Queer Porn at the British Film Institute

Posted at 14:51 on 28 Mar 2017 by Pandora Blake

Tags: activism, Digital Economy Bill, Dreams of Spanking, ethical porn, Extreme Porn legislation, fairtrade porn, feminist porn, Gender politics, Jiz Lee, kink activism, listen to sex workers, Myles Jackman, obscenity, porn, queer porn

Myles Jackman, Jiz Lee, Pandora Blake and Jay Bernard at Sexit, BFI Flare

When I started making spanking films I never once imagined that I would get a chance to screen them at the British Film Institute. Porn - especially queer porn and fetish porn, and Dreams of Spanking is firmly in both camps - is in many ways innately counter-cultural. When I launched the site I didn't expect the draconian criminalisation that would follow; but equally I didn't expect that queer porn, specifically my queer spanking films, would be considered cultural enough to be shown somewhere like the BFI.

It's a bittersweet juxtaposition, perfectly illustrated by something I noticed when I arrived at the BFI for Flare, the LGBTQ film festival, at which I was taking part in a panel discussion around how porn law affects queer porn. The banner across the Flare reception desks proclaimed the sponsors of the event; and there on the left was the legend "Supported by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport." How ironic that the very department of the civil service supporting this event is the one which introduced a statutory instrument in 2014 criminalising many forms of queer porn, including my own. It was surreal to speak about that criminalisation, to a sympathetic audience eager to learn how they can resist state oppression, at an event supported by the very public body responsible for that oppression. For me, that dissonance aptly summarised the widening gap between legislation imposed from above by those who have no clue about sexuality or sex work, and an increasingly open-minded public who mostly consider the sex lives of consenting adults to be their own damn business.
 
Before the panel proper, I recorded a video interview alongside queer porn icon Jiz Lee, and Chocolate Chip, who stars in Snapshot, the new "porn noir" sexy whodunnit by Shine Louise Houston, with questions asked by Flare programmer Jay Bernard. Jay is one of the curators of the festival, and they did an amazing job co-ordinating the Sexit panel and programming queer films that center people of colour. The interview was intended to be streamed via Facebook Live, but apparently the BFI is an old old building with shitty connectivity, so it was recorded instead - I'll link the video as soon as it's available. 

The Sexit panel itself was well attended with a great audience - I really enjoyed it. I was on stage alongside Jiz, Jay and Myles Jackman, whose new tagline "The Batman of Obscenity" is pretty much the coolest thing ever. He kicked things off with an introduction to obscenity law. Starting with offences of publication, he began with the Obscene Publications Act and its "deprave or corrupt" definition, then looked at subsequent case law, leading to the BBFC guidelines on prohibited content and the AudioVisual Media Services Regulations 2014 - which were what first gotcha'd Dreams of Spanking. We learned about a disturbing ruling on the OPA specifying that it includes even private, one-to-one text chat as "Publication", rendering even a private message between consenting adults saying "I'm thinking about XXX" potentially obscene, even if it is pure fantasy that doesn't refer to an act that actually took place. He also covered offences of possession via the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act, AKA the "Extreme Porn Law", and finally brought us up to speed with the shape of the Digital Economy Bill, which has nearly finished its journey through Parliament and is set to become law all too soon.

It's a lot to take in if you aren't familiar with the material - I've been working on this for years and even I get confused. The main takeaway was that UK porn law is complicated, messy, and inconsistent - and perhaps even more draconian than you realise.

I was up next, talking about my struggles with Dreams of Spanking under the AVMS regulations, my ATVOD investigation and successful appeal, and how the Digital Economy Bill will affect queer porn producers, particularly on an economic level with the heavy financial burden of age verification. I also talked a bit about how the discourse around porn tends to be divided between those talking about working conditions and labour rights, and those talking about cultural impact; and why it's so problematic to focus exclusively on the latter, as many legislators do (most recently, those debating the Digital Economy Bill).

