When Community Changes: Toronto International Porn Festival

Taylor Posing with Claire Ah and Samatha Fraser at the Feminist Porn Awards 2015

TW: abuse, abuse apologists, nonconsent jokes, mention of bloodplay, “feminists” behaving badly, sexual assault, rape apologism, victim-blaming

Community is a way to feel connected, to make friends, to be a part of something that’s bigger than just you. Sometimes you find spaces that resonate deeply within you and, when you find these spaces, they can be hard to let go of even when they’ve passed the point of being safe, wonderful spaces.

Taylor Posing with friends the Feminist Porn Awards 2013
Ah, such a sweet and naive young lad I was back in 2013!
For me, one of those spaces was the Toronto International Porn Festival (formerly the Feminist Porn Awards). But then, back in 2015, this started to change. A boycott was called when they nominated abusers and were sponsored by Grooby – a company run by a cis man who actively uses transphobic slurs in their work. The FPAs decided to take a year off (2016) to give them time to collect their thoughts, rebrand, and come back stronger than ever!

…or, maybe not.

When they announced (very late) that the now Toronto International Porn Festival was happening this year, I was tentatively hopeful. I remembered it as it was the first two years I attended and was excited for that wonderful space. About a month later they announced their nominations, one of which was of someone who had been incredibly abusive, manipulative, and gasslight-y toward me and others and has proven to not be an ally at all.

According to their website, they welcome feedback about nominees if people have reason to feel the nominee has not behaved in a way that is in line with TIP’s ethics. However their response was far less than forthcoming 1 and made me incredibly anxious about participating in any of their events or attending the gala.

I attempted to ignore my gut-feelings and regain excitement about the gala. It didn’t really work, but my lover was coming with me and I knew I’d get the chance to see a bunch of friends, so away I went.

As is usually the case, these misgivings ended up bearing more fruit than anticipated – most of which coming in the shape of Deb Pearce, the emcee for the evening.

Taylor Posing at the Feminist Porn Awards 2014
Me at the 2014 gala
The gala was opened with several jokes about how no one should be sober, and encouraging all sober people (regardless why they’re sober) to start drinking right then. She asked for a show of hands of the sober people in the audience and, when few folks raised their hand, she congratulated the audience on drinking. Thus started an evening of repeated encouragement for sober people to just start drinking again.

The night didn’t really improve from there, unfortunately.

There were a number of technical problems that I’m not going to spend much time on – aside from the fact that things were organized so last-minute that most people nominated weren’t able to attend, some people who won awards weren’t actually given time to come up on stage and had to wait weeks for it to arrive by mail, and they kept accidentally playing the video that won before they announced the category so there was no building excitement or intrigue.

There were a pile of other problems that felt like the event was sloppily planned and that very little thought or care had gone into the night. Event planning can be hard, I get that! I could totally forgive this type of error if that was the only thing that happened. Buuuuuuut it wasn’t.

Condoning Rape and Rapists, Ignoring of (Non-Sexual) Consent and Boundaries

  • Madison Young was nominated for an award again! I feel like we went through this two years ago with her? (Hint: we did)
    If you’re unfamiliar with why this annoys me, head over to Geek Feminism and read their article on it. Tl;dr? she raped a drunk girl and then recorded herself making jokes about it. There were articles that discussed it more in-depth but they have since been taken down, as has Madison’s “apology”. I have included quotes in the footnotes if you want to read some disgusting things that Young said. 2 When people talked with Carlyle Jansen (the person who runs Good for Her/TIP) two years ago about Madison, she said that “Madison wrote a letter last year explaining what the video was about and clarifying the content. She also removed it online so that future viewers could not access it. We feel satisfied that she was not condoning non-consensual sex”. 3
  • The emcee made jokes about how she wishes she could film people in the bathroom without their consent (implication was that these people would be fucking)
  • The emcee, a lesbian, also sexualized the ASL interpreter (who I believe was male but cannot find information to verify this) as they were working – even after the point that they tactfully expressed they had had enough and are monogamously partnered.
  • Chelsea Poe repeatedly requested her videos not be included or nominated as she feels very strongly about not supporting this event, yet several were and she received an award for one of them.

