The Porn Film Festival Berlin is literally a life-changing event - and I don't say that lightly. It has certainly changed mine.
This year was its tenth anniversary, and a record 7 500 people attended screenings of cutting-edge porn from around the world. The offerings are incredibly diverse, including feminist porn, fetish porn, experimental porn, queer and trans porn, from short films to features ... but the festival doesn't only showcase film intended to arouse, it is also packed with documentaries, art films, docu-portraits, and myriad factual and fictional pieces exploring sex, gender and sexuality.
Last Sunday I participated in a debate at the Women of the World festival entitled "Can porn empower women?" In my three minutes I didn't have time to go into the full complexities of that question - so I'm going to do so here.
Debating "porn" is difficult because the word means different things to different people. Some people use it to mean "sexy media I don't like", and the word "erotica" to mean "sexy media I do like". So I want to start out with a definition: porn is media that is intended to sexually stimulate the viewer. It doesn't necessarily have to involve nudity, or sex (whatever THAT means).
Wow, what a week it's been! Thanks to you, the kinky Indiegogo campaign I launched with Nimue Allen has raised more than five times our original funding target to help fight UK porn censorship - and there's still 18 hours left.
The fundraiser is running until midnight tonight PST (that's 8am on Sunday for us Brits), so there's still time to donate. Every penny raised will be donated to Backlash to help fight the UK's regressive new porn laws. Please do contribute if you can!
You have all probably seen this already, but I haven't mentioned it here yet - on 12th December after the facesitting protest outside Parliament against the new UK porn laws, I was invited to debate the issue on Newsnight. This was my first proper TV appearance and it was a big deal for me.
One of the things I love about working with Nimue is that she always opens my mind to new kinks. She is, hands down, the most interestingly filthiest person I know, which given the company I keep is quite an accolade. I love her mind, her acceptance of the darkest facets of her kinky psyche, and the way her fetishes and play personas combine strength and vulnerability in such fascinating ways.
On our most recent shoot she wanted to shoot a scene that was new to me - a point of view humiliation scene with me providing instructions and verbal abuse from behind the camera. This wasn't something I would normally consider, but I always feel very open to new ideas when I'm working with Nimue. She showed me the props she'd brought - a cheap blonde wig, make-up, high heels - and we discussed what she wanted, particularly the language.
Nimue is one of the few people I know who fetishises abusive language relating to her size. "Piggy" is her pet name from her top, and she enjoys "fat pig" humiliation play that criticises her body. As a submissive, this is a huge no for me - just as food control and starvation is another hard limit, another thing Nimue enjoys toying with. I admire the strength of character in someone who can choose to reclaim fatphobic slurs as a form of kinky play, thereby stripping them of their real-world power to hurt. Nimue described the mentality to me as follows - "I know I'm fat, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Call me fat, and you aren't insulting me, just stating a fact." She is no more immune to insecurity about her looks than the rest of us, and it takes a real strength of mind to resist and subvert the body-shaming messages we are bombarded with in media and advertising by turning them on their head, and using them as tools for kinky head games of her own devising.
For a while I continued to update my previous round-up with new links about ATVOD's new online porn regulations, but they are coming too thick and fast. This is round-up number two, and I want to open with two quotes from Australian feminist porn director Ms Naughty's article in the Daily Life, which made me cry:
Australian feminist porn performer Zahra Stardust is writing her PhD dissertation on the legal regulation of pornography. She says "Those of us who are making queer, feminist, and kinky porn are doing so as an act of civil disobedience, because we know from lived experience that the cost of censorship in our communities is too high. These laws actively produce a heterosexist, misogynist sexuality as 'normal', whilst pathologising and closeting practices that actually life-affirming, consensual and meaningful. Fisting (an activity which is non-phallic) and ejaculation (which leaves visible evidence of pleasure) operate for many of us as pleasures of reclamation and resistance in a world that devalues and denies our sexualities."
Today in the UK, the law changed regarding the sort of content that can be sold online as "video on demand", to bring online regulations in line with the existing guidelines for the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification). Video on Demand (VoD) services are regulated by the Authority for Television on Demand (ATVOD), which restricts the types of sexual content that UK VoD distributors can provide. In other words, online porn sales are now subject to the same restrictions as DVD sales, and it is no longer legal to sell online anything which could not be classified by the BBFC as R-18. Myles Jackman has posted an in-depth article describing exactly what is restricted as of December 1.
This is a huge blow for freedom of expression. The internet was until now the last resort of adult film-makers who wished to produce a broader range of content than that admitted by the BBFC.
Under the new legislation, UK distributors are no longer allowed to sell content depicting bondage and gags, fisting, public sex, age play, facesitting, urination, female ejaculation, and spanking and caning beyond that deemed "transient and trifling".
So, you might have seen: I was featured in the Guardian. I'm really pleased with the article (kind of a relief, because if I hadn't I'd have had to lump it), but then I wouldn't have given Zoe Williams an interview if I didn't trust and respect her as a journalist.
I think the piece is intelligent and balanced, and I'm not just saying that because she says nice things about my work. (She also says the acting is like a school play, which made me chuckle.) She's not preaching to the converted (unlike, say, this blog), but she doesn't set out to persuade the anti-porn camp either. Instead the article is aimed at the sort of educated well-meaning lefty who reads the Guardian and doesn't really watch porn. With her trademark self-deprecating wit, Zoe positions herself in that category before describing how she became convinced that porn was not, in fact, a monolith of misogynistic degradation - and that a lot of it is not only ethical, but watchable.