It had cost me much, but a life as an abused son had afforded me a preparedness and education for my life as a woman resisting the patriarchy. I had an intimate understanding of why people hurt one another, even when it's someone they claim to care for, even when it goes against their own morals. My father once tackled a man for hitting his girlfriend in the same concert venue courtyard he would, years later, abandon his children during the intermission of Rush to sneak home and assault their mother.
When I see cisgender women dox trans women and encourage their followers to write negative Yelp reviews en masse to run a trans woman out of business, I think of my father. I think of pulling him off of my mother as he screamed "I didn't do this to my family! You did this to me!" And then I take a pill—sometimes an ativan, sometimes a chewable children's vitamin—to feel small and safe. And if I think back on how he had her name and mine tattooed on his arm, and the things he did to us with those arms, I take another pill.
Once you've gone numb from the sting and you've heard those words—bitch, crazy, ungrateful, stupid—so often that their definitions dissipate to grunts and growls, the abuser will challenge your loyalty. They beat the fear of God into you and punish you for every flinch of dissent. They hold what you love against you, even when that love comes from a place of fear and hopeless surrender.
How could you think to leave me? After all we've built? How could you ask me to change?
Video games. Comics. Same shit; different toilet. The perceived instability of a woman asserting herself, of having her opinion respected, is used to silence her, by appealing to her sense of loyalty and devotion to the community, or getting the community itself to wear her down with harassment until she is rendered complicit.
These distressing dynamics are also found in the world of porn.
Trans Inclusion In Lesbian Porn
To be a queer trans woman in porn is to endure an endless game of King of the Hill. At the top of that first hill are straight men making girl-on-girl porn for the male gaze and consumption. If you can make it up to the hill, and if the size of your clit is proportionate to your dainty hips, then you can simulate the heartbreakingly-rare-in-the-wild scenario of a trans woman "hunting" for cis women.
This is not to say that trans women are incapable of committing sexual assault—but seeing as how we comprise resounding majority of victims in anti-LGBT violence, we're a little busy to go "hunting" for pussy on such a large, coordinate scale.
The "queer porn" hill is easier to traverse, and more welcoming upon your arrival. They'll even give you muffins and coffee before your shoot. It's a flourishing niche, and comfortable. But with a smaller genre that strives to be more inclusive comes fewer opportunities for steady, self-propelling work. Many queer porn performers sustain themselves by venturing into other genres, doing cam work, having "day jobs." And though solidarity with other flavors of "queer identity" is essential for a strong, compassionate personal community, it is not fair or safe for trans women who like other women (either exclusively or almost exclusively) to be confined to a catch-all categorization of "not gay cis man, not gay cis woman, put all the others ones in this bin." It erodes an identity we have fought too hard to claim.
That last hill, though—the hill with all the cis women calling trans sex workers "rapists" and weighing down our Twitter feeds with slurs and insults about our bodies? That's the "feminist lesbian porn made for lesbians" genre. It's where the money, political focus and, frankly, life-saving mainstream visibility is.
And thus trans women porn performers are forced into a swirling, swarming hive of abuse. There is no retreat. "Lesbian feminism" has a tidy track record of taking the battle to where we live. "Lesbian feminists" have tried to physically attack trans women where they live and work—this is described in academia as "fucking murder." Trans women have had their employers and medical providers interrogated—all in the name of defending the virtue of the "feminist lesbian identity." Because we have "male energy." Because we—with a near 50% rate of suicide attempts—have and exert "male privilege."
If trans women were to take even a step back, if we conceded, then lesbian feminists would just steamroll through us anyway. And the lesson would be broadcasted to all young and vulnerable trans women out there: Your lives are worth less than a cis lesbian's attachment to her definition of lesbian.
And they say porn isn't educational.
The last person to tell me this was a Kink.com representative. You know, Kink.com, of "follow protestors home and have them arrested for disagreeing with our politics" fame?
I had confronted her in the lobby after a panel discussion in San Francisco. I had some things I wanted to say to her, mostly some form of "how dare you come to a discussion about trauma and submissive sexual identity to promote your company's consent policy and then, when presented with examples of the harm your company's products present to the community, bat your eyes and tell me that porn isn't educational"?
But I found when I opened my mouth I couldn't, with all the strength in me, pull the words out, because she struck a triumphant pose at that intersection of what I like in people (snarky aggression, tasteful pumps, pouty lips) and what society has taught me to like in people (whiteness, cis-ness, straight-passing femme identity). And while I found her politics putrid and her attitudes shallow, I can't say that I would've turned down an invitation into her good graces. If you know what I mean.
The Politics Of Desire
Even when I'm "on the job" as a consent educator, I'm still pulled to ingratiate myself with someone who has privilege over me. Because hey, don't doubt my commitment to Sparkle Motion. I'm with you. I care about kink, and the lesbian identity. I wouldn't do anything to hurt it.
I suspect I exist at that other end of the intersection. I have an active sex life and multiple partners and someone recently paid me to have sex on camera, but I've felt enough hands pull away from mine in front of strangers and I've read enough comments about my weight on Facebook to know that loving me is a struggle—not merely for my faults but also because of what our communities inform us about what is and what is not attractive.
I can't know what turmoil exists in Lily Cade. I don't know what motivates her to make her disgust of trans bodies the compulsory standard of the lesbian porn genre. I don't know why she and her followers are so invested in causing tenable harm against trans woman by labeling Chelsea Poe a rapist. But I do understand why she thinks she's a good person for doing it, and how her actions have been informed by cultural prejudices. Because even though she has repeatedly harassed my community, I still yearn to educate, to calmly explain—to ingratiate myself in the hopes that through my humility and vulnerability I can convince them to show compassion to trans women, who are murdered at a rate of 1 per 36 hours and desperately need mainstream visibility and corresponding cultural acceptance of their bodies to survive.
But telling my dad that I loved him never stopped his hand. Not once. Not even when I maybe meant it.
Placing my body between his and my mother's taught me something I wish I didn't need to know: Never let your love of something, anything, allow it to kill you.
I and other trans women performers will not remain sequestered on the outskirts of respect. We deserve to be safe. We deserve to live, even at the cost of your flawed, incomplete grasp of lesbian identity that is compulsorily contingent on biology, and I can't believe we need to have this fucking discussion on how resisting biological essentialism is the foundation of feminism.
Also: We are attractive. Our bodies are not gross or undesirable for any deficit in aesthetic wonder, but because you can employ your position and privilege to convince others of our ugliness. See also: racism in the lesbian community.
I don't care how many books you've read or how many feminist awards you've received: If your response to a trans woman asking for visibility and acceptance in your community is to call her a rapist and tell her that "nobody would want her," you recreate the systemic violence you yourself are trying to escape.
You are an abuser, and a tool. One who will never dismantle the master's house.
You're also a liar. The amount of attention that you, and society in general, give to trans women is clearly indicative of some sort of attraction. Maybe not any sexual attraction that you're willing to confess, but when someone says a thing on the Internet that I don't like, I tell them they're wrong and block them. I don't conspire in communities to ruin that person's reputation. That's an effect of toxic, entitled attraction.