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Introduction Brown Sugar
Theorizing Black Women’s Sexual Labor in Pornography
You are not supposed to talk about liking sex because you are already
assumed to be a whore.—JEANNIE PEPPER
In a private gathering following the East Coast Video Show in Atlantic City
in 2002, legendary performer Jeannie Pepper received a special achievement
award for twenty years in the porn industry, the longest career for any black
adult actress. “It’s been a long, hard road,” she said to the audience of adult
entertainment performers, insiders, and fans as she accepted the award from
popular adult film actor Ron Jeremy. “There weren’t many black women in
the business when I started.”1 In 1982, when Jeannie Pepper began her career
as an actress in X-rated films, there were few black women in the adult film
industry. Performing in more than two hundred films over three decades,
Jeannie broke barriers to achieve porn star status and opened doors for other
women of color to follow.2 She played iconic roles as the naughty maid, the
erotically possessed “voodoo girl,” and the incestuous sister in films like Guess
Who Came at Dinner?, Let Me Tell Ya ’Bout Black Chicks, and Black Taboo. She
traveled abroad as a celebrity, working and living in Germany for seven years.
In a career that spanned the rise of video, DVD, and the Internet, Jeannie
watched the pornography business transform from a quasi-licit cottage industry into a sophisticated, transnational, and corporate-dominated industry.
In 1997 Jeannie was the first African American porn actress to be inducted
into the honored Adult Video News (AVN) Hall of Fame. By all accounts,
Jeannie had an exceptionally long and successful career for an adult actress:
she was well liked by her colleagues, and was a mentor to young women new
to the porn business. Yet, as her acceptance speech reveals, her experience of
being a black woman in the porn industry was shaped by formidable challenges. As in other occupations in the United States, black women in the adult
FIGURE I.1. Jeannie Pepper during her tour of Europe, Cannes, France, 1986.
Courtesy of JohnDragon.com.
FIGURE I.2. Jeannie Pepper poses in the nude before onlookers outside of the Carlton
Hotel, Cannes, France, 1986. Courtesy of JohnDragon.com.
film industry are devalued workers who confront systemic marginalization
and discrimination.
Jeannie became a nude model and adult film actress in her twenties because she enjoyed watching pornography and having sex, and she was keen
to become a path-maker in an industry with few black female stars: “I just
wanted to show the world. Look, I’m black and I’m beautiful. How come
there are not more black women doing this?”3 She felt especially beautiful
when in 1986 she did a photo shoot with her photographer husband, a German expatriate known as John Dragon, on the streets of Paris. Dressed only
in a white fur coat and heels, Jeannie walked around, posing in front of the
Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, cafés, luxury cars, and shops. Coyly allowing
her coat to drape open (or off altogether) at opportune moments, she drew
the attention of tourists and residents alike. She imagined herself as Josephine
Baker, admired in a strange new city for her beauty, class, and grace. Finding
esteem and fearlessness in showing the world her blackness and beauty, even
in the cityscapes of Paris, Hamburg, or Rome, Jeannie felt she embodied an
emancipated black female sexuality.
Still, she remained conscious of the dual pressures of needing to fight for
recognition and opportunity in the adult business, especially in the United
States, and having to defend her choice to pursue sex work as a black woman.4
BROWN SUGAR
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As Jeannie asserts in the epigraph, she perceived that part of the difficulty of
being a professional “whore”—in photographs and films—was the expectation that she was not supposed to talk about or inhabit her sexuality in
ways that would seem to exacerbate harmful stereotypes about black women,
namely their alleged hypersexuality. Black women sexual performers and
workers have had to confront a prevailing stigma: if all black women are considered to be sexually deviant, then those who use sex to make a living are the
greatest threat to any form of respectable black womanhood.
“Brown sugar,” this popular imaginary of African American women, saturates popular culture. In songs, films, music videos, and everyday life, the discourse of brown sugar references the supposed essence of black female sexuality. It exposes historical mythologies about the desirable yet deviant sexual
nature of black women. Publicly scorned and privately enjoyed, the alluring,
transformative, and supposedly perverse sexuality of black women is thoroughly cemented in the popular imaginary. Seen as particularly sexual, black
women continue to be fetishized as the very embodiment of excessive or nonnormative sexuality. What is most problematic about this sticky fetishism—in
addition to the fact that it spreads hurtful and potentially dangerous stereotypes with very real material effects—is that the desire for black women’s
sexuality, while so prevalent, is unacknowledged and seen as illegitimate in
most popular discourse.
As a metaphor, brown sugar exposes how black women’s sexuality, or more
precisely their sexual labor, has been historically embedded in culture and
the global economy. Now a key component of the profitable industries of
entertainment and sex in the United States, brown sugar played a central
role in the emergence of Western nation-states and the capitalist economies.
Across the American South and the Caribbean, black slaves cultivated and
manufactured sugar that sweetened food, changed tastes, and energized factory workers in the Industrial Revolution.5 In addition to physical labor, their
sexual labor was used to “give birth to white wealth,”6 and was thus the key
mechanism for reproducing the entire plantation complex. “Sugar was a murderous commodity,” explains Vincent Brown, “a catastrophe for workers that
grew it.”7 The grinding violence and danger that attended sugar’s cultivation
in colonial plantations literally consumed black women’s labor and bodies.8
Brown sugar, as a trope, illuminates circuits of domination over black
women’s bodies and exposes black women’s often ignored contributions to
the economy, politics, and social life. Like sugar that has dissolved without a
trace, but has nonetheless sweetened a cup of tea, black women’s labor and the
mechanisms that manage and produce it are invisible but nonetheless there.
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INTRODUCTION
To take the metaphor a bit further, the process of refining cane sugar from its
natural brown state into the more popular white, everyday sweetener reflects
how black women, like brown sugar, represent a raw body in need of refinement and prone to manipulation. The lewdness and raw quality associated
with brown sugar in popular discourse today thus shows how ideas about
black women as naturally savage, super-sexual beings have flavored popular
tastes even as they have driven a global appetite for (their) sweetness. While
processed white sugar is held up as the ideal, there remains a powerful desire,
indeed a taste, for the real thing.
The metaphor of brown sugar exposes how representations shape the world
in which black women come to know themselves. But stereotypes usually
have dual valences: they may also be taken up by the oppressed and refashioned to mean something quite different. Although brown sugar has been
used as a phrase to talk about black women as lecherous, prurient sex objects, unlike other tropes such as the Mammy, Jezebel, or Sapphire, it conveys
sweetness, affection, and respect. In African American vernacular speech and
song, brown sugar often expresses adoration, loveliness, and intimacy even
as it articulates lust, sensuality, and sex (along with other illicit, pleasuregiving materials like heroin or marijuana).9 As in the saying, “the blacker the
berry, the sweeter the juice,” brown sugar is sometimes used by black people
to speak to the complex pleasures they derive from their own eroticism. In
this book brown sugar references a trope that black women must always broker. Sometimes they refashion this trope to fit their needs. As Jeannie Pepper
shows, some black women choose to perform brown sugar—the perverse,
pleasurable imago projected onto black women’s bodies—in an effort to express themselves as desired and desiring subjects. Given the brutal history
of sexual expropriation and objectification of black bodies, these attempts
by black women to reappropriate a sexualized image can be seen as a bid to
reshape the terms assigned to black womanhood. In this case, brown sugar
might be a realm for intervention in their sexualization.
Some black women might view Jeannie Pepper, the porn star, as a menace
to the hard-fought image of respectable womanhood they have sought to create for more than one hundred years.10 Nevertheless, even though black sex
workers know that their labor is seen to constitute a betrayal of respectable
black womanhood, some pursue it. Their reasons may be purely economic:
it’s a job, and they must survive and take care of their families, after all. Or, in
Jeannie Pepper’s case, their motivations could be to take pleasure in “show[ing] the world” a beautiful and sexually self-possessed black woman. While
such a move to represent oneself may be viewed, especially by many in the
BROWN SUGAR
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African American community, as perpetuating historical and ongoing stereotypes born out of horrible abuse, it is a powerful statement about how some
black women redefine what respectable womanhood means for them. For
Jeannie, more important than respectability, is respect.11 Respect means being
acknowledged and valued for her performative sexual labor and treated as a
star. Jeannie Pepper’s story illustrates how the perception of black women as
hypersexual, which has persisted since the slave trade, has made it extremely
difficult to acknowledge that some black women have an interest in leveraging hypersexuality. But it is possible to leverage this treacherous discourse and
the black women who speak to us in A Taste for Brown Sugar explain how.
