How Tobi Hill-Meyer Made Porn a Better Place For Everyone

Tobi and Bryn from DoingItOnline.Com Tobi and Bryn from DoingItOnline.Com Courtney Trouble / DoingItOnline.Com
Since we last spoke, feminst porn trail-blaizer Tobi Hill-Meyer has literally paved that trail in gold. Winning a Feminist Porn Awards trophy for her newest film Doing It Again Vol. 1: Playful Awakenings (which we are dubbing "The Honorable Mention for Best Social Commentary") this April, Tobi made waves also as a star performer in my film Trans Grrrls, which won Best Trans Film. Then, this month, Tobi and I launched her brand new full service membership porn site, DoingItOnline.Com (clearly NSFW), which will feature not only every scene from all of Tobi's films, but brand new explicit stories shot in HD and offered up to members and clip-buyers alike. In Part Two of this interview, we get down to the nitty gritty - HOW did she change queer porn, and WHY is it so important to her to tell a story? Her answers are, of course, brilliant. 
 
Courtney Trouble: What do you think your first film, Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Women Porn Project ended up accomplishing in the long run? Do you think it impacted queer porn? Do you think it impacted muggle porn?
 
Tobi at the FPATobi at the FPA
Tobi Hill-Meyer: I had so many different goals for that project. I had never seen any porn made *for* trans women before and I wanted something designed for us. I wanted to tackle some of the messages that said trans women must be asexual or hypersexual. I wanted to show a broad range of experiences around sexuality. Especially with so much medical gatekeeping and denial of medical care if you engage in the “wrong” kind of sexuality, I wanted to give our community a chance to unlearn some of that internalized shame and guilt around sex.
 
Also, I had heard so many cis dykes say that they weren’t attracted to trans women when they had barely anything beyond stereotypes and movies like Trans America and other images of hyper-feminine, hyper-straight 1950s housewife types to base that on, I wanted to be able to show them hot images of trans women who look queer, who are punkish, who are dyke-y, who are butch, who are genderfuck - a really wide spectrum that shows trans women exist in each and every unique way that cis women do.
 
Those were the two big thoughts I had in making it. I was also thinking about cis partners of trans folks, trans folks in relationships with other trans folks, trans men, cultural narratives about chasers, and more.
 
I think I’ve definitely had a big impact on queer porn through this work. I know in both your work and The Crashpad Series had been including trans women and wanting to include more, but a lot of trans women weren’t applying because they didn’t see themselves and feared discrimination. Doing it Ourselves and the attention it got helped show that it was possible. I also did a lot of networking and connecting folks.  I think I may have introduced you to Drew Deveaux, and I know countless others who contacted me asking for help connecting with queer porn.  And now we’ve gone from just a few trans women in queer porn to having a few trans women films and at least a few dozen performers. There’s still a lot of corners of queer porn that have yet to include trans women, but I get the sense they want to.
 
As for mainstream porn (muggle porn - I like it!) I really doubt there’s been much direct influence. I’ve always got the sense that they just ignore me. But indirectly I know that my work and advice has inspired other queer porn folks like James Darling and yourself to engage with them with some positive outcomes. For example, just recently the “Tranny Awards” has changed their name to the “Transgender Erotica Awards” and I hear their owner is interested in attending the Feminist Porn Awards and learning more about feminist and queer porn.
 
What are the biggest differences between your work, and the work put forth by large businesses in the trans porn industry?
In the first half of the interview I really emphasized how much big business porn is stuck in formulas. They have a very strict and specific way performers are supposed to have sex and how it gets filmed regardless of whether or not that’s something the performers are into. I try to keep my work flexible enough to create whatever makes the most sense with the individual people in each scene. That allows me to experiment and create things you’d never see elsewhere in porn, but it also means that occasionally things don’t look quite as snazzy.  
 
I’ve given up my fear of not looking perfect, and I think that can really give things character. For example, there’s a moment in an episode I directed with Drew Deveaux and Hayley Fingersmith where Drew eagerly pulls down Hayley’s tights, forgetting that her boots were still on.  They struggled for a good 45 seconds before just giving up. On practically any other porn set, they’d edit that out. It would have been easy to have 1.5 seconds of the tights going down then just cut to a later moment when they are off entirely. But moments like that give it a sense of realness. It’s a humorous moment and it shows that even with porn stars things don’t always go smoothly, but that they just keep moving and it doesn’t really matter.
I also want to be able to engage folks on a broad emotional range. Most porn only tries to elicit one emotion - lust. A few others also go for humor, but that’s about it. My theme for the past couple years has been “going in depth.” I want to be able to dive into the frustration, celebration, fear, sadness, joy, anger, love, and the holistic experience of what it means to be human. My most recent episode was actually between myself and Bryn Dagger, and discussed our long distance relationship and being held apart by immigration law. At the end of filming it, I actually broke down crying. It was hard for me when I started thinking of our time coming to a close and having to head home without her again. It was incredibly painful but something that I had wanted to be able to share. My hope is that by including moments like that rather than editing them out will create a sense of deeper connection for the audience so that they really get to care about the people they are watching have sex.
 
