I am Done With Grad School and I Mostly Loved It

I reached and exceeded my own goal, but I did not finish. Let me explain. 

When I applied for an MFA, I was transitioning out of an abusive relationship and work environment. It sucks how it seems that trauma can define periods of your life like this, but I can’t seem to remember anything else about what was going in in 2014 and 2015 when I quit producing queer porn all the time and took a chance at higher-than-high education. I was looking for mentors, or at least a circle of friends that I felt safe around.  I was also, well… transitioning. Leaving my relationship was the beginning of a major gender shift for me; one that had long been repressed for my partners. There is an essay out there somewhere in which I stated that I was a cis woman. I remember adding that statement into the draft after trying to figure out how to talk about being trans in front of my husband, who was consistently feminising my body and gender and giving off vibes that he wouldn’t be attracted to me as a boy. My first marriage was to someone who couldn’t come out to her family about being queer and often looked up medical transition procedures out of curiosity, which really bothered me. A long string of these kinds of partners just made it impossible for me to come out. 

I went into my school with a different name, and a reinforcement of my identity as trans and asserted my pronouns at all opportunities. Within a week I found another femme friend who was also asserting they pronouns and a different name in the cohort. I wasn’t in the closet about my profession; in fact I introduced myself as Courtney Trouble and appeared as such at every public event in order to be a visible sex worker in academia. I thought that was important and to be honest a lot of my academic goals were really about inserting myself, a disabled queer femme non binary sex worker, into the conversations that academia has about art and identity. Nothing about us without us, right?

 I’m not from an academic background; and in fact I wasn’t able to experience much of a real college experience. I did community college in high school, 2 years of independent study at a notorious hippy college, and spent the next ten years after that making a seemingly endless amount of queer porn because as I guessed, it was an idea that would never stop expanding in the mind of myself and my incredible peers. My school embraced everything about me and I loved it there. I don’t regret getting my MFA.

Here’s the thing. I’m smart. Like, wicked smart. I care less about things like spelling and academic propriety and more about expanding my understanding of what’s possible through magical realism, poetry and art. My school caught that, loved it and nurtured it. I thought I stopped making porn because I was sick of seeing butts and I knew that couldn’t be a good thing in the grand scheme of things. And in fact I remember when I laughed at a butt, half out on a bike, for the first time since I quit and thinking it was a moment of healing. Sex Worker Burn Out is a real thing and I started doing all of this stuff when I was 18 years old. It’s part of my nature but it doesn’t mean that I don’t get tired. 

I was also, as I kind of mentioned, not around the best people anymore. My partner and I were in couple’s therapy trying to heal from an incident in which he raped me and I wasn’t ready to leave the relationship. So there was that. I also had an assistant that was controlling and manipulative; and friends that were around to take advantage of the Desperate Caretaker codependent persona I had cooked up to survive it all. I wish I could have those years back. (Always trust your gut.) In the meantime a lot of my friends from the music scene where leaving the Bay Area and slowly the only people I knew were Porn People. The day one of those Porn People told me that *I* was “porn people” – because often times when sex workers retire they no longer see other sex workers as anything but sex workers. #shrug

Grad school was my emergency eject button; financial aid loans and crowdfunding my parachute. It was a place where the people I was getting away from weren’t allowed; my school had my back. One of my abusers made crowdfunding difficult so financial aid became much more a part of my life than I was expecting. I had very vivid dreams of funding my entire graduate school experience with tokens from cam shows, clip stores, and GoFundMe campaigns but instead I just kind of laid low and borrowed money from the govt. I regret not being more vocal about what I was going through; I wonder if I could have made it further in my funding goals if I had pushed forward. I did end up getting a lot of loans, but because I worked hard and took it seriously, I was offered a huge scholarship after I got my MFA and was invited back to do another 2 year program from Visual Critical Studies. I did the first year. I’m not going to finish the second year – one masters degree is enough for me for me. I learned a lot getting my MFA and I want to flex my creative muscles again – not to say that research and writing aren’t vital parts of what I do by all accounts they are a huge part of everything. 