They use the seductive power of brown sugar to intervene in representation,
to assert their varied sexual subjectivities, and to make a living. In the process
of making tough choices about how and when to commodify their sexualities,
these women offer more complex readings of black gender and sexual identity
than now prevail in the academy and popular culture. Porn is an important
terrain in which this alternative sexual politics can emerge.
Pornography as Culture and Industry
Pornography is a highly controversial category, not just for its content but
because it sparks heated debates about its role in society. Most often pornography is defined as a genre of mass-produced written or visual materials
designed to arouse or titillate the reader or viewer. A facet of entertainment
culture and a domain of the commercial sex industry since its modern circulation in literature, photography, and film in the nineteenth century, pornography has been powerfully regulated as the explicit, obscene edge of acceptable forms of sexuality. It is also more than a kind of object or media;
pornography is an idiom that communicates potent, blunt, and transgressive sexuality operating at the boundaries of licit and illicit, sacred and profane, private and public, and underground and mainstream culture. Hence, as
Walter Kendrick argues, “‘pornography’ names an argument, not a thing.”12
Pornography becomes a map of a culture’s borders, a “detailed blueprint of
the culture’s anxieties, investments, contradictions,”13 and a site of cultural
contest about social access and social prohibition.14 Focusing on pornography since the rise of the modern adult film industry in the 1970s, A Taste for
Brown Sugar analyzes the operation of black women’s sexuality—its conditions of production, modes of representation, and strategic performances—
in both the industry and idiom of pornography. This book traces the work of
6
INTRODUCTION
the black female body in pornography as a material object, but it also delves
into pornography’s function as a cultural discourse about racialized sexuality.
Does pornography really make much of an impact on how we view sex,
race, and gender? One argument about porn’s relevance is that it is big business with big cultural effects. Many critics have cited the broad impact of pornography on American life since its legalization during the sexual revolution
of the 1960s and ’70s.15 With revenues of nearly $8–$10 billion a year, the adult
entertainment industry is one of the largest entertainment industries in the
United States.16 Pornographic films, videos, and websites are one part of this
larger industry that includes exotic dance clubs, phone sex, magazines, peep
booths, and sex toys. While Hollywood makes nearly four hundred films each
year, the adult industry makes more than ten thousand.17
This book focuses on photographic film and digital media from the turn of
the twentieth century to the early twenty-first, a period during which pornography became a “phenomenon of media culture and a question of mass production.”18 Indeed, mechanisms of mass production and consumption have
become central to the growing convergence of sexual aesthetics and media
industries, and their prominent role in defining private fantasies and public spaces. In recent years we have seen this convergence happening within
popular culture, from “porno chic” fashion, to reality TV shows such as The
Girls Next Door, to mainstream films like Zack and Miri Make a Porno and
Boogie Nights, to adult actress and entrepreneur Jenna Jameson being interviewed on Oprah. Porn as an entrance into everyday consumer life can be seen
as producing what many critics have termed the “pornification” or “pornetration” of culture.19 Previously illicit subcultures, communities, and sexual
practices have been brought into the public eye through pornography, and in
the process they have made their way into other modes of culture, including
fashion, art, mainstream film, music, and television. Celebrity sex tapes, political sex scandals, and popular sex panics around issues like youth “sexting”
have popularized the idea of public sex as a symptom of a pornographic mainstream media; they ignite worry that what is being projected and amplified is
the worst of American sexual experience in terms of taste, values, and politics. Indeed, based on documentaries such as Chyng Sun’s The Price of Pleasure, one would imagine that the biggest threat to society is not war, torture,
poverty, or environmental degradation, but the proliferation of pornography
and its representation of “bad sex.”20 Rather than an act of romance, intimacy,
or love, bad sex is seen as the product of the narcissistic, self-interested character of our culture. This unfeeling, vulgar kind of sex rubs up against expecBROWN SUGAR
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tations of personal morality and rational social values rooted in traditional,
bourgeois views of sex for the reproduction of proper families and citizens.
Thus, fears of bad sex expose powerful anxieties about how changing meanings and practices around sex might lead to a downward spiral, a debasing of
social life and the nation.21 More than a debate about how sex is represented
in our culture, porn is a site of moral panic about sex itself.
As an act of speech that speaks the unspeakable, pornography has been
defined by what the state has tried to suppress.22 In the process of pushing
against censorship and obscenity regulation, porn presses and redefines the
limits of the culture of sex. Media technologies have played a leading role
in making porn increasingly accessible and part of the public domain. With
so many genres and subgenres of erotic fascination making up pornography’s “kaleidoscopic variorum” we might even think of it in a plural sense:
as pornographies.23 Yet despite its vast proliferation, increased pluralism, and
rich potential for the reimagining of allowable forms of desire, pornography’s
commodification of sex has produced what Richard Fung notes as a “limited
vision of what constitutes the erotic.”24 That porn reproduces predictable,
indeed stereotypical, representations of sexuality for an increasingly nicheoriented marketplace is not surprising given its profit motive. This limited
erotic vision may also be the result of sexually conservative regulatory systems, such as obscenity laws, which have defined what may or may not be
broadcast via media technologies like television or the Internet or sold in
stores, whether locally or across state lines.25 In addition to affecting media
policy, the regulation of sexual culture has reinforced severely narrow representations of gender, desire, and sexuality that make it difficult to construct
alternative imaginaries, even in supposedly transgressive spaces like pornography.26 Nevertheless, pornography reliably takes up the challenge of subverting norms, even as it catalyzes and perpetuates them. The fantasies it produces
offer fertile spaces to read how eroticism, proliferation, commodification, and
regulation get played out at the very heart of our public consciousness.
In many ways porn is a political theater where—in addition to gender, sex,
and class—racial distinctions and barriers are reiterated even as they may
also be manipulated or transformed.27 Race, or more properly racialization,
the process by which meanings are made and power is structured around
racial differences, informs the production side of commercial pornography
in at least two important ways: in the titillating images themselves and in the
behind-the-scenes dynamics where sex workers are hired to perform in the
production of those images.28 Black women, and other people of color, have
historically been included in pornography to the extent that its producers
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INTRODUCTION
seek to commoditize, circulate, and enable the consumption of their images.
Their bodies represent stereotypes of racial, gender, and sexual difference and
the fantasies or deeper meanings behind them.29 Until recently, when black
women and men started to produce and circulate their own pornographies,
those fantasies were seldom authored by black people.
Black women’s images in hardcore porn show that the titillation of pornography is inseparable from the racial stories it tells. A central narrative is
that black women are both desirable and undesirable objects: desirable for
their supposed difference, exoticism, and sexual potency, and undesirable because these very same factors threaten or compromise governing notions of
feminine sexuality, heterosexual relations, and racial hierarchy. Pornography
did not create these racial stories, these fraught imaginings of black being and
taboo interactions across racial difference, but it uses them. What interests
me is the work of racial fantasy, particularly fantasy involving black women.
Given our racial past and present, what is the labor of the black female body
in pornography? As my informants show, the players of pornography’s racial
imaginarium are the ones who can best discern the crucial implications of
these fantasies for black women’s sexual identities and experiences. They
reveal how some black porn actresses tactically employ the performative
labor of hypersexuality to intervene in their representation, “contest it from
within,”30 and provide a deeper, more complex reading of their erotic lives.
Working On, Within, and Against
Historically, enslaved black women were marked as undesirable objects for
white men due to their primitive sexuality. These women, as the myth went,
were so supersexual that they virtually forced white men into sex they ostensibly did not want to have.31 Enslaved black women needed their sexual
powers because otherwise these unwitting white men would never desire
them. This myth concealed, denied, and suppressed the plain sexual exploitation of enslaved and emancipated African American women by casting the
demand for their sexuality, both in images and as labor, as impossible. Chief
to the racial fetishism of black women in pornography, then, is a double focus:
a voyeurism that looks but also does not look, that obsessively enjoys, lingers
over, and takes pleasure in the black female body even while it declares that
body as strange, Other, and abject.32
Black women are of course aware of this regime of racial fetishism in representation (and the social and legal apparatus that sustains it), which licenses the voyeuristic consumption of their bodies as forbidden sex objects.
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As Jeannie Pepper noted, black women are always “already assumed to be”
whores. She, then, uses this insistent myth in her own work. That is, Jeannie
Pepper employs her own illicit desirability in a kind of sexual repertoire. By
precisely staging her sexuality so as to acknowledge and evoke the taboo
desire for it, she shows that racial fetishism can actually be taken up by its objects and used differently. Standing nude on the beach in the South of France
as throngs of tourists look on, Jeannie takes pleasure in presenting herself as
irresistibly captivating and attractive in the face of the denial of those very
capacities. In this way, Jeannie Pepper exposes the disgust for black female
sexuality as a facade for what is really forbidden desire. It is a myth that can
be reworked and redeployed for one’s own purposes.
