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Sex Work and Feminism: Black Porn for Black Women

By | 2/15/2013 Leave a Comment
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(Guernica Mag) A few years ago, I sat on a panel with notable feminist academics and a femi­nist pornographer—all of whom were well-respected. I was put on the spot when asked, “Do you consider yourself and your work to be feminist?” I didn’t know how to answer. I tried to steady my voice as I replied, “I’ve never really given that any thought.” The other panelists gave their view of my work and what they knew about me… but the question, which I had to answer for myself, remained: “Am I a feminist?”

I was naive about the sexual liberation movement, and had never considered whether or not my decision to flaunt my sexuality on screen was a feminist act. I had never wondered whether fighting for the right to be both mother and sex worker was part of a greater fight for the rights of women around the world. I certainly had never given thought to whether my choice to be tied up, disciplined, and fucked by men and women on film contributed to sexual freedom. All I knew was that I alone was responsible for my body, my life, my sexuality, and my bills. It never crossed my mind that someone might tell me what I should or shouldn’t do with my body or my sex. I knew that prostitution was illegal and had heard rumblings of the unsuccessful fight for decriminalization in the United States. I knew pornography wasn’t the same as prostitution, by legal definition, but had no clue about the fight in court­rooms to make it so. I was like many of the porn stars of my generation who entered the adult film industry with the intent of earning a living, having a good time, or both.

When I walked onto my first adult film set at nineteen, I had never seen a porn movie or magazines or been to a strip club. I merely wanted to provide for my family and finish college. I wanted to have a kind of financial stability that I didn’t see possible as a divorced, single mother of two toddlers working two mall jobs and carrying a full load of classes. That first time, having sex with a complete stranger in his apartment wasn’t about a feminist agenda or some sort of promiscuous sexual itch I sought to scratch. It was about the best option I saw for myself at that time; it was about financial freedom.

Even years later, while embroiled in a bitter custody battle, where my decision to work in pornographic movies was a critical issue, I still didn’t consider my fight to be feminist. My angry ex-husband walked into the courtroom holding a VHS box with my image on the cover in a school­girl uniform, accusing me of “portraying a child” in the movie. The black female judge that mediated my divorce and subsequent custody hearing told him that my porn career was irrelevant unless there was evidence that the children were neglected or exposed to porn. Was she a femi­nist? I think the judge was merely following the law, and I was fortunate enough to have gone through the experience in California, where mak­ing porn has been legal since 1988.

There is no doubt in my mind today that I am a feminist. I believe first and foremost in choice—whether it’s a woman’s right to choose to work outside the home or the right to a safe, legal abortion. I believe that “no means no,” and that provocative attire is never an excuse for rape. I believe in sex-positive childrearing and the right for every person to marry regard­less of sexual orientation. I believe that what happens between two con­senting adults behind closed doors should never be criminalized and, more importantly, that men and women who choose to engage in sex work for money should be protected, taxed, and able to receive medical benefits as in any other industry.

The question still looms about whether I consider my work to be fem­inist. I’m not sure I know the answer, even today. I don’t think I’ve ever walked on a video set, turned on my webcam, or worked as a dominatrix with the thought of making a political statement. I’ve set a goal to enjoy my work so that my fans will enjoy it as well. I find myself more con­cerned with the representation of black women’s sexuality than making a statement only about my gender. Perhaps this is because so many people fight the good fight on behalf of (white) women and so few are fighting for black women like me. For example, there are countless examples of white women’s sexualities portrayed in porn, but very limited images of African American women. And when you do see black women in porn, they are often stereotyped or demeaned.

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