /mainstream/ porn (which includes such things as ‘lesbian’-porn-for-heterosexual-men, gay porn, and ‘shemale’-porn-for-heterosexual-men), and self-described /queer/ porn, rooted in queer politics, which is as i described above. And i was saying, in my previous post, that i have found creators of such queer porn to be /much/ more responsive to issues regarding representations of trans women than i have found creators of mainstream, non-sexually-explicit media, such as tv shows, news, movies etc.

    Does that make more sense?

  15. Scar
    February 3rd, 2012 @ 7:19 am

    No, it’s clear that you’re not on the same wavelength as me.
    I also don’t appreciate being told what I’m saying and what I’m responding to.
    This conversation has taken a very uncomfortable turn, so I’m leaving it.

  16. Tethys
    February 3rd, 2012 @ 10:35 am

    Scar:

    Wow. You’ve spent this discussion critiquing what i’ve written, despite having written: “Nor do I know enough *about* porn, it seems, to continue this discussion.” You’ve written that you don’t know enough about porn, but have then gone on to write “how can we get unproblematic and empowering representation in pornography, where we are so universally fetishised?”, a totalising remark that does indeed demonstrate someone who has barely engaged with self-identified ‘queer porn’ – if you’ve engaged at all – but is instead making universalising assertions about ‘porn’ overall. Not to mention your assertion that porn is only ever created purely on the basis of ‘market demand’ – i quote, “So if this kind of porn was desirable, there would be a market for it. Which there isn’t, so clearly there isn’t much demand for it” – which is further evidence of someone whose engagement with self-identified ‘queer porn’ and its creators is limited at best. You’ve written:

    “I don’t need porn to enjoy my sexuality, nor do I need to see other people like me to…I don’t even know how that should finish. ‘Feel represented’ perhaps? I don’t actually need that. But I can only speak for myself”

    but have then gone on to say that:

    “If we can get decent representations of trans people in mainstream media, then maybe after that we can look at getting it in porn too?”

    which is rather strongly implying that ‘we’ trans people should prioritise our time and energy away from an area – sexually explicit media – that /is/ important to some of us, even if it’s not necessarily important to you personally (cf. your remark “I don’t actually need that”).

    And finally, when i describe how i have /personally/ had /much/ better responses to my thoughts about sexual representations of trans people (and trans women in particular) from creators of, and participants in, self-identified ‘queer porn’, than i have from the mainstream media when i’ve voiced my concerns about their content (yes, including, as you wrote “prime time TV and mainstream news sites”), you’ve not acknowledged this, but instead declared “it’s clear that you’re not on the same wavelength as me” and proceeded to lecture me on what you perceive to be /my/ inappropriate style of commenting!

    i have spent /much/ time and energy trying to engage with you, despite all the above – and despite your /first comment/ linking to a piece of writing i found had a rather condescending tone (along the lines of “Hey trans people in, or thinking of being in, porn, you might not be thinking through the consequences of your actions” – don’t we already get enough of that sort of thing from gatekeepers?), but whose main points seemed to me to cover things i have /explicitly/ mentioned in my post (cf. my final series of dot points), without you acknowledging this, implying to me that you might not have actually done more than skim-read my post. So for me, this conversation took “a very uncomfortable turn” right from the start – yet i have still made an extensive effort to engage with you as best i can, and despite you continuing to pontificate on a topic you yourself have admitted you don’t know enough about for the purposes of this discussion.

    i can’t say i’m happy.

  17. Amie
    February 3rd, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    Hi Lexi, thanks for posting your response. Interesting to see your views. I’m not going to respond because I feel like you’ve deviated from what we were initially talking about. It does make me a bit uncomfortable the tone in which you’ve used my name/what I said in a public post, but thus is the nature of the internet.

  18. Tethys
    February 3rd, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

    Amie:

    i’m sorry. i don’t know what else to say. i certainly felt i was simply providing a couple of your public tweets, so as to provide readers with context for my own; i apologise that it has come across otherwise. If you’d like me to e.g. remove the references to you, i’m more than happy to do so.

  19. Drew Deveaux
    February 3rd, 2012 @ 5:18 pm

    Thanks for posting your thoughts! In my 2 years of doing porn (I’m in semi-retirement now), I was amazed by the success that I achieved whilst being an OUT Trans woman. Certainly, and I’ve talked at length about this, I do acess privilege in a number of ways (often being “passable” – at least to the extent that many think I’m a Trans guy rather than a trans woman, LOLs; being post-op; and being masculine, relatively). Nonetheless, and not as an act of self-promotion as I have nothing to gain, it’s important to note that:
    1) I was able to work for nearly every queer porn director
    2) I was able to work for “mainstream” companies such as SweetHeart & GirlFriends that, before I came along had never worked with a Trans woman before and – even more significantly and fucked up – had policies excluding Trans performers!!! Directors took risks to hire me and I hope that I changed the way Trans women are seen both in queer as well as mainstream porn – both in terms of the audiences as well as the directors/producers
    3) I won Hearthrob of the Year in 2011 at the Feminist Porn Awards in TO
    4) I was named one of the Top 10 Crush Objects of 2011 on Fleshbot.com – alongside only cis women in mainstream porn as well as select celebrities (this was so amazing it still feels surreal).

    Just some perspective on how far we can go – with perseverance and a small helping of privilege (but still)…

    Cheers!

    Drew

  20. Tethys
    February 6th, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

    Drew:

    Thanks for your comment! It was very encouraging. :-) Thanks for all the hard work you’ve put in, and congratulations on receiving the recognition you deserve!


  

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