Finding Gender Through Porn Performance


Originally printed in the debut issue of the academic journal Porn Studies, reprinted on Huffington Post. 

Queer porn means different things to different people – but to me, it means porn that is out of the box, out of the closet, and shamelessly sex-positive. Queer porn’s endless combinations of genders and sexualities allow its performers and its audience to expand and affirm their own identities and desires. It is porn you end up thinking about long after you watch it, occasionally leaving you wondering whether you are more like the performers you saw than you had previously thought. Queer porn is humanizing and connective.

In my words

I am genderqueer. I could say ‘gender variant,’ but I know what I am: Queer. I do not vary slightly from the standard form – I fuck it all up. I knew I was not a boy or a girl when I was a child, but I did not have the words to explain what that meant to my family and friends. Trans did not fit, but neither did cisgender (self-perception of one’s gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth).

While I knew I was queer before I made porn, producing and performing in porn helped me find my gender. Ten years of watching people strap, tuck, shave, paint, bind, glue, and glitter themselves to express their gender in a visual, textural, sexual, and public way has shown me that I did not have to pick something off the rack – I could be, and am, a multifaceted creature that lives in a liminal space.

For me, documenting the sex in my life and my community revealed a personal identity built of seemingly opposite elements having a symbiotic relationship.

I see this body, and this mind, in its truest form – a femmasculine creature that lives in a grey room (literally and metaphorically) full of tits, cock, scars, softness, pain, and pleasure. The words ‘bisexual’ and ‘switch’ never felt like home to me – but the words ‘both’ or ‘all’ encompass my identity in ways that make my sex life and my fantasies complicated beyond the general understanding of sexual identity.

My exposure to so many versions of gender and sex through making porn has been therapy for me. Without it, I would not be so aware of my genderqueerness. My understanding of my own gender identity evolved while engaging in public and private sex with dozens of people of multiple genders, all of them experimenting, exploring, or evolving – just as I was.

Queer porn gave me words to explain the way I have felt my entire life, by giving me the opportunities to have experimental or explorative queer sex as an embodied, queerly gendered person. In other words, by being allowed to ‘be myself,’ I found myself.

In my performances

I can see, in recent performances, epiphanies of my own gender queerness evolving on screen. The following are a few of those moments.

In a scene with April Flores for the film Hard Femme, we begin kissing on a bed. As lesbian porn goes, I take out her breasts and start kissing them. Then she kisses mine. I can see an alarm go off in my head when I watch the footage; something switches. I do not like having my breasts played with in a ‘womanly way,’ and suddenly I am grabbing my tit and thrusting it into her mouth. I whisper, ‘Suck my tit like a cock,’ and within seconds I am more present. Finding a way to embody a phallus using my assumed ‘female’ body made the scene work for me.

I have joked and called it ‘psychic dick’ before, and without explanation it seems funny – but ‘psychic dick’ is literally the feeling that a part of my body (my tit, clit, fingers, strap on) have become my actual dick and I am able to embody a more masculine gender within sex.

I have performed as butch for a few scenes in my career. Once, with trans man Charlie Spats, I got to be a cruising leather daddy. I used a strap-on, and while that felt authentic to me and quite satisfying to fuck a boy as a boy myself, the butch presentation itself did not feel at all authentic to me.

Another butch performance was for the film Valencia: The Movie (based on Michelle Tea’s legendary memoir about being a dyke in the 1990s San Francisco Mission District) in which I play a butch dyke who teaches Michelle how to fist her. Because I was performing a role, my authenticity did not matter so much, but my butchness felt like a bad impression, a comedic role.

These two scenes revealed to me that my physical need for phallus embodiment during sex is not related to a masculine presentation or a male gender identity. I am not a man, but I do have a dick.

Through the trial and error inherent in porn performance, I have found that my feminine presentation and masculine sexuality are connected, and that this is reflected in my non-pornographic identity as well. Were it not for the opportunities granted to me through porn to play different roles, I would not have the understanding that I have now.

In their words: James Darling

James Darling started performing porn early into his physical transition, and throughout his career has unintentionally documented not only the changes in his body, but the changes in his sexuality as well – providing a clear glimpse into the sexuality of one trans man.

“Performing in porn has really made me take a much more critical look at the way I present myself to the world and be more intentional about the gender I present on and off screen. My masculinity is different than most other male performers in porn and I’m very critical of the kind of man my audience and fans perceive me to be. I’ve watched my body change over the years through porn and it’s incredibly validating to see my transition reflected back to me through an erotic lens. Queer porn has allowed me to express more feminine and queer parts of myself that I can’t imagine would be possible in more mainstream porn, and I’m truly grateful for that.”

