[personal profile] flexibeast
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 AFAB3 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 genderqueers4; 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". [NB. The author of that post has expressed concerns about my use of the post in this context.] 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.

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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. ETA, 2013.04.13: Nowadays i would write 'D[F|M]AB', "Designated [Female|Male] At Birth", out of respect for concerns expressed by intersex activists about inappropriate usages of the word 'Assigned' in the context of sex/gender. However, i don't believe in rewriting my old blog posts to pretend that i didn't write things i now find problematic (or indeed, simply wrong).

4. 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.

Date: 2012-01-27 13:29 (UTC)
From: [personal profile] radicalyffe
Pretty much a giant amen to this post.

I was having a vaguely related conversation about attractiveness and passing and transness and so on with my girlfriend the other day.

She has high levels of dysphoria and wants several serious body mods including facial feminisation. I was trying to tell her that I respect her right to choose what she does to her body, but i find her beautiful just how she is, not because I think she 'already passes', but because she is just beautiful. Full stop. End of story.

Anyway, because I am a notorious lover of trans women she had a minor moment of alarm when it occurred to her that maybe I'll not like her anymore if she has bottom surgery. We went on to discuss how I have an attraction to trans women that is about their general aesthetic, not necessarily about their having a penis or whatever, to the extent that I have dated cis women who can pass as trans because I find the same things about them attractive that I find in trans women.

I find the assumption that in order for one to be attractive one must pass for cis a deeply offensive and upsetting one, and I do wish there were more places where we could explore other ways of being attractive. I do think that the issues you raised do stunt those kinds of projects significantly and it is saddening.

Basically, I wish that everyone felt as beautiful as they are!

Date: 2012-04-03 02:23 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] radtransfem.wordpress.com
(here via the referral link - I write 'A Radical TransFeminist')

A quick summary of my positions here: I believe in criticising attraction and beauty norms. But I'm also deeply uncomfortable with, and highly critical of, pornography.

So I'd like to clarify that 'because trans women don't put their hands up to appear in queer porn' is not one of the reasons why I think that attraction and beauty norms should be criticised, and I'd rather my article wasn't used to support a goal of increasing trans peoples' involvement in pornography.

I think there are many other excellent reasons to challenge attraction and beauty norms, for example for the sake of psychological well-being, and I'm more than happy for my article to be used in support of those!

Date: 2012-04-03 09:37 (UTC)
From: [identity profile] radtransfem.wordpress.com
No, that's fine; I didn't want to go into that subject either, just to register how I felt about it.

I think what you do is up to you and will depend on how you feel about authorial intent. I've seen too much of feminists of all stripes trying to control each others' views to want to tell or coercively ask (with the power of having written the piece) you to change how you've used it.

All of the things you suggested would be fine with me, I'll leave it up to you. My dissent's registered here which is the main thing I wanted. (So I guess, if I'm to make one request, it's that you don't delete this comment thread.)

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