I stopped making porn not because I was sick of making porn; I needed to be resocialized. That’s what school is best for; teaching us how to be in conversation with one another. I needed to learn how to be in mixed company again after 10 years of working in the sex industry with no signs of stopping. I needed to learn higher level methods for dialogue and critique because people in porn and artists deserve to know and be able to use the kinds of emotional, visual, and cultural skills needed to have a  conversation around studio work. I chose art school because I am an artist. I’m a photographer more than anything. And a performance artist too. Those things have carried me through my entire life; like since I was a child and Janet Jackson was being Nasty and Reagan was president. I love improv and poetic gestures and that’s why things like porn and punk music have always been my preferred mediums. I also chose art school because “art” has always been a line of questioning in my work as a pornographer and I wanted to explore that side of everything. I made the right decision. I’ve picked up on painting, sculpture, and installation skills that open up a whole new line of work for me. I love curating film festivals and my school let me/helped me do it twice. I found the mentors I needed; my advisors were ex riot grrrls, art legends, and experts on topics like aesthetic marxist theory, Dada, and contemporary art. 

Trump happened while I was in grad school. I also dated some new people; some very good for me and one who would have been worse than all of my abusers combined had I let myself go any further. They knew this as well as I did and continued to hurt me anyways. I ended up being threatened by this person at our final exhibition;  and remnants of them telling me they could jerk off to my PornHub videos haunt me every time I consider letting some of my work out from behind a paywall. I figured I would run into some abuse at an academic institution so when I was sexually harassed by this person, it really was no surprise that my school wasn’t able to handle it. They initiated a Title IX against my abuser but weren’t able to do anything more for me than a no-retaliation clause which applied to both of us. 

I have been pretty fearful to tell my story. I think it is fair to say that sometimes I feel like the whole world is watching me. Perhaps everybody feels this way now that social media penetrates all facets of life. People self-harm in a lot of ways. One of the things I do is let things build up until everything around me feels Unjust As Fuck, instead of just the small things that I let pile up. I am also extremely bad at quitting things. Not drugs, I’m great at quitting drugs. But people? I cant quit people. I’m a Virgo born in the Year of the Dog. Or projects. Or porn. i have dove head first into new porn projects and and enjoying being back in the processes of making commercial work again. Grad school really was all paintings and stage performances. I have lots of works on paper and test prints but from 2015-2018 my “products” are non existent. I am super grateful to Chelsea Poe for pulling TROUBLEfilms through the past three years with her own productions.

Being a small-time producer and mentor to other queer porn directors was on my 5 year plan 5 years ago. Isn’t that wild? I knew for some time that I would be best suited at service to others. I made so many mistakes trying to start this part of my life, but when Chelsea Poe, Ajaporn and I put together Fucking Mystic that was really the beginning of a new situation for me. And when Chelsea went on to initiate her own production project and imprint that was based on trans lesbian visibility and femme 4 femme recognition, I basically just invited her to run the company’s film directions for a while and LOOK at what has happened to TROUBLEfilms. It is bigger and better than me, it is beyond me in ways I never thought possible. I feel like with others I was able to help with a few things here and there but inevitably didn’t fit in. Chelsea makes porn I believe in, it lifts my heart up and makes me happy and horny. I love her work so much and she puts so much forethought into why and what she’s doing on set.  

I realise I haven’t written much about what I researched or what I wrote in school. Nor have I spoke to the details of my graduation or my decision to move on as an independent academic. There’s really so much more to discuss but as usual, I have no idea who is reading this and am never sure how to open up to the public about my life and lessons learned. What I don’t need is for my absuors to come back around after I’ve been doing so well.  I feel like, “who the fuck would want to be this personal on the internet any more?” Why would anyone commit their thoughts to SEO in this day and age.

