I interviewed Tobi Hill-Meyer, award-winning adult filmmaker and trans activist, at the Feminist Porn Awards in Toronto in 2013. We talked about the difficulty in finding funding for adult film projects like her acclaimed Doing It Ourselves films, in processing payments as an adult film merchant, working with Kickstarter’s rules, the definition of “porn” versus “erotica,” and making adult films that change lives.
It was this conversation that really inspired me to start talking to other adult entertainment entrepreneurs about their experiences fighting for the right to finance their projects, which eventually led to an article in Bitch Magazine‘s Love/Lust issue. I’m happy to finally share some of the juicy parts of our interview that, sadly, didn’t make it into that article.
“I grew up with second-wave anti-porn lesbian feminists, and we had a lot of conversations about [porn versus erotica] over the dinner table. For a long time, their response would be like, ‘Oh, you’re just talking about erotica.’ Because erotica is good and porn is bad. And I always resisted that. I wanted to be able to say, ‘You’re talking all this smack about porn but what you don’t realize is, whether you realize it or not, other people are taking the things you’re saying about the bad sexual media, and applying that to my sexual media because they don’t make the distinction between porn and erotica.
“It sometimes feels like, ‘Erotica is what I get off to. Porn is what you get off to.’
“After I got my first film completed, I just wanted to have a local screening for the cast, crew, and friends and family, and I went to a theater and they refused to let me screen it. They refused to let me rent the theater for a private event. And then I had the same problem in trying to get the DVD cover printed. I’m all about local business, so I called up eight different local printers. Seven of them said, ‘There’s no way we’re printing that.’ I was like, ‘OK, I could call it erotica. My parents could call it erotica. But I want the people who would call my work erotica to know that when they talk about censoring porn, my work gets censored, too. Whether or not they would call my work porn, the censors don’t make that distinction.‘
“So when I was working on my latest project, I was like, ‘OK, some people might call this porn.’ But if you subscribe to the distinction between erotica and porn, here [are] all of the ethical things I’m putting into this, here is all the analysis I’m doing, the interviews with the subjects to get a whole portrait of their lives, and the whole portrait of their lives includes sex, and if you’re to be talking about sex and the kind of sex you’re having, and you’re trying to describe that, and share it with people who have no clue how you have sex, then let’s show that. Let’s…give an example of, ‘Here’s a loving couple that has been together for twenty-five years. Here’s how they have sex. And you can see the love in their connection.‘ And that made it through KickStarter.
“The rule [on Kickstarter] is, if it is drawn, it is ok. There are plenty of examples of drawn erotica that has been through KickStarter. When I was doing my research, I saw and backed ‘The Smut Peddler,’ which was even calling itself porn, but it’s drawn, so it’s ok. But it’s one or the other. Because if I called my project porn, being live video, it wouldn’t have been OK. You can either be live film or porn with the label, but not both.
“I got the sense that KickStarter wasn’t highly invested…in this whole debate. I got the feeling more that they knew that by the terms of their agreement that they’re not allowed to have porn. And so they wanted to cover themselves so that they weren’t in violation of their contract with Amazon as a payment processor.
“A friend of mine has worked for a payment processors, and what she was telling me is that in adult payments there is such a higher rate of contested charges. There’s this whole situation where it’s like, ‘Hey, honey, what’s this charge?’ ‘I don’t know, I never made that charge!’ ‘Well you better call up the credit card company and tell them…’ And so there’s this whole kind of thing where the payment processors know that their costs are going to be higher in the adult industry. But I think that what that distinction fails to understand is that there’s still a wide range of things that can be considered explicit, and not all of them are going to have that dynamic. I’ve never had a contested charge. And like I heard yesterday, someone was mentioning something about how in doing porn scenes, fifty percent of first-timers are no-shows. And I was like, ‘Wow, I have never had a no-show.’ And just realizing the way in which my work is different on a practical business level… People buy my work because they want to support it. They want to see people like them. I get letters from people talking about how my work has changed their lives. When someone is that engulfed in their media, and it makes such a personal difference to them, [that] they have that conversation, it’s like, ‘Hey honey, what’s this charge?’ ‘Oh, let me tell you about it! And you should tell your friends, too!’
“Unlike many other adult producers, I aim to create something that people are proud to purchase and support and many of my customers display their copy on a bookshelf or tweet photos when it arrives in the mail. I think that’s a big part of why contested charges have never been an issue for me.”