I recently got Q&Aed by Shawn Alff, a brilliant up-and-coming writer out of Texas-Florida-California.
Shawn pens truly gifted auto-biographical accounts, reflecting both on his life history and the experiences of those around him, as well as fascinating sex-porn anthropological pieces – everything from film reviews to observations on sets and at events. Not to be all fan-girl about it, but I really admire his literary prowess. And as presumptuous as it may sound, I feel a very interesting kinship with Shawn, one steeped in the specific combination of influences our work mutually holds.
Anywho, long story short, I was very happy to chat with a writer I greatly admire. Be on the lookout for this guy!
Dr. Chauntelle Tibbals is like the Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey of pornography; this sociologist at large has spent a decade embedded in the adult industry in attempt to unravel the mysteries of this elusive, cultural colossus.
Although porn is easier to access than ever, the adult industry remains shrouded in a mist of myths, stereotypes, assumptions—misinformation that lawmakers and public figures use to condemn and regulate this renegade industry. One reason for our collective ignorance on the social impact of porn is because many scholars are afraid to seriously study this populist art form, fearing the stigmas attached to porn will spread to their work. Dr. Tibbals is one of those rare pariahs willing to risk her academic reputation researching a form of human expression that is too often dismissed as cultural detritus destined for the slagheaps of history. She neither seeks to condemn or exalt porn, but simply to understand it, to know why every society throughout history has created pornography. She wants to understand both what these x-rated artifacts say about the culture that creates them, and how pornography in turn shapes the world it reflects.
Dr. Tibbals’ new book, Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment, serves as a kind of memoir of her decade-long research. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Tibbals about her work and her new book.
Shawn Alff: What are some surprising things you’ve uncovered about TS (transsexual) porn, beyond the fact that it’s primarily consumed by straight men?
Dr. Tibbals: I’ve always been really interested in TS porn as a genre in part because everyone seems to like it, but no one wants to talk about it. Consumers want it, but until very recently it seemed kind of hush hush, even for porn. One thing I’ve noticed happening in maybe the last three-ish years is a shift in the tenor of the content. TS porn primarily used to be really raunchy and shot with models and performers located outside the US. Now the number of US-based TS performers is exploding, or at least are becoming more visible. You can still find the raunchy, hardcore stuff. But more people are trying different aesthetics with TS porn, which is nice. As with other genres, sometimes you want the raunchy stuff and sometimes you want something a bit less graphic. It’s nice to see the performers cast in scenes that aren’t entirely focused on things like “she-male cock.”
Shawn Alff: Do you think the prevalence of TS porn has helped the general population become more comfortable with the trans community as a whole?
Dr. Tibbals: I would say queer porn has had a bigger impact in that respect. When you are talking about trans visibility, you are talking more about a gender issue, though sexuality is obviously a dimension as well. I think the main thing TS porn does in terms of breaking down stereotypes is that it helps pick apart “normative” heterosexual masculinity. Heteronormativity says that heterosexual dudes are supposed to be a specific way, and enjoying TS content doesn’t coincide with those conventional notions. And yet, I hear through the grapevine that the primary consumers of TS content are heterosexual-identified guys – this challenges what heteronormativity says is supposed to be happening.
Thinking about wider notions of heteronormativity, guys are allowed very little gender and sexuality play, but their sexualities are just as broad as women’s or queer folks’ or whomever’s. So if I had to pick one thing, rather than touching on wider social gender issues, I see TS porn speaking more to issues related to heterosexual masculinity…
You can read the rest of the interview, which covers things like the impact of adult content on “real life” sex, who I feel is making innovative strides in porn production today, and questions about subjectivity and bias, right –> here
Enjoy! What do you think?
Pictured: Exposure is (at least) dual purpose…
* * *
Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.