As part of SQIFF 2019, we held an event in partnership with Luke+Jack called Sexxxy Beasts and Wheelchairs – a screening of queer porn by and about Deaf and Disabled folks. After the screening, our Access & Engagement Coordinator, Alison Smith, hosted a Q&A with filmmaker and academic, Loree Erickson, whose films Want and Sexxxy featured in the programme. Below is the transcript of their Q&A, kindly provided by our Speech to Text Reporter, Eilis Murray.
Content note for discussion of sex and ableism.
Introduction by Alison Smith
Alison: Hi everybody, I’m Alison and it’s really, really a privilege to be here. It’s been quite a journey. It started at SQIFF last December, where there was a showing of Rick, a film about a Deaf adult actor and then a chance conversation with a Deaf friend Jamie Rea. The question between us: ‘where is the sign language porn?’ Right, it doesn’t exist.
It led to a journey of exploring what was online, which led to my laptop nearly blowing up when it tried to direct me to adult porn sites. When you start googling in a coffee shop…I thought somebody was going to arrest me…’disabled adult actor,’ ‘cerebral palsy adult actor.’ It was an enlightening, shocking journey. It made me think about my own desires and also looking at this in terms of bodies. That is a really, really important thing.
I have a lot of scars on my body from operations. The relationship you have with your body and sexuality, for me was quite a journey. And it was a chance Google search that I came across Loree. Thank you Facebook – I got in touch with Loree and then we started the conversation, and Loree introduced me to more films.
It really feeds into the earlier conversation about accessible sex toys [click here for info on SQIFF 2019 event, Luke+Jack present: Accessible Toys] and the whole thing about being disabled, being queer, what it means. What it means in terms of our bodies. What we look at online, where are we represented. That’s really quite important.
I’ve also been outed on Disability Arts Online as watching porn. What can I say?
I’m going to read a quote from a preview of this event on Disability Arts Online: “Originally our aim was to explore desirability, sensuality and eroticism from a Deaf sign language perspective – how we were represented or how we were unrepresented. This was broadened to celebrate our differences and sameness, to find films made by Disabled and Deaf artists.”
Next year, hopefully we’ll find some good sign language stuff to show. Without further ado, enjoy!
Q&A with Alison Smith and Loree Erickson
Alison: Wow…I have a confession to make. I watched all that with no sound on because I was afraid of disturbing my neighbours. It’s the downside of being Deaf. I realise without subtitles I was watching different films… I would like to invite Loree Erickson on stage. [APPLAUSE]
Alison: I’m gonna start with some questions which we had a bit of Skype conversation about. So, we’ve got some questions and then it would be really nice if you [the audience] would like to ask questions or contribute or comment. I’m gonna start by asking Loree do you mind introducing yourself, is that okay?
Loree: So, I’m Loree Erickson. I describe myself as a Porn Star Academic. I’m living in Toronto, Canada, but I’m originally from Virginia. I’m a sexual instructor, aspiring professor. I make queer crip porn. I started making queer crip porn around late 2000 or early 2000s. I’m also a fan of social justice, sparkles, and sunshine. And cats!
Alison: I don’t know about everyone else, but I was really struck by, at the start of your film Want, there is a quote: “Never are we seen, heard, believed to be the creators of our own desires, our own passions, our own sexual desires, our own sexual selves inside the maze. The lives of queer crips truly disappear and I say it’s time for us to reappear, talk sex, be sex, wear sex, relish our sex, both the sex we do have and the sex we want to be having.” So, my first question is why has it taken so long to get here? Why is there not more erotic films out there that represent us?
Loree: Such a good question. That quote is from Eli Clare’s keynote from the Queer Disability Conference in 2002. It was a call to folks to make queercrip porn. A lot of my work is in answer to that call. It mostly comes from my own frustrations and anger at never seeing myself represented. Even in the world of radical queer porn and feminist porn, there was never anyone who looked like me and fucked like me and had my desires, so that’s why I started making queercrip porn films, because I was like: “Well, if I want to see it, I guess I have to be it.”
