Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Shemales: Defining Transgender through the Porn Industry

#TransLivesMatter, best of both worlds, chicks with dicks, Gender, ladyboy, nsfw, pegging, porn, Queer, Sex, Shemale, strap on, Tranny, Trans Theory, Transgender, transsexual, Transvestite, ts

“It’s a porn term that describes a genre.
That way, some country, straight-ass guy 
in the corner is going to understand. 
You say ‘transsexual’ & they’re confused,
 you say ‘shemale’ & they know what that is”

Wendy Williams
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The Definition

How does society get its relations and information about transgender? For a majority of men in the United States, their first and most instructive encounter with trans women are likely to be through a subgenre of pornography called "Shemale Porn." In an article listing a variety of amusing porn titles, Funny or Die promotes an advertisement, "A Shemale for All Seasons." The ad asks the question: "I know what you’re thinking. 'Wait, aren’t Shemales just for Autumn?' No, you’re wrong, and this porn is here to prove it. Shemale’s are for ALL seasons and especially Christmas time." Featuring a cover showing a trans woman wearing an bright green elf costume, "Jules" helps Santa with sexual release. She is advertised as "the best of both worlds." While it may seem to take the matter too seriously, with the name of the film gesturing back to the classic "A Man For All Seasons," an articulate remembering of a man who represented a controversial view-point in a critical moment of cultural upheaval, the Shemale Porn seems to beg the question: is this how we want history to remember the trans community? As historians of culture can attest, erotic media provide critical information in imagining how peoples of the past lived. In terms of realities that are shaped on perceptions, the trans community past, present, and future are at least partially defined by the powerful cultural presence that is the Shemale. 

In her Post-Transsexual Manifesto, Sandy Stone calls for a shift towards a model of gender that embraces the multiplicity of social constructions suggested by the term genre. Gender and genre share a common etymology, stemming back to the Latin, "Genus." In other words, gender and genre simply mean "category." Yet while the latter remains alive in creative arts with dynamic changes in meanings with every new iteration or new generation of artists come to embody it. Indeed, there is even a relationship between gender and genre. Certain genres are associated with certain genders. Westerns promise a kind of lone butch masculinity. Romantic-comedies always seem to summon up a manic form of femme-ness. In this way, genres lay scripts and expectations for gender. For the trans community, the associated genres of trans literature are a veritable minefield of marginalization and objectification. Among the most prominent and dangerous genders that defines trans lives are "the Shemale" and the attraction to trans bodies through "Shemale porn."

"Shemale is a term exclusively employed for the porn industry, for movies featuring pre-op transsexual women," explains MyLadyboyDate.com. Despite the terms offensive associations, it is regularly used by certain populations of men when addressing trans women. "Interestingly and unfortunately," observes LadyboyDate, "it's a very popular word, with way more results on Google on the subject than for any other term." The popularity of the term demonstrates the power of narrative. For many, masturbating to Shemale Porn is only context in which they come to know and relate to trans bodies. As a result, their own tense feelings of objectification, fetishes, and shame become invariably tied to transgender. Transgender becomes defined by pornography as a deviant sexuality that embodies all the conflicted feelings of the desirers rather than reflecting the realities of the trans community. Despite the prominence of the term, few people seem to be familiar with its definitions. Indeed, the power of the term Shemale is a lack of consideration of alternatives.  The pervasive confusion that the term inspires is evident in internet forums and encyclopedias. Wikipedia offers extensive definitions and sub-entries on the term and genres of Shemales. The entry explains that while Shemale is currently defined by the Porn Industry, it had a wider history in attacks against cis-gender women as well. Feminist intellectuals or other women in the workplace of the 19th century were sometimes called "Shemales" to describe a female taking on a male role. Likewise, lesbians were described as Shemales because they took on a male role in pursuing women sexually. There is then a continuity with the terms use in porn where Shemales are primarily portrayed as the penetrator, a supposedly male position.