In their words: Jiz Lee

Jiz Lee is becoming one of the most well-known genderqueer people of our time due mostly to their wide-ranging performances in queer, indie, and corporate pornography. They have brought the word ‘they’ into many people’s understanding of gender and have become a role-model for young trans* folks and those who are seeking to create more affirming corporate porn workplaces.

“Making porn had the effect of bringing me out of my shell, and helping me to define – and more importantly, articulate – myself to the world at large. It was through porn that I created my website, and found a voice for writing. Later, it was through porn that I swallowed my fear of public speaking and improved my skills talking in front of other people. I would likely be the same person, in many ways, had I not had the opportunities I’ve had through being a public figure. The documentation and amplification of my gender expression, however, has certainly had a profound impact on my ability to articulate myself, in addition to building a better understanding of how others see me.

One example of such is coming to use the pronouns they/them. When I first started out, I simply asked that whatever description or biography made public of my gender not use feminine pronouns. However it quickly became apparent that the absence of these pronouns did little to assert my androgynous gender – others needed a more visible marker of my gender status, and thus, I came to use they/them. (It turns out that singular they is the original gender-neutral pronoun, coined in early English. So it also happens to be grammatically correct.)”

In their words: Papi Coxx

Papi Coxx’s first porn performance was with their real-life partner Wil for a documentary about their lives as ‘trans entities.’ Papi has been outspoken about genderqueer identity and sexuality long before they started making porn, but has found porn to be a useful platform for creating visibility.

“Porn, specifically queer porn, absolutely re-affirmed my gender identity and expression. Queer, DIY and Feminist porn have created a space for porn to exist within and outside of the ‘sex.’ It’s delved deeper into identity, endless sexualities, and politics. Queer porn gave me a public and educative avenue to express my gender and have it be visible in the most vulnerable of ways. For many trans people/GNC people, the body is a source of struggle. I’ve always said that my nudity negated my trans identity because I had not had surgery or taken testosterone. When I am viewed in the nude, I am identified by others as a woman. Queer porn broke that ideology and allowed for dialogue, new desires and visibility to shape a forward era in porn.”


It is clear that the intentions behind and implications of queer porn go beyond the generic understanding of pornography. There is a clear political, personal, and creative drive in queer porn that is not common in other genres or subsections of the larger industry. Many of us do other kinds of work that is much more financially rewarding or career-making, but queer porn is our preferred process, and through it we are able to search for something beyond financial gain: knowledge, power, acceptance, visibility, desire, justice, love, to name a few. Each scene is a new opportunity to challenge our own perceptions of self, or to help you challenge yours.

Queer porn transcends the tendency to put our sex in binary boxes, and uses desire as a catalyst to create change within the queer community and the porn industry.

We must wonder what porn could accomplish for society if every adult industry set provided that freedom to question, pervert, personalize, or politicize the individualistic sex positive powers of those making it, and those watching it.

Courtney Trouble

California, USA

How Growing Up Riot Grrrl Informed my Art/Porn/Work/Whatever


I found riot grrrl the summer after a shitty freshman year at high school. I was really smart but none of my teachers took me seriously. All my friends were stoner dropouts on the corner and because they were my friends, and i was out as bisexual, and looked like a punk, i was treated like a waste of desk space in every class except drama, which was taught by a feminist hippie with purple hair.

Near the end of the year I was molested and had my music collection robbed by my step brother who was visiting during spring break. It broke me to the core, and I kept it a secret. I had to break up with my boyfriend Robbie, because I really wasn’t doing well after that event.

I told every friend a different story about why we broke up. I didn’t even tell my best friends Lori and Moe the truth, that I had been molested by a family member and that i was broken, though in hindsight I was almost certain they would have understood. I think I didn’t understand what had happened myself. I was ashamed and fearful of the truth. I lost all of my friends because I couldn’t keep my lies straight. My world crumbled.

On the last day of school, all my old friends wrote hate mail notes, folded them up in our usual way, and dumped them over my head as I left campus. That summer my family also moved away, though I had already always lived with and remained with my dad, a single parent and a feminist Wiccan.

Loosing my music collection had a dramatic effect on me, one of course that’s not to be compared with sexual assault, but as someone who has always been completely connected to music, it was one more loss that resulted in a severe disconnect from the world. I was unconnected to everything.

