Multi-AVN Award-nominated performer Jiz Lee spoke last Friday evening at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, and AVN asked them (Lee's preferred pronoun) to tell readers about the event and its background. Their responses follow:
AVN: By whom were you contacted regarding the speaking engagement, and what was discussed?
LEE: Late last year, a student named Harry Gilbert from Williams contacted me to see if I would be able to speak during Sex Week, as April is Queer Pride Month at Williams. The invitation came on behalf of the Dively Committee for Human Sexuality and Diversity, which is made up of faculty, staff and students who plan events each year and who bring notable LGBT activists and individuals from a number of professions to speak. The appearance was part of the Mike Dively Committee Twentieth Anniversary Celebration. Harry had heard good things from friends at another campus where I have spoken.
It seems most of my campus appearances are spurred by word-of-mouth enthusiasm. I'm equally touched and am inspired by this excitement, and in my presentations strive to express my passion and consciousness about what I do in porn to the students. I want to provide to them an honest and open forum where they can learn and ask questions about the industry. For me, pornography has been a profoundly positive experience and it's an honor to be able to share this through my writing and talks. Ironically, though I have been asked to present academically ever since I started doing porn, it wasn't until about a year ago that I was able to gather the courage to follow through with the requests. In doing so, I've (mostly) been able to overcome my fear of public speaking. This has been, much to my surprise, one of many positive outcomes of working in adult.
For many queer people, the recent production of queer pornography has given a visual representation of the trans and queer experiences, experiences that unite around other-ed desire, inclusive to people of color and people of size, and other marginalized experiences, that are specifically marketed to reach out to other queers in a way that is exciting and incredibly validating. Being a queer performer who has worked in porn ranging from independent to mainstream gives me a broad perspective of the industry, and having knowledge about sex, gender and media makes me a good representative to discuss queer topics in sexual media.
In general, students are familiar with my work or have heard of me online, and so they are interested in seeing more and asking me questions. These range from audience questions, to one-on-one questions after the talk, and include email follow-up questions which are great for those who may be shy about asking me in person or in front of other students. They are an incredibly respectful and engaging group of people, and it also benefits me to speak with them because many of the questions are ones I either have not considered someone would ask, or, have not had the chance to answer in addressing someone outside the industry. It helps me become more articulate, and even more conscious of my motivations.
AVN: On what topic(s) did you speak?
LEE: The evening began with an hour of clips, including Shine Louise Houston's The Crash Pad, Carlos Batts’ Dangerous Curves and Tristan Taormino's Expert's Guide to Pegging. Scene selections chronicled my work in the adult industry and spanned a range of cinematic styles within porn, showcasing queer/indie production, art-driven works, educational sex guides and gonzo.
Topics generally included porn as sex education (its failure and potential), porn production behind the scenes (legal aspects, censorship), ethics in pornography (consent, marketing), safer sex, porn through a feminist perspective, transgender visibility, stereotypes/limitations on depictions of masculine pleasure, and more.
Like most of my presentations, I spoke about how porn has been a positive experience for me—a personally important one, which helped me to gain confidence in my sexuality, my gender identity, my body image, and has improved my ability to define my boundaries to better articulate consent in sexual and BDSM situations. Queer porn—or queer-friendly porn—can expand our perception of what it means to be queer, and what sex can be, through diversified depictions of queer bodies and sex in ways that are consensual, ethical, safe and in healthy environments. I've overcome sexual shame and have grown to accept sex-positive notions of others through the very industry that so many in our society consider (or at least speak of openly) as "disgusting," "coercive" and "immoral" material that promotes violence against women. My aim is simply to share what I found of my experiences, particularly within marginalized queer communities, which has shown me that porn can be more than a 4-letter word. That despite mainstream perspectives of porn, doing it for ourselves and showing us as sexual beings capable of healthful sexuality can be validating of our very existence. I hope to show one alternative example which combats this stereotype, and queers our perception of pornography and the kinds of people who do it; hence the title of my talk: "Queer as Porn."
AVN: Were you appearing on behalf of any company or organization?
LEE: I appeared on behalf of myself. While I am not often associated with companies and organizations, I do work behind the scenes with director Shine Louise Houston on her website CrashPadSeries.com so I tend to discuss those experiences and show examples from the site, as it spans a wide range of performers and queer sex.
AVN: Were there questions from the audience? If so, what were some of the more interesting ones?
LEE: Questions from the audience reflected a curiosity about ethical productions, feminist perspectives on porn, concerns about obscenity, and more.