Blood Play, Race, the T-Slur, and LELO

Taylor Posing with Claire Ah and Samatha Fraser at the Feminist Porn Awards 2015
If we look happy, we’re clearly good at pretending (2015)
  • There were four bloodplay scenes shown without trigger warnings. I left the room or looked away for each, but my understanding was that at least one (the first one) featured a lot of blood. Blood is an extremely common trigger, especially within marginalized communities, and not only were we not given warning before the specific videos were shown, but we had no reason to know that there would be bloodplay videos shown at all that evening.
  • After the final bloodplay video, the emcee then made a joke that there “was so much blood our periods would sync”. Which is in extremely poor taste.
  • Lots of people of colour were nominated for awards (and won!), which was really nice to see. I would have been more excited had the people reading the awards seemed a little bit more certain how to pronounce the names of these PoC instead of stumbling over every one…
  • The video “50 Shades of a Tr*nny” (censoring is my own) won an award, which was read out loud by a cis man. He had no prior knowledge that he was going to be reading this name out loud and awkwardly stumbled through it, saying the slur out loud to the room.
    I have nothing against this video winning an award (I know nothing about the video itself), but that should have been handled much differently – without the T-slur being said out loud, especially not by a cis man.
  • And finally, one of their sponsors was LELO. The gift bags for non-VIP ticket holders included two HEX condoms. HEX condoms are not nearly as safe and wonderful as they claim, and their spokesperson is Charlie Sheen. This is NOT in line with feminist values. 4

Taylor Posing with Rogue at the Toronto International Porn Festival 2017
Me posing with Rogue, 2017
You know what? I give up.

I had hopes that this year they would regroup and come back stronger than ever, but clearly that was a mistake on my part.

I was more let down by their actions this year than ever before, and I’m done believing that they’re going to grow and improve as long as Deb Pearce and Carlyle Jansen are allowed to speak their minds at these events.

Community changes with time as you and events grow, and I have clearly outgrown thinking that this is a space that’s for me.

Hold your feminist companies accountable for how they behave, no matter who they are. They deserve to know how they’ve messed up, even if they decide to do nothing to fix their errors.

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Notes:

  1. I contacted them via an attorney and TIP took that information, asked my abuser it was true, she said no, so they told my attorney that I was wrong
  2. TW rape/rape apologist The video featured Madison saying things like “I didn’t ask her what she wanted, I just gave it to the bitch” and “the drunk bitch woke up and thought differently.. and i was kind of hurt!”
    Her apology, which has also since been removed, had quotes such as “as a survivor I find this entire offensive conversation and accusation triggering and remarkably hurtful” from Madison – just because you’re a survivor of rape doesn’t mean you cannot rape others, nor should you use that to shut down conversation. Madison stated that the original video was “a joke”
  3. Personally, I disagree with this and feel as though she has done no apparent work to make up for her actions and that her simply deleting everything, including the apology/explanation shows that she really hasn’t learned and that she’s trying to sweep it all under the rug instead of being accountable for the fact that she did a thing many folk count as rape and that there is legitimate concern around. As a “feminist” organization, GFH and TIP should be doing their best to ensure no one they nominate or endorse has been accused of rape, even if they personally think the person isn’t a rapist. It isn’t about them, it’s about ensuring your safe space actually is safe.
  4. Want more on this topic? Sexiopia wrote about it here. So did Formidable Femme, Sarah at MarvelousDarling, Lilly (twice, in fact), Kitty Stryker, HornyGeekGirl, CaraSutra, The Daily Beast, ToyMeetsGirl, Molly’s Daily Kiss, Sh! Women’s Store, Ninja Sexology, the Lux Letter, and Gizmodo. Caitlin Murphy started #BoycottLelo, if you want to see even more bloggers who are done putting up with Lelo, with HEX, and all the problems those two things have created. I also had some feelings on twitter.