TransEthics: What does it mean for you to have been in the Trans 100 this year?
Chelsea Poe: It really meant a lot to me. Being recognized by the trans community for my activism is extremely humbling. I think for myself it validates what I have been doing in the industry thus far and really makes me motivated for the future.
TE: Your activism –especially where it intersects with sex work– has ruffled some feathers of late. Tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced.
CP: Just like any other part of the entertainment industry, when someone new with new ideas is going to ruffle feathers. I’ve been able to basically have my entire career without much support needed from mainstream trans porn, and I think that is viewed as a threat to the industry. It’s an extremely do-it-yourself call to porn when currently you see some company owners who are multi-millionaires ,and some of their trans performers are homeless. I think I’m in a really privileged position in this industry right now, and feel like I can make a difference to affect positive change for trans sex workers.
TE: Were you the only sex worker nominated to be in the Trans 100?
CP: No. Jiz Lee, Rebeka Refuse and James Darling were also in the Trans 100 this year.
TE: What was your reaction when you learned you were nominated?
CP: I was really thrilled! Being there is where the realness of the situation sank in. I’m extremely honored that the community is honoring my work. I consider my activism as much my work as my porn and vice versa.
TE: What are some of the changes you’d like to see made in the sex industries where trans women are concerned?
CP: The issues in sex work reflect those in society, so you are going to see racism, fat-phobia, misogyny, workers rights [issues] and transphobia. I think when trans women are able to navigate and have a successful career without having the only choice of being marketed with slurs, [things will be better]. It’s great that some people identify with terms like “shemale”, but I don’t think it’s fair that choice already made for us in porn.
I think the issue of performers going off hormones to perform needs to be addressed, because it’s a huge health risk on top of the dysphoria that usually comes with going off hormones. I think trans porn needs to either evolve or mainstream straight porn will. I think trans women are being extremely accepted by society, and I think that’s going to be reflected in mainstream straight porn. It seems like so many trans porn sites are so invested into the terms and this extreme focus on trans women being in predatory roles.
TE: How do you respond to feminists who claim that trans women are simply predatory men in dresses that wish to invade women-only spaces to commit violent acts?
CP: You really can’t respond to them. They are nothing more than a hate-group denying trans women our gender.
TE: Do you think that the porn industry perpetuates that particular predatory view?
CP: I think it’s particularly niche-porn that perpetuates shaping bodies that aren’t white, cisgender and skinny, instead of portraying the bodies as just being people, it’s about how they are a fetish and it has a shaming effect. I think porn is like any art: it can portray anything but it can be critiqued. Like if there was a movie with “shemale” in the title, there would be huge backlash –but the excuse of “it’s just porn” is false because nothing exists in a vacuum.
TE: What would you like to see the word “shemale” replaced with?
CP: I think it should be replaced with “trans girl” or “trans woman” when its non-trans companies marketing us. Every trans woman has more than the right to define what terms are good for them. I think so much of the violence against the trans community comes from denying us being women or girls, so whenever talking about trans women I think its important to reinforce that.
TE: Do you think the day will come when trans women break into mainstream porn?
CP: I think its going to happen sooner than later. I think there are a few performers who really could really have success in mainstream porn. My mainstream debut with Mile High (my TS Student) is basically a mainstream porn, I shot with Girl/Girl performer Magdalene St. Michaels, and I think more crossover is going to ultimately lead to trans women in mainstream porn.
TE: There’s a lot anti-LGBT bills that seem to be sweeping the nation of late. Do you think it’s related to the recent upswing in trans visibility?
CP: Honestly, I think its awful what passed in Indiana but as a trans woman, the lack of outcry over violence towards trans women really kind of makes me numb to the having outrage about laws like what Indiana is doing.
TE: A similar bill passed in Arkansas and the Governor said he would sign it. What would you say to him?
CP: I really don’t have much to say. It’s clearly going to be ruled Unconstitutional, and just the idea of being outraged about gay capitalism just feels really privileged to me. Like, I get that everyone should serve everyone but when there are trans women being murdered I just almost don’t have the energy to be outraged over a cake shop [not serving gay people].
TE: How do you think society should go about stopping the violence against trans women?
CP: It’s going to take a cultural change. I think there has been a lot of progress, but the sad fact is trans violence is as high as ever. It’s going to take a lot… like trans women having more employment opportunities, hate crime protections, housing protection, and more than anything: a cultural change. This also is an intersection of race for a lot of our community, and I don’t think there one simple way to stop violence against trans women. I believe media representation is extremely important, and I believe the dehumanization of trans life is influenced by some of the depictions in trans porn.
TE: How can we, as trans women, change those negative depictions?
CP: It’s not us to make those things change but rather to speak out about how we feel, and the people controlling how we are presented will be the ones to make a change. I think what is positive depiction for each trans woman is different, but it’s really not us who are currently getting any real say in our depictions.
TE: Do you think trans women will ever be fully accepted by society?
CP: I don’t think that’s something that can really be measured. I think we need to aim for better treatment over acceptance.
TE: Thank you, Chelsea.
CP: Thanks so much!