Diversity dance company Ill Nana.
It’s Friday night, and it’s loud at Toronto’s fifth annual Feminist Porn Awards. As in deafening. If the FPAs are “the Independent Spirit Awards of the porn world,” as Tristan Taormino, writer, director, anal-sex guru, and nominee, has called them, the “spirit” part is in plentiful supply.
A glance around the Berkeley Church venue also confirms the “independent” part. All colours of the gender rainbow are represented, in all shapes, sizes, and ages. And if the bodies they adorn are of indeterminate sex, the outfits are coming through loud and clear, yelling, “Look at me!” The splendour runs the gamut from man-skirts to bordello hose, with killer corsets, blinding sequins and satins, and brothel-creepers as far as the eye can see. The evening’s “Special Correspondent,” Ryan Hinds, resplendent in purple, rains clouds of glitter as he prowls the crowd for interview subjects.
If the porn-world-opposite of the FPAs is the AVN Awards, the Oscars of smut, it seems likely the audiences would also sharply diverge. The products, performers, and award-show attendees of mainstream porn tend to present a homogeneous image, one based on silicone-enhanced heterosexual male fantasies. But many of us are now finding the homogeneity of “traditional porn” unsatisfying, and we’re looking elsewhere. We want more than the robo-bonking that is the meat and potatoes of mainstream adult films.
Traditional is not what feminist porn is about. To be considered for the FPAs, films must depict genuine female pleasure, present a variety of forms of female sexual expression, and have a woman in a “substantial role” in the production, as director, writer, or producer. As Taormino recently noted in an interview in Xtra, if it’s feminist, “It’s about respect and choice.” She believes in a filmmaking process that is “intentional, ethical, and responsible,” and is known for putting her performers in charge of how they get it on and with whom. This, she points out, guarantees that real people will have real orgasms, one of the goals of this alternative process.
April Flores feels the love at the Public Provocative Porn screening.
Now it’s Taormino’s turn to be acknowledged for her role in advancing the cause: this year she received two awards, including the Trailblazer Award for her ten years of work in the alt-porn industry. It’s presented by Josey Vogels, whom Brayton introduced as “the Carrie Bradshaw of Canada without the shoe budget.”
Alison Lee, director of the FPAs and manager of sex-positive Toronto-based Good For Her, “your friendly neighbourhood sex shop” and the sponsor of the event, describes the difficulties in getting out the good word on feminist porn. The name, she admits, can be a turn-off for some. “Putting those two words smack together means that a lot of people automatically don’t understand what we’re doing. Their eyebrows go up—they’re like, ‘What?’ So it just takes a moment to explain that these things don’t have to be exclusive, that there isn’t anything wrong with depictions of sexuality in film or writing or anything like that.”
Lee’s message—and mission—is to show us that we now have choices, and that those choices cover a surprising range, whatever your particular orientation. Pleasure, like pain, is entirely subjective; what turns us on and gets us off is highly individual. The goals of the FPAs are expressed by Good For Her porn buyer, FPA judge, and tonight’s take-no-prisoners burlesque performer Lorraine Hewitt, aka CoCo La Crème: to showcase “the diversity that’s available” in porn, to acknowledge “fierce, feminist erotica writ large,” and to honour “smut that celebrates us, represents us, and most importantly, gets us off.”
After several polite suggestions that the ebullient crowd pipe down and pay attention, host Morgan Brayton resigns herself to laryngitis and gamely hollers into her mic for the rest of the night. She does her best, but by the second half, those good spirits, liquid and otherwise, render most of the presenters and recipients completely inaudible. Apparently, this is because the crowd’s focus is not on the awards or even on the winners, but on the gathering itself. It’s an opportunity for a marginalized group to come together in a rare atmosphere of acceptance and support to cheer on every performer and nominee.
Though the buzzwords that elicit cheers from this crowd are “diversity,” “empowerment,” “choice,” and “agency,” this is not what tumbles out in the winners’ often emotional acceptance speeches. Tobi Hill-Meyer, this year’s Emerging Filmmaker, blurts out, “I’ve been wanting to make feminist porn since I was a teenager,” while the Boundary Breaker of the Year, Jiz Lee, confesses that “porn is the first place that understands me.”
But it’s Courtney Trouble, director of Speakeasy, and winner of the FPAs Most Tantalizing Trans Film, who sums it all up. Waving her shiny new Njoy Pure Wand trophy, she crows, “We all belong here—we all fucking belong here!”
They’re loud, they’re proud, they’re pornographers. And tonight they belong.
Photos by Jane A. Clark.