open letter about empowerment, thoughts in progress

Seems that any time is as good as any to discuss these questions about why we do what we do. And as the interviews from performers in the Too Much Pussy: Feminist Sluts in the Queer X Show are being published and the film itself shown widely, I should always be discussing my own feelings on the matters at hand instead of keeping them in my head.

There is nothing inherently empowering about making porn or showing the naked female body onstage. The empowered part comes much earlier through the freedom to explore what we actually are interested in (our life questions) and love to do. This could include, but is not limited to, for example, knowing that we are exhibitionists or artists and, perhaps, or, that we enjoying exploring sex with lots of different kinds of people. The freedom to explore these things without being pressured because of the assumed speculation about our gender or sexual orientation or what we are publicly “allowed” to do or express out loud as a result of those genders and orientations deflates the imagined magnitude of what it is to show our sexual bodies in public.

If we are to speak of empowerment anyway—and honestly I’ve always hated the word; it reminds me of a top down approach to teaching, in fact I examined it in my undergraduate senior thesis with rural women’s farming cooperatives in Nicaragua—I suggest we think of empowerment as personal, relative and as process. Who is anyone to speak of what is or is not empowering to any given woman or person? Which academic or researcher knows what exactly it means to be empowered when truly, speaking for myself, I am never fully empowered; it is an endless path that has no end. Empowerment must be a constant process that I (and only I) can understand for myself.

At some moment “empowerment” could be, simply, the ability to go to a movie alone.

Incidentally I am reminded every year at the porn film festival how many levels of stigma we have to pass going to a movie alone (stigma), watching porn at all (stigma), watching porn as a ____ gendered person (stigma), watching in a theatre or other public place (stigma). Overcoming any of these stigma could be points of personal empowerment.

In the next moment empowerment could be the ability to decide what kind of porn to watch and getting a rental store card and renting it on my own. In the next it could be making and staring in my own porn. But for many women empowerment has nothing at all to do with porn or sex or movies at all; and so be it for her.

The making of porn does not empower me; at best it might actualize some process of empowerment that I’ve currently arrived at in my personal life questioning process. I like to think that as humans we are all guided by life questions that make us curious as children and travel with us, in and out of focus, along the road into adulthood and old age. My personal questions have to do with sex and gender, and so be it for me.

Thinking from this standpoint, a healthy vision of empowerment could be … having the freedom to pursue the-in depth answering of those life questions (freedom from social stigmas, economic freedom, educational freedom, freedom of movement and mental and spiritual freedom). In this sense that life process of empowerment could include any activity at all; it could be taking a walk in the woods or going out at night or having a child or shaving our heads. Shaving my head came from an empowered place, was an actualization of my empowerment and further empowered me. Learning to ride my bike was empowering; later, riding was no longer “empowering,” for me, it was building my own bike with the help of a friend, then, learning to repair it. For another woman, she feels empowered by owning and driving her own car. In my life, driving a car is a choice I would not make but I support and understand her empowerment in this act.

CNN (whose commentators probably all own cars) tells me that women in rural Central America (who generally do not own cars) are empowered to use solar powered cooking stoves instead of wood burning stoves. It’s certainly a better choice for the environment and notable that these women are “empowered” to make personal changes for the environment when they individually already make such a low environmental footprint in comparison to huge corporations (a topic for another time) , but do the women feel this is empowering for themselves? Why not ask them?!? Perhaps one of these women would like to exercise her questions about her own queer sexuality instead of learning to use a different kind of stove.

In reality there are so many social taboos, so many warnings about how we should live in fear, follow rules according to fear, that we have many arenas through which to express our personal empowerment. I am not saying that a rural campesina should watch or star in queer porn to be empowered, but for goodness sake, if it makes her more happy or fulfilled to do so than learning to cook on a solar powered stove, I am in full support. The reality is, she probably has no exposure to queer communities or resources to outreach to them. The people reading this at least have the economic freedom, the access to resources, the social freedoms, to decide at all

All and any seem equally valuable to me.

I am certainly not arguing that an empowered woman has to make porn or be a publicly sexual creature or enjoy queer sex. Within some privileged circles it’s been framed as fashionable to buy sex toys and learn how to use them, with the insinuation that a woman who doesn’t isn’t empowered. But for some this is empowerment and that is also valid.

All of these choices are equally valid: to pursue zoology over mathematics; to wear or not wear any given piece of clothing, revealing or concealing; to work as a shop keeper instead of a gas station attendant. One women´s sense of personal empowerment could be to take it off, for another it could be to put it on. Certainly the exploration, metamorphosis, any change at all, any exploration in our lives, the idea that we are allowed to explore at all, should be welcomed by all, but certainly by those that think of themselves as queer, as feminist, as radical.

As it relates to my own life’s questions, the idea that I, or any artist, could possibly avoid exposing the body if we are dealing with themes of a human nature (which seem at some point to stem back to critical questions about the physical human body, it’s basic functions such as birth … breathing … sleeping … dreaming … eating … having sex … giving birth … making partnerships … dying) makes little sense to me. Doesn’t it seem more unnatural to avoid the exposure of the body, especially to do so out of some kind of fear of social critique? Or to do so in order to avoid the obvious and clichéd critique that exposing the body is tantamount to being a sex object? Is it not also somehow unfair that the female body or transgendered or queer body would garner this critique over and beyond that received by the male body?

Moreover that if we as artists do knowingly deal with the physical body and expose some part if it—the elbow perhaps—why privilege some other part when in actuality our themes deal with the body as a whole?

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