I am enraged by how much power the federal govt has over my personal well-being and yours. I am enraged by how institutions sweep abuse under the rug and silence victims. Part of why I made the decision to not complete the second degree is because while academic research is how the foundational research in porn studies, visual culture studies and identity are able to exist; there are very desperate needs right now for people who are able and willing and ready to get out there and fight for the truth to be heard. I’ve written about politics the best I know how and that is to say not well at all. If the Trump presidency was a work of art I could nail a conversation about it but it’s not, it’s a trash fire set by pouring acid and flames on cheap used toilet paper, extinguished by piss and exhibited in an infant coffin in the faculty parking lot.

So I am trying to figure out right now how my visual expression, my writing ability, and my love of art can be of use. I want to limit my time spent as a “porn director,” i find that the decision making required for “directing” porn – like clothing options and position requests – are beyond my comfort level as a Virgo. I think I might be asexual; attraction has always been somewhat of a mystery to me or I find myself only responding to what could only be described as “universal sex appeal” like nice boobs, fantasies about creampies, and submissive fuckdolls. Shit we can’t avoid feeling… It is why I am doing good with straight porn performance right now because I am so rarely turned on by anything other aspects of attraction like curiosity has brought me to exploring hard thick cis cocks and big dude bodies… I couldn’t imagine this being my desire ten years ago when I was in the thick of dreaming up my first handful of films (Roulette was in the works in 2008… wow). Roulette was all trans people, all queer people, all indie porn bodies in all their glory and antithetical to the heteronormicy of what even “Alt Porn” was doing. Alt porn was straight as fuck! I fetishised it. Eon McKai’s Alt School Sluts and irreverent CONTENT are the kinds of films that do it for me. Pissy, slutty, bratty, half-made works of art and fully envisioned works of alt porn. I lived for that stuff. I rebelled against it but now I’m exploring it. You are what you fear. If my lack of sexual desire allows me to explore a faucet of desire and fantasy I’ve always avoided, so be it. I’m down for the adventure.

Not directing porn or being a big ass pornoogrpaher public figure seems really important to me right now. I know I can’t avoid making stuff and of course I hope the industry acknowledges what I make, of course I’m a part of that. But I really do want to find a way to be learning new things no matter what I do, to keep challenging myself and questioning my craft. I allow myself to fail I think it’s a vital part of making art. In a lot of ways I seek those fissures to find out what can change in the world of visual and creative entertainment industries and what could maybe just be looked at in different ways. We need better representation by and for artists of color; there is nothing more clear coming out of an institution like the art school I just left. Same with trans and genderqueer individuals in the institutions of school, porn, art, etc. Nobody has done any work to really be familiar with the needs of trans women or trans men and I think that’s really unfortunate. It’s all a ruse…  And I think it is detrimental to society to not show happy helathy fat bodies in media, especially porn. Erasing us damages the self-esteem of those who cannot afford to achieve the kinds of thin and pretty that the majority of porn exhibits. It works for assholes like me with really low sensitivity to most sexual stimuli but in reality the average porn customer will watch ANYONE fuck. Trust me. You can hire fat people. 

I hope that in the future I can express my thoughts on representation in the industry a little more clearer than I could before I left. I know I’m not going to ever be the “porn director” I was before grad school; the days of shooting porn in my spare bedroom are over and I’m not sad about it. It’s been over for a long time. I’ve replaced the equipment with painting supplies; the lighting is in my room for cam shows. But somehow through collaboration and collective process, TROUBLEfilms has gotten bigger and better than ever. I can’t believe how many films I’ve prepping for release right now. I’m actually procrastinating from finishing those films by writing this blog post instead. That’s the kind of busy I am. Beyond proud and blessed to be in the company of so many people who are incredible directors; being able to bring my creative expertise to post-production, performance, and distribution has been beyond good to my soul. I really love the networking aspect of all of it. 

Be kind to the people who cast and produce the porn you make. Having done it for this long I know my story is not the only one out there. Being a freelance ANYTHING is difficult, but being a freelancer in the adult industry is something of a miracle. Strippers and porn performers are too good for this planet, too good for you, too good for words. We are the caretakers of the world’s hearts and hard ons, the keepers of secrets and the backbones of any social body. I probably didn’t need to go back to school to learn that, but I’m really fucking glad I did anyways.