I think there’s a number of barriers that contribute to why there is so little queercrip porn and I think part of that is just the culture of undesirability that marginalised communities in general navigate in our daily lives. So, the structural and systemic forces and interpersonal forces that just everywhere you turn are telling you that you’re less than, or too much, and that you’re unworthy of love and affection. We internalise a lot of that. So then to take a video of yourself or have somebody else take a video of you having sex or engaging in pleasurable activities, whatever those are for you, I think can be incredibly difficult to do.
So, there’s a lot of those sorts of barriers. There’s also the ways that, you know, Disabled bodies and Disabled body-mind experiences are not seen as sexy. So disability and sexuality, they’re seen as contradictory, or sexiness is seen as contradictory, so there’s not a lot of effort to make sure that we’re included in queer porn scenes.
I think those are some of the biggest ways that ableism and structural inequality repeat themselves in every aspect of our lives. And also impact us in making porn. And the fact that I made Want ‑ I know that that’s just one story but it was one of the first intentionally framed as a queercrip porn film. But that’s just my story. That’s just one of my stories, I have lots of stories to tell. I knew that there needed to be more. And so part of what I did for my PhD dissertation research method was to make queercrip porn with queercrip identifying folks. So, I got together with about eight queercrip folks and I got to be their porn fairy Godmother! I had to make all of their porn making dreams come true so that involved everything from securing locations to finding folks to team up and collaborate. And I like putting scene partners together and I did that work because I really knew we needed more videos like this because they’re friggin’ amazing.
Alison: And your PhD was entitled, ‘Unbreaking Our Hearts: Cultures of Un/Desirability and the Transformative Potential of Queercrip Porn.’ My next question, this is really just an access question – how do we account for accessibility in erotica? So, that’s stuff like how do we audio describe, captioning, how do we make it more accessible? It’s not just about what is out there. I suppose it is a double-edged question – it’s about how are we represented within it.
For example, Trans Entities was the first time I had seen anyone wear a hearing aid in a film like that.
That led to another conversation I had with two Deaf friends. We were talking about: “What do you do in bed? Do you wear your hearing aids or not?” “No, no, it’s too distracting, they screech, they do this, they do that.” It led into the whole thing of how do we make it accessible, what does visibility look like, and being present in terms of being represented and so‑on.
Loree: When I think about accessibility and queercrip porn, I think about the aspect of making sure that the films we do are audio described, they have subtitles, they’re shown in physically barrier free spaces. Like I know that I make queercrip porn for my queercrip communities because I want us to share in and revel in our amazing fabulosity. So, it definitely has to be accessible to a variety of different ways of engaging with it, right?
But also something I’ve been thinking about since making those two films – and I’m working on editing some footage now – is how do we not think of access as an afterthought? But how do we incorporate access into our actual making of films? Like to embrace the creativity of accessibility as well? How accessibility adds to things. It doesn’t take away. It’s not like this logistic that’s just kind of a check list, right?
So, I’m really thinking about how do we film films in a way to make space for audio description to be a meaningful part of the film, just as much as sound or just as much as the dialogue. Like how do we see audio description while we’re actually making films? And also the accessibility of the making of it.
So that was a really big theme that came up from my PhD dissertation and from the making of the queercrip porn scenes. ‘Access intimacy,’ which is a term from Mia Menges about the ways of being in spaces and having relationships where your access needs or the things that you need – or the way that your body works – are taken account of. And how that cultivates intimacy. Access intimacy was a huge part of the filming that enabled people to bring their whole selves into the films and the scenes that we made. Like several of my collaborators were talking about how they didn’t feel like they had to leave access off screen. Like access could be a part of it, right? Like Sam turning off my chair [in Want], like it’s a part of it. It’s not something that takes away from it.
Actually one of my collaborators, Juba, talked about watching Trans Entities and how there was this moment for him in the film where – after one of those amazing heart fucking scenes that we just got to watch – one of the folks in the scene took out an inhaler and took like a few puffs of his inhaler. And it wasn’t done off‑screen, it was part of the film, right? He was talking about how powerful that was for him, to see this person who is this hot guy and that he’s taking a puff of his inhaler so he can keep doing all the fun stuff that he’s doing. Those are some of the things I think about when I think about accessibility in films and in queercrip porn particularly, just how it’s such a crucial part to it.