A student asked about how consent can be portrayed in porn, particularly in terms of BDSM and role-playing. The idea that performers, particularly women, are coerced in BDSM pornography is something that comes up in media from time to time, most recently with the few calls for boycott against Groupon for promoting tours of Kink.com's Armory. Consent within sex, and particularly within pornography, makes all the difference. But how do performers give consent? And how do viewers know that the acts are consensual?
I explained my experiences working on some sets, where the company strives toward transparency via marketing and production on its website for viewers and legally for performers in terms of displaying verbal and physical consent through safewords, agreed-upon sex and BDSM acts, as well as pre- and post-scene interviews. In pornography, performers agree upon a number of acts, often with more communication around consent than one might have in simply hooking up. (The same—or at least similar—can be said about safer sex and STI testing: Sex for porn tends to be more clear in communicating all the risks involved.)
Also for viewers concerned with whether or not the performers are coerced, to know that the most ethical porn can come from the source—if scenes are watched via torrent or tube sites (which means they are pirated, so there is already a question of ethics) it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to tell for certain what the source of the content was. Companies comply with legalities to ensure that models are of age, of sound mind and sobriety, and competent in their consent. If a viewer is concerned about whether a performance was coerced, getting porn directly from reputable companies is a good way to ensure that the pornography is ethical and that it can continue to afford to do business.
Another question was about innocence and sexual experiences. Does someone who watches porn before they've had sexual experience lose the innocence of the moment by having expectations about what sex is like? In a society that limits cohesive sex education, people—especially young adults—often look toward pornography to learn about sex and pleasure. While pornography shouldn't necessarily be held to the responsibility of sexual education, the lack of mainstream sexual information has uniquely positioned porn in this role. In this light, it's up to the individual to make that choice—and that includes whether or not to watch porn (of which the legal age in most places is not until the age of 18, though studies show that many who watch porn do so in their early teens). As young people, we learn about sex through a number of ways: through talking with friends, parents/guardians, lovers, through reading books, through watching television, through trying it out, and also through watching porn. So if there are more options for explicit sex material available to those curious about sex, there can be more options available for those curious to watch it.
AVN: Did many students seem familiar with your work? If so, what did they say about it?
LEE: Quite a few students were familiar with my work and were glad to have me come and speak, and to have a chance to meet me in person. Others who spoke to me after shared that it was the first time they'd either seen porn that they thought was arousing, or that it was the first time they had seen non-straight porn, or non-gay porn. Some students said it was the first time they'd seen porn where it looked like the performers were in love with each other. I'm glad to have screened several different clips as examples of my work. It's one thing to talk about porn, and another thing to do it, and yet another to watch it. For many, it was the first time watching porn in an auditorium, or with peers, which reminds me of my first time watching porn that I liked, which was in a community theater with a bunch of other queers. It was a rarity, and something we celebrated.
AVN: Any other speaking engagements planned? If so, where?
LEE: In June I will be appearing in Sydney, Australia, during their LGBT film festival. While not necessarily an academic setting, I find that most places I go tend to be interested in queer visibility and have the same concerns and excitement—and questions—around pornography which caters to their sexuality and reflects our community. To many queer people, pornography that more accurately reflects their sexuality and sentiments of desire and gender validation seems like a small victory toward not only personal acceptance and pride, but also a larger societal growth toward tolerance and understanding, and ultimately human rights.
I'd also like to acknowledge the students and faculty at Williams College for providing a space for this dialogue to take place. The attention by Fox News produced a fair amount of buzz around the event, and the college reacted graciously with intelligent responses from students and increased safety surrounding the talk, including checking IDs and hiring security guards. Pornography is a topic that has a place in academic conversations about sex; that people advocate against its validity is an example of the way society has stigmatized porn around sexual shame.
Williams is one of several academic institutions I have appeared in the past few years, including UC Davis, UC Berkeley, Mills, Evergreen, Scripps College, Stanford University, and also sexual education centers such as San Francisco Sex Information (SFSI) Commercial Sex Panel, the Center for Sex & Culture, Long Beach LGBT Center, and CUCCI's Educator's Training in Los Angeles.
Porn is entertainment that has the potential to reach people on a humanistic level, showing by example the variance in human sexuality. I commend these programs and remind others that being sex-positive about porn is not about throwing it in the face of those who don't care to see it; it's about having an appropriate space where people feel safe to learn and share thoughts and concerns about sexuality and gender. These queer topics are a First Amendment right, are valid issues to talk about, and necessary to address.