I’m going to do something I try to never do when I write: I’m going to preface this article. I wouldn’t usually, but the material is personal and incomplete and may seem a bit rambling and disconnected. However, I suspect that I’m not alone in the questions and conclusions that I’m mulling over, so please bear with me and hopefully there’s a kernel or two that resonates or contributes to a bigger conversation.
When I set out to watch Fetish Fvckdolls 2 (which if you haven’t watched it, I’d encourage you to do so at your earliest convenience) I wasn't expecting it to be a big deal. I’ve blogged here before about how watching porn that’s “not your usual taste” or incongruent with your own desires is interesting and can be enlightening. I was pretty sure that a collaboration by queer and trans performers like Fetish Fvckdolls 2 would be just that: interesting, but not my cup of tea.
Why? Well, I’m a straight-identifying, dominant-leaning cisgender woman who almost exclusively watches gay male chastity porn. Specific? Yup. And really kind of a world away from transfemme submission, which is the overarching main theme running through the four vignettes in Fetish Fvckdolls 2. You can see then how I might have thought that my interest in the film would be purely academic. Interestingly, it was not.
Now, I’m not here to say that this film changed me, nor should the incomplete epiphanies on sexuality that I’m sharing here be mistaken for me jumping on a bandwagon. Neither of those are true. What does feel true, is that I’m feeling really aware of my straight privilege after watching this film.
If you’re a straight person and that term makes you uncomfortable … I feel you. But it should make you uncomfortable. Privilege is a pervasive and dangerous thing when not acknowledged. Honestly, how two-dimensional of me to discount a film like Fetish Fvckdolls 2 as something that couldn’t touch me, something that I wouldn’t be able to identify with! How ridiculous and heteronormative of me to presume that I wouldn’t relate to these scenes. If it was mainstream lesbian porn (you know, the kind performed by cis women for the straight male gaze) would I have been so dismissive? Probably not, because I’m a straight woman who has had sex with other straight women and I’m blisteringly aware of the weight of the male gaze. But I presumed that I wouldn’t relate, or be aroused, by this.
Confused and intrigued, I discussed my bias with my husband, who has recently (or in his words: finally) self-identified as asexual. He watched part of Fetish Fvckdolls 2 with me and commented immediately that he hadn’t even noticed that the performers were trans until the fourth vignette because he was witnessing them as human beings, rather than sexual fantasies. I was surprised by that, because for me transfemme visibility is the point of the project. He asked what would make a film like Fetish Fvckdolls 2 more “my kind of porno”. I didn’t have an answer because I was processing that actually, this is my kind of porn.
Confused? Me too.
How could I think that gay male chastity porn is more relatable to me than porn that has trans women at the heart of it? Am I secretly kind of a bigot? But I know and love so many queer and trans people! Am I not as straight as I thought? Maybe, but that’s not the primary concern for me. The concern is that even though I think I know so much about sexuality, it turns out I don't know as much as I thought.
Yes, yes, we like what we like. The heart/loins want what they want. But it’s becoming evident to me now that the shackles of straight privilege (ie: never having to consider your sexuality or have it challenged, because it’s the cultural default setting) are just that: shackles.
What Fetish Fvckdolls 2 taught me about myself is that heteronormative thinking is limiting because the definitions are so static. “Straight” doesn’t leave much room for variety. Any “exploration” within straight sexuality is expected to be episodic, or at the most, a phase. So when, as a “straight” person, I watched this film, it was a bit dizzying to not see the performers as fantasy objects, and to relate to them on a human level. It revealed to me things I hadn't known before about how objectifying my gaze tends to be.
Fetish Fvckdolls 2 is radical and fresh. It puts trans women at the center of each encounter. Not only are they the subjects of their own experience, they are shown in willing and delighted submission. Not here the degrading porn tropes that cast trans women as exotic freaks with hard cocks, or strip them of autonomy - no, the trans women in Fetish Fvckdolls 2 are very clearly represented as the people they are. Full stop.
I learned that my erotic appetite, regardless of whom I choose to get frisky with, is essentially about the treatment and experience of the people involved, not the combination of bodies I see on the screen. I began to reflect on what turns me on and what turns me off in adult entertainment: it’s not the bodies at all. It’s the dynamics. I haven’t ignored trans porn in the past because it was trans. I've ignored it because when it’s badly done, it’s so likely to be dehumanising.
Fetish Fvckdolls 2 has been made with such smart and mindful intentions by everyone involved that the sexiness absolutely transcends all notions of genre and the limitations of what I thought I could be into. I watched the film three times. It’s 90 minutes long. It took me almost 5 hours of watching this film and then more time processing the experience for me to begin to get my head around these personal biases and blindspots.
What I have learned from Fetish Fvckdolls 2, what I’m so glad to begin to understand about myself, is that I like porn because I watching people fuck. Not just men, not just straight people, not just cishet couples. What I don’t like in porn is mindless and narrowly conceived narratives, and hegemonic control of my gaze. I’m not comfortable knowing that I have been a contributor to that mindlessness, a cog in the wheel of a cultural and artistic system that holds people back, misrepresents them and strips them of humanity, no matter how subtle the effect seems to be.
Having realised that, I want to do better. I know that I won’t always get it right, but only good can come from growth and empathy. And besides, if nothing else, a whole new world of porn just opened up to me, so if you’ll forgive me, I have some catching up to do …