feminism

My Journey Through Porn

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 uteri) 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.

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Feminist Porn Heaven, Day 2: Screenings, partyfun, and them feels.

The second day of Feminist Porn Heaven did not disappoint. Remember when I mentioned that I ran into Courtney Trouble at the storytelling slam? They very graciously mentioned that we could use their room to shoot some porn in on Thursday. They were staying at the glamorous and beautiful Gladstone Hotel, which is an art hotel in which all of the rooms are different. It’s an amazing place, and Courtney is an amazing person for letting us shoot in there. I of course took them up on it, giddily. 🙂

The morning started out with eggs and toast and all the strawberries in my room for all the Cherrystemmers that had arrived at that point. It was a great way to get the day started and get folks on the same page. From there, we coordinated with Courtney and then headed off on our way to the Gladstone with Dayna, Keelie, Caroline, and Jasper in tow.

We met with Courtney as they were setting up for a shoot in a different room on the same floor, along with the amazing Tobi Hill-Meyer. Someday I’ll write a praise post about both of these porno powerhouses and the inspiration they’ve given me and members of the Ciné Sinclaire/Cherrystems team. Anyhow, Courtney gave us the key to the room and we set off to get to work. The thing about the Gladstone is that you don’t know what room you’re going to get until you’re in it. The room Courtney gave us access to was absolutely  gorgeous. The walls were a deep, beautiful red, and all the furnishings were dark antique wood pieces, with old books as accents. The feel was positively luxurious.

Jasper only has two sets up on Cherrystems at the present moment, so I really wanted to encourage them to shoot something awesome. As it turns out, the breakfast of strawberries was an inspiration point for them. I wish I could show you the pictures, but I left my snaps on a card with Bee, and she’s still out in Toronto. SOON! Point is, strawberries and Jasper make an awesome combination. It’s also really cool to be on set when people transform themselves and push their boundaries a bit (in terms of putting on a certain face or mood). Jasper is usually like me in photosets – silly, genuine, and playful. This shoot, however, required a bit more seriousness. The red of the walls, the red of the berries.. My god.

We also got to shoot an amazing caning scene between Caroline and Keelie – their dynamic is amazing, and I absolutely love that they consistently invite me and a wee team in to share in their intimate moments. It’s amazing to me, everytime. Seriously.

Once we wrapped, we headed back to our hotel to briefly nap and get organized before the screening. I am a huge fucking fan of naps, and I cannot state this enough. So I napped until it was time to leave.

The screenings this year were 100% amazing. Even the film that ended up upsetting a few Cherrystemmers led to some really great discussion about the representation of sex on film, authenticity, performance, and respect on set. While milling about the lobby, I got to run into Cinnamon Maxxine, who I desperately want to shoot with this year. Here’s hoping that can become a reality!

My favourite? Shit, I can’t pick a favourite. There were so many amazing moments, from the intensity of Bed Party, hilariousness of Best Slumber Party Ever, and the playfulness of No Artifical Sweeteners. It was a huge night to remember, and no one left that room without feeling all of the feels (in some way). Phhhewwwwww, intense!

Following the screening, we headed off to The Steady for the afterparty. It was there that I got to catch up with Jon Pressick again, and to meet the amazing Lucie Blush, who runs welovegoodsex.com – which I linked to her name just to throw you off there. We had a great time getting to know each other and talking a bit about sex toys, which was great.

I also got to dance with friends, relax, and Veronika Lee and Bee showed up too!

The night ended on a great note with a smile on my face, and we headed back to the hotel, feeling all of the feels.

Trans*, Transgender, Transsexual, Transvestite, and when to check yourself.

I’ve had an amazing week, hosting an amazing person at my house and taking part in some seriously wonderful events that centre around concepts in feminist porn. It’s been basically a wonderland of adult goodness that I’ve been lacking a bit in my life in the last little while.

