The New Wave of Trans Cinema
I spent my weekend watching transpeople fuck on film. A lot. OK, a lot is a relative term. I mean it took up a chunk of time, but there's not exactly an abundance of independently produced tranny porn around. In fact, there's a big disparity within the genre that breaks down by (what else?) gender. Most porn featuring transwomen is slick, heterocentric, and all about fetishizing "chicks with dicks"—it occupies a comfortable, profitable niche in the mainstream adult-film industry. Most porn featuring transmen and other genderqueers is homemade, do-it-yourself, grassroots fare that's rough around the edges and self-distributed. (Buck Angel is the major exception to this rule—much of his work has mainstream distribution and acknowledgement.) It's queer, genderfucking, community-based, and political. That's what was in my DVD player.
Couch Surfers is the second movie from San Francisco–based Trannywood Pictures (trannywoodpictures.com), a project of Brazen Garage Squad, which also owns Eros, the Bay Area's well-known sex club for men, and one of the few bathhouses in the country that welcomes transmen. The film was shot at Eros, and about half the people involved are current or former employees. As soon as you open the DVD case, it's clear that this company is working on an entirely different model: How many pornos do you know that come with educational literature? Trannywood's first production, Cubbyholes, included a well-written booklet on safer sex for transguys; Couch Surfers comes with A First-Timer's Guide to Playing With Transguys, a succinct, helpful little missive with tips on how to get down with a transmasculine person.
The reading material isn't the only thing that makes the movie alternative: Safer-sex practices are incorporated seamlessly, and there's a diversity of body types, from skinny butts and tattooed skin to big bellies and hairy asses. The standout scene is a double-fisting threeway between Dex Hardlove, Brett McCloskey, and Ian Sparks—studly Dex is the most charismatic of the entire cast and has true presence on-screen, while Brett comes off as a sex pig in the best sense of the word, hungry and unafraid of his seemingly endless appetite for fucking. My only complaint is that the bonus disk is light on extra material. The orgy scene is actually one of the best scenes overall, and I'm surprised it wasn't included in the film, since the guys look the most relaxed in it. But I want interviews with these boundary-busting sex performers: I want to know who they are and why they decided to fuck on film.
The most notable and unique element of the movie is how each performer's different sexual boundaries are communicated to the viewer. In a typical porn flick, everyone seems to be up for everything that happens; hesitation, slowing down, or choosing not to do something isn't really part of the equation. In Couch Surfers, some guys never take their clothes off, others get naked, and others fall somewhere in between. Some do the fucking, others get fucked, others switch, and which holes (if any) are open for exploration depends on the guy. The sheer diversity of sucking, fucking, licking, jerking, and fisting is an education in and of itself. This should be required viewing for anyone who wants to know more about transmen who have sex with other men. Ken Rowe, co-owner of Trannywood, told me that productions are run cooperatively: "Each scene is negotiated, framed and developed by the actors . . . many guys have developed their own style or comfort zones in a vacuum, and Trannywood is one place they can showcase how they have sex and also push their own boundaries if they want."
These boys pushed my boundaries, too. I'll admit that when a guy kept his tightie-whities or jock strap on, I sometimes got distracted wondering what was underneath; when everyone was naked, it was easier for me to focus on a scene. I caught myself in a who's-got-what guessing game, and these scenes challenged me to rethink my own biases about what porn is, how sex can be shot, and if visible genitals equal sex.
The men behind Trannywood credit Morty Diamond (mortydiamond.com), director of Trannyfags, as one of their influences, and Diamond has a new film of his own currently making the indie film-fest rounds. Trans Entities: The Nasty Love of Papí and Wil is Diamond's documentary-style porno love story about two sex radicals who consider themselves male, female, both, and neither. It's the best transporn film I've ever seen, mostly because of the way we get to know the couple through Diamond's intimate, interview-driven story. Frank, articulate, and madly in love, Papí and Wil talk about being kinky, polyamorous people of color—from BDSM to spirituality, no topic is off-limits, including their genders. They both haven't changed their bodies with hormones or surgeries, and feel comfortable moving in and out of masculinity and femininity.
The sex flows easily in and out of the narrative, which is well-paced and well-edited. In their first sex scene, the couple play a sort of erotic version of the game Mercy, seeing which one can withstand hard smacks to the chest the longest. Their play is definitely not for the faint of heart; the awkwardness between partners in most amateur porn (including Couch Surfers) is absent from this duo's highly charged screen romp. As they get deeper into their scene, their genders become malleable and less significant than their connection with one another. The second scene features the two playing with their lover, Chris, and it's full of slapping, spanking, and dominance and submission. The more you get to know the three of them, the more the intensity is amped up. The film culminates in an interrogation role-playing scene fueled by their intense passion and love of dramatics, wherein we witness the before-and-after communication. As in the Trannywood movie, boundaries figure prominently in Trans Entities, but this time the focus is on exploring sexual taboos, physical limits, and power.
Diamond himself stomps all over the line between porn and portrait (he calls it "docu-porn"), adding another level to the film that makes it work as a thoughtful documentary, a meditation on queer love, and a dirty jerk-off movie—all at the same time. It's no mistake that films produced by, for, and about transfolk break down seemingly finite categories, create new iconography, and redefine sexual images and stories.
For more of Tristan Taormino's work, please visit Puckerup.com.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in New York, delivered to your inbox.