A telling example comes from Yahoo Answers, where one user asks, "What is the difference between transgender, transsexual, shemale, ladyboy, and tranny?" For many, engaging with the trans community or even becoming educated on transgender is blocked by misunderstanding of terminology. A host of terms are available that all seem to mean the same and yet the majority of them seem rooted in the discourse of porn. The "best answer" (as voted by the site users) to the Yahoo question tries to distinguish these diverse histories. "Shemale is a term used by the porn industry to refer to transgendered individuals, and often more specifically, transsexuals," writes the answers. Then goes on to warn about the use of the term outside of the media of porn. "It is seen by transsexuals similar to how the N-word is seen by African-Americans," writes the answer, but adds "except that it is not used by transsexuals themselves to refer to each other." Wikipedia explains the term as an overdetermination of gender by physical sex, "in this view, the term emphasizes the biological sex of a person and neglects their gender." The entry also stresses that the term is so bound to porn that it suggests a very narrow association between transgender and sex work. 

Despite its pejorative use and associations with sex work, some academics still defend their use of the term Shemale. "Some biologists have used shemale to refer to male non-human animals displaying female traits or behaviors, such as female pheromones being given off by male reptiles," reports Wikipedia. Likewise, "The term is also used by some psychologists to refer to male-to-female transsexual people who have transitioned to female but have not undergone genital surgery" (Wikipedia). Others have tried to find a technical use for the term within the queer and trans community. In 1969, Janice Raymond, in The Transsexual Empire: the Making of the She-Male, invoked the pornographic term to paint trans women as an aggressive, sexual male invasion of the feminine sphere constituting  a "rape" of feminist culture. Others offered more optimistic meanings. In 1990, Jennifer Anne argued in From Masculine to Feminine and All Points in Between, defined a "Shemale" as "usually a gay male who lives full-time as a woman; a gay transgenderist" (Wikipedia). Likewise, The Oxford English Dictionary defines Shemale as a kind of trans/gay hybrid, "a passive male homosexual or transvestite" (Wikipedia). These practices have been highly criticized as being highly unscientific. Rather than use precise technical terms or reference language drawn from the society being addressed, these scientists impose derogatory language borrowed from the porn industry. This demonstrates that science and medicine are not free from the cultural power of porn in defining transgender early and distinctly.

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#TransLivesMatter, best of both worlds, chicks with dicks, Gender, ladyboy, nsfw, pegging, porn, Queer, Sex, Shemale, strap on, Tranny, Trans Theory, Transgender, transsexual, Transvestite, ts
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The Porn Industry

The problem with the term "Shemale" is not simply that is functions primarily to define transgender through the discourse of sex work, but that the way the porn industry treats trans performers and the narratives that they chose to tell are themselves oppressive. In a  Salon.com  article, a trans man going by "Tomcat" reports of the marginalization of trans performers. “I still encounter many non-trans performers who will not work with [female] Ts performers because they consider [them] to be more of a STI risk to do a scene with," Tomcast testifies. "This is bullshit," he adds. "In a industry where everyone is tested and everyone makes choices, the same risks are present regardless of gender identity.” The ideology suggested by the isolation of the trans community is that transgender bodies are somehow more inherently pathological. Furthermore, the Shemale genre defines transgender in porn as almost exclusively feminine. On her Tumblr, Tranzfat brings attention to the exclusion of trans men from prominent trans performances, "Because it’s the only kind of trans porn there is, i.e. trans men don’t exist." While notable exceptions exist, it is evident to all that "Porn featuring trans men is rare because it’s a niche market" because "the vast majority of porn is made for white men." In other words, the definition of transgender in the porn industry as Shemale is fueled by the simultaneous desire for a transerotic, transphobic taboo and the homoerotic, homophobic desire for feminine phallus.  As will be explored later, the term Shemale promoted in the porn industry instills a sense of transgender as a desirable taboo, an exciting danger, that can be enjoyed by not embraced.

