Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project

Country of Origin:
Format: ,
Running Time: 99 min

Doing It Ourselves: The Trans Woman Porn Project is a self-reflexive documentary that explicitly responds to the lack of non-fetishistic media and pornography by allowing trans women to represent their own sexualities with partners of their choosing.

DVD Cover of Doing It Ourselves

Doing It Ourselves DVD Cover

The first scene features Tobi Hill-Meyer, the filmmaker, coming home to the newest film by Trannywood, a studio that produces pornography exclusively featuring gay trans men. She sits down on her couch and begins watching the film and masturbating with a Hitachi. After she orgasms, two of her friends, also trans women, come in, and they discuss the lack of “trans dyke” porn. They decide that with Hill-Meyer’s filmmaking skills, they could make their own porn and she begins filming her friends kissing and then moving into a bedroom. There are three more scenes, each beginning with a brief discussion of performers’ experiences with pornography and what they are expecting from their scene. The film features trans women in scenes with each other, with trans men, and with cis women, often in pre-existing relationships. The performers vary widely in gender presentation and consent is clearly verbally negotiated during sexual encounters, with participants laughing and admitting when things are uncomfortable.

Rather than fetishizing the bodies and especially genitalia of trans women as anomalous, the film emphasizes whole people and interpersonal dynamics. This is done with self-reflexive cinematography. The performers actively discuss filming themselves and there are frequent shots of the performers in the LCD display of the camera. In contrast to mainstream pornography, which shows genitals in intrusive, sensationalized close-ups, Doing It Ourselves features more medium shots, which focus on skin and body movement, frustrating habitual audience attempts to scrutinize physical differences. The performers’ identities also normalize gender and sex variation; surgical status is not emphasized in any way. The DVD extras feature interviews with all the performers, humanizing them and allowing them to speak for themselves about other parts of their lives aside from sex. Hill-Meyer also uses her work to build community, interacting online via tumblr and giving interviews in small queer publications.

Hill-Meyer is planning a sequel, Doing it Again: In Depth, which will be about how trans women navigate relationships and hooking up, both with trans and cis partners. It will explore how intersections such as race, class, ability and survivor status influence how trans women connect and flirt with sexual and romantic partners. It will be released as a two volume DVD, with a volume each on trans women with trans partners and trans women with cis partners. The Kickstarter campaign for the film raised enough funds that a third volume will be made about genderqueer and gender non-conforming trans women, as well as trans women with genderqueer and gender non-conforming partners. The open casting call again encourages people in mid and long term relationships to apply to represent intimate interpersonal dynamics, as well as identities that are underrepresented in pornography, such as people of color, people over forty, and trans men.

Dish: Women, Waitressing & The Art of Service (Dir: Maya Gallus, 2010)

Country of Origin:
Running Time: 68 min

Krystal, a worker at Hooters-esque restaurant.

Dish, which was an official selection of the 2010 Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, is a produced by Red Queen Productions, which is Toronto-based and founded by the filmmaker herself (Gallus) and her co-producer, Justine Pimlott.  Both women have quite a bit of experience in the business — Gallus made her first film in 1991 and has been in the industry since.

The film is made in classic documentary style — it follows women from different parts of the world in different types of waitressing jobs: truck stop waitresses, a diner owner, waitresses in Montreal’s “sexy restos,” nude waitresses, a female maitre d’hotel, and waitresses in Japanese “maid cafes.”  The film does much of its work through interviews.  Gallus is not present throughout the film, and its only voice is that of the women it interviews (and one man).

As I scoured the internet for reviews of the film, I found this quote from one blogger: “While the doc shows us the very different styles of serving, one common theme is apparent throughout the film. This job is not easy and it takes a special kind of person to pull it off. Patience, understanding, the ability to please and the stamina to work the long hours for a pay that isn’t exactly promised to you is a challenge I would never want to take on. I never assumed that the art of serving was an easy one but the film did show me that it’s still harder than I had imagined.”  This is something of a misreading of the film — in fact, the film is working towards painting a picture of the gender discrepancies involved in the service industry.  It’s not just about the “art of service” — it’s about the art of service as experienced by a woman.  The film subtly juxtaposes each woman’s experience to create a wide-reaching portrait of the service industry and the people involved in it, while also inserting a quiet feminist critique of the gender dynamics that are often implicit in the work of waitressing.

Dish would work well to jump start class discussion in several ways.  The film raises the question of the specific film tools the director uses to get her message across to the viewer.  It also is a good film to use to examine the practice of documentary-making more widely: how do people change when they get in front of the camera?  What was left out of this story?  Was it intentional?  What is the value of interview footage?  How “true” is the story that the film tells?

Daisy Schmitt 2011.

Pink Saris

Country of Origin:

Pink Saris (Produced for UK Channel 4,shot in Uttar Pradesh, India, US Distributor Women Make Movies)

Pink Saris is a new documentary from Kim Longinotto that follows the efforts of the Gulabi Gang, or Pink Gang, a group of female vigilantes against domestic violence in the lower castes of Northern India. The group was founded by Sampat Pal after she was forced out of her home for fighting back when her husband and her in-laws beat her. When women are in trouble, they find Sampat and she fights for them, either through law enforcement or through negotiating with the women’s husbands and families-in-law.

The documentary focuses on Sampat, following her as she negotiates on behalf of five different women. It mostly lets Sampat speak for herself, employing no voiceover, limited subtitles of background information, and brief questions asked of Sampat and her clients. The majority of the film consists of dialogue between Sampat and others. It is clear that Longinotto is in awe of Sampat and her great efforts for women, but it does not shy away from showing her actions that are easily unlikeable. She sends her niece back to the in-laws who beat her in order to garner good will with the family. Within twelve hours, the girl is beaten again.

The film succeeds best at raising awareness of the pervasiveness of the issue of domestic assault and general mistreatment of women of the lowest castes in India, showing that there are few good options for many of the women in these situations. Many of Sampat’s solutions involve sending her charges back to abusive relatives, after negotiation promising change, but with no guarantee that this will be true.

The film was featured at several prominent international festivals (IDFA, Toronto) and has been nominated for s 2011 BAFTA for Best Single Documentary.

Alex Younger April 2011