Jeannie Pepper shows us how black women—particularly sex workers—
mobilize what I term “illicit eroticism” to advance themselves in adult entertainment’s sexual economy.33 Actively confronting the taboo nature and
fraught history of black female sexuality, black sex workers choose to pursue a prohibited terrain of labor and performance. Illicit eroticism provides
a framework to understand the ways in which black women put hypersexuality to use. They do so in an industry that is highly stratified with numerous
structures of desire and “tiers of desirability.”34 Black women’s illicit erotic
work manipulates and re-presents racialized sexuality—including hypersexuality—in order to assert the value of their erotic capital.35
In an industry where they are marginal to the most lucrative productions, and where the quality of productions are largely based on demand,
black women, along with Latinas and Asian women, face a lack of opportunities, pay disparities, and racially biased treatment in comparison to white
women.36 Black women are devalued in terms of their erotic worth, and they
are critical of how they are made lesser players in pornography’s theater of
fantasy. These women seek to mobilize their bodies to position themselves to
the greatest advantage. This mobilization requires a complex knowledge of
what it means to “play the game” and to “play up” race by moving and performing strategically. However, because not everyone is able to increase their
status in the established hierarchies of desire, black women employing illicit
erotic labor face a complicated dilemma: lacking erotic capital, how can they
produce more, and in the process enhance their erotic power, social significance, and economic position?
One strategy for black women in pornography is to work extremely hard to
carve out space and fabricate themselves as marketable and desirable actors.
Their appearance is important to them; they invest a great deal of time and
money on self-fashioning and taking care of their bodies in order to achieve
10
INTRODUCTION
FIGURE I.3. Jeannie Pepper standing before the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, during
her European tour in 1986. Courtesy of JohnDragon.com.
competitiveness. Performance is critical; most performers attempt to portray
seductive eroticism and sexual skill, which may give them an edge with consumers and added appreciation by other actors and producers. In addition to
appearing in adult videos, they actively cultivate themselves as “porn stars,”
which includes creating a captivating persona and becoming a savvy financial manager and entrepreneur. Selling themselves as brands or commodities
means spending a great deal of time on promotion, including at photo shoots,
appearances at trade conventions and entertainment-industry events, and on
their websites, social networks, and chat rooms, to foster a fan base. All these
spaces are spaces of work and contestation where black women must fight
for their worth. Even more important, these primarily young, working-class
black women do all this while also acting as mothers, aunts, daughters, sisters,
and partners called upon to play important caretaking roles in their families.
They are women who use their bodies as resources and their determined intellect as tools to make a living, and sometimes make a name too.
Marginalized and exploited in the labor market, many young, workingclass black women today identify the sex industries as preferred spaces to
make a living for themselves and their families.37 This is not new. As the history of black sexual labor attests, this choice has been recorded as part of
their negotiations of the labor market since slavery and through the Great
Depression.38 Black sex workers make a living when they take sex, which is
associated with leisure and play, and turn it into what Robin D. G. Kelley calls
“play-labor.”39 In commodifying sexuality, play-labor does not necessarily resist or overturn hegemonic institutions of power like patriarchy and racial
capitalism. That is not its purpose. Play-labor is one strategy by which black
women (and others) try to negotiate the existing political economy by using
their corporeal resources, which are some of the only resources many black
working-class women may in fact possess. Given that the other options open
to working-class black women appear in service, care work, or other contingent labor industries, the “choice” to pursue sex work is of course constrained
within a modern capitalist system where all work is exploited work, and black
women’s work is super exploited.40
Part of a continuum of sex work—including streetwalking, private escorting, erotic dancing, modeling, phone sex, and S/M role play—and part
of a history of black women working in underground or gray economies as
“mojo women . . . bootleggers, numbers backers and bawdy house operators,”
black women’s work in pornography maneuvers within illicit and licit sexual
economies to pursue what Sharon Harley describes as “personal and commu12
INTRODUCTION
nity survival.”41 Their maneuvers are generally prompted by market concerns,
like porn’s relatively flexible and high-income work, but also by nonmarket
motives, such as sexual pleasure and the enjoyment of erotic performance.
Garnering fame in the adult entertainment industry is often regarded by performers as a viable aspiration and a stepping-stone to more opportunities
in entertainment. For young black women, attaining fame could also reflect
a desire to harness the erotic capital possessed by recognized black entertainers and actresses such as Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Halle Berry, Pam Grier,
and Josephine Baker.
Jeannie Pepper’s identification with Josephine Baker indicates that some
black women working in porn understand the historical depictions of their
bodies as containing dynamic possibilities for reinterpretation and re-creation
through performance. These women work on representations of black sexuality by using their own bodies and imaginations. These representations—
painful, punishing, or pleasurable—are part of what Asian American studies
scholar and filmmaker Celine Parreñas Shimizu terms the “bind of representation.”42 As for Asian American women and other women of color in
the United States, racialized sexual representation forms black women’s “very
self-recognition every day and every minute.”43 Because black women are
tethered to ontological concepts of sexual deviance, it is vital to acknowledge hypersexuality as a disciplinary instrument that effects pain, trauma,
and abuse in their lives, and which, like other problematic representations of
race, gender, and sexuality, is extremely hard to escape.44
Black women are not just victims of representation, however. Referencing
three black Oscar-winning Hollywood actresses—Hattie McDaniel, Whoopi
Goldberg, and Halle Berry—feminist literary and media scholar Rebecca
Wanzo shows how many black women entertainers recognize the potentially
recuperative nature of their performances. “Familiar with stereotypes about
black female identity,” writes Wanzo, “they have attempted to reconfigure
themselves as central agents of a particular project and then see themselves
as making themselves objects in relationship to this racist history on their
own terms.”45 Like actresses in the racist and sexist Hollywood film industry,
some black actresses in the adult industry also recognize their performances
as spaces to negotiate the overdetermined and reductive depictions, and try
to engage them on their own terms. White American women are not judged
in the same way, nor are they accused of representing the “hypersexuality of
white womanhood.”46 Yet black women, as individuals, often come to stand
for their entire racial group. Not only are black women performers burdened
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with representing every other black woman, they are seen to depict only simplistic and denigrating types.47 Black porn actresses understand that they are
seen as archetypical whores and bad women by both the black community
and the broader, categorically white, culture.
Crucially, these women often assert themselves within these archetypes.
Performers who not only fit the stereotype, but also boldly put it to work in
their performances can be read as having more sophisticated understandings
and counterresponses in relationship to representation than previously acknowledged. In discussing her role as the “voodoo girl” in Let Me Tell Ya ’Bout
Black Chicks, Jeannie explained that she chose a role that, though still a stereotypical representation of exotic, supernatural, and hypersexual black womanhood, she saw as an alternative to the then-standard role of the maid: “So I
played the part of the voodoo girl. I wanted that part. I was glad to have [it]. I
loved the way they dressed me up, with the costume. They made me look very
exotic with all the makeup and feathers, and I was running around [acting
possessed]. But I didn’t want to play the maids. Those other girls were playing
maids. . . . But I like my part.” By playing the exotically fetishized black woman
instead of the recognizable fetish of the servile black maid, Jeannie negotiated
what she saw as a demeaning representation.48 The voodoo girl was not necessarily a positive representation against the maid’s negative one, but it allowed
space for Jeannie to take pleasure in what she identified as a more complex
performance. Dressed as the primitive, magical savage in a tinsel skirt that
looks more fitting for a luau than a voodoo ceremony, colorful neon bangles,
and 1980s eye-shadow-heavy makeup, Jeannie’s voodoo girl uses a magic spell
to conjure two white men to satisfy her sexual appetite. Jeannie brings erotic
charisma and skill to her enthusiastic performance, stretching it beyond its
impish and narrow construction. And, as she attests, her choice to perform
a playful, mysterious, and (literally) self-possessed female character was a
strategic move. Even though this move did not fully dismantle racist regimes
of representation for black women in pornography, Jeannie’s tactics for selfrepresentation are important to recognize.