That summer, I was alone in summer school, alone in my neighborhood, alone in my world. The only place that didn’t know my recent drama was the queer youth group, so I spent most of my time there. There was this girl in my summer school who would drive me to the community center after class. She had zines and mix tapes and fishnets and tube tops for skirts and she looked just like me. I don’t remember her name and I didn’t know her long, but she gave me my first Bratmobile tape. Cool Schmool. that song was so important for me, as someone who had just lost every ounce of my coolness.

So those are my roots. I got expelled from my fancy high school half way through tenth grade for distributing my zine Krave Me – the zine had fake Teen Magazine quizzes like “Are You a Slut” that were sex-positive parodies and anti slut-shaming. I got over the loss of my childhood friends and focused on making friends at all-ages shows, queer youth group, and my unitarian universalist youth camp parties. I spent my weekends in Olympia going to Need, Sleater Kinney, and Bratmobile shows. It was at these shows that I met my lifelong BFF Jenna Riot and started taking photos of people like Kaia Wilson and Wynne Greenwood. I enrolled in a program that allowed me to get my high school diploma and my associaties degree at the same time, and I centered all my education on journalism, photography, music, and women’s studies.


When I turned 18 I moved to Olympia and started Fat Girl Break Down, a riot grrrl fat positivity zine and web community. My first feature was an interview with Nomy Lamm, who took me on tour with her and Sini Anderson, right when I was starting my first porn site, NoFauxxx.Com.

Porn is where my riot grrrl has come to a point of action. I’ve been in bands (mostly with a friend I made in Olympia, Nadia Buyse of DUBAI) and staged protests (remember Bands Against Bush?) and organized festivals (Homo A GoGo!) and written countless zines (including one I wrote and never published while recovering from self-harm), but making porn has been my only fulfilling outlet for riot grrrl activism for the past 11 years. I’ve kept it alive and I’ve also added to it I think by promoting intersectionality, making sure that the voices of trans women and fat people and trans men and queer male riot grrrls and riot grrrls of color get heard alongside those of the more traditional stereotype of the riot grrrl as a straight white cis girl.

I myself am genderqueer, so my feminism is adjacent but not entirely adhered to women’s voices. Because I look like a woman, a queer fat one at that, I still am effected by misogyny, particularly in the adult industry, and I think that’s why I am still so attached to the idea of riot grrrl not only as a tool of resistance but also as a form of support and a self-esteem builder.

Porn is a perfect artistic and political tool of resistance for us grown up (18+ at least!) riot grrrls – creating space for me and my sisters is a form of active resistance that is creating change and upping the awareness of feminism on many levels. I have to stand and be strong and lock arms with those near me in order to not be trampled. We are still living it.

I’m thankful for the current movement to re-ignite riot grrrl as some one who has been keeping it alive in my heart since that fateful day I was molested. As violence against girls is really our number one enemy, being a riot grrrl is inherently attached to being a survivor, and it’s given me the best survival tools in the box. I am thankful to Nomy Lamm and Alison Wolfe and Beth Ditto and Sini Anderson and Jenna Riot and Nadia Buyse and Homo A GoGo and my drama teacher and that girl with the fishnets, for giving me these tools.

This year I made a film called Trans Grrrls: Revolution Porn Style Now that borrows the language of early riot grrrl to set up the stage for a film that brings trans women to the forefront of feminist pornography.

The Truth About Fisting

People of all genders and sexual orientations can participate in fisting and enjoy fisting. Heterosexuals do it. Gay men do it. Lesbians do it. Trans people do it. Some people can do it to themselves.

Ignorance often presents itself as an absence of representation. In the same, bigotry and hateful actions and words often come from ignorance. How much of censorship in pornography, and also in life, could we evolve out of, if people were to know more about things like fisting, female ejaculation, and menstruation sex? Sex is a universal language, we speak it globally, despite our differences. Pornography can be used as a common language, it can be used to introduce new ideas – remember when interracial sex was a new idea? Remember when masturbation was a new idea? Remember when lesbian sex was a new idea? Remember when BDSM was a new idea? Remember when free love was a new idea? Remember when safer sex was a new idea?  Let’s make fisting a new idea.

There is an overwhelming sense that fisting is punching. That it’s violent. That you’re beating something up. That you’re hurting someone. That it’s abusive.

The truth is, any sex act can be done incorrectly, against our will, or by somebody we’re just not that into. Getting head can be painful and abusive if you’re not into your partner. Your favorite sex act can be destroyed for you if it’s done to you against your will.  Masturbating can make you cry if you’re having a bad day. All sex lives in this liminal space – who we let close to us and what we are willing to do with them relies so heavily on our attraction and also where our bodies and minds live at that moment. If you are with someone you’re attracted to, that your body responds to; if you’re calm, in a good mood, turned on; and if you have the time to spend getting there – fisting is the opposite of all of those scary things. It becomes soft, gentle, sweet, loving, intensely beautiful, life-altering.

