TW: sexual assault, rape
Spoiler: Porn is the good guy.
I’ve been working in some kind of porn in some kind of way since I was roughly 20, which was 10 years ago. You can look into my projects here and here. I won’t get into them now, but know that they’re awesome and you should totally check them out if you’re over 18.
This is more about the years in between than where I am now, though. It all really starts years before that, growing up in a working class household in a white suburb of a mid-sized city in the middle of nowhere. A city most recently named Canada’s most racist, which is an interesting thing to note but of course isn’t the subject of this. Or not so much directly.
I grew up in a household that encouraged a positive relationship to sex and sexuality as children, mostly due to my mother’s openness. My puberty wasn’t really full of questions as I moved through sex ed. I’d already read it all in books by the time I was 10 and hitting sex ed for the first time in 5th grade.
Shit was honestly pretty idyllic and lovely.
And then I got my period. My curfews stalled, and I was no longer allowed to hang around with boys. My life became super scrutinized, and I had no idea what happened to the open conversations we used to have around sex. My bedroom and personal items were routinely rifled through looking for evidence of penis in vagina, drugs, drinking, anything.
I was a developing woman myself at around 12, and I found that drawing the female form in the nude helped me to understand my own body and that of others. By creating images, I was rejecting ideals and body types that were so frequently presented to me as a young woman with eyeballs. I got to explore what I thought people’s bodies looked like under their clothes, which always fascinated me. It still does.
I threw out a few of the drawings that weren’t as awesome, as one does. One day, my parents found a drawing that I did of a naked woman, lying on the floor, an arm draped across her body. I’d thrown it out because it just wasn’t good enough, or I’d drawn her arms too long, or something, and it wasn’t going to be right. I thought literally nothing of it, because my history of talking to my mother about bodies was so open. And I was throwing this in the trash, so who gives a shit, right?
A few days later, I was called to the kitchen table to have a talk with my parents. There lay the drawing. I was confused as to why we were having a meeting. My mother, to her credit, did reassure me that if I were attracted to women, then that was fine. But overall, the message was clear. I was not supposed to do this. I was not supposed to draw naked people. It made my parents uncomfortable. I remember them asking why I had drawn it. I replied simply that I thought the female body was beautiful. This wasn’t a good enough answer. There was shame, there were instructions not to do it anymore. It was made clear to me that naked women’s bodies were primarily not mine to enjoy since I said I was not gay, and here I was, a 12 year old human with a vagina, drawing naked women. It seemed logical to my parents that I was possibly a lesbian – because bodies are for sex, not beautiful in their own right.
I tore up all the drawings of naked folks I’d done. I internalized that shame, that nudity was supposed to be shameful, and, mostly, that naked bodies were not mine – not even my own body.
Skip forward about 4 years, and I became sexually active at around 16. I suppose I still had my virginity, but that’s just by some societally-accepted version of things. I’d actively decided that I was not going to have p-in-the-v sex until I felt ready to navigate everything that came along with it. I did everything else, because I knew from my still-voracious appetite for sexual knowledge which actions carried a lower risk of STIs and pregnancy.
My first sexual experiences were with complicated at best, and not that amazing. Mostly. There is a certain level of sloppiness in human interaction, and I get that. And we’re talking about a bunch of young folks that only have basic sex ed (mostly anatomy, and mostly internal anatomy in terms of what we learn about those with uteruses) and have had nothing but mainstream porn and media to inform them of what sexual encounters should be like. It’s a lot of fumbling, and it was mostly based around some fucked up things based around access and rights to women’s bodies. But I don’t feel like any of it was out of the ordinary. It was exploration of bodies, consent, and emotions.
All of these experiences came to a head while I was in my first long-term relationship. Rights and access to my body were reinforced as not belonging to me in this relationship. We moved in together. I was fresh (two months) out of high school and 18 years old, and here I was living with this guy in a two bedroom apartment on a notoriously rough street North of Portage Avenue in Winnipeg. I honestly loved the idea of the freedom that came with it, but hadn’t bargained for the intricacies of living with a partner – and all the issues around porn that would surface because of it.
I’d had issues around porn since I was about 10 and had walked in on my father using the early internet to slowly download photos of naked women. I’d mentioned it to my mother, and it nearly caused a divorce. The choice to have or not have the divorce, however, was actually placed on me. My two other siblings had hard answers to the idea of divorce, yes and no respectively, and my mother did not want to make a decision. I remember sitting on a blanket at one of my brother’s football games and being given all the information and told to make a choice. Clearly, porn was the cause of all this stress (and not my parents’ inability to fucking communicate or make decisions like a goddamn adult), and so I associated porn with destruction of relationships.
My partner’s porn habits quickly became obvious. I shared my experience and asked what kind of compromise we could come to. To continue the shitty communication, he agreed not to look at it anymore (unrealistic – for both of us, actually). I inherited my parents’ distrust and frequently checked into his history, learning that he was indeed still consuming the porn. Then we sat down to talk about it. And it was completely the worst fucking thing.
Instead of “I see how you feel”, it was “why aren’t you as cool with it as the women in the movies and pictures?” The conversation went entirely that way, and then it was over. He told me that, even though we were having sex 2-4 times daily, I was not sexually open enough. He started to pick clothes for me that were much more revealing than I would ever have worn, and I kept trying harder to make him happy, by doing pretty much anything.
This is the lady we’re talking about, at age 19, in the second apartment my then-partner and I lived in.