Angel Kelly, a contemporary of Jeannie Pepper in the 1980s, was the first
black woman to win an exclusive contract from an adult film production
company, Perry Ross’s Fantasy Home Video. An A-list actress like Jeannie,
Angel desperately wanted to make choices in her career that would show her
in what she saw as a positive light: as glamorous, sexy, and beautiful. However, sometimes the nature of the industry meant that she became mired in
the stereotypical construction of black women’s sexuality. Like Jeannie, Angel
was pressured to portray a “voodoo woman”:
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INTRODUCTION
There is one video called Welcome to the Jungle, where I look like an
African, I look like voodoo woman [on the video box cover]. I hate that
picture. I hated it. I hated it! And that’s why I wouldn’t do the movie for
it. So there was no movie, but there was a cover called Welcome to the Jungle and what [the producer, Perry Ross] did was he just
made it a compilation tape. See, they can screw you that way anyway
because when they are shooting pictures they got footage on you, and
they can take all your scenes out of one movie and put it with another
cover in another movie.
As Angel describes, she importantly chose to stand up to the demands of her
producer by refusing to star in the production. Yet she did feel pressure to
dress like an “African voodoo woman” for the Welcome to the Jungle (1988)
photo shoot, because as she told me during our phone interview in 2013,
“Sometimes if you wanted to work you had to swallow it. I tried to hold on
the best I could.” Angel felt bitterly about the experience, noting her lack of
power in relationship to the greater power of studios to use and manipulate
her images. For Angel, who had on occasion played the shuffling maid to a
white family (see The Call Girl), negotiating porn work included evaluating
the terms of each production and deciding how she might infuse the role
with her own desires. Angel expressed to me the pleasures she gained in her
work: “I had a chance to play all types of great characters a man could fantasize about. I was surprised that I had as many female fans as I did male fans.
I had the opportunity to be a star.”
Black women’s counterstrategies of representation involve at times attempting to play the stereotype in order to reverse or go beyond it. At other
times they offer alternative, more complex images of black sexuality, or they
may refuse the roles altogether.49 In my analyses of black women’s participation in pornography, I identify where they tell stereotypical stories in their
performances, but also where performers appear to tell stories about themselves that aspire to go beyond stereotypes, the “immediately available” stories
told about black women.50 Illicit eroticism, like José Esteban Muñoz’s concept
of “disidentification,” describes how cultural workers enact a repertoire of
skills and theories—including appropriating or manipulating certain stereotypes—to “negotiate a phobic majoritarian public sphere that continuously
elides or punishes the existence of subjects who do not conform to the phantasm of normative citizenship.”51 Unlike disidentification, illicit eroticism describes a repertoire of appropriations distinct to the realm of sexual and sexualized labor, available to those whose sexuality has been marked specifically
BROWN SUGAR
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as illicit, including people of color, and queer folk, including queer people of
color. Illicit eroticism conceptualizes how these actors use sexuality in ways
that necessarily confront and manipulate discourses about their sexual deviance while remaining tied to a system that produces them as marginalized
sexual laborers. For Jeannie Pepper and others, leveraging one stereotype can
mean avoiding another. Yet these performers’ layered work as black women
remains connected to their very survival within a punishing field of representation and labor.
Both Jeannie and Angel tell of their aspirations to be seen as more complicated subjects than the pornographic script allowed. Playing up, against,
and within caricature, Jeannie, who delved into a stereotyped role, imagined
herself as an actor depicting a woman with power, one who magically and
mischievously produces men to service her sexual desires, while generating a
kind of glamour and joviality. Imagining a black female pornographic sexuality as joyful, subversive, and attractive, Jeannie’s performance asserts erotic
sovereignty. Her performance attempts to reterritorialize the always already
exploitable black female body as a potential site of self-governing desire, subjectivity, dependence and relation with others, and erotic pleasure.52 Erotic
sovereignty is a process, rather than a completely achieved state of being,
wherein sexual subjects aspire and move toward self-rule and collective affiliation and intimacy, and against the territorializing power of the disciplining state and social corpus. It is part of an ongoing ontological process
that uses racialized sexuality to assert complex subjecthood, inside of the
overwhelming constraints of social stigma, stereotype, structural inequality,
policing, divestment, segregation, and exploitation under the neoliberal state.
Jeannie’s interventions are never separate from the conditions that propelled
and shaped her work in the porn industry during the 1980s, including the
impact of Ronald Reagan’s devastating economic policies on African Americans, and the porn business’s interest in capturing white consumers for blackcast products during the video era.
By foregrounding the testimonies of black porn actresses like Jeannie Pepper and Angel Kelly, I hope to explain how black porn actresses might simultaneously challenge and conform to the racial fantasies that overwhelmingly
define their representations and labor conditions. Their negotiations offer a
view into black women’s needs, desires, and understandings, and into the
deeply felt conflict between what stories about black women exist and what
stories they long to imagine for themselves. Agency, a central concept in feminist thought, is generally understood as a person’s ability to achieve freedom or “progressive change” in the context of everyday and manifold forms
16
INTRODUCTION
of oppression. I draw on postcolonial scholar Saba Mahmood’s productive
conceptualization of agency as a “capacity for action that historically specific
relations of subordination enable and create.”53 Not eliding the role of subordination, Mahmood reveals agency as existing along a continuum. At times
agency enables progressive change or resistive action, and at other times and
contexts it is the “capacity to endure, suffer, and persist.”54
Rethinking the meaning of agency in relationship to black women’s sexuality, I propose to open up the concept of agency by moving away from readings of its equivalence with resistive (sexual) freedom. We might instead read
agency as a facet of complex personhood within larger embedded relations
of subordination. Depending on the historical moment, agency emerges differently and operates along divergent nodes of power. Agency then might be
seen as a dialectical capacity for pleasure and pain, exploration and denial, or
for progressive change as well as everyday survival. Through my close readings of interviews with black performers in the pornography industry, we can
observe their differing forms of agency given changing contexts of representation and circuits of sexual economy.
The tension described above between aspiration and inescapable constraint forms the critical spine of this book. Although it is impossible to decipher what early black pornography actors imagined and desired as they
performed during the rise of pornographic photography and film in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century, it is important to think through the
foundational nature of early pornography as it set the terms for the later performances, labor conditions, and forms of negotiation deployed by black
adult actresses. Chapter 1 examines the fetishization of black women’s bodies
in early pornography and considers how those bodies served as objects of
spectacle, fascination, and disdain within the visual regimes of slavery, colonialism, and Jim Crow. A compulsive desire to sexualize race and to consume
sexual images of black women and men intersected with the rise of commercial pornography, creating a distinct genre that I call “race porn.” Photographs
and films concerning black and black-white sex illuminate how discourses
of racial and sexual difference became calcified during this period. Even in
the most intimate interactions in early pornography racial-sexual borders
are erected, permeated, and then built up again. Deploying what I call a black
feminist pornographic lens, I read the archive of early race porn to contemplate the ways in which early black models and actresses may have reached
past the confines of porn texts to provide performances that give us a surprising view of black female sensuality, playfulness, and erotic subjectivity.
Chapter 2 explores the performances of black porn actresses, like Desiree
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West, during the “Golden Age” of pornography in the 1970s. Not only did
large-scale social transformations alter racial-sexual borders in the United
States during this period, they also transformed meanings and interactions
around pornography itself, such that newly popularized sexual media became an important site for black women. A combination of white fascination
with black sexuality and African Americans’ desire to express a new, assertive sexual politics resulted in what I call “soul porn,” a genre that powerfully shaped black women’s performances and labor. Yet as black actresses
became agents in the production of an emergent porn industry, they faced
the anxieties and subjugations of racial fetishism and were sidelined by the
extreme focus on black male sexuality as the archetype for racial-sexual border crossing.
Throughout its history, technological and social forces have continuously
altered the landscape of the adult industry. In the process technology has
transformed the kinds of texts and modes of production black porn actresses
encountered. Chapter 3 investigates how the adult industry’s adoption of VHS
allowed for the growth of specific markets for black and interracial video. In
this new interracial subgenre black actresses like Jeannie Pepper and Angel
Kelly negotiated ways to assert their performances and professional personas
into a restrictive formula and sometimes hostile terrain. In the early 1990s,
digital media began to shift the production, marketing, and consumption of
pornography, just as the rise of hip hop music began to shift the representations, discourses, and aesthetics associated with black female sexuality.
Chapter 4 interrogates how the convergence of hip hop and pornography
helped establish the trope of the black working-class woman as “ho.” Deploying this figure, the porn industry maintained a segregated, niche-oriented
market for black sexuality based on commercial hip hop aesthetics. In the
process, the ho became an inescapable text that black women in porn must
decipher, and an archetype that speaks to black women’s battles to prevail in
the sexual economy. Using what I call “ho theory,” I analyze the representation of working-class black women’s corporeal labors to insert themselves in
the marketplace of desires, and to both take pleasure in and benefit from the
fetishization of black women’s bodies. In addition, I explore the roles of black
men in hip hop pornography as they are called upon to perform the roles of
pimp or stud in their sex work.