This is exactly why we need to lift the self-imposed ban on fisting in mainstream pornography. If we don’t show it the way it’s meant to be and how to do it properly, we will keep seeing only these violent images that are out there, and perpetuate this idea that fisting is dangerous or harmful.

I too have seen gross, scary, painful looking photos online of “fisting” – there’s not much of it but the stuff that out there isn’t always that pleasant looking. In the age of Two Girls One Cup. Goatsee, and Mr. Hands; some of these amateur-looking “fisting” videos have gone the way of shock value and disgust instead of high production value, education, and a good scene. And because there’s not much else out there to weigh against it, that’s all we see.

Remember that old movie Deep Throat? When it went to court for obscenity charges in the early 70’s, an attorney argued that it be censored, not because there’s cocks way too far down a woman’s throat, but because “the movie says it’s perfectly normal to have a clitoral orgasm, and that is wrong.” In 40 years we have not gotten too much further in the fight to bring female pleasure to the surface of acceptability.  So when I hear a guy comment on fisting, “Stretch a pussy open like that?!?! GROSS!” I roll my eyes – go back to the 70s dude. Some of us want our pussies stretched out like that. Don’t be ignorant.

I’m going to speak from my own female pont of view for a second and speak directly to the heterosexual guys out there reading this: Women do not want to have sex with people who don’t know how to have sex. Want to get laid? Want to get laid over and over and over again? Get yourself sex educated on female pleasure. Learn about the clitoris. Learn about sex toys. Learn about anatomy, fingerfucking, fisting, female ejaculation, cunnilingus, dirty talk, BDSM, kink, fantasy role play. Your ignorance is keeping you down. The guys who get laid all the time (and aren’t just lying about it) are the ones who know what they’re doing. Pop Quiz: You’re fucking a babe. You orgasm. She doesn’t – WHAT DO YOU DO NOW?   Your answer to this question is pivotal to your sex score. Thinking that female pleasure is “Gross” will get you nothing. No pussy for you. If you don’t know what to do with a pussy when your dick is soft – you don’t deserve any pussy.

Fisting is simply four fingers and a thumb sliding into a vagina (or ass, for those inclined and well-lubed). The hand then slips delicately inside the hole, past the knuckles and anywhere along the palm of the hand, even up to the wrist. It’s basically allowing the vaginal muscles to decide how little, or how much, the body wants to take in. The fistee is left feeling full, and often times the fister can feel the beating of the heart, muscle swelling, and the walls of the vagina moving up and down the hand. There’s a misconception that’s it’s forced in, when most fisting is initiated entirely by the person getting fisted. In fact, it’s usually the vagina itself that will decide to just swallow a hand entirely.

Once the hand is fully inside, it generally stays still, allowing both parties to experience that connection. Some movement is natural, and after a while, light thrusting may or may not happen. Every once in a while it might be faster or harder, but in general, fisting is all about a hand and a hole listening to each other very closely. It’s one of the most beautiful, intimate sex acts I’ve ever experienced. It’s sex positive and builds a deeper connection between sex partners. It’s encourages deeper communication. And most people who have been fisted will probably tell you, it’s one of the best ways to orgasm in the whole wide world.

There are many reasons to wear latex (or alternative materials if you’re allergic) gloves when fisting someone. First of all, it can protect you from STIs, though hand sex in general is fairly low risk – cuts on your hand or around your cuticles/nails should be covered by a glove. If you have long nails, you can put a little cotton under them and slide your hand in a glove. And overall, gloves are slicker and don’t absorb lubricant like skin does, so first-timers can use gloves to make fisting easier.

You can keep your pelvic muscles fit and “tight” easily in general, by doing kegal exercises. These simple flex-and-release movements will not only keep your vagina strong, it will improve your uterine health AND help you along a path to female ejaculation if that’s something you’re interested in.


Adult industry lawyers have a list of things that can trigger obscenity lawsuits. This list, in no particular order what-so-ever, includes things like dripping wax, bisexual sex, blindfolds, and interracial sex – in equal offense with things that are actually illegal and totally fucked up, like rape, underage fantasies, and incest.   Fisting is on this list. Right next to female ejaculation, which has it’s own AVN award. I’d love to see “Best Fisting Scene” next year – I bet I’d win!

