FPCon Thoughts 1: Money and Sustainability

That's my thinkface.
That’s my thinkface.

Last weekend I attended the 2nd annual Feminist Porn Conference at the University of Toronto, in conjunction with the 9th annual Good For Her Feminist Porn Awards. The weekend was a three-day marathon of excitement over seeing familiar faces, meeting new people in the community, celebrating the phenomenon of feminist pornography, and being absolutely inundated with information at panel sessions and in discussions about them after the conference. I’ve been trying to parse the massive amount of info and process my thoughts about it all, and I’ve come away with three major things I want to digest. Here, in front of you. Public digestion. Sexy, right?

The first thing, and possibly the most difficult to wrap my brain around, is the issue of money in feminist porn and its environs. As you might imagine, as a journalistic writer/poet/artist, I don’t have the best brain for money or business. Some creative people do have minds that work well with numbers, and they tend to be quite successful, but for most of us, money is a scary subject. A lot of creative types like to think of ourselves–and I say this inclusively, as I absolutely fall into this category–as special little snowflakes too fragile to deal with the world of finance. We see capitalists as big old meanies who don’t appreciate what we’re trying to do, and we shy away from talking about money.

This does not benefit us.

It was brought up at several panel discussions over the weekend that it’s important for people in the feminist porn movement to learn to deal with money, because there’s not a lot of it to go around. For instance, performers in feminist porn productions make around 40% on average what mainstream porn performers make L.A. Feminist producers can’t afford to pay them more, at least not yet. Feminist porn performers do it for the love of it, and producers and directors have told me in interviews for an upcoming article in Bitch that they see their businesses as labors of passion and art. This isn’t to say that nobody wants to make money for their work, but there’s a strong bias toward not doing it for the money. Passion over cash.

But while that’s a beautiful message, and one that is extremely worthy of respect, it doesn’t help sustain the very political movement that is feminist pornography, or to grow that movement. It was pointed out (I think by Lynn Comella) and there that money gets treated as a dirty word by many in the sex-positive, feminist community, but Courtney Trouble said, in the panel “Feminist Porn: What It Is, What It Isn’t, & Why It Matters,” that it’s imperative for feminist pornographers to make sustainable livings, not just for themselves but also for their performers, camera people, investors, reviewers, and affiliates. If the people who feel passionately about this movement were able to make a living at it, they could then invest more of their time and energy in spreading the good word and investing back into the community.

(Full disclosure: There were panels on affiliate marketing and website development, led by Jiz Lee, which I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend, but which I’m sure explored these ideas further. Jiz, as one of the major forces behind Pink & White, one of the most economically viable feminist porn companies, has a lot to say and probably many valuable insights into this topic.)

But still, it’s a scary leap for a lot of us “creatives” to take the concept of making money seriously. We’d rather be laboring over our art than worrying about whether we’ll get paid for it; that seems more noble to us. But let’s be real: the outside world has a hard time believing that feminist pornography even exists (more on that in my upcoming article on Luna Luna), much less that it’s a force to be reckoned with. In my opinion, it very much is a force–an important (necessary, beautiful, vibrant, sexy) movement toward the legitimization of sex and sex work; toward the inclusion of all people from every background in the discussion, documentation, and representation of healthy sexuality; toward fairer labor practices; toward queering the world fearlessly… But if Occupy taught us anything, it’s that being able to support our ideals with economic viability is necessary if those ideals are to be heard.

I spent some time talking to a business consultant who works specifically with sex workers, as well, about the idea of investing in the community as the best way to create sustainability. It’s true that most of the people who want to support feminist pornography and the many causes it champions are like me: young, creative or academic, and economically… well… poor. But rather than thinking of it as “spending all my money on feminist porn,” the idea of “tithing back into the community,” as she put it, by purchasing what we can from the creators we love, attending workshops and lectures, paying for tickets to events, and so on, serves to create a more robust economy for everyone involved.

This made me think. A lot. I’ve done a lot of reviews, of DVDs and short films and books and the like, for feminist pornographers over the  years. I like to think that my words do a valuable service by promoting the work of these pioneering individuals. But rarely have I paid for my materials. I get galley copies of books, free downloads of films, advance copies of DVDs mailed to me, and so on. I’d like to change that when I’m able to: since I don’t do reviews as often as I used to, I’m going to sink any money I can (which, I’ll admit, isn’t much) into buying materials for review when possible. The idea being that these payments will be investments that may eventually come back to me, whether in karmic form or material.

This line of thought brought me to something I’m not sure I should say out loud yet. But I’m feeling compelled to, so let me preface this by saying that I have, as yet, no idea if this is even possible. I think my goal with Tracy Queen, my graphic novel, will be to pay royalties to all the adult industry professionals who make cameos in it. Ideally, I would like to find a publisher without going through an agent (which may or may not be possible), and pay out the 15% of royalties I would pay to an agent, instead to the people who are helping me by allowing me to use their images in my book. This would be a way of thanking them for their support, but also of investing back into the community that’s informed my journey to the point of writing this novel.

Again, I don’t know for sure if this will be possible. Royalties are generally paid out under a set of specific circumstances: 1) via a publishing contract with an established publisher, 2) only after the initial advance paid to the creative team in order to produce the work has been earned back, penny for penny, by the publisher in sales, and 3) according to a set of usually strict contractual terms. If conditions 1) and 2) had already been met, which is a dubious possibility, I’d still need to successfully negotiate a  non-standard contract in order to secure the royalties, and given I’m trying to publish a book about a woman of color with a criminal past who is an active sex worker and who uses semen to create cyborg-clone warriors and whose best friend is a talking raccoon… that might be a lot to ask. But then, if I don’t get a contract and end up doing this on my own, which is very possible, I can do whatever I want with the money! Then again… crunching those numbers sounds like a monumental task… But anyway, the point is, I want to do this.  I want to find a way. I want to actively participate in making feminist porn and everyone involved in it prosper, including myself. But this is a while down the road.

The creative team for Tracy Queen has recently been reconsidering some of the aesthetic choices made in the artwork that were perceived by several people in the community as offensive. The offense was entirely unintentional (obviously, cause who wants to offend people?) but we’re so glad that people have piped up to inform us we were being obtuse, and we are currently regrouping to decide how to move forward on our very best foot. So the idea of paying out royalties to anyone is a only gleam in my eye right now… But I’m excited about it. And I hope that everyone else out there who attended the conference this weekend, or hell, anyone who’s a member of a creatively-driven, idealistically strong community finds a way to give to that community to make it stronger. Money doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Money, as somebody put it this weekend, is just an exchange of energy in a very tangible format. Put your energy where your mouth is.

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