Chapter 5 focuses on the labors of black women performers by asking
what socioeconomic or other forces catalyze them to pursue pornography as
a field of work and site of imagination. How does illicit eroticism, the process by which subjects convert sexuality into a usable resource in the face of
18
INTRODUCTION
a number of compelling forces and constraints, factor into their motivations
to become porn stars? What do black women in porn identify as the most
desirable, pleasurable, and powerful aspects of the industry? Because money,
sex, and fame are the hydraulic factors in my informants’ articulations of the
need and desire for this work, it is important to unpack how the realities of
the business meet with these expectations.
If chapter 5 is concerned with how aspirations collide with real-life experiences, chapter 6 analyzes these real-life experiences and the particular kinds
of entanglements and pressures black porn actresses report as constitutive
elements of their illicit erotic work. Former and current black porn actresses
speak about the undeniable hurdles pornographic labor poses, and about how
they grapple with issues of marginalization, discrimination, and abuse as they
seek to promote their erotic capital under tremendous constraint in a business that profits from their objectification and exploitation. Ultimately, these
sexual laborers expose how black women are made vulnerable by—yet critically intervene in—the larger sexualized economy of advanced capitalism in
the United States. Black porn workers offer an alternative moral economy
that sheds light on how marginalized people within industries like porn can
cocreate social meanings, challenge conditions, and imagine other worlds.
This book identifies pornography as an important location to think about
sexual culture and racial ideologies, particularly in the context of the sexualization of both popular culture and economic opportunities for women.
As such, it is necessarily in conversation with feminist critics and provides a
launching pad to advance the conversation about the role of pornography in
women’s lives. Pornography is a hugely controversial topic for feminists. For
more than thirty years, feminists have been engaged in a fierce debate, widely
known as the Sex Wars, about pornography’s role in society. The feminist antipornography movement emerged out of radical feminist activism during the
1970s, against what was viewed as the proliferation of explicit, misogynistic
images in the media. Antipornography feminists like Andrea Dworkin and
Catharine MacKinnon defined pornography as equivalent to gendered violence, believing that pornography was the “subordination of women perfectly
achieved.”55 For them, pornography commodifies rape and endorses and encourages men’s abusive sexual desires and violent behaviors toward women.56
Alternately, a diverse coalition of queer, anticensorship, liberal, and sexpositive feminists rejected the claims of radical antipornography feminists, citing porn as a convenient scapegoat for social-conservative attacks
on sexual dissent. These critics and activists identified pornography not as
a “unified (patriarchal) discourse with a singular (misogynist) impact,” but
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rather, as Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce member Lisa Duggan contends, as sexual discourse that is “full of multiple, contradictory, layered, and
highly contextual meanings.”57 In other words, viewing practices for pornography are varied and dynamic; viewers are not solely abused by porn or
trained for violent, misogynistic behaviors. While the adult industry is shaped
by the problematics of heteronormative, homophobic, transphobic, and racist
corporatist practices, pornography is not a monolithic or static entity. Porn is
dynamic, diverse, and open for revision, including by those on the margins
such as women, sexual minorities, and people of color.
Black feminists have often followed the antiporn feminist critique described above, arguing that pornography as an industry perpetuates harmful stereotypes about black women’s sexuality.58 While these black feminist
writers are not wrong, the story is more complex, and black women’s performances deserve a more nuanced analysis. Not only do black women’s representations in porn include portrayals that sometimes undermine stereotypes, black actresses often try to capture something quite different from the
meanings normatively attached to their bodies. Moreover, black women in
porn often try to revalue their images and work by fighting for better representations, asserting themselves in their roles, attempting to take control
over their products, and helping other black women in the industry. Black
women in porn also see themselves as a mirror for black women porn viewers. They imagine their relationship with black female porn fans—the group
from which many of these performers came—as empowering and challenging to black women’s sexual politics. By including the performers’ voices in
the discussion we can address questions that are vital to black feminisms, such
as the critical significance of pornography for black women’s sexual labor and
its significance for their own fantasy lives.
Before she started working in porn, Jeannie Pepper was a porn fan. She
had watched sex films in X-rated theaters and imagined seeing more black
women like her represented. Yet she also knew that such a move into the
industry would mark her with a deviance that was overdetermined by the
historical construction of black gender and sexuality. While Jeannie has remained critical of the limits placed on black women in the adult industry and
by black respectability politics, she found affiliation with the iconic celebrity
of Josephine Baker. Baker, for Jeannie, represented a story of financial success, glamour, mobility, autonomy, and sexual rebellion. Baker, like Jeannie,
was an erotic performer who became an icon. It is crucial to understand the
attractions that draw black women to the pornography business. I suggest that
porn work is part of a long struggle by black women to occupy their bodies.59
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INTRODUCTION
The primary methodological interventions of this project are twofold: first,
I converse with porn actresses directly, listening to their voices and taking
seriously their descriptions of their experiences; second, I read the complexity of their performances in pornographic imagery. Even as more attention is given to the workings of race in pornography, few have endeavored
to learn about porn’s meanings by looking at the self-presentations and selfunderstandings of black women working inside the industry.60 Over more
than ten years of fieldwork, I conducted ethnographic research with nearly
sixty black women, and more than forty others involved in the porn business. My research included directors, producers, distributors, agents, crew,
and actors. I talked to black women porn performers while they made dinner
at home, signed autographs at industry conventions, networked and partied
at social events, and prepared for sex scenes on porn sets. As a black woman, I
discovered an affinity with my informants that unsettled the traditional methodological division between researcher and object of study. My informants
trusted me, called on me, and embraced me in their lives. I also became an
advocate for them: I brought my informants to speak to my classes, published
their essays, and strategized with them about how to overcome career and
family hardships. What I found during this decade of fieldwork and personal
interactions challenged the views I had at the start.
For instance I, like many people, thought that women in porn were primarily survivors of sexual abuse who got off a bus in Hollywood and were
whisked away to Porn Valley by some shady pimp. Reading nostalgic accounts
of the “Golden Age” of porn in the 1970s, I also imagined film sets to be an
updated version of Boogie Nights, where playful orgiastic sex ensued between
people who really didn’t care much if the camera was rolling. Instead I found
no single story for the women that enter the porn business. While some admitted coming from abusive or neglectful family backgrounds, others spoke
about having grounded and loving single or dual-parent households. Where I
expected to see unmitigated eroticism I found work sites that were decidedly
desexualized, where cast and crew moved about with workmanlike focus to
get their movies made on time and, ideally, under budget.
It is only by talking to those involved in the production of pornography
that we can move past some of the myths and categorical generalizations
about the business and its controversial products. As a historian, I wanted to
know more about how black women became part of pornography, and what
the changing regulatory, technological, and social contexts of porn’s development over the past century or more meant for black women’s representations,
working conditions, identities, and aspirations. In hunting down long-lost
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vintage pornographic images in libraries and private collections, I soon realized that there was a vast missing archive of black pornography and erotica,
and that black women performing in pornography prior to its deregulation
would unfortunately have to remain unknown and, to an extent, unknowable.
As a feminist, I wanted to understand how mainstream pornography,
which appears to be so extremely focused on addressing white heterosexual
male pleasure, is actually experienced by the women involved in making it.
While it was not possible to track down black adult film actresses who worked
prior to the 1980s, I discovered that the women I did contact were willing, if
not eager, to talk about their experiences and to be understood. Like Jeannie
Pepper, they knew that even to speak about their lives and work would challenge the stigma and silence around these issues for black women. Yet my
informants fiercely desired to be seen and heard, to tell their stories and explain their performances, especially to another black woman. I had no choice
but to see and hear them. This book is my attempt to recover and redress an
untold dimension of black women’s sexual lives, by letting them speak for
themselves.
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INTRODUCTION
Bound by Expectation:
The Racialized Sexuality of Porn Star Keni Styles
CELINE PARREÑAS SHIMIZU
Celine Parreñas Shimizu works as a filmmaker and film scholar and
is professor in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her first book, The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American on Screen and Scene won the
Cultural Studies Book Award from the Association for Asian American Studies in 2009, and her second book is Straitjacket Sexualities:
Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies. Recently, her first
feature film, Birthright: Mothering Across Difference, won the Best Feature Documentary at the Big Mini DV Festival. She teaches popular
culture, social theories of power and inequality, race and sexuality,
and film and performance theory and production. She is currently at
work on her new film, Stoop Labor. For more, see www.celineshimizu
.com.