And when you made Genderfellator, you decidedly went in a narrative direction, did you like that format? Do you hope to tell more stories in the future, or work with fantasies? How do you feel about porn parodies?
I’m sure you know this but, narrative film is hard! With most porn you just need a set, toys, lube, barriers, and maybe a bit of improved dialog. I love writing and had a great time with the script, but I needed a whole team to help coordinate props, costumes, continuity, feeding everyone, and more. It was a lot of fun but I think the next time I do something like that it won’t be feature length. To me, satire is really important and powerful. It gave me a chance not just to avoid doing all of the problematic behavior I’ve seen around trans folks, queer community, and sexuality but to provide a commentary on it. Too often “porn parodies” lack that element of satire. Sure, it’s silly, it’s fun, it makes you laugh, but to actually be satire it needs to have a point, make an argument, and imagine a possible alternative.
 
As for my future ideas, I’m always contemplating a half dozen projects that I don’t have time or funding for. But I’d love to do something with superheroes - I already have my supervillain persona put together and most of the costume. I’ve also been pondering making a film version of my short story, Self Reflection, about a young trans woman meeting her time traveling future self who is burnt out from trauma and survival and how they connect and help each other.  I’ve also got a script half written for a non-sex narrative film about a trans woman surviving an assault and dealing with the aftermath and the recovery.
 
Genderfellator is a parody of a lesbian separatist film from forever ago, but you must have figured there were still issues with gender policing in our current climate or else the movie wouldn’t have felt relevant to make. How can you address gender policing and trans-exclusionary feminism with porn? What are the challenges and pleasures of being a feminist trans woman who is naked on the internet?
It seems like it’s decades old but it’s actually only from 2007. I remember the protests as it made the rounds of the queer film festival and the director, Catherine Crouch, kept ducking responsibility saying that she was trying to start a “dialog,” so I thought I’d make my own film as a part of that dialog. While I was aware of general anti-trans sentiment from second wave feminism, I didn’t actually know about TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) or their antics until well after I made the film. The original film I was parodying was about the “all the butches are turning into trans men” anxieties in queer women’s spaces, which is why my film focused so much more on trans men.
 
In the years since making the film, I’ve had to learn a lot more about TERFs because I found myself in their crosshairs. Many of them believe that trans women are rapists simply by existing (something about by taking on women’s bodies ourselves we are raping the concept of womanhood?). It would be pretty easy to ignore it if it were just hyperbolic and confusing theory, but many of them put it into practice with a variety of frightening tactics. They prolificly write hate-filled blog posts about specific trans women by name, using search engine optomization to try and make their misgendering and accusations of rape and become the top search results for the names of prominent trans women. I’ve still got a few search results that lead to posts about calling me a “straight male pornographer” who makes “anti-woman films.”  I know folks who’ve had their boss’ phone number posted online for a call in campaign to get them fired, more than one teenager has been outed and subjected to harassment, a friend had TERFs try to intervene in her custody hearing, and they managed to track down my parents’ contact info to send them a hate filled letter with links to pictures of me naked.  It’s really rather horrid stuff.
 
But this wasn’t in response to my making The Genderfellator - in fact I’m not even sure if they know about that film. All that harassment and stalking was in response to my being a prominent and outspoken trans woman activist. The fact that I have naked pictures online just gave them another tactic to try and hurt me or scare me into silence. I was one of the first trans women added to a website devoted to “exposing us” as really being men by tracking down naked photos online and posting them without permission. The irony is that I’ve actually had a few fans discover my work through that hate-site. I mean, really they are just posting sexually arousing photos of me alongside trailers for my films and links to my sites - in some cases the hate speech almost seems like an afterthought. It really leads me to wonder about their deeper motivation. It reminds me of those homophobes who spend way more time “researching” gay porn and thinking about gay sex than most gay folks do.
 
Your new film series Doing It Again is a continuation of the original Doing it Ourselves, but is decidedly more of a documentary about sexuality, relationships, hooking up, and politics. How/why did your project get to this point, where you wanted to tell real stories and not just show the sex or make a point, like you did in Genderfellator?
Well my first film actually had interviews with each performer on the extras disc. But it was unedited, often rambly, and went on for 90 minutes. Some folks really enjoyed it but I wanted that content to be more accessible to the average viewer. Discussions about why the folks involved are choosing to be involved, what sexuality looks like for them outside of the film, relationships, and so forth are some of the issues that inspire me to do this work. When so many issues around rights for trans folks and trans women in particular are wrapped up in judgments and stereotypes about sexuality, giving trans women the opportunity to tell their own stories and show directly what sex looks like for them can be incredibly powerful.
 
