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TransActive: The Porno Proposition

| Aug 23, 2010
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christine_beattySMLBack in March of this year I wrote a TransActive column entitled The Prostitution Proposition in which I explored the pros and cons of “full contact” sexwork. I covered the risks both obvious — arrest, violence, disease — and not so obvious — the possible psychological and social impact — all of this drawn from my mid 1980s experience as a prostitute and from being around the industry off and on for twenty-five years. I considered it a suitable topic for this column because fellow transwomen occasionally ask how they can get into that profession. The other frequent question is how a T-girl can get into adult media, aka porn. That line of work, its possible benefits and downsides will be the focus of this column.

The effect of cyberspace on sexwork has been the same democratizing force that benefits producers of independent music, film and writing. Thanks to the Internet everybody can be her own producer, distributor, publisher and promoter. The difference between adult media and other online business ventures is the increased risk than can accompany the increased reward. How does this relate to transwomen, how can we benefit from it and what sort of trouble can we get into? First, a bit of a history lesson.

The evolution of porn’s legality aside, the industry’s biggest changes occurred in the Eighties and Nineties. In the Seventies porn became much less prosecuted as long as it confined itself to a narrow set of controls, including where it could be shown. This led to many more people producing many more movies. When the video cassette came along in the Eighties people could watch porn in the privacy of their homes and when porn became available by mail order, porn lovers could be completely anonymous and build up huge libraries of videotapes. Demand exploded and so did production.

Sadly, the video resulted in the death of the care that used to be put into film making. Once the audience could fast forward past the dialogue and story scenes, they became superfluous. The other major development on the Eighties was largely due to the scandal involving adult performer Traci Lords who, using a fake ID, began porn modeling at the age of fifteen. In 1988 Congress passed an act that put stringent rules on the producers of porn to keep records of their actors’ ages. While annoying — and also a bit misguided and ineffectual, because the traffickers of actual child porn do so completely underground — the new record keeping requirements were no stumbling block to the potential profits waiting to be made from adult media.

In the 1990s Internet filled in the final piece of the puzzle. Within a few years porn consumers could browse hundreds and soon thousands of websites offering a plethora of material for immediate download. With the market wide open you could choose anything from a wide galaxy of interests, from the most vanilla of guy-gal sex to the darkest of fetishes and you could do so in the privacy of your own space, as long as you had an Internet connection. With this huge sexual smorgasbord now on display people could browse the many different interests and discover things they never knew might sexually excite them. And one area of the greatest growth was in transgender adult media. We fascinate the mainstream public, especially the porn audience.

I wasn’t surprised to discover the widespread interest in “trannie” porn. When I was a prostitute in 1985-86 many of my clients spoke to me of their wives and girlfriends, and some wore their wedding rings. By then there was already a steadily growing collection of “shemale” porn. I’d gotten more than a few offers to shoot porn back then and over the years, but I never liked the idea of my own image being out of my control. Furthermore I was concerned how it might come back to haunt me. Finally, though I’d routinely worked the street and the trannie bar wearing dresses that would’ve barely passed muster in a hip Los Angeles nightclub (even today), I was still shy in front of a camera — though it was mostly being pre-op that decided me against it. These are some of the same concerns that give many, not just transwomen, pause when considering to do or not to do porn.

Given the high cost of hormones, electrolysis and surgery, adult performing can help pay for a transition that can otherwise take years to save up for. Most of the girls who’ve asked me how to get into porn are early transitioners and/or they have little to nothing on their resume that could get them into a job where they could finance surgery. Porn does offer a legal and essentially safe way to make a lot of money in a relatively short period, if you have what it takes.

So what does it take? First and foremost, good looks. Though many “average” people do adult modeling, striking beauty means higher demand and steadier work. And while lack of self-consciousness is of paramount importance, a wide streak of exhibitionism gives the adult performer a psychological edge that translates into magnetism. A performer who can radiate sexiness and lack of inhibition will be much more in demand than one who seems shy or uncomfortable. One can actually grow out of shyness by doing adult modeling; it certainly worked that way for me.

Finally you have to be completely confident in your decision to do porn, and not just for now and the immediate future. Once that media is out there, even if you go the DIY (do-it-yourself) route and maintain full legal control of your material, that material no longer belongs to you in the sense you can control it. People will copy it, post it everywhere and save it for later, and there isn’t much you can do about that. So if you think you might ever run for public office, work as a teacher at the high school level or below, or become a transsexual Dr. Laura, think twice about doing porn. If you can’t be okay with it now and decades from now then don’t do it because the Internet has a very long memory.

Physically, porn is much safer than prostitution; you’re more likely to get hit by lightning than being beaten or killed by an acting partner. Furthermore, most adult performers are very health conscious, because if they ever come down with a STD they will be sidelined from work, perhaps permanently. Since the late 1990s the porn industry has policed itself using an independent lab service that tests actors and certifies them to perform. This is critical for hetero porn, which is usually shot without condoms. In trans porn it is rare a penetration scene is shot “bareback.” However, even though being infected shooting porn is less of a risk than with prostitution and much less of a risk than with casual sex, there still is some risk because of the outside chance for false negative tests. Still, the odds are very much in the favor of the porn model.

