Cinekink: Adventures in the Skin Trade; Lust, Love, Life; and CAGED

From Life, Love, Lust by Erika Lust.

Last night was a long one at the NYC Cinekink film festival: I arrived at about 6:30 pm and left at 1:30 am. But, you know, it was worth it.

Last night’s screenings included a series of shorts under the heading “Adventures in the Skin Trade,” featuring everything from hilarious narrative shorts to super-thinky protest documentaries to hardcore porn, another series of shorts called “Lust, Love, Life,” which explored sexy and sometimes spooky erotica, and Caged, a film from the brilliant brain of Stephan Brenninkmeijer of the Netherlands that explored sexual agency and punishment.

I found almost all of the 14 films I took in yesterday fascinating, and I’m going back for more! Today will feature a panel of porn directors, performers, and producers, and at least one museum curator (Tristan Taormino! Jiz Lee! Sarah Forbes) at 3:15, and then a whole lotta porny goodness after that. I can’t wait!

But before I head back downtown for more of the good stuff, I’ve been thinking about how to phrase the following. It might be clunky, as I got home around 3:00 am and am still a bit fuzzy even after my coffee, so bear with me.

I’m finding, through the discussions of sex and sex work and porn and all the in-betweens both in the films and in the discussions of the films, and even at the Red Umbrella Diaries Thursday night, that there seems to be an overarching sense of freedom in exploring sexual themes that much of society deems aberrant. I’ve heard these sentiments before, in interviews with porn stars and other sex workers, and they made sense to me, but being surrounded by people whose lives are spent exploring the sides of themselves that the world tries to ignore for the past few days has really plunged me into the idea and made me consider in a very real way.

Syd Blakovich told me in an interview for that, “Casting aside the social constraints in one’s life can be an insanely liberating process and really frees up one’s approaches to the rest of life.” Richard Berkowitz told us that he decided, after becoming a gigolo, to “have the time of his life” being both a queer and a whore, because he had nothing left to lose or cling on to from the normal side of life. Last night’s screening of Bucking the System, a documentary about Buck Angel, “the man with a pussy,” highlighted that after having struggled his whole life to become a man in body as well as in mind and deciding to keep his female plumbing and love his vagina, Buck Angel is very much at peace with himself. Having lived through years of adulthood torn between his mentality and physicality, and deciding to throw all societally-expected caution to the wind to become who he really wanted to be seems to have given him a glow, a peace, a comfort with himself that few of us who struggle every day to reconcile ourselves with the world can understand. In Caged, the main character Stella tells her therapist that she decided one night to stop being miserable and go after her desires: “I became a flower, and every day I bloom wider…. Every day, my body celebrates.” The sex workers that Julianne Carroll interviewed for Sex Workers: Your Voice Counts, the actors portraying sex workers in Hooka Face and the Virgin Boy, and the actors showing it all off in Choices, Wiggle Room, Fucking is the Only Prayer, and Lust Cinema’s absolutely gorgeous Life, Love, Lust, all seemed free in a way that I found hard not to envy.

As a person who’s made something of a “thing” out of being conflicted about my involvement in the sex industry, even existing as I do on the periphery of it, I spend my days torn between absolute wonder at the beauty and depth of sex, sexual imagery, and sexual experience, and deeply rooted, deeply entrenched shame. These days, I find the shame isn’t as powerful as it once was, but it still creeps up on me from time to time and makes me question what I’m doing. Late at night, my mother’s voice creeps into my head and asks why I can’t be writing about something more acceptable. Something important. I always tell her, as calmly as I can, that there is nothing more important in this world than trying to help people navigate their own chasms of conflict between what they want and desire and what they’ve been told is ok. We are a divided society, I tell her, and we are schizophrenic because of it. But still, that feeling, that understanding that even though lots of people are involved in the fight against this schizophrenia and that we are fighting the good fight, is always tinged with fear because I know that there are lots more people who don’t want to hear it. Ignoring these things has always been easier for most than it’s been for me. And I lie awake and worry that I’m walking down a path I can never walk away from because after this, I’ll be labeled. Ruined.

But watching Buck Angel and Drew Deveaux and Audacia Ray and so many other brave, actually fearless souls this week so far has made me take courage. These people have burst through their fears and second-guessing, thrown caution to the wind like so much streaming fabric in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and leapt over that chasm into the uncharted territory that so few report back from. They do report back, and they are free in a way that I have never yet allowed myself to be. They have stopped wondering if people are judging them, because once you get past a certain point the judgment is part of the game, and it ceases to matter. They have stopped caring so much if what they’re doing is seen as right or wrong, because it’s done, and it’s over, and past the point of no return there is a vast, open, no less frightening but certainly less constricting wilderness where they can be pioneers, explorers, and, more importantly, whoever they want to be.

I’m thinking about jumping in, myself.

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