When most of us think of pornography, we don’t often consider how it could potentially help empower people of marginalized genders and sexual orientations.
But professor Rebecca Sullivan, Director of the Institute for Gender Research (IGR), believes the genre needs to be studied from multiple perspectives, having taught a number of courses on pornography at the University of Calgary. “It’s been as much a learning process for me as it has been for my students,” she remarks. “When I first started teaching and researching pornography, the question of whether porn could be empowering was very much up in the air.”
But things changed when Toronto’s sex positive store Good For Her launched the Feminist Porn Awards, while queer and feminist activists broke new ground with community-based websites, blogs, and other social media networks. Suddenly, feminist porn was no longer a theory but, rather, a real possibility.
Helping to pioneer that movement has been Courtney Trouble. Trouble is an award-winning filmmaker, photographer, and queer rights activist who has been testing the boundaries of female-forward, queer-positive pornography since 2002. Trouble (who goes by the gender-neutral pronoun “they”) is dedicated to producing erotic imagery that the subversive, political and inquisitive crowd can enjoy.
So, when Women’s Studies student Tiffany Sostar approached Sullivan to see if IGR was interested in helping to bring Trouble to Calgary, the answer was a definite “yes.” Sostar is the founder of Possibilities Calgary, the first group dedicated to the city’s bisexual and pansexual community. The group was created as part of the Women’s Studies program’s signature Feminist Praxis course. Trouble’s visit is made possible with the support of FairyTales Presentation Society, the Student’s Union Q Centre, the Women’s Studies and Feminist Club, Women in Leadership, Queers on Campus, and the Women’s Resource Centre.
On Feb. 11, IGR and Possibilities Calgary co-presents a screening of Trouble’s most recent film, Trans Grrrls: Revolution Porn Style Now! at That Empty Space at the University of Calgary. The 5 p.m. screening will be followed by a presentation: Queer Porn Behind the Scenes: Finding Gender Through Porn Performance. Signs will be posted outside the venue as a warning to those that may be uncomfortable with the film. No one under 18 will be permitted into the event. Peer counselors will be on hand and “safe space” policies will be enforced. “There are rigorous standards and practices developed by the queer community for investigating pornography in public environments,” notes Sullivan.
Sullivan stresses that she’s keenly aware that pornography can be a polarizing and deeply emotional subject for many people. That’s why, she believes, the university is an important place to have those debates. “We want to create a welcoming place for people to talk about sexuality and sexual media, to challenge sexist, misogynist and queerphobic representations, and to query assumptions about differently positioned bodies and their erotic empowerment,” explains Sullivan. “We need to go beyond the pro/anti porn arguments that lead nowhere and instead talk about issues like consent, cultural labour, sexual citizenship, non-normative desire and pleasure, and authentic performance. Trouble was one the first to raise these issues, so this is a fantastic opportunity to hear her perspective.”
Trouble will also be appearing at a pair of off-campus community events, including a “porn brunch” on Feb. 9 and a DIY erotic photography workshop geared towards trans and non-normative bodies on Feb. 10.