I
n the now classic 1989 essay “Looking For My Penis,” Richard Fung
identifies the predominance of Asian men performing as bottoms in
gay porn.1 While critic/filmmaker Hoang Tan Nguyen’s work critiques
the rendering of the bottom as undesirable, as if lacking power,2 Richard
Fung’s work captures a critique that I call “straitjacket sexuality” which I
define in my recent book as constrained definitions of sex that privilege
norms and limit our understanding of the diversities of sexuality. That
is, when Fung critiques the lack of a wide range of representations for
Asian men in western pornography, his point shows us how such a limited scope acts like a chokehold on the sexual possibilities available to
Asian men not only in pornographic imagery, but on the horizon of representations we can further imagine. Aggravating the problem of limited
Asian male representations in pornography, antipornography scholars
like Melissa Farley present the representations of racialized subjects as
the ultimate manifestation of pornography’s victimizing power.3 Supposedly, the kind of sex scenes featuring people of color in pornography damages and destroys subjects already assaulted by racial inequality
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in scenes of everyday life. Unlike Farley’s logics that simply declare the
racism of pornography as matter-of-fact, Fung’s writing and video work
describe how pornography and explicit representations can illuminate
ongoing struggles around racialized sexualities. His work Steam Clean
(1990) educates and humanizes, especially in times like the 1980s and
90s, the AIDS crisis. And in Orientations (1986) and Chinese Characters (1990) the method of multiple perspectives is crucial in representing
a wide range of identities under the categories of queer and Asian. He
makes sure to represent a number of characters so that each presents a
network of identities who define themselves from multiple angles. His
method ensures how specific members of Asian American gay, lesbian,
transgender, or queer communities disseminate the diversity of their
desires, practices, and identities. Using open-ended questions, Fung’s
subjects not only speak for themselves in describing their sexual experiences, but understand and theorize their particular actions and their
significance for themselves and in relation to others.
Pornography, like other media technologies, can be deployed by
people of color to represent themselves as sexual subjects—who can
own their desires and learn something about themselves. Rather than
defining sexual representations as manifestations of racism, filmmakers of color like Fung do so within a framework of subjects-in-struggle,
who engage sexuality as a process while making their own images. That
is, they use media in an attempt to understand their sexualities within
and against imposed definitions and established ideas about their racial
identities. To use Michel Foucault’s words, “how people actually conceive themselves and their sexual behavior” is what we see carefully set
up and drawn out in methods that don’t already assume the meanings of
racialized sexuality.4
Taking Richard Fung’s approach—the power of talking through one’s
representations to make sense of one’s struggles with sexuality and race,
I evaluate the impact of Keni Styles, widely regarded as the first Asian
heterosexual male performer in the US pornography industry. He has
received more than a dozen award nominations (including Male Performer of the Year in 2011 by AVN and the Urban X Awards) and won
Best Male Newcomer at the UK Adult Film Awards in 2006 and Male
Acting Performance of the Year at the XBIZ Awards in 2011, which illustrates not only Keni Styles’s popularity, but his ability to cross geographic
borders. Fascinating about Keni Styles is a Thai and British masculinity
or an Asian masculinity that is forged within multiple western contexts,
including the United States where he works. I keep this in mind as I look
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289
at how racialized sexuality is configured in his own narrative and how
his racialized sexuality is conveyed in feminist pornographer Tristan
Taormino’s Rough Sex #3: Adrianna’s Dangerous Mind (2011), in a group
sex scene nominated for an Adult Video News award.
As the first Asian heterosexual porn star in western pornography,
Keni Styles may embody the missing penis, whose search was called
for by Richard Fung. After establishing himself in the US porn industry, Styles embarked upon a business of helping other men through an
instructional video: his self-representation arrives not in the form of
directing his own narrative pornographic work but as a how-to pornographic video called Superman Stamina (2011). The product purports
to help alleviate men’s problems with premature ejaculation by making
available the philosophies and sexual practices of porn stars. With an
approach that presumably addresses both the mind and body, Styles
promises to provide an education that will change lives through better
sex. In close readings of the marketing of the product, I note that he uses
his racial background and experiences, in terms of his racialization by
others, as linked to premature ejaculation. In effect, his sexual problems
are racial problems. Considering his position as the first Asian male heterosexual porn star, what does it mean for one who is a member of a
group usually seen as lacking in sexual power, especially in the movies,
to offer a solution to the problem of lack? In the process, does he offer
an alternative masculinity to the one that judges Asian American men as
inadequate? I am especially intrigued at the possibility of his showing us
not only how to find your penis but what new discourses of masculinity
he generates, if any. I then compare his how-to pornographic video to
the feminist porn work of Tristan Taormino. Bringing together these two
works will help me assess the significance of Keni Styles whose pornographies teaches us about the potentialities of telling stories about race
and sex today.
A Male Version of “Me Love You Long Time!”?:
Marketing Keni Styles in Superman Stamina
On thesuperstamina.com, Keni Styles’s Superman Stamina video offers
for sale a video that shares the secrets of male porn stars to solve the
often shameful and frustrating problems with premature ejaculation. In
identifying the need for his product, Styles presents a definition of manhood that centers on women’s pleasure and that clearly relies on a range
of techniques for sexually pleasing a woman successfully. In a four-part
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system, he outlines the need for penetration to ensure a woman’s orgasm.
He argues that “oral [sex] is not enough” and prescribes penetrative sex
as the “biologically programmed” solution. In prioritizing the penis itself
as essential to a woman’s pleasure in the sexual exchange, he asserts that
the woman needs a man [that is, a penis] inside of her. Styles argues that
the woman does not just love but actually “needs” orgasms. This need is
motivated by a reproductive charge. When reaching orgasm, she releases
a chemical that supposedly “allows for her to identify a good mate.” So
when more is released, she is “more likely to think of you as the one;
while not enough time means the brain is not flooded with the chemical
long enough to register.” The male challenge, then, according to Keni
Styles, is to penetrate the woman “long enough” in a “firm and steady”
manner so that she forges an attachment. In effect, Styles produces this
structure of pleasure that follows pornography’s problem of how to make
female pleasure as visible as male pleasure. But beyond this pursuit of
showing female pleasure, Styles ultimately defines the significance of
sexual success as male prowess.
In the premise of the video, a definition of manhood emerges that
says men must demonstrate ability and skill, even expertise, so as to
please women. And this demonstration of a unique male dexterity produces male power. The point of learning these techniques benefits men
and renders women as derivative in the male context of prowess. Thus,
to use the penis proficiently and even well, can mean access to the phallus—where women are begging men for sex and moreover, as the video
suggests, will forego the social rituals of receiving gifts and being taken
out to dinner, just to experience the pleasures of male penetration.
In marketing Superman Stamina, Styles narrates how he was born
of a Thai woman, a sex worker. He then grew up in an orphanage in
London as the “only Asian male,” where he was “made fun of and pushed
around by others.” They taunted his “eyes, skin, and penis size—though
they did not see it.” This teasing shaped his self-regard, for “he came to
recognize [that] Asian men are not stallions in bed.” The naming by others led to the experience of premature ejaculation as an adult. There was
“not much I could do—I came, not [by way of] penetration, but in my
pants.” In his intimate relations with others, the “hotter the girl” the easier he “lost it.” This inability to perform sexually shaped his social relations with women; when he became nervous about sex he would simply
“stop flirting.” Here, his intimacy issues lead to a kind of social stunting
when he cannot sexually interact with women.
Recognizing the problem as bodily in nature, Styles built up his athleticism through boxing so as “to get confidence [and] work out anxiety
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291
. . . [and become] a champion”; he looked “tough” but “inside held a
secret.” He was a “bad ass in the ring” while in bed it was “another story.”
Despite his strong body, he was “dumped on (sic) for someone else” when
his “good oral sex [skills] of G-spot tongue twirls” were cataloged as dissatisfying to his partner. Pills did not help either, as it simply made him
a “two-pump chump” who’s quick to rise and quick to fall. He did gain
the appearance of strength and thus fulfilled a definition of maleness in
terms of his body, but his body failed in the face of the other, especially
in sexual intimacy. Lost, he joined the British Army and somehow and
quite unexpectedly found a solution to his sexual problems there.