A really neat thing about all this is also that my worlds are colliding more than before. Friends who aren’t in the adult industry or my queer circles have come out to the events, learned, listened, and asked questions. While it’s been pretty great overall, it’s also made me realize that I haven’t been doing a good enough job in my non-queer friends’ lives of educating them

Framing your questions and observations about people who are not the same as you is incredibly important. Checking your privilege is important. Why? Because we’re talking about fucking *human beings*. It’s common decency. Racism, sexism, homophobia – we think about these in a non-queer society to a reasonable level, and I’d say that the friends I maintain do a fine job of respecting others with regards to those three – but what else is there?

The trans spectrum is really often misunderstood. Incredibly often. So much so, that a dear friend whose art I enjoy and whose conversations I treasure, shocked me when talking about seeing “trannies” in some porn, and how freakish their bodies were.

So let’s take a step back and analyze that shit, ok?

What people who are uneducated often think when they see a person who has male genitals but presents as a woman is that that person is a tranny, shemale, or transvestite. People who think they’re being PC often try to pull out the word transvestite because they know tranny and shemale sound offensive – but here’s the thing. That’s often not right either.

Let’s break it down into some very general explanations. These are by no means definitions, but they’re a good way to get started thinking about the many ways that gender exists. Cole’s notes, and hopefully a good place for some folks to start learning what these terms mean and what you’re saying when you use them.

1. Transvestite – Break this word down and you have trans and vestite (based in the root for “I clothe” or “to clothe”). The term is used to describe people who occasionally like to dress in a way that is typical of the opposite sex in a gender binary (male, female). People who cross-dress often only do it some of the time, and rarely do these folks desire to cross dress all of the time, nor do many desire to carry out a sex change. Many people use the term transvestite to describe all people with presentations that don’t match their genitals. That’s why sometimes, the word transvestite can be heard as jarring or offensive – because people commonly misuse it and attach a negative connotation to it. Typically, referring to someone as a cross-dresser can be preferred. Or just greet the person and ask them how their day is going without trying to assume you know what they’d like to be referred to as.

Both transvestite and cross dresser are NOT terms to use to describe someone who has made the choice to live permanently as the gender/sex that they identify with. It is a term used for someone who occasionally cross dresses. See the following definitions for more on this.

Bonus fact: Drag queens are transvestites, but not all transvestites are drag queens. The term drag queen is generally only used when performance is involved. Go to a drag show, you’ll be glad you did and you might learn a thing or two.

2. Transsexual – A person who is a transsexual tends to operate in a gender binary mindset and its relation to sex anatomy. I say tends, because there are exceptions to every rule. In general, a transsexual person is born not identifying with the sex they were born into. There’s actually research that shows that the brain structure of transsexual people actually more closely resembles the prevalent brain structure of the sex that person identifies with. As in, trans men’s brains look like men’s brains even though they were born with a vagina. It’s science. It’s a thing.

It's science.

It’s science.

Many transsexual folks undergo sexual reassignment surgery in order to live in the body they feel they should. Often, men and women who transition wish only to be referred to as a man or a woman, rather than as trans. Some prefer to acknowledge their journey through sex by saying they’re a “transitioned man/woman”, or a trans man/woman. This is all pretty personal, and if you don’t know, you can ask. POLITELY. Frame your question in a way that shows that you want to learn and respect their identity, not in a way that makes them feel like an other or like they don’t belong.

When you call someone who is transsexual a tranny, cross dresser, or shemale, you’re denying their right to be addressed as themselves. You’re basically writing off their transition as a phase and a freak show. Don’t be a piece of shit.

3. Transgender: Being transgender can mean a lot of things, and gets used as a kind of umbrella label sometimes. I’m guilty myself of often using the term transgender in places where transsexual is actually accurate. My explanation, then, is mostly going to be copied definitions. Because I don’t trust myself to do justice to the intricacies.

“An umbrella term (adj.) for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The term may include but is not limited to: transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender people may identify as female-to-male (FTM) or male-to-female (MTF). Use the descriptive term (transgendertranssexualcross-dresser, FTM or MTF) preferred by the individual. Transgender people may or may not decide to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically.” — GLAAD

4. Trans* – Oh the many many shades of transitioning, gender, sex, clothing, and all. If you’re not sure, use this term. Some people also adopt this as a label because they themselves don’t feel represented by the definitions of other terms. If anyone else has anything to add to this blurb, please feel free to do so in the comments, or email me.