I enjoyed sexual exploration, so I was mostly happy to engage in as much activity as there was to be had. The trouble is, that wasn’t really good enough for him. Being perpetually available was not good enough. There was a lot of emotional manipulation, specifically making me paranoid, and lots of things that I realize now were abuse – like waking up covered in cum, unbeknownst to me. He was expressing what he thought of me by using my body while I was asleep, without my consent. I’d wake up either from the icky sticky wetness feeling on my body or, if I managed to sleep through the night, I’d wake up with a crust to shower off while he’d already left the house. I did object. Every time.
This was a person who was actively involved with the U of W’s LBGT* and Women’s Centres.
I feel so disconnected from that story, even now. I have trouble picturing it or understanding it as a thing that a human would do.
The relationship dissolved along the way as he slept around, and insisted on an open relationship on his end and not on mine. He was to be allowed to sleep with anyone at all, and I was to wait around – because women’s bodies are property, and his penis had laid claim to that piece of land. I called bullshit on this, and we finally decided we’d call it quits. That night, he did not return home after dinner to decide who was moving out – instead, he hooked up with a woman that lived several floors above us, then expected to come back into the apartment to get ready for work. I lost my mind.
It was after my initial breakup with my partner that I decided to shoot for a website. I met some stranger at his apartment in Osborne Village, he filled me up with gin, and I took off my clothes. Something clicked in that moment for me. I felt powerful; in control. I was 20 at this point.
The first shoot – with not-so-great lighting, but lovely otherwise!
My motivations for starting in porn were definitely not ideal. There was a lot of baggage there, and much of the motivation was to show men how sexually available I was, and how I was just as cool as the women in porn – while still maintaining that I didn’t like porn, and that what I was doing was somehow better. Obviously, I was being a hypocrite, but we’ll get to that. However, there was also the motivation of body positivity, and giving other people that feeling of being powerful and in control of their own image. I was still just grappling with all kinds of shit.
I continued to sleep with people randomly, and I can say that a lot of it was exploratory and fun, but the way that I was doing it was still mostly based in the fucked up abuse of the first long term relationship. I used sex to get to people, and to try to have some kind of power. I also used it for fun, and as an outlet, but much of it came from a pretty dark and fucked up place.
It was around the age of 21 that I met a guy in a bar, which was not an odd occurrence. We decided to meet up after class one day, since we were both studying at the U of M. We went out for a drink, it was nice, and then we headed back to my place. I remember having the conversation, in which he asked me if we were going to sleep together. I’d been trying to give myself a bit of time to figure myself out at the moment, and so I’d actually used my own words when I said “Ya know, I don’t think I’m actually that kind of girl.” Which I meant to mean that I was realizing that maybe I wasn’t the kind of person that wanted to sleep around all the time – maybe I wanted to start being choosier and making the decisions for myself. (I should note that there is nothing at all wrong with being *that kind of girl*, just that I was reconsidering if I was or if I just thought that I should be)
Long story short, I got drugged that night in my own home and I put out whether I wanted to or not.
Cue the string of possibly even worse decisions and avoiding of even more realities. I did a lot of fucked up things to a lot of people. I dabbled in some super unhealthy BDSM-type activity (BDSM is not inherently unhealthy, but my topping was not from a positive place, and when I was being bottomed, I’d relive my various abuses in a negative way), dated guys who would routinely yell at me, and generally just did what I could to get by. But through all of this, the idea of Cherrystems blossomed. The body positivity, owning your own image, and being in control of how you are represented. It was the only thing that kept me from feeling the pain at a deep level.
Still, I refused to call Cherrystems porn. I felt it was something better, more thought out, empowering, and positive. The porn that I thought I knew ruined relationships and made men believe that they owned women’s bodies. What I didn’t realize is that porn can be all of those positive things too, and that what I was doing was really no different – it was just given a privileged narrative.
As I grew up and began confronting my demons, I started to realize the truth of the situation. It wasn’t porn that was fucking anything up. It was all people in my life. It was people avoiding real communication, compassion, and forcing me to make decisions that I didn’t want to have make. My parents couldn’t see eye to eye on it, and ultimately put their relationship on me. Being young, I couldn’t fathom my parents being wrong – and so the culprit was most definitely pornography. I brought this pain with me to my future relationships, came down hard on a lot of folks about their use of porn even though I was also consuming it in the same way – but I figured in my hypocrisy that the way that I was using it was not exploitative and was somehow better.
But then we get to the tricky bit. I started to do interviews for newspapers and radio in which I’d get the question – is Cherrystems art or porn? And what is the difference? I at first insisted that we were different because porn was inherently exploitative, and that it dehumanized people and broke them down into parts with functions rather than autonomous human beings with bodies that have parts. Indeed, there still is a difference between those two methods of producing porn, I just hadn’t realized that. I didn’t yet have the vocabulary and experience with feminist porn to realize that that’s all it was – a difference in production styles and values. As I started to become more exposed to the idea that porn could be positive, I slowly began to unpack my own hangups with it. Soon, I realized that porn and art are the same thing. A switch flipped, and though I still felt uncomfortable with it, I started calling Cherrystems porn.
Once I started calling it porn, I was forced to understand all of the moments in my life that had shaped my relationship to the *concept* of pornography. It was a challenge. A fuck of a challenge. But it was something so liberating. I was and continue to be constantly inspired by people that are so amazing, that have their own stories to tell.
I think ultimately, Cherrystems and Ciné Sinclaire are my story to tell. They’re the story of my own reclaiming and newfound understanding of my own sexuality.