In telling his experiences at boot camp in the British Army, Styles
again narrates a racialized story of manhood. He was the “only Asian
guy in the platoon and the small dick jokes came fast.” His racialization, as a weak man who must be tested and bullied even by those who
hold official authority over him, resonates with recent cases in the US
military. Indicating the circulation of social meaning regarding Asian
American men in the national imaginary, Private Danny Chen faced
relentless racial bullying in the military that led to his death.5 In Keni
Styles’s case, a drill sergeant tormented him with particular attention
and special tortures every morning. The sergeant “punished him with
intensive training, running in place with high knees; push ups; sit-ups;
squats; and burpees.” Styles transformed his physical experience into a
test of mental endurance. He built his threshold of pain by using what
he called “mental preparation” and “body control” that helped him tolerate pain longer and longer every time. He enacts bodily exercises as
mental exercises: to breathe against his “stomach’s churning,” to focus on
preventing vomiting, and to keep going despite his “lungs on fire.” The
coming together of mind and body composed what he calls a “victory
[that] changed my life.” He says “body control” essentially transforms to
“manhood control” when honing one’s ability to focus.
This triumph of mental exercise is a turning into oneself that is
gauged through the entirely social phenomenon of recognition from
another. When the sergeant saw that “he could not break me,” their relations changed. A “new feeling” and a “new confidence” strengthened
and changed Styles. No longer caught by the inability to control his own
body, he achieves a neutral state, one of masterful control, as that which
“cracks the code to porn star stamina.”
Keni Styles thus uses his racialization as an Asian man to show his
triumph in a realm where rarely an Asian heterosexual man is found:
pornography and even stardom. In Superman Stamina, the mental preparation and the physical strength came together to create a technique he
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wishes to sell. In an American context, he uses the positioning of Asian
men in the racial hierarchy of sex to say it’s possible to achieve what is
most unexpected: porn stardom.
Mobilizing the established discourse of Asian American male sexual
failure, Keni Styles animates his Superman Stamina program. Subsequently, his discussions of sexual success are not racialized but gendered.
Successful manhood is achieved by sexual prowess. He begins by satisfying the needs of one woman. In trying out different positions with more
women, he tests his self-control, and discovers his ability to “last even
longer,” thirty to forty-five minutes rather than the initial seven minutes.
Moreover, he was “the one deciding when” to cum thereby mastering
his own body rather than being mastered by it. The woman’s pleasure is
not so much about the proof of his skills, but an acknowledgment of his
power when “giving it to a girl” and in return hearing her “screaming
[his] name and squirting all over [his] cock.”
The intimate site in which he succeeds establishes a new presence in
the social world. He not only meets more women but palpably feels their
desire for him as “the one guy in the room who could rock them in the
bedroom.” He asserts his identity as a “stallion” and how “women sense
it.” And how he enjoys that women “love to talk” so that others hear
about his “superman stamina” and want to “find out for themselves.” The
ultimate form of recognition for him, however, is when the most desirable, super hot and “drop-dead gorgeous” woman validates his sexual
and thus social power. If we assert the Asian American context of the
desexualized Asian man coming into sexual power, we can see that it is
the desirable woman’s gaze that affirms and validates him so much that
he can profit from it—in the form of packaging a solution to manhood
problems. In this way, the penis becomes an agent for the phallus, for
a more traditional, constricted definition of manhood that emphasizes
sexual prowess over legions of women as conquest, and heroism in the
eyes of men, as we will see in the next example.
Styles’s new swagger gains the notice of his best friend Nolan, who
complains about having to take his girlfriend out to a nice dinner and
buy her a present in exchange for sex. Using the Superman Stamina techniques, Nolan’s usual thirty seconds of foreplay lead to his girlfriend’s
eyes “opened wide with mouth frozen like she’s seen a ghost, [and]
then cries, convulsing and screaming and shaking for five minutes.” To
Nolan’s shock, she declares that she’s just had her “first orgasm [ever]!”
So, the triumph becomes a gaining of power for men, enabling women
to achieve pleasure. Nolan no longer has to bribe his girlfriend for sex,
she’s “begging” for it, and without “fancy presents.” Styles takes credit for
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293
“saving their relationship!” and establishing a gender order that liberates women into the realm of heteroexual pleasure. In this new postSuperman Stamina-powered world, we can map a gender order for men
as possessing the phallus that women worship as a gift.
Superman Stamina is sold as a way to gain “unfair advantage over
other” men, for it enables “staying hard as long as you want; [having]
sex wherever and as many times, and more than one time per night.”
This ability presumably enables men to “pick up confidence” in a social
world that values manhood as the ability to provide sexual pleasure for
and preside with sexual power over women, who are having “multiple
orgasms,” as a method of control by men.
According to Keni Styles, other male porn stars will get mad at him
for “releasing their secrets.” A long way away from the racialization of
weak Asian men that began his story, Styles suddenly raises the specter
of that “young guy in Thailand” who is like “lots of other guys” who wish
to “give women the most intense toe-curling orgasms” by offering his
“tell-all course.” His project is to transform a weak Asian man into one
who is strong. He professes to help others “eliminate premature ejaculation in days” with the “closely guarded secrets of porn stars! Crack the
code, learn in minutes and use tonight” the ways of endurance and time
that essentially beat “size” and “tricks.” He promises you’ll “last fifteen
minutes or it’s free!” Finally, in returning to marketing the racialization
of Asian male sexuality, Styles counts on the narrative of overcoming
weakness as the one that can sell and make convincing his Superman
Stamina.
In this mediated self-representation, or the use of one’s otherness
to sell a self that wields power that can be made accessible to others,
an alternative manhood emerges in popular culture. Indeed, he forms a
kind of macho sex that is itself very giving, especially to one’s partner. In
Full Metal Jacket (1987), when Vietnamese prostitute Papillon Soo Soo
uttered the lines “Me love you long time!,” she promised a sexual experience that prioritized serving the white man, while also threatening an
attachment with no end, like the self-sacrificing Asian woman who does
not know how to stop loving him.6 The endurance Keni Styles’s Superman
Stamina aspires to is the possibility of gaining access to a manhood that
pleases women in order to gain male power but also to offer new possibilities for male relations with women. His story of disprized manhood
leads to a liberation from this position, through sexual expertise that
enables new relations. He formulates both a conscientious and aggressive sexuality that attends to the pleasures of women and the opening of
new racialized manhoods through generosity in sex.
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Keni Styles in Feminist Porn: Tristan Taormino’s
Rough Sex 3: Adrianna’s Dangerous Mind (2011)
In Tristan Taormino’s series Rough Sex, each sex scene starts with an
interview with the actors before their performances. While the interview
format is standard to gonzo porn, Tristan Taormino is unique in her
ability to center the subject position of the female actor within a feminist
frame. That is, unlike gonzo porn where filmmakers like Ed Powers use
the interview as part of the sex scene,7 Tristan Taormino truly breaks
down the fourth wall, with actors who provide their own interpretations.
Essentially, she asks each actor to theorize their understanding of power
in the sex act, specifically in terms of “rough sex.” In doing so, we engage
the meanings of power, strength, and consciousness around the consent
of the other, especially gendered power relations.
Foremost in the interviews is the woman as the center of reference,
in terms of articulating her desires, fantasies, and imaginings. The actors
discuss their relationship to her and especially their role in fulfilling her
wishes for pleasure. The star Adrianna’s female partners also address sex
and gender themes, such as what it means for a woman to participate
in rough sex with another. Indeed, the thematic that speaks to Taormino’s commitment to an ethical feminist filmmaking is the exploration
of gendered power relations in the sex act. We see how women experience pleasure from scenes that may look like degradation but are actually enactments that explore precisely what it means to confront power
and power relations.
In Rough Sex, consent is crucial in the production of these scenes.
Beyond consent, the filmmaker fashions an ethical and responsible relationship to her actors. The filmmaker carefully listens to her subjects,
especially the female performer, for it is she who determines the parameters of the scenes. The star articulates her desire for acts that may be
considered perverse and taboo and Taormino attends to the concrete
structure for enacting these female fantasies without judging what composes it. Instead, she respects the actor so as to free her to articulate
what she desires. The ultimate ethical moment is Taormino’s commitment to what Michel Foucault distinguishes as the importance of highlighting the freedom of sexual choices, rather than the freedom of sexual
acts.8 The sex acts in Taormino’s films are consensual, which is literally
acknowledged in her opening credits. There is no mystery to this agreement between the actors, filmmakers, and thus, the spectators.
