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The Feminist Pornographer

Tristan Taormino, editor of a new book on X-rated activism, says it's time to find a middle ground in the porn wars.

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One of the things that the book makes clear is that feminist pornographers aren’t necessarily “pro-all-porn,” many are actually pretty critical of mainstream porn. So if anything they’re “pro-the-possibilities-of-porn.”

Yes, that’s a great way to put it. I think that for better or for worse, pro-sex or pro-porn feminists have this reputation for being like, “Hey, man, it’s all good!” First of all, I don’t think anyone ever said that, but it somehow has been repeated enough that it’s part of our popular cultural sense, that pro-porn feminists are “down with everything, man.” And it’s just not true. Personally, is there porn out there that I find stupid, boring, repetitive and, yes, even offensive? Absolutely.

I think that one of the things that’s so clear in this book, and which my co-editor Constance Penley is constantly saying, is: One of the things we’re responding to is that there’s this notion that certainly is propagated by anti-porn feminists and other people, which is that there is one thing called porn with a capital “P.” And it’s monolithic and we can qualify it in all these different ways and say this is what it looks like and this is what it does. As Constance says, “That’s just not true.” What there is is a whole series of pornographies with a lowercase “p,” and that’s what we have to look at and investigate. There is no one thing, and she even challenges the notion that there is a clear division between mainstream porn and independent porn, or mainstream porn and feminist porn, because there are feminists working within the mainstream porn industry and then there are feminists working independently, and there are non-feminists working independently, and vice versa. They’re all over the place.

There isn’t one monolithic thing and, yes, of course, built into feminist porn is the notion that we’re critiquing porn that’s already out there, that we feel like doesn’t represent female sexuality in a diverse enough way, doesn’t prioritize female pleasure, doesn’t represent authentic female desire, or simply doesn’t get us off. So we’re going to go and make our own. I think that’s inherent to the thing: Part of what we’re doing is necessarily in response to what’s already out there.

Right. So how do we refer to that porn that feminist pornographers are responding to? Because like you said, “mainstream” doesn’t quite do it.

I’d like to just say “some” mainstream porn, or “repetitive, stereotypical porn.” I feel like the porn that I’m responding to is porn that feels like it’s constantly repeating these very specific sexual roles and these specific tropes, it’s repeating a specific aesthetic, and it feels tired and repetitive and overdone and uninspired.

So speaking of specific aesthetics, the other day you responded on Twitter to a piece I’d written on the labia pride movement. You were concerned that it was unfair to blame the small labia aesthetic on porn, as many labia pride sites do. Can you explain why?

So, obviously, I love the labia pride movement. I was 100 percent behind it. Love it, dig it, support it. And I think we still have a long way to go in terms of normalizing the diversity in female bodies and female genitalia. We know that. But what I was asking you on Twitter was how many quote-unquote tiny, delicate, feminine, perfectly symmetrical vulvas are there in porn, and how many have been arrived at surgically? Because I’ve been in porn for 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of vulvas,  a lot of vulvas, and I actually think there’s great diversity of vulvas that I see in the performers I work with and on the sets that I’m on and the porn that I watch. In all of my years of talking to people who are pretty honest and straightforward with me, I only know one person who’s gotten labiaplasty of the hundreds of performers I know. So I’m wondering if we have an instance here again of a kind of urban mythology that’s seeped into our consciousness that we’re all taking for granted as fact, and that is, “Oh, yeah, all the pussies in porn are perfect because they’ve all been surgically altered.”

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