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I Attended the Ninth Annual Feminist Porn Awards

The event featured Zahra Stardust, Madison Young, and other feminist porn stars.

Feminist porn isn’t an oxymoron anymore—it’s a genre, an awards show, a conference, and maybe even a movement. Last month, I traveled to Toronto for the ninth annual Feminist Porn Awards, an event hosted by the sex toy store Good for Her

Since 2006, the award show has expanded from its modest beginnings to a two-day conference at the University of Toronto, and four days of screenings, official dance parties, official sex parties, and unofficial dance and sex parties. Last year, the New York-based Feminist Press even released The Feminist Porn Book, a collection of essays edited by FPA-winning filmmaker Tristan Taormino and several academics who study sexual media.

This year marked my fifth time attending the event. The first year I attended, I was a curious neophyte, a fledgling filmmaker interested in building an international network of sex workers and artists. The following two years, I won awards myself, but this year I didn't travel to Toronto to just present at the conference and party with my favorite sluts—I attended this year’s events to try to get to the bottom of the growing feminist porn community. Is feminist porn merely an echo chamber of celebration and validation, or is it actually changing the way the world views disenfranchised groups’ sexual expressions? I was about to find out. 

My first night at the event, I watched “Public Provocative Porn,” a screening of ten short porn clips followed by a panel discussion. As I drank wine from plastic sippy cups with the rest of the audience, I watched Sebastian Keys's engorged rosebud in Shine Louise Houston's Bed Party—boys can be feminists too, especially when they turn their assholes inside out—and marveled at Samuel Shanahoy’s Best Slumber Party Ever. (Links are obviously NSFW.) Shanahoy’s short comedy tells the story of three glamorous bullies who fuck each other with rainbow lollipops and force a genderqueer nerd to scream, “I love Sporty Spice!” Over the course of five minutes, Shanahoy and the femme bullies combine John Waters-type production aesthetics with dialogue worthy of Heathers. (I have added the line, “When I'm bored, I get horny, and when I'm horny, I get mean!” to my dirty talk repertoire.)

In another genius film, Zahra Stardust's The One on the Bottom, a Penthouse Pet of the Month’s lover fists her as if she wanted to back censorship laws up against the wall of her cervix. (In retrospect, “Public Provocative Porn” should have been called “A Night of Putting Entire Hands into Holes.”) I loved these films’ brand of self-conscious camp because, while focusing on feminism’s politics and aesthetics, feminist porn occasionally forgets to be, well, porn.

Watching these films on the big screen felt more like attending a midnight movie than cruising Times Square in the 70s—as far as I know, no audience members received head or stealthily jerked it during the proceedings. We mostly laughed, threw popcorn, and tried to confirm that there was a condom on the lollipop before it went anywhere near a vagina.  

The FPAs, a Friday night gala attracting counter culture socialites, doesn’t offer much suspense. Every year, Good for Her flies several pornographers to Canada, screens their films, and puts them on panels—nobody pretends these people aren’t going to be awarded Heartthrob of the Year and Best Boygasm. 

As circle jerks go, this year's gala was super fun. Hosts Lex Vaughn and Ryan G. Hinds kept the show raunchy, classy, and mercifully fast-paced. Very talented performers, including Mahogany Storm and CoCo La Crème, entertained the audience with high energy burlesque and boylesque numbers. The bartenders kept the beers and diet sodas coming. I saw so many platform heels and latex dominatrix corsets, I felt like I was at a dress-like-your-favorite-kind-of-sex-worker costume party. 

As they accepted their butt-plug trophies, very few pornographers exhibited Jared Leto-style feigned humility. The porn stars’ speeches were short and grateful. To stop the honorees from speaking too long, Good for Her hired a sturdy-looking butch to stand on the side of the stage with a single-tail whip. When Madison Young heard the whip crack as she accepted the Hottest Lesbian Vignette Award for directing Women Reclaiming Sex on Film, she rolled her eyes and said, “Oh please, you know that just turns me on!”

On Saturday and Sunday, the Feminist Porn Conference restored my faith somewhat in the possibility of real action. Created last year by FPA-winning filmmaker Tristan Taormino, FP Con introduced a much-needed forum for critical conversations about the genre of feminist porn. It was a chance to not only celebrate and validate but also to educate and question. At this year's conference, guests dressed slightly more subdued than they did at the gala (journalist and porn star Kitty Stryker's crimped bubblegum pink wig notwithstanding). Attendees also sounded less like cheerleaders and more like tech geeks, theory nerds, and politics wizards.

Topics of note included the financial sustainability of non-exploitative porn, the stigma surrounding working in porn, and the inclusivity of certain groups within the community—particularly people of color and trans women. The conference hosted even more screenings, creating a somewhat incongruent experience—the sound of porn performers’ orgasms bled into rooms where very smart people wearing no makeup discussed ethics and technology.

By the end of Sunday's conference, I was overwhelmed by the fact that feminist porn is a movement that spends as much time defining itself as it does producing content. This is probably necessary, since pornography, as a whole, is still widely considered exploitative. Unlike the AVN Awards, the FPAs and FP Con strive to provide a space for marginalized people to be loud and proud. It certainly is nice to be able to pat each other on the rumps, encouraging one another to be creative. After spending a week watching artful explicit media, meeting ingenious porn stars, and learning about ethical kink, I think only prudes of the highest order could deny that porn can be both empowering and hot. 

The feminist porn movement seems to suggest that porn production and porn consumption aren’t essentially degrading. What struck me the most about my fifth annual visit to the FPAs was a persistently sincere collective yearning to prove that vulgarity and liberation go hand in hand, or fist in vagina, or vibrator on prolapsed asshole, or—well, you get the idea.

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