Perhaps the greatest risk is to DIY producers because of the federal law that — thanks partly to the Traci Lords scandal of 1986 — places stringent requirements on porn producers to identify and keep records of their actors’ identities. Section 2257 of US Code Title 18, known in the industry as “2257,” requires that everyone who produces adult media, be it of themselves or anyone else, must keep a copy of state or federally issued identification, plus paperwork that stays with that photocopy, stored at an address accessible to law enforcement officials during normal business hours, at least three days a week. This means no PO boxes or storage lockers.

The riskiest part of this law is that the storage address of those records must be publicly posted with the media: on the video, with the image or on the website from where it is displayed. For a DIY producer, this means you might have to post your home address or some other place you can be reached during the day. This puts a DIY porn actress-producer in the position of having to put her home address on a website where any stalker could find her. Failure to comply with this law carries up to a five-year prison sentence and a ten thousand dollar fine. Some performers hire the services of a “2257 custodian” who, for a fee, agrees to store and make available the legal documents per the statute, giving the DIY producer an address to publish as section 2257 requires.

As with prostitution, exotic dancing and other jobs in the adult industry, being an adult performer can negatively affect people’s regard for you as well as your own self-image. Given our culture’s ambivalent, hypocritical and contradictory attitude toward sex and nudity — we’re fascinated yet uncomfortable, delighted yet ashamed — it’s no mystery why most people look down on porn models. Porn carries a potentially heavy stigma, and if you combine that ignominy with the stigma of being transgendered, being a trans porn star can be a double-whammy. And if you become affected by that cultural shame, it could weigh heavily on you. Also, sexual burnout is not unknown. Those who engage in professional sex over a long period of time, sex could eventually lose its joy and magic.

It should also be mentioned that, as with prostitution and other sexwork professions, some in the trans community will condemn you. Many transwomen are concerned, and with good reason, about the sexualizing of our community. Thanks to quack theories that ascribe transsexualism to purely sexual motives and the cultural phenomenon of the “shemale” and the predominance of that image in mainstream film and television, many people objectify transwomen as such. Thus the concern that more transwomen doing porn only adds to that “unsavory” reputation — if one buys into that cultural shame.

To summarize: doing porn can bring relatively easy money, potentially lots, with which a transwoman otherwise without the means can afford to fast track her transition. If she is already sexually adventurous or exhibitionistic, she will get to live out these traits to a degree she never has in the past. If she has the tendency to be shy, she will have to get over that in a hurry. And if she is as rebellious toward our puritanical culture as I am, she can feel like she’s striking a blow against social repression. On the downside there is the social stigma and potential consequences arising from that, which may affect how you see yourself. While there is less of a chance of contracting a sexually transmitted disease than there is with casual sex, it’s still a possibility. There is the legal paperwork that must be maintained under threat of heavy penalty.

Unlike prostitution, which could be considered criminal facilitation if I did a full how-to article on that — or even offered advice in private — I could offer chapter and verse on how to do porn right now, but that is not the purpose of this article. However, I can offer some general approaches to how DIY porn is done. One of the more popular methods of doing adult performing is over a webcam — where you may or may not have to see your audience if he so chooses —  and where you get paid by the minute. There are many online companies that function as intermediary, insulating you from the customers so they never get your direct contact information and they also process the credit card fees.

The best of these services do not penalize you if a customer decides to “chargeback” (stiff the company) for a transaction. There are other companies that will provide you with the ability to charge for downloads of your videos. Naturally, both kinds of companies charge a fee, usually a percentage, but given the high cost of maintaining your merchant account and processing your own fees, plus dealing with chargebacks, most performers find the service worth paying for. If you want to offer videos and still photos you will get much better results with someone else shooting them for you, and you’ll want lots of material to choose from. Finally, a website is pretty much essential to drive customers to your door, which is another expense to contend with. Your best bet is to see what’s already out there and get ideas.

One final word: to any transwoman contemplating some form of sexwork to finance her transition and/or her lifestyle, I would advocate porn over prostitution because it is far safer on every level. On the other hand, in general I will not advocate for or against getting involved in any kind of sexwork in the wide spectrum of the adult industry. It is not my place to make such recommendations to another adult. Take all of this into full, careful consideration and then decide for yourself what you can live with, because you are the one who will ultimately have to live with it.

Christine Beatty is a transsexual author and journalist, a longtime activist and musician. Formerly from San Francisco, where she co-founded the rock group Glamazon in 1994, she now resides in Los Angeles. Her personal web page is at www.glamazon.net.


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender History, Transgender How To, Transgender Opinion

Christine_Beatty

About the Author ()

Christine Beatty is a familiar name to TGForum readers. In 2010 she wrote the TransActive column here, and she was featured in the Perpetual Change column back in 2001 as part of the rock duo Glamazon. Along with her musical endeavors, she is also a TG activist, an author and a poet. She has recently published "Misery Loves Company" and has had articles appear in such publications as Chrysalis Quarterly, Transgender Tapestry, Spectator, and TransSisters.

Comments (1)

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  1. ronnierho ronnierho says:

    Good point: Once an image is online, it’s out of your control. I’m tempted to post some racier stuff, but I don’t want it to come back to haunt me.

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