The mistreatment of trans performers are reinforced by the Shemale Porn that they are paid to sustain in the cultural imagination despite the progress the transgender movement has made in the past decades. “People still search for Ts porn using ‘Shemale,'” Tomcat says. “To me, this is like searching online for a cab company by typing in ‘stagecoach.’ It’s an antiquated term that is ignorant, incorrect and no longer OK to use.” The intentional use of the term Shemale is at once derogatory and a rhetorical move to set back the clock to an hour when transgender rights and dignities were less respected. The pervasiveness of the term Shemale is mirrored by the use and intent of other terms such as "chicks with dicks, tranny porn, or t-girl porn." These derogatory terms point back to the primary audience of Shemale porn: "straight" cisgender men. This imagined audience is evident to trans performers, such as Wendy Williams, who acknowledges "Shemale Porn" as a "Straight Specialty." These straight men are also the typical partners portrayed in the pornography. Typically, the cismale subject becomes penetrated by the trans woman. The use of derogatory language reasserts a sense of difference, superiority, and disgust over transgender bodies. They enjoy imagining being put in the "submissive" or "feminine" sexual position and the derogatory language is a way to reclaim a sense of power. While some claim that the working conditions of Shemale performers is not as bad as reported, others, such as the blogger, Tranzfat takes issue with the way the industry and narratives position trans performers in a state of dejection or subjection, "Because you never see a trans woman in porn smiling or laughing." By playing up a distaste for transgender, the consumers of Shemale porn are able to cover up their desire for and even possible identification with the trans community.

In recent years, the Porn Industry has shown signs of wavering to pressure from progressive transgender politics. A key sign of this positive change came in 2008 in the form of the support of the Transgender Erotica Awards where trans performers can have their contribution to the industry respected and recognized. The Awards are sponsored by Grooby Productions, an adult industry production company. At first, the awards were named "The Tranny Awards" until the industry was forced to admit that the disrespect suggested by the name of the awards outweighed the good of the recognition. With the new awards and new name, the Awards work to change the place and perception of trans performers in the porn industry. The advantage of have an Award show specifically for trans performers was that diversity in the community and profession could be recognized. A few of the award categories included "Best FTM [Female to Male] Performer", "Best Non-TS (non-Transsexual) Performer," and "Best Foreign (Non-US) Performer." Despite the number of awards offered, however, the name and diversity of performers still remain relatively small and concentrated on trans women who either have or do no have a penis. While some believe that the positive change will happen over time, others are actively working to transform the circumstances. A key example of this is “Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Women Porn Project.” It's director, Tobi Hill-Meyer left mainstream porn “to create an alternative that allowed trans women to be represented the way each performer wanted to see herself represented,” reports Salon.com. “More and more performers are speaking out about changes they’d like to see and setting up their own websites or productions.” This, some suggest, may transform the way transgender is defined and treated in the porn industry. 
  
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#TransLivesMatter, best of both worlds, chicks with dicks, Gender, ladyboy, nsfw, pegging, porn, Queer, Sex, Shemale, strap on, Tranny, Trans Theory, Transgender, transsexual, Transvestite, ts
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The Genre

In an impassioned diatribe on "Why “Shemale” Porn is not OK," blogger tranzfat composes a list of reasons she opposes the industry's definition of trans performance. "1. Because… you guessed it, fuck you," she writes and echoes again in point 10. Within this emotional exhortation, Tranzfat goes into particular complaints. Highlights include issues with the way trans feminine embodiments are portrayed, "2. Because it only feature women with large breasts, often augmented ones, which not only perpetuates the idea that “real women” have big boobs," "8. Because there are never any fat transwomen," and "5. Because there are never any 'post op' transwomen in trans porn, because that’s just too close to the 'real thing' and there’s no mystery/fetish to be had. I can’t play the game 'who’s the tranny' when it’s two 'normal looking' women!" To this point, another blogger had responses from FreedomInWicknessan intersex trans worker. FreedomInWickness writes on the streotypical feminine image that the Shemale Porn genre uses. "It’s fair to say a majority of 'shemale' porn features girls with big tits, but it absolutely not only and always." While exceptions do exist, both bloggers agree that the porn industry primarily sets stereotypical feminine beauty standards on Shemale performers, that is, besides the demands for a fully functioning penis. The simultaneous presentation of the hyper-feminine with the hyper phallic creates a particular effect desired by the audience.