So why is the term tranny offensive? Because it’s mostly used to refer derogatorily to any of the above-defined groups. Can it be reclaimed? Maybe. Just like gay, homo, queer, etc, some people do identify with it positively. But that number is small comparatively, and checking yourself on your use of it is a big deal.

I’m coming from writing this piece as a cisgendered (born identifying with the typical gender presentation of my sex) white woman, and welcome all criticism that may exist. I haven’t been perfect throughout my life either, so hopefully having this list of definitions will help people who just haven’t *had to* think about trans identities before. It’s a privilege not to have to think about these things. The absolute least we can do as cisfolk is to educate ourselves in order to make life a little less difficult for people that aren’t sitting on our high horses. Yet.

A weekend of Trouble

It’s Monday! Oh no! But that means that Courtney leaves tomorrow. Alas, all good things must come to an end – but it’s been really great talking to another person who runs a little porno empire. We talked about things I should do with Cherrystems, about BitCoin, and about the industry in general. I’m seriously forever grateful for their guidance.

The screening on Friday was a huge success. Courtney showed over an hour of clips from their repertoire, much to the enjoyment of the crowd. But before we get to that, I have to talk about the opening act, ChubRub Burlesque. Oh my God.

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Heather’s comedy stylings as Ms Dirty Snowflake.

If you ever ever see these ladies on a bill, go. Don’t wait. Go. Experience it, you will not regret it. From Ray’s straight-to-the-heart talk about sizing to watching Mel’s intimate relationship with cake, this show was amazing.

ChubRub Burleque's Rae.
Ray’s monologue on sizing was powerful.

The final act was definitely the most amazing, which involved all of the ladies doing a full on traditional choreographed burlesque routine. Their work was super super appreciated, and we can’t wait for them to have more and more gigs around town. Seriously, they’re that amazing.

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HOW FREAKING CUTE IS THIS?!

I got to speak a little too! Mostly praises for ChubRub and Courtney Trouble, but it’s always interesting to get up in front of a group of people and speak when you don’t do it super often. Also, I really like my dress.

Kate Sinclaire
Hey, it’s me!

Next up was the main event – Courtney Trouble’s presentation, titled Feminist Porn: Representing Pleasure. We were treated to tons of clips, to which I could sometimes hear the audience breathing deeply to from backstage. The talk included focus on representation of queer groups in the porn that Courtney produces.

Having this kind of presentation in Winnipeg was so important. I spoke to some people the next day about the screening, and they admitted that they weren’t too sure about what to expect before arriving at the venue. It turns out, they realized, that feminist porn looks just like any porn – but with more emphasis on inclusion and representation of bodies, ethical treatment of performers, and more.

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Courtney, nailing it.

The talk then bled out into night, and we headed to bed tuckered out and super glad with how it went. So many people to reach in this prairie town!

The next day was an early start, as Courtney and I were joining model Arachnia for Cockroach zine‘s Let’s Talk About Porn panel. There’ll be a full audio recording available soon, so I won’t spoil too much of it for you – you’ll soon be able to hear it all for yourself. Suffice it to say, we addressed some good topics, and reached out as human beings who make porn.

I also started to become more comfortable with the idea of calling myself a sex worker. Maybe you’re wondering what I mean by that, and why I’d be uncomfortable or maybe even why I’d want to call myself that.

Cherrystems is a soft porn site. We don’t engage in sex acts, we simply appear naked on the internet. While I’m starting to make harder porn, I had previously felt that my sex work just wasn’t *sex*y enough for me to be considered a sex worker. I have a huge amount of respect for all sex workers, but have mostly seen the term claimed by escorts, in call workers, phone sex folks, and people who are having sex on film. I assumed that I simply wasn’t good enough yet, to be quite honest, but I feel much more confident in claiming the title after this weekend. I’m really happy about that.

And now we’re at today. Today I get naked for Courtney, which makes me super excited. It’s really just a matter of selecting a location and going for it. Later today, however, Courtney will join me on set with our CS models Caroline and Keelie as they work on one of those amazing harder sets for the new site.

It’s going to be a good day.