The idea that porn has an ideological impact on those who watch it, and a wider impact on society as a whole, is not entirely without merit, although it's a bit more complicated than most arguments make it sound. My work creating fetish porn for the female gaze and emphasising diversity, particularly including trans performers and male/male material, is based on this idea that producing "better" porn can help improve our collective politics around gender, bodies and sexuality. And I am entirely convinced that a lot of porn is racist and it would help all of us resist inequality and white supremacy if we raise our game here; I know that my own body of work is not as chromatic as I would like it to be.

But when it comes to talk about the "harms" of porn, the rhetoric is rarely this nuanced, and instead tends to rest on the idea that porn is "violent" or "degrading", usually without acknowledging performer agency or consent. When it comes to harm reduction, working class solidarity with sex workers and porn performers comes before cultural analysis: and that includes understanding that sex work is real work, advocating for fair pay and better working conditions, listening to sex workers, and not erasing our agency, or making our work illegal in ways that make it harder for us to make a living and stay safe.

As well as talking about criminalisation, culture and labour rights, I also had the opportunity to screen a couple of clips from Dreams of Spanking films (at the BFI! I still can't get over that). I showed three minutes from Houseboy, including the initial meeting between Tai Crimson's character and mine. I also made sure to include some of their first spanking scene to illustrate marks considered "beyond transient or trifling", which are prohibited by the BBFC, and were the basis for my censorship by ATVOD. I also screened a segment from Please May I Come, Mistress, which aptly shows how so-called "violent porn" can in fact be playful, consensual and affectionate.

Finally, we got to hear Jiz Lee talking about their struggles in the US with Prop 60, a bill calling for the mandatory use of condoms in porn which was voted down after a successful campaign by porn performers in the US election last year. I meant to cover it at the time, but didn't manage to get to it, so I'll see how much of Jiz' talk I can remember to give you a quick overview now.

Compulsory condoms in porn sounds like a great step for health and safety if you don't know how porn works, but in practice it's a terrible idea. Some of the reasons for this are physical: condoms are mostly designed for 20-30 minutes of use, and many porn scenes can take between one and three hours to shoot. This causes microabrasions in the latex which can actually increase of STI transmission. It can also cause latex rash for performers, which is no fun at all, and vaginal and vulval abrasions which also increase transmission risk.

There's a myth that porn is a dodgy, underground industry and performers aren't tested, and it's completely untrue. In California porn performers are tested every two weeks, and everyone is aware of their status, with many performers choosing to practice safer sex in their private lives. Human sexuality is messy, and with or without barriers, no sex is truly safe; but nonetheless, porn performers may actually be the least at-risk sexually active demographic on the planet.

But as well as these practical idiocies, the fundamental argument against laws like Prop 60 is that porn performers are experts in their own lives, and we have the right to make our own decisions about their own bodies. 

Jiz provided some insight into the corrupt motivations behind policies like this, and the deeply problematic details of implementation - in the case of Prop 60, any California citizen would have been able to bring proceedings against porn producers for not using condoms, thereby exposing their real names and the shoot location (ie home address, in the case of many DIY porn producers) to the public. 

Across the globe, porn performers and other sex workers are facing oppressive criminalisation that threatens our safety, our health and our livelihoods, proposed by legislators who don't understand the industry, who have never done sex work, and who refuse to listen to sex workers about how these policies will affect us. These measures also have a cultural impact on the availability of alternative, queer, fetish and niche porn, which is often self-produced by performers choosing their own forms of work. As Jay Bernard pointed out, in the 1950s gay men who were sharing an experience of love, self-expression, authenticity and liberation were jailed for offences like gross indecency and buggery. And now, in 2017, queer porn-makers sharing similar experiences are still facing stigma and criminalisation.

Although the subject matter was somewhat depressing, the discussion was fantastic, with great contributions from the audience. It was exciting to be able to discuss these issues at the BFI, and for the conversation to be officially supported by that institution. It gave me hope that we can start to shift the cultural narrative around porn towards sex worker solidarity and evidence based harm reduction; but we'll need to work together to challenge the ignorance and prejudice behind the laws that continue to oppress us.

Comments

dirtysexyworld@gmail.com

Wow, I was onscreen at the BFI? That's amazing. Really sorry I couldn't be there. What you are all doing is wonderful.

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