Recently in Sweden, adult film director Mia Engberg received 500,000 kronor ($69,000USD) in public funding from the Swedish Film Institute to create a collection of feminist pornographic films. Just before the final product—entitled Dirty Diaries—was released, conservatives in the European country expressed outrage at their tax dollars being used to fund the film. Ironically, the protesters weren't upset that the money had paid for the production of pornography, but rather that it was used to further a feminist agenda. When I read about the controversy surrounding Engberg's film, I couldn't help being pleased about the Swedish media's engagement in a discourse that escapes so many on this side of the pond.
If you don't know who Courtney Trouble and Bren Ryder are, it's probably because you're not into queer and feminist porn. Here's a snapshot for the uninitiated: Courtney is an American avant-garde feminist porn director and the founder of No Fauxxx, the longest running queer porn website and social community on the 'net. Turning away from her pursuit to become a firefighter, Bren decided to create a queer inferno through the adult films made by and shown at Good Dyke Porn. For those interested in what the Anti-Feminist Initiative Swedes were up in arms about, I interviewed two of North America's leading ladies of lasciviousness to engage in a discussion that is pro-porn, pro-queer, and pro-feminist.
How did you get involved in producing queer and feminist porn?
Courtney Trouble: I was 19 years old, doing phone sex to pay the bills, and got really tired of playing out other people's fantasies all the time. I started No Fauxxx as an outlet for exposing the real desires of queers. There was really no outlet for that on the internet in 2002, and No Fauxxx was the first queer porn site. With help from my friends, we created it to be what it is today.
Bren Ryder: Like they say, when you reach a fork in the road, take it. I've always had porn and independent filmmaking on my mind, and dabbled in it a bit. I knew that quality queer porn was needed, so I made the choice to do it myself. I decided I didn't want to do it in my spare time or in the closet. I wanted it to be the centre of my life.
Given that a lot of adult films claim to show "lesbian sex" or depict dominating women, how does queer and feminist porn differ from what one finds in the mainstream porn industry—on screen and behind the scenes?
Courtney: Both a woman and a woman's desires need to be involved in the production, editing, and marketing of porn in order for it to be called feminist. Now, a woman's desires are just as varied as a man's, so it's hard to say what is and is not "feminist porn" just from looking at it. It has a lot more to do with how it's made. Are all people on the set—whether performers or crew—respected and treated equally and with fairness? Are the woman's orgasms being filmed with the same amount of importance as the man's? Does the woman (and the man) feel safe with their partner? Are condoms being used? These are all things I think make up a "feminist" porn set.
Now, for queer porn, I feel like it is porn that's been taken a step above and beyond what "lesbian porn" or "gay porn" has offered. It includes all genders, all identities, and shows sex between queers in an honest, respectful, and artistic light.
Bren: For Good Dyke Porn, the biggest factor that sets it apart from conventional porn is that the models are the creators of the scene. Whatever they want to do—be it a role play, their natural sex, kink, giggles, cuddles, or boot licking—is up to them to communicate with each other and act out their desires. We simply capture it on film. For me, the people involved—including the director and the majority of the crew—need to identify as queer in some way: lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans, whatever. Also, if all the women involved happen to look like the "typical" porn star then the scene must be creatively different. Queer speaks to the edginess of the images, and feminist implies a female-centric empowerment. Good Dyke Porn has all of that.
The porn you make has a DIY feel. Is this intentional or simply a reflection of a small budget?
Courtney: Whether I have a big budget or no budget, my work reflects a DIY look and feel all around because there's an added sexiness to an "amateur's" point of view. I learned how to make films, including porn, from life experience, so a lot of the DIY look comes from honesty. I'm doing what I do to the best of my ability, and that's a little rough around the edges and homegrown. However, I just finished editing my forth film and have learned quite a bit about making a high quality product. I still keep that DIY feel to it because it's hot; it brings the audience closer to the fantasy and reminds you what you are seeing is real.
Collaborating with other directors is also integral to our mission! Our minds do think alike sometimes, although we all have quite different visions. I wish I had had the chance to work with Bren while I was up in Canada, but the hustle and bustle of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival was just too much!
Bren: I intentionally create the images to look documentary style both because I like that look of simplicity and because of the budget constraints. It's important to use your resources to your advantage. I don't use actors, so acting is out. I don't have a lot of equipment, so we capture a homemade look. Since the images look DIY, I try to emphasize the presence of the camera. People aren't seeing someone having sex in their bedroom. They're seeing what I see: a staged sexual encounter with a videographer or two in the room. It's a privilege I'm happy to share.
Porn remains a contentious topic among feminists, though this seems to be changing as feminist porn becomes more easily accessible. How do you see your work in relation to the changing the landscape of feminism and queer activism?
Courtney: I see my work as a very integral step in bringing feminism and porn closer together. I am creating a lot of work, and what really needs to happen is for feminist options in porn to become more readily available and out there—not just in San Francisco and New York, but in small towns where feminists and queer people don't have the option of being a part of the community that makes it, but want to be part of the movement of queer activism, feminist art, and woman-friendly porn. I've started to hear about mothers and older women becoming interested in the porn I am making, and that's really a sign of times changing regarding women's feelings about pornography.
Bren: I think the more positive images we create, the more positive images others will create too. And the more positive images that people watch, the more people will want to watch these images. People who have never watched porn before are enjoying it for the first time. I'm not an activist, per se, but I feel that our work is making a positive impact.
What are some of the challenges to creating feminist and queer porn?
Bren: Finding the people and hooking them up together in a manner that's going to facilitate chemistry and respect for all parties involved. Vancouver has a lot of amazing sex positive queers, but a lot of queers choose helping professions—like teachers and social workers—and won't do porn even though they tell me they would love to. I'd love to be awarded funding from the Canadian government. People would get all worked up about it. It'd be great!
Courtney: Getting the funding is the first and biggest problem concerning making porn. However, if you choose to take the DIY route, you and your friends can do it for the art and make something beautiful. Understanding the laws surrounding making porn is also not easy to stay on top of. You have to stay on your toes!
You've both got your hands in so many pots—producing film and photos, running a website, performing, writing—and to me, that kind of multitasking signals that there is an enormous amount of work that need to be done to bring queer and feminist porn out from the margins. How can queer and feminist communities support the work you're doing?
Bren: It's important to buy the product and encourage your fearless filmmaker friends to create images they find exciting.
Courtney: I've been doing this for six years and right now I still feel like things are just beginning. With companies like Good Vibrations and Babeland standing behind independent porn makers and queer directors, we can really start to build a community around erotic art, responsible porn, and outreach. It's really important to get our work out to smaller towns where queer people and feminists might feel alone or cut off from the community, and it would be great to see more screenings and events in these areas.