Alison: Thank you. My next question is how important is the role of safer sex in crip porn? That’s clearly visible in tonight’s screening. For me it’s a question of the knowledge of knowing what we’re supposed to do in terms of safer sex, where do we get that information, how does that relate to our own bodies. Just wondered what your views were on that?
Loree: I do think that queercrip porn is closely connected to queer porn and feminist porn, so safer sex practices are really important in those, same as showing modelling different ways of getting consent. And I think that those sort of safer sex practices are also so similar to incorporating access, right? It’s a similar sort of thing about how we’re creating the worlds that we want to see and that we want to be part of.
So, we’re role modelling like: “How do I include safer sex in a way that doesn’t feel awkward or doesn’t feel like it takes away from it?” In Sadistic Nurse, when the person’s like, ‘it feels great, spanking with a rubber glove,’ right? That’s part of why safer sex is such a key part. But also, if you think about the ways that a lot of Disabled people are still segregated in special education classrooms, they’re not getting sex ed. If you do get sex ed…nobody gets sex ed that includes Disabled bodies and our pleasures and desires. So, I think, it’s really important that we’re having that conversation because of the ways that we’re structurally excluded from the safer sex conversations.
Alison: I’ve got to admit when I initially saw Sadistic Nurse, I was a bit like: “Oh, my God, how is this going to be received in this cinema space?” That led to a conversation about perspectives and all those things you just said about consent and point of view.
If the audience is to be inspired, if you want to make your own crip porn, how do you go about it?
Loree: That’s one really great thing about the rise of the smart phone is that so many people have cameras that are just in their hands, right? So I think that’s super helpful. That we actually have access to good structural stuff to make films that look really great. And I also think that connecting with queer-positive, kink-positive, sex work-positive communities is a really good way to connect with people who would be comfortable in supporting you to make your own film.
Also, something that I’m thinking of too is connected to the barriers question. It’s how shame is such a huge part. And why I think there is such a little amount of queercrip porn as well. And for me, I have been really inspired by Black feminism and crip theories about vulnerability and what not. Really think about shame differently than something to be overcome or something to be avoided. If you think about what you feel shame about in your life, most of the time it’s the things about us that are different to mainstream terms of desirability or norms, and what’s seen as good in the world, right? But those are also these amazing resources for different ways of thinking and feeling and different perspectives on the world. I call that slice of shame a slice of resistance. Instead of trying to move away from those things, trying to think about what could they be teaching you.
So, if we also think about how much shame is connected to porn and to sex and to all of those things,
I also think that that’s part of why it’s important to connect with sex work communities and porn communities and pervert communities. They’re doing work that’s important for transforming shame and trying to make the world a sexier, more just place for all of us.
Alison: On that note, shall we open it up to the audience. Any questions, comments, thoughts?
Audience member: When you have been exploring queer crip porn, have you thought about the fetishisation thing? If you come across that, how have you dealt with it? Obviously, fetishisation can be a big porn profession. I know as a bisexual person and trans person, when I see that fetishised I get a feeling opposed to being represented. I don’t know, Alison, when you were investigating what films to pick, if you came across that as well? Both of your perspectives would be appreciated.
Loree: So, the question was in our looking at different kinds of porn, queercrip porn, do we encounter fetishisticy videos and how do we navigate that? For me there is a whole world of devotee videos, there’s a whole world of fetishistic representations of porn and disability. I think that part of what makes queercrip porn different is the ways that we incorporate consent into it.
For me, when watching Sadistic Nurse, you have these moments where you’re like, ‘goodness this is actually a phenomenon that happens in people’s lives.’ Like the amounts of abuse that people experience at the hands of folks who are engaging with care is just so disheartening. But the fact that the person in the film was giggling throughout it – just those little bits and moments where consent is easily seen. I think that that’s like a really important difference. And a way to incorporate our desires that might…like we might want to explore some of those things and we can do it in a way that is also role modelling consent.
