Our Kind of Sex 

Oakland has become the epicenter of a movement to create a more realistic portrayal of queer- and female-centric sex.

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Andre Shakti is a queer author, activist, and educator who began performing in mainstream and independent pornographic films about two years ago. However, she quickly became disillusioned with mainstream porn. Last fall, as she was being filmed as a bottom in a sex scene with a trans woman for a mainstream company, the director kept instructing an assistant to wipe down her legs with a towel. After the third time, her partner grew frustrated. "You don't have to keep stopping the scene! It's just cum," she exclaimed. "You're wiping away her cum."

Shakti was embarrassed and furious. She didn't understand why evidence of her body's natural reaction to sex needed to be hidden. "Mainstream porn is homogenous," she said. "There's a lack of authenticity, particularly in the way bodies react to sex." When working in queer porn, however, she's been filmed on her period — "with menstrual blood," she added.

So last spring, Shakti decided to move from her home in Baltimore, where she worked at a feminist sex store and art gallery called Sugar, to the Bay Area in order to be part of a more sex-positive community. Since August 2012, she has been working for the BDSM-heavy porn studio Kink.com, which is located in San Francisco's Mission district. In the Bay Area, Shakti feels like she doesn't have to hide the fact that she works in porn. "There aren't a lot of full-time sex workers [in Baltimore] who are out," she said. "I didn't want to be a novelty anymore." However, when she and her partner began looking for apartments, they realized they couldn't afford to live in San Francisco, so they chose Oakland. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision.

"I moved to California and all of a sudden, I was working with the people who I had read about in my classes, whose lectures I had attended when they traveled to the East Coast, and whose products and books I had sold," said Shakti, who minored in LGBT studies in college. "Everything exciting that is happening within the industry is happening here, right now."

Shakti is among a growing number of queer and feminist sex workers who are moving to the East Bay to join a radical movement that seeks to change the way that sex is depicted on film.

These filmmakers, activists, and performers — including longtime Bay Area queer pornographers Courtney Trouble and Madison Young — are challenging norms perpetuated by the mainstream porn industry, especially those related to the depiction of queer and transgender sex. While there is no universally agreed upon definition of queer and feminist pornography (which are sometimes lumped together as "indie porn" or "alternative porn"), it can be understood that the individuals making it are queer and feminist — which, in itself, represents a radical shift from mainstream porn, which is made primarily by white heterosexual men. Generally speaking, these new pornographers prioritize the pleasure, consent, and health and safety of the performers they work with. Whereas the majority of mainstream porn is formulaic and genre-driven, queer and feminist porn seeks to depict authentic sex.

Trouble, who owns TROUBLEfilms and is the creator of QueerPorn.TV as well as IndiePornRevolution.Com, put it this way: Queer and feminist pornographers make porn for the performer, not the audience. "So much of porn caters to the box cover and how it's going to be sold," Trouble said. "I shoot sort of the opposite — I don't know how I'm going to sell it, but I shoot what happens." For Trouble, forcing a performer to do something she doesn't want to do, with someone she's not attracted to, would be morally wrong — and a turnoff.

In many ways, Oakland is the natural place for such a movement. While the Bay Area has long been home to queer and feminist pornographers — the first women's porn production company was founded in San Francisco in the late 1980s, and one of the most prominent queer and feminist studios, Pink&White Productions, is located in the city — the scale and scope of what's happening in the East Bay appears to be unprecedented. There are now dozens of queer and feminist pornographers and performers living and working here. And while the rising cost of housing has pushed many people out of San Francisco, that's only part of the reason why the East Bay has become the epicenter for queer and feminist porn.

Oakland has been "significant to the kind of porn I make for a lot of reasons," said Trouble. "It has always been a home for revolutionaries. It's a very resourceful place .... Artists and queer folks have always been drawn to its warehouses, large Victorian homes, basements, and backyards — the space to collect ourselves and create things is much larger on this side of the bay .... Even when I was 24 and living a few blocks from [San Francisco lesbian bar] the Lexington, the really cool people were still over here making things happen. It's just a far more diverse pool of performers to draw from."

Meanwhile, the internet and social media have allowed local queer and feminist pornographers to reach a wider audience. These sex-positive activists are also helping to legitimize the study of porn in academia. Young and Trouble recently contributed to the inaugural issue of Porn Studies, the first peer-reviewed journal devoted to the critical exploration of "those cultural products and services designated as pornographic," which was published online on March 21.

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