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1) Who are you, what are your credentials, how long have you been studying porn?

I’ve been studying porn for about 30 years, first as a lesbian and feminist activist during the late 70s/80s sex wars. I took this work into a doctorate and since completing my PhD in queer theory & sexuality studies, publishing 3 books / 2 dozen articles / book chapters on constructions of queer desire and gender in the 20th century, have been teaching and researching porn as a scholar and researcher and trans scholar, since.

2) Why is studying porn interesting and or important to you?

Studying porn is vital to an understanding of how power works. Porn brings together realism/representation, with gender, with bodies, with desire and fantasy and packages these as the very “private” of experiences. The best of the scholars of the 20th century tell us that such ‘private’ moments are potent because we imagine these as places where power isn’t active, or, if we think power is active we think it is merely depicting reality. My research is telling me porn is both social, public, political and pedagogical; it teaches us much and those teachings now are deeply embedded and naturalized within gender relations, within capitalism, within white supremacy, within so many systems of power that many of us do not see those systems working on us as we desire. I want to generate much more complex ways of thinking about what is happening when we desire or when we fantasize or when we consume (of course, that ‘we’ is very problematic; not all ‘we’s’ consume the same way, or, or are consumed in the same way so even this starting point needs a great deal of unpacking). I also want to track what is happening when folks speak sex to power, to quote Patrick Califia. That is, I want to understand the role that sex plays in resisting normative constructions of gender, race, image, desire, class, able-ness, representation, form and so on. So, I’m interested both in mainstream porn but also the places where communities speak back to power through the same kind of medium.

3) Can you tell me more about the feminist porn archives at York?  What was your role in creating this, and maintaining it?  What are the criteria for how films/pictures/etc. are chosen for the archive/ how do you decide if something fits there? Has there been criticism of the project? Why is it important to have this resource?

I created the porn archives because I want to have a source of materials from which to research, to which I can send my students (conventional libraries do not collect these materials). There’s much being produced in so-called ‘alternative’ communities but I’ve been worried that with the advent of the internet much of these materials will simply disappear because they are not being collected. Part of the work of the archive is to collect, document, and be an historical resource of sexual communities. But even the internet isn’t enough because it is becoming increasingly market driven. You can find much online but it isn’t an historical source with which a student or activist might ask: what kinds of porn were feminists making in the 1970s or 1960s (because they certainly were!). I want a resource that collects feminist porn without becoming bogged down in identity politics.

My criteria for collection borrows quite heavily from the Good for Her Feminist Porn Awards. I’m not particularly interested in creating heavily regulated and policed criteria. (As a side-note, the archive criteria tends to be self-generating; if someone says what they have is ‘feminist’ and ‘porn’, then we’re interested in the materials. Folks who aren’t interested in a political use or practice around porn aren’t much interested in our materials. I want to provide a resource to those who are.) I also want to gather materials and make them available for study and leave it to scholars, theorists, cultural critics, historians, cultural producers and activists to debate why these materials are significant. We can’t even have those conversations just yet because we don’t have a sense of our own history. Feminists have been producing porn for as long as porn has been in existence. We do not know about some of this material; why is that? Where does someone go if they want to know about the histories that created something like feminist sex stores and cultures in the first place? At this point, we are accepting materials by donation. I know that as someone who has been collecting feminist and lesbian porn now for 30 years or so, I’ve a huge stockpile at home and wanted to clear these materials out of my basement and preserve them somewhere. York University has funded part of this project so that materials can be housed safely and with care and with an eye to scholarship. I can only assume that other folks have materials as well. If they are looking for a place to donate these materials, we are more than happy to grow the archive through such donations. Mainstream porn is readily available. What we want to do is continue to ensure that these thriving cultures are documented so that we can come to understand the histories we often benefit from without ever really knowing.

One sort of using you as a more direct kind of resource question: I'm having a difficult time with creating some kind of narrative around "(Most) feminists didn't like porn.  And then, (many) did". How did you think the predominant feminist line of thought go from anti-porn to pro-porn?  The only real thing I've got is: the growing body of pro-sex work writing and the influence of academic work on agency and sexuality and a gradual shift in culture.  It's confusing to me!  Do you have any thoughts on this shift?

This is a big question and there’s tons of research out there (an entire field of scholarship on porn studies, and feminist porn in particular); I can only gesture here but I don’t think it is a shift at all. I think these have co-existed. Two things are true: feminists have always been critical of porn. Feminists have always created and consumed porn. The word ‘feminist’ is often assumed to have one meaning, to mark one group, one politic, one identity, one viewpoint. What feminists know is that there has always been disagreement, contention, debate, difference inside communities. The feminist sex wars throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century tell us that some feminists critique porn; others make it, others use it, others hate it. This, to me, tells me that we continue to not know very much about our own histories. Hence the reason for this resource in the first place. Not all porn is feminist; not all feminists are anti-porn; not all feminisms consume porn; not all feminists are women; not all women are feminists … these contradictions and many more are living contradictions that we breathe every day. There are still feminists today who will critique this archive; many others who celebrate it. Is one more ‘feminist’ than the other?

I would go back to the writings of the sex wars. My fav is a collection called Caught Looking: Feminism Pornography Censorship (1988). This was brilliant collection of writings and images precisely about these questions. There have always been feminists thinking in complicated ways about sex and bodies. These are the histories we want to preserve.