On Quara.com, the topic of how a trans woman becomes a "Shemale" in particular heats up and gets into how the genre defines transgender in particular ways based on narrative, sex acts, and audience. "Someone who self labels as "shemale" could technically get GRS surgery or take hormones," writes one Anonymous poster. "[B]ut their marketability as 'shemale' in porn would be eliminated because the shemale identity is essentially a bigendered one." While the transgender and intersex community might counter that the definitions of being trans are elastic enough to include many different genres of embodiments, the turn to "bigender" to describe "Shemales" gets at how the subgenre makes particular demands on trans body. "The people who buy shemale porn, in general, are looking for a particular image," continues the post. "They want a woman with a functioning penis... In a way, that feeds into a negative and exploitative stereotype of the transgender female as the best of both worlds." Indeed, when many trans persons are told they are "the best of both worlds," the echoes of porn slogans are marketing are evident. Rather than attending to the personal identity or chosen embodiment of the trans person, they become defined by the demands of those attracted to the genre of porn. In this way, Shemale is defined more by the audience and marketing than by the trans community themselves. This, more than a mere relation to the sex work industry, is why trans people take offense. A similar debate rages between the trans community and the medical industry over who gets to define terminology.

“[Men] get tired of just the same old thing. Transsexuals are more feminine, they’re like hyper-feminine. To me, it’s kind of get the best of both worlds,” Madison Montag, a nominee for Transsexual Performer of the Year, tells Salon.com. Using the language of Shemale Porn slogans, "Best of Both Worlds," Montag gestures to the expectations set by the porn market for what makes a trans woman attractive. The demand for Shemales is the desire not for the trans feminine as such but for the taboo aroused through contradictions. The Shemale is supposed to super feminine to make the phallus feel safer, less homoerotic for men. In order to fulfill this fantasy of being "both" hyper phallic and securely femme, trans women are supposed to work hard to accentuate their femininity when they play Shemales. Otherwise, they are not attractive to these "Tranny Chasers." “I pull my hair up into ponytail and throw on some lip gloss and people just think I’m a tall girl with big boobs,” recounts Montag to Salon on her day to day life as a trans woman. To become the Shemale her viewers desire, however, she needs to embody more of a contradiction, one that has real life effects on her body.  “You need to seem extremely feminine, but if you want to seem feminine, then you need to be on hormones," attests Montag. "[B]ut if you’re on hormones, you can’t stay hard and come, and if you can’t stay hard and come, you’re a bad performer.” The difficult if not impossible demands of the audience of Shemale porn demonstrate a disconnect between the consumers of the fantasy and real life trans women. 

Regardless of how one judges the current industry, the anonymous poster on Quara.com points towards ways to improve the treatment of trans persons in and outside porn. "My feeling," writes the post, "is that porn which is made to satisfy the needs of chasers will continue to perpetuate a false sense of the transgender woman (or man) unless it is either made by transgender people, or the porn industry actually becomes sensitive to the needs of transgender people (not likely)." So long as the porn industry privileges the demands of its audiences over the care and respect of its trans performers, the power dynamic will continue to keep Shemale Porn a marginalized and fetishized subculture. Indeed, the post argues that so long as people hold onto the term "Shemale," transgender rights will not effectively break into the porn industry. "People who use the term 'shemale' with regard to porn consumption usually are pinpointed by the transgender community as either being really uneducated or as being a 'chaser' or someone who fetishizes the transgender community," claims the post. "If you are an admirer, don't be a chaser and don't use the term shemale." More optimistic than others, the anonymous poster points to a few companies that offer a better model of power dynamics, definitions, and narratives. "There are actually independent companies run by transgender people for transgender people," notes the post, "such as Trannywood Pictures, or the independent video production that Buck Angel® Pioneering Filmmaker, Speaker, and LGBTQ Advocate does." In all likelihood, porn will continue to define transgender in much the same was as it defines gender and sex in other areas of culture. Yet, by attending to the words, narratives, and contexts in which transgender is imagined and by reclaiming power over the engines of the industry, trans lives can reclaim themselves from the negative work of the word "Shemale."

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#TransLivesMatter, best of both worlds, chicks with dicks, Gender, ladyboy, nsfw, pegging, porn, Queer, Sex, Shemale, strap on, Tranny, Trans Theory, Transgender, transsexual, Transvestite, ts
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Go to Part 2:
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#TransLivesMatter, best of both worlds, chicks with dicks, Gender, ladyboy, nsfw, pegging, porn, Queer, Sex, Shemale, strap on, Tranny, Trans Theory, Transgender, transsexual, Transvestite, ts
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