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.
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.
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.