Trans Ethics: You recently started a petition to get websites to stop using terms like ‘”tranny” and “shemale”. How is that coming along?
Chelsea Poe: A few sites changed their policy after the petition was launched in November. Right now only 3 major companies still use the term “shemale” and I think sites like Trans 500 are the future of trans porn. That is high quality, mainstream porn that just happens to be of trans women without the offensive terms. I’ve been working with Nica Noelle and Courtney Trouble a lot lately and I think they are also bringing an entire new view of trans sexuality from a really artistic place. Their porn is also going to bring a lot of changes to what the state of trans porn is in the future.
TE: There are some models out there who actively promote themselves using those terms, not finding them offensive at all. How do you respond to the models that don’t have an issue with those terms? Do you think they perpetuate a negative stereotype?
CP: I am all for trans women using any words they want to market themselves. Who the petition is targeting is non-trans owned sites who use transphobic language without the consent of the community. GLAAD has ruled the term “shemale” as a slur and the trans community has been extremely outspoken about the term. (Ru Paul had a bit on his show that was removed because of the use of “shemale”.) I don’t think its my place –or that of anyone– to judge other sex workers’ choices, nor do I want mine judged.
TE: That’s completely understandable. How did you get into the Industry?
CP: I started camming when I turned 20 and about a year later I saw Jiz Lee speak at a local university. Seeing their work and their passion behind it really made me want to go out to the bay area & try to make queer porn. Four months later, I had my first shoot on the Crash Pad series, then my scene on Transgrrrls turned out to be pretty successful. At the end of that Summer, I decided to make the jump and move from Michigan to Oakland to do porn full time in December of 2013.
TE: Your career really took off quickly. You made Trans Lesbians shortly after that, didn’t you?
CP: Trans Lesbians was actually shot in two parts. My scene with Bailey Jay we shot in April in this super amazing old hotel in Manhattan. My scene with Betti Rubble was shot in July so with it, so its been a while since I actually shot those scenes.This was actually my project after I shot Fucking Mystic which was one of the first projects I got into once I moved to the Bay. I’m honestly super excited it came out, because the concept of three trans women getting a featured in a lesbian DVD is revolutionary. I’m beyond honored to be on a DVD with two of the most groundbreaking trans performers.
TE: You really made a breakthrough with Fucking Mystic. You did more than just star in that film, correct?
CP: Courtney Trouble, Coco Pop, William Control and I all collaborated on Fucking Mystic. I was involved from casting, to writing, to co-directing, to marketing, and I own half the rights to the film. It put me in a place where I could really have freedom and control over my content that most performers never get. For example William Control’s music really set the tone I wanted to convey, and I’m happy I had the freedom to get him involved. With most porn music is an afterthought.
TE: It certainly was a much better approach. Like you said, it’s revolutionary. How do you respond to people who say transgender women can’t be lesbians?
CP: You kind of can’t. I mean if you identify as something, no one can tell you anything that can take that away from you. I’m a dyke because I know I’m a dyke, not because someone is telling me I am. I really think anytime you’re trying to question someone’s identity you’re probably on the wrong side of things. Trans women being dykes is an intersection of homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia. Its completely ridiculous that so many people –even LGBT people– will overlook transmisogyny.
TE: Why do you think trans people (trans women in particular) are so marginalized by the rest of the LGB community?
CP: I think it has to do with the evolution of the LGBT movement where particularly, as of late, it is extremely about gay capitalism and issues like gay marriage that get mainstream acceptance. While issues like Trans Women of Color being murdered, or trans women being kept of women’s spaces doesn’t fit into the mainstream view of Gay Rights in 2015. I think the depictions of trans women in the media is still pretty limited to the point where any comedy show will [make] a transphobic joke and there isn’t any real backlash.
TE: How do you respond to people who say trans women are too sensitive and need to “lighten up” when it comes to that sort of thing?
CP: Over the last year I learned you can’t respond to those people. I am from the Midwest, and I know how much queer porn and hearing about trans issues matter to queers in isolated areas. I mean, I go all around the country and the first thing people bring up if they know me is my activism. Porn is great and I love performing, but I think what I as a trans queer woman has to say is just as important as how big of a cock I can take.
TE: You spoke a bit about the socio-economics in the mainstream LGBT movement. Was discrimination against trans women a factor in you deciding to enter the sex industries?
CP: It kind-of affected it. I was a concert promoter before I started doing porn, so I was basically a broke kid from the punk scene in the Midwest. I think if, lets say, I did get a regular job I was interviewed for, I would probably be working at Hot Topic in Grand Rapids, Michigan. So everything kind of worked out for the better for me.
TE: Your activism already got the name of the “Tranny Awards” changed to “Transgender Erotica Awards”. Where do you see your activism headed next?
CP: Venus Lux wrote an article about the treatment of trans women by mainstream porn, and her experience at AVN. I really hope that trans women get more visibility within mainstream porn, and at the AVN Expo next year. I think trans inclusion is going to keep happening, and I think the terms like “shemale” are going to keep getting slowly phased out as their customers get more education about trans women.
TE: What do you think is the major obstacle keeping trans women out of mainstream porn?
CP: I think the biggest thing is the isolation of trans porn from mainstream porn. I feel once you see big name performers shooting with trans people and actually talking to them on set, they’ll see that there is no reason for the exclusion of trans people. Trans women being visible in places like AVN and making in-life connections is what’s going to change people’s view of why trans women can’t be in mainstream porn.
TE: How do you respond to people who are anti-sex work, claiming it’s unethical and women need to be “rescued” from it?
CP: Whenever anyone is speaking over women’s voices and their experiences, [they are] really missing the point. Porn is like any other industry: there are issues but rather than condemn an entire industry, I believe we need to try to put a real effort to improve it like any other industry would. I do porn because I love it. I love directing, writing, performing in, and watching it. I know it can really provide people with something that can [truly] impact them in a serious way. I had trans women who told me that my porn saved their lives, because they never saw anyone having sex like they had sex or someone with their body. I think its backwards to throw all the positive things porn does away because of some issues that do exist in the industry.
TE: We both remember Leelah Alcorn. And so far this year there have been four trans women murdered in the US, three of which were Trans Women of Color. How can we, as trans women, work to fix society and stop violence against us?
CP: I think just speaking out as much as possible about our struggles and our successes. It can make that teenage trans girl in Ohio realize she can make it out, or an activist with first hand experience of violence as a Trans Woman of Color could express her experience without being co-opted by the media. I don’t know if there is truly a way to fix it, but the one thing I think that can create change is getting more trans voices heard so our experiences are part of this nation’s consciousness.
TE: If you could say one thing — one or two sentences — that everyone in America would hear, what would it be?
CP: I really don’t know simply because I think a lot of other voices need the national dialog before me. I –as a white passing trans woman– do have a lot of privilege and I think others need that voice more than I.
TE: What advice would you give to people like me, who came out later in life?
CP: I haven’t really experienced that so I can’t give much advice. I think its important to not try to conform to any gender or sexual binaries and just let yourself become the person you are.
TE: Just one more question: Do you think trans people will have equality in your lifetime?
CP: I don’t think true equality is going to happen, but I think the concept of being trans is going to change to an extremely young narrative where you are going to see kids transitioning before puberty, and its going to become more socially accepted.
You can follow Chelsea Poe on Tumblr.