Prior to the “jock” sex scene in Rough Sex #3 featuring Keni Styles,
Adrianna appears for an interview set in the actual locker room where
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her sexual fantasy of group “sex in the co-ed shower . . . with hot guys
who go to the gym” occurs. Intercut with Adrianna, Keni Styles acknowledges the anonymity of the sex as constructed in the scene. Discussing
his character, he is conscious of the factor of never seeing his sex partner again. Then Adrianna describes Nat, her first partner, as one with a
“beautiful face, smile, and eyes”—and whom she really likes. We then cut
to Nat, with the beautiful face, smile, and eyes, who says he “likes fucking
her because she like[s] to fuck.” It is notable that in the pre-scene interviews, no one mentions the meanings and roles of any racial differences
in the sex scene they perform, though the “jock” scene is composed of
the blonde white woman Adrianna, the larger black man named Nat,
one smaller white man named Danny, a smaller Asian man Keni, and
another large man, Evan, who is white. Instead, the actors describe each
other’s personalities and individual features in a kind of color-blind telling that eschews racial difference as a factor that charges the group sex
scene.
What are the implications of not discussing racial difference in the
construction of the sex scenes, whether positively in its ability to arouse
and excite, or negatively in terms of ascriptions of perversity? Would
part of the titillation involve racial difference as it is portrayed in the
white woman’s fantasy of having sex with uniformly fit but racially different men? Can desire involve seeing difference and exploring interest in
each other’s differences? Evan shares that what is unique about Adrianna
is how she “enjoys what she’s doing, so it’s easy work there.” He describes
how she “looks at you and engages you the whole time.” I argue that the
look functions to address the continuing struggles of race and sexuality
as they are confronted, though left unspoken, in the scene.
Adrianna introduces Keni Styles this way: “Oh, he’s a nice man,”
while he describes her with much more specificity. In his cool style and
calm demeanor, Keni articulates how, “She loves sex and makes you feel
like you possess the last cock in the world and she is the luckiest woman
to get it.” Next to him, Danny nods his head in approval. Keni’s charming and spirited speech is short but important. We note that he is British
though Asian, and even this difference is unmentioned though surely
part of his appeal. We then move to Evan whom Adrianna calls her
“porn boyfriend.” He describes how she “has fun with sex, as someone in
tune with her body.” Even though no mention of racial difference arises,
even to mention that this is a truly interesting and a very currently new
configuration of a multiracial cast, the actors register as conscious of the
gendered dynamics of sex and power, but also clearly consenting to the
sexual activity as worth shooting and seeing.
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The politics of consent, especially in terms of gendered differences
in physical strength, clearly emerges in the rich discussions between the
porn actors. With a gleam in her eyes, Adrianna shares how she likes
when “guys get rough with me,” for “it’s like fireworks!” All of the men
describe how they do not initiate their sexual encounters with roughness—Keni, for example, says he likes to react and follow her lead, as if to
measure what she prefers. All three other actors respond similarly when
they say: “I don’t initiate [rough sex], unless the girl likes it,” or as Nat
says, “It’s not what I will initiate, but if she asks for it, I enjoy it.” Danny
Wylde says he does not “want to inflict harm or damage someone’s
skin.” He describes possessing a “consciousness” about pain. “When it
comes to rough sex,” he says, he prefers it as “part of the sex and not an
activity to do outside of it.” In the thematic addressed in this conversation, acknowledgment of gender arises much more clearly than racial
difference.
I offer a racial reading, however, for it is clearly part of the action,
specifically in what transpires between them in the “face-to-face.” Using
Emmanuel Levinas and his conception of the face as a site of “infinity”
or a mystery that can never be solved even as we gain knowledge of its
nuances, I identify the agency of the face so as to point to the relationality between the sexual partners. All the actors except Keni Styles establish a face-to-face connection with Adrianna. This difference, I argue,
illustrates the burden of representation he shoulders in representing
Asian men and also successfully shows that racial otherness persists for
Asians in pornography, even in feminist porn. Because he is caught in
what I call a bind of expectation as an Asian straight male porn star, his
possibilities are limited. A challenge emerges: while the subjectivity of
the woman is centered, the differences between men arise to remind us
of the multiple complexities of power in sexual scenes where race is a
dynamic struggle of subjectivities still in process.
The scene begins. A big, muscular, dark-skinned black man named
Nat stands in front of his open locker, mostly naked. Adrianna walks in,
presumably looking for the showers. Dressed in short shorts and a thin,
see-through t-shirt, her blond hair falls in two braids framing her face.
The look she fashions registers as a trope she performs: that of the young
white girl with an innocent allure. He smiles, his friendly face open to
her. She walks towards him. He calmly looks her up and down, informs
her that she is in the men’s locker room while touching and turning her
so he can see her body, as if through the clothes. He moves her shorts
to reveal her butt. He looks her in the eyes and says he knows that she is
“looking for something else.” She meets him with a look that is power-
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fully direct and desirously big-eyed. Her whole face opens to express a
longing for him too. In this look of mutual desire, they kiss and immediately entangle. He pats her bottom and says she will “be here for a
while now.” And she agrees that this is what she “really came in here
for.” They have a prolonged exchange on the locker room bench where
each stimulates the other. She bends over, he eats her ass. She sits and
rides him, smiling. There is an exchange of subjectivity that transpires
between them, and it is through their eyes. While she masturbates, her
eyes seek his to make a link. Their acts reveal how touch generates pleasure, and their eyes affirm it in their exchanged glances as she becomes
wild, most apparent in her face and the disheveled strands of hair. She
will continue looking to him even as positions change. Increasingly, they
sweat and he is particularly drenched. His face spills with small streams
of wetness. When he bends her over in the shower, he pulls her hair, so
her face faces him. Then she bends her arm behind her, and turns to
share a frenzied look. They both grit their teeth, exposing the force they
expend upon each other. The interviews were right: indeed, Adrianna
engages them eye-to-eye in what may be the most distinguishing element of the sex scene.
Unlike the exploitative and caricatured representations of black men
in pornography discussed by Gail Dines, the sexual interaction between
Nat and Adrianna differs significantly.9 They engage each other eyeto-eye and face-to-face in terms of a mutually pleasurable experience.
However, we also have a privileging of the black male and white female
encounter as the primary sexual relation. It garners the most time and
focus, as well as comes first. The white woman and the Asian man enjoy
the least time together, revealing that a certain politics of race exists and
persists in this work.
While Nat and Arianna are bent over and leaning on the tile barrier
to the shower, Keni and Danny walk in, dressed in boxing shorts with
gloves in their hands. It is Adrianna’s face, in this naked state, that the
two boxers see when they walk into the locker room. The expression on
her face can be described as one so uncovered and exposed in its sexually
provoked pleasure that its look reaches out to them like an invitation.
Nat and Adrianna disentangle and he walks out of the locker room. She
lies on the bench alone, as the boxers, two smaller men, stand over her,
placing their penises close to her face as they take off their jockstraps.
An interview with the actors cuts into the scene to remind us of its
construction as a fantasy. Danny Wylde says, “This would not happen
in real life. If I walked in to that, and I did not know her, I would start
laughing really hard. I don’t know if I would join in.” Keni Styles says he
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“gets off visually.” And the director’s off-camera voice affirms, “you like
to watch.” Adrianna says that seeing a man “standing on the side, jerking
off is super hot.”
Returning to the scene, Keni pulls Adrianna into the shower and she
spends equal time pleasing both actors by holding their cocks in her
mouth or with her hands. Danny, the white actor, penetrates her first.
He leans her leg up against the wall and spanks her. As they fuck, Keni
moves away from the scene while stimulating himself. In the context of a
historical representation that centers white men and puts in the periphery Asian men, as I argue in Straitjacket Sexualities,10 the meaning of
Keni’s derivative role in this scene is part of a cinematic tradition much
larger and longer than pornography. She looks for him, reaches for him
on the side of the screen. The white man expresses a kind of overwhelming by her in his frequent “Oh my god” murmurings. She becomes wild
with him as she leans her head back on the ground, and he almost tears
at her breasts as she opens her legs. He moves, telling her to sit on his
cock as he lies flat on the shower floor.
We think Keni Styles is no longer in the scene, but he appears again.
This time, he sits on the ground, against the wall, masturbating with his
legs splayed out. The scene unfolds like real time, as if to capture how
arousal takes time. Danny and Adrianna move from grunts of pleasure to
laughter. They share several intense face-to-face encounters that include
kissing, laughter, or expressions of abandon. Keni disappears again, and
in doing so makes apparent the face-to-face connection that he lacks in
his relations with her. Danny kisses Adrianna as they face each other,
even as he enters her from behind