Now that I’ve launched DoingitOnline.com, a membership website that is continuing this series indefinitely, I’m expanding that even further. Each episode will continue to tell a story, but that might be about a relationship, about activism, about artwork, or any other issue important to the subject(s) of the episode that relates in some way to sexuality and/or to being trans. I’m really just starting this process, but like I was saying about the one episode about myself and Bryn stuck in a long distance relationship across borders where we discuss how we can’t get married and be together even though we both live in areas with same-sex marriage, because we are polyamorous. Choosing to leave in the moment where I cried was significant. It’s not what you typically expect from porn, but I really appreciate the chance to be open and vulnerable. I believe sharing the depth of our connection beyond the surface level sexuality gives the entire episode - including the sex - a deeper and more impactful meaning. I’m really excited to shoot more episodes that can explore that deeper level.
 
What do you think the benefits are to creating trans positive adult film, from an activist’s perspective, as opposed to actively confronting those problems head on by interacting with the directors or producers of corporate porn?
Hayley and DrewHayley and DrewIn episode one of the Doing it Again series Hayley Fingersmith is discussing her approach to activism and says that she’d rather not spend her time just criticizing all the problems in our society and instead create radical alternatives which will ultimately succeed and flourish because they are better and “crowd out” everything else. I realized that’s very much my approach to things as well. I’m not afraid to join a picket line or organize a protest, but I’d rather create the things that I want to see. Besides, especially when you don’t have any relationship with someone, head on confrontations with directors or producers are quickly dismissed as “hate mail” and ignored. When I have raised these kinds of concerns with people I know in mainstream porn I always get answers like “That’s what the audience wants,” “We have to do that if we want to make money,” “That’s just how it’s always been done.” There’s only so much I can do to argue against that. I can’t remove their fears of financial failure through argument alone or appeals to ethics. Instead, I find it’s up to me to experiment and do new things that they are afraid to do. I understand that not everything I do is always going to be a success, but if I can show them radical empowering alternatives and show there is a paying audience for it, I imagine mainstream producers will be much more willing to break out of their cookie cutter mold.
 
I let a fan ask you a question on Twitter, and here's what they asked: "I am a huge fan of your work, on and off-camera, and wanted to ask you about visibility. For instance, do you feel that your positive contribution to the larger conversation about gender and sexuality is most valuable in your role as a performer or as a public speaker?"
Thanks for such a great question. I’ve actually gotten a slightly different version of this quite a lot. One time after a presentation at the North West Women Studies Association one professor asked me “Why don’t you just make a documentary without any explicit content? Then I could show it in my class.” I tried to explain to her how much power there is in confronting a subject directly - in this case when stereotypes around sexuality are the focus of so much anxiety and prejudice around trans people I feel it’s really important to not just talk about those myths but actively show what our realities actually look like.  Some audiences may shy away from the explicit sex, some will watch despite it, and some will watch because of it.  
 
Because there is so much information about sexuality not included in sex education (not to mention the misinformation in conservative sex ed), and because there’s so little space for teaching about trans issues unless you purposefully seek it out, there is a large portion of the population that gets most of their information and misinformation about sexuality, trans experience, and more from porn. Being able to create films that have *accurate* information, tackle myths and misunderstandings, and exposes people to a wide range of experiences and perspectives, and putting those films on mainstream porn shelves where they get watched by people who otherwise would have no access to that information — that is a powerful form of activism. And I haven’t even mentioned the feedback I’ve gotten from trans folks telling me about the life affirming impact my work has had on them.
 
Public speaking can also be a very direct way to affect change. There have been times I’ve seen a problem going on and have written up a pointed but compassionate letter and managed to get things turned around just through persistent conversation. Speaking directly to audiences I’m able to share a lot more information in a much more condensed format.
 
Ultimately, though, I couldn’t really do one without the other. Many of the speaking engagements I’ve gotten at colleges have only happened because of the films I’ve created. At the same time, the income from those speaking gigs were the only thing that kept me from losing a ton of money on my first two films. That synergy is important and strongly demonstrates a core principle I have around activism: always support a diversity of tactics.
Courtney Trouble

Courtney Trouble is a queer pornographer, performer, and photographer. They are genderqueer, fat, femme, feminist, and full of hope.

Website: www.CourtneyTrouble.Com

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