Life

The Actual Nuts and Bolts of Making Plus-Size Porn

We spoke to Courtney Trouble, a non-binary performer/producer, about making body-positive, queer-friendly porn and the knock-on effects of free streaming.
February 19, 2020, 12:58pm
Courtney Trouble
Photo: Courtney Trouble
VICE writers ask their favourite porn stars questions that have arisen after years and years of watching them have sex.

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Watching porn as a fat woman can make you feel shit – either because you look nothing like the people getting shagged or because, when you do, it's a fetish-orientated film. The debate on whether "BBW" is empowering or infuriating is ongoing, and entirely down to personal choice for fat people. While I don't want to cast assumptions on those who want to watch feeder videos, I would personally rather see myself reflected in pornography without it being a subcategory on PornHub.

This is where non-binary performer/producer Courtney Trouble excels. A champion of representation and independent porn, their work is effortlessly inclusive. Trouble's films have changed my understanding of my sexuality in a significant way – and not just because of my queerness. In seeing my body unashamedly adored on screen, I began to adore the rolls of my round figure.

I spoke to Trouble about porn as a community, diversity on-screen and the knock-on effects of free-to-stream sites on the industry at large.

VICE: Hi, Courtney. So: how did you first get into porn?
Courtney Trouble: I loved Playboy growing up, and the closer I got to being 18 the more I thought about how badly I wanted to be a part of Hefner's glowing dream world. I started feeling both transmasculine and attracted to women at a very young age because of how I reacted to seeing my first Playboy peeks, but I also felt extremely attracted to the idea of being the bunny.

My dad, the feminist out of my two parents, knew I was probably going to need some queer community and help beyond what public high schools could do for me, so he got me connected to amazing sex education resources through my church, and my LGBT youth drop-in centre connected me to even more education. I was trained and approved to be a peer educator for HIV/AIDS and safer sex in high school, and had condoms in my backpack on campus for anyone who needed them. By the time I was 18, I was secure enough in what I thought the industry might be to become an entertainment-based sex worker.

Do you prefer being a director or a performer?
I was in my first stage play when I was five years old, and got my first camera when I was about nine, so performance and photography have both been crucial parts of my life. When it comes to directing, what I really want is for people to feel like their performances are the reason we're there and that whatever they're best at and love doing is going to be attempted that day. I take great pride in being a director, but I do take long breaks from it so that it doesn't become my daily work.

As a sex worker, I'm here to perform and collaborate. I think producers and directors have to have a different set of desires, but I can use my experience as a performer to try and create a warm working environment. I'm not as "enchanted" by performers as some other photographers or videographers. I don't want to date them. I just want to try to get the shot right and not waste anyone's time.

How do you cast your films?
For the past few years I've been a performer/producer, meaning I'm in most of the work I make. So I don't cast my co-stars out of a binder of performers or through an agent or anything. It's done through really boring stuff like availability and location. When I work with other professionals I mostly do content trade these days, meaning we both publish the work to our audiences and make sales individually. If I work with someone really new to porn, I try to also pay them on top of sharing the content and helping edit, as I like to see other queers succeed, and I help in any way I can.

So porn is quite community-based for you?
I have performers and artists I admire and get inspired by, and then stories that get written tend to open up spaces for new people, and a cycle of making things within our circle of queer sex workers starts again.

Lately I've been working with Chelsea Poe, Lita Lecherous and Ruby Riots on a series called East Bay Brats, which was all made possible because we all work in and admire the same Bay Area BDSM playspace. I could say, "Oh, my casting is so natural," but it's also a four-way written contract that gets constantly reviewed throughout our process and probably couldn't be done without two decades of trying – and sometimes failing – to create a collective sex worker space.

Courtney Trouble VICE interview

Photo: Courtney Trouble

What do you want that space to feel like, ideally?
I want everyone I work with to feel like they are walking away owning something – if not money, then good content. That's the ultimate goal. The customers would matter more if they made themselves more known to us through purchases and reviews, but generally it just feels like I'm in a theatre production crew that self-directs skits for the internet.

Do you make a conscious effort to make your films diverse?
I think from an outside perspective my films will always look like I've placed this idea of "diversity" in the forefront of my artistic goals, but actually that's just my community. I am queer, I am trans identified, I am fat, I have disabilities. I don't hang out with a whole lot of straight or cis people in my daily life; my family itself is not all white or cis or thin. A lot of it comes from who’s interested in working with me, as I don't work with agencies or casting directors. I'll also just make whatever kind of porn wants to be made that day – I'm not thinking, like, 'Oh, I need to make a lesbian anal movie, everyone's doing anal.' I still think diversity is important in porn – DIY and indie porn may always just feel more diverse, in one way or another, but there's room for all of it.

When I watch your films, I find myself adoring the brashness of the bodies involved. There's no shying away from any bodily feature – in particular, I love this in plus size bodies. Is there a technique to get this effect?
I think, maybe in all good porn, shyness is either incorporated into the scene, or overcome throughout it. A lot of porn performers, including myself, can be shy about body stuff. I allow that to work itself out naturally.

Do you think the rise of sites like OnlyFans is negatively or positively affecting the industry?
In a way, sites like OnlyFans make it possible for performers to begin to recoup some of the money we have lost [from tube sites]. I think adult social media is a good thing, although that doesn't mean OnlyFans is going to be a better company than PornHub, for example. But, in theory, adult social media is the only way we can move forward as streaming porn becomes the status quo and mainstream social sites like Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram push porn and sex off their platforms.

I think we’ll see a lot of adult-only social media continue to be developed from now on. The adult industry shapes the internet, and I think you'll start to see all kinds of people going private like this. The Kardashians did something similar with members-only apps a few years ago. Going directly to the audience is just the way the media works now. It's highly democratising, I think.

How important is it that people make the change to paying for porn?
They should have never been getting it for free in the first place. People have got to realise that free porn sites inherently participate in theft and exploitation, and have created an unhealthy relationship between porn and its audience. Porn stars used to get paid a lot more for what they do. There used to be a really beautiful, healthy community between fans and stars, because there was a real understanding that the fans were supporting the stars though the set-up exchange of money for content. Now, there's a lack of trust. The best porn stars are the ones that love to be friendly and open, and they cannot realistically do that if 9/10 potential customers are just shoplifting. It wears you down.

I also have to admit that, without something like Napster, I wouldn't have discovered or been able to explore some of my all time favourite bands or films, and I've thankfully only stolen some of the worst music I've ever heard without having to give some giant corporation money for the listen. I want people to be able to maybe have that kind of relationship with watching free streaming porn. If you're going to do it, make sure you're buying the things you love. Make sure you're signing up for that person's paywall, offer to send them £100 over the holiday season, show them that you're a fan – not just someone who collects stolen content.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

@GINATONIC