I think also that’s why it’s so important to have Disabled people themselves creating their representation rather than just having it be non‑disabled people making films about…you know, if I could count the number of non‑disabled people who say: “I’m making a documentary on disability and sexuality; can I interview you?” And I’m like: “No.”
Alison: It’s clear for me – when I started to search for films – that this is a film festival and there should be a very artistic element to what we show. That was always at the back of my mind. What was important was to find films that were made by Disabled artists themselves. And that was really for quite a while actually quite difficult until I came across Loree’s work and then it snowballed from there.
It was very liberating. It was about where do I fit into this? Where am I visually? I got curious – where is there anything out there with bodies with scars ‑ I have a lot of them ‑ very, very significant ones. Where am I represented in this? Never mind the hearing aids. That was very much in the back of my mind in terms of finding films. It was specific about what would fit into this film festival that would be good, that could then lead on to future events.
Loree: I think that slice of shame, slice of resistance…there’s a video on Mia Menges, Leaving Evidence Blood. If you haven’t encountered Leaving Evidence Blood, you will be so happy you did. They have a conversation about disability and sexuality and representation where they’re talking about fetish and how does that fit into their lives, and they’re talking about those moments when you’re out in the world and you see another Disabled person and you’re like: “Oh look at them with that sexy cane” or whatever. Then you’re like, “Am I fetishising them?” So they came up with the term ‘the lust of recognition.’ It’s not about otherising or distancing from the person or video, it’s about connecting and coming together. I think that’s like a key difference also when we think about fetishising. That’s about power, and power that’s about dividing us rather than connecting us.
Alison: Any other questions, comments?
Audience member: First of all, thank you, Alison, for that amazing programme and thank you, Loree, for being here. It’s supercool. I’m really interested in what you were saying about fetish. I have a friend in our film PhD department who is working in a queer tradition and is looking at this idea of fetish and whether it is necessarily always bad. I’m thinking about the fact of sexuality…there is an element of fetish to everything and for some reason when it comes to those of us with Disabled and unnormative bodies, that’s really, really, really bad and it’s not allowed. I was thinking about that particularly when you were having the discussion about Sadistic Nurse. You know there were moments when I was like “oh gosh” but so much of able‑bodied porn is about living fetishes, that’s sort of okay. When it comes to Disabled bodies and people exploring our kind of fetishes, somehow that becomes problematic. I was wondering if you could talk more about fetish. I don’t know where I come down on it. What are those opportunities? Is fetish something we could explore more and look at and reclaim a little bit?
Loree: Thank you for the question – that’s a great question. Yeah, I think that some things I’m thinking of from that question are like how the dominant narratives of Disabled people are as agentless or helpless victims or vulnerable. You know, I think that’s also another reason why I think there’s so little queercrip porn in the world. I teach a bunch of classes ‑ and do this thing with students where I show them charity ads. I say, “How many of you have seen this charity ad?” They all raise their hands. “How about images of disability activism, direct action?” Then two people raise their hands. Okay. “How many of you have seen images of Disabled people in porn, queercrip porn or images like this?” Nobody raises their hand. Why is that if you represent Disabled people as agentful? And as presenting their bodies, our bodies, as signs of pleasure and desire and vulnerability and wisdom. It really confronts the mainstream representations of disability that individualise our oppression so that they normalise it. So it just keeps going. I think that that’s a big piece of it.
Alison: Any more questions? Comments, thoughts?
Audience member: Quite a lot of the films in this programme are on the site Pink Label TV. It’s an online streaming site run by a queer woman of colour and has lots of different types of representations. You pay for it – that’s good, that supports the work. Just for people to check out if they want to look for more of this stuff.
Loree: Want is going to be on there very soon.
Alison: Okay, folks, if there’s no more comments, if it’s okay with you we’ll wrap up and continue this conversation downstairs. A huge thank you to Loree – thank you for being here.
To watch Loree’s films and others in our Sexxxy Beasts and Wheelchairs programme, alongside loads more excellent queer adult films, click here for streaming site Pink Label TV.