This list was created by Paul Cambria in 2001, and is known as the Cambria list. On this list, fisting (and squirting, sharing a dildo, wax dripping, blindfolds, bondage toys, transsexuals, bi-sexual sex, menstruation sex, and interracial sex) are listed in equality with underage fantasies, rape, necrophilia, incest, and bestiality. Bukkake and facial ejaculation shots are also on this list.

Why most of these sex acts or themes have been allowed into the mainstream adult showcase while fisting remains as prohibited as some of the more serious acts is beyond me (SEE NOTE ABOUT FEMALE PLEASURE). Further more, many of these prohibited things, such as transsexuals, bisexual sex, menstruation, and squirting, identify a larger problem within the community of adult industry lawyers that mandate these guidelines, and the filmmakers and producers that perpetuate this list’s power over our work – that the adult industry at large is misogynist and homophobic.

Fisting is important to me because it’s so intimate. Usually, it’s slow, connected, loving, sex. I think people assume that fisting is fast, painful, scary. If it’s done correctly, it’s exactly the opposite. It takes time, lubrication, eye contact, connectedness. It’s my favorite kind of sex to have with my boyfriend.

If you, like me, love fisting and want to see it become a less shamefull, tabboo sex act. If you, like me, want the world to understand what it is, and how to do it safely. And if you, like me, want to see it included in all those porn scenes where it’s been edited out, angled out, or removed entirely, here’s what we can do:

– Come Out! Tell the world you like fisting. That you’ve tried it. That you want to try it.  Sex positivity is about opening up, it’s about being out of the closet, and embracing the lost list of desires out there in the wolrd.

– Request that your local porn shop or favorite retail porn site carry ethical, independently made porn that includes fisting! FYI: Smitten Kitten, Early To Bed, Good For Her, Fatale Media, and Trouble’s Porn Shop are already on the bandwagon!

– Support the pornographers who are taking a stand, and letting the fist stay in! These porn sites include QueerPorn.Tv, No Fauxxx, Crash Pad Series (the website, not the DVDs), and Good Dyke Porn (all queer, indie sites), and check out my new film Live Sex Show, a brand new release that features a gorgeous fisting scene with Nina Hartley and Jiz Lee, as well as 5 other scenes that were shot all in one day in front of an audience of 200! The film Trans Entities also has a fisting scene in it, if you can find it!!!


I have quite the history in the adult industry. I’ve been a phone sex slut, a pornographer, a web cam girl (not sharing that link!), an advertising manager for the now-defunct On Our Back Magazine, a sex educator for Good Vibrations, a peepshow girl at the Lusty Lady… That’s where this little tale begins.

Some of my favorite shoes have been stripper heels passed down to me from strippers – either because they’re sick of the heels, or sick of the job. I got my first pair on tour with Nomy Lamm in 2000 from a stripper names Molly, who looked like Bettie Page. They were red vinyl slip on wedges, a little worn in and a little too small for my feet. Needless to say I wore them out even further, prancing around my house pretending to be an erotic dancer.

My second pair was a pair of red lace-up boots given to me by a gothic princess who had stalked the Lusty for ages. She had no intentions of leaving, but she got over her work shoes faster than her shifts could end. I wore them steadily through my shifts until the boot-holes wore out, and I too threw them in the free box.

My favorite pair of stripper shoes were found in the Lusty “graveyard” (old free box items, costumes and makeup left behind by former strippers) that were gold with a wooden heel and platform and covered in jewels. These heels, I wear almost every time I go out – even though my doctor has forbidden me from stilettos (Hence, my exit from the stripping scene and the 10 pairs of heels I left behind…) Long after the Lusty, these heels live on.

So, when I was asked to do some sex toy reviews for Domina Doll over at SexToy.Com, I was thrilled to find that they had a collection of stripper heels – including a pair I had coveted for a long time, the Money Heels!

Of course, I’m not a stripper any more and I have no room in my house for more heels I shouldn’t wear, but that didn’t stop me from wanting them all the more, at last!

The second they came in the mail I tore them out of their box, slipped them on, and slipped into a whole different body. The less war-torn, less cheeseburgered body of Royale, the sassiest peepshow girl in the room. My wife noticed the transformation and immediately requested a demonstration. She got a lapdance on par to the one I gave her the first night we fucked, and then off went the heels and the lights, and on came the strap-on and the pillow biting.

Per tradition, when a stripper is done with her heels, she never throws them away. They either go on her shelf for prosperity, or to another hustler in need. I decided to wrap up the heels and bring them into my work for the office “White Elephant” party over the holidays, and lo and behold… They are beloved by another ex-stripper from my work.

… and on and on the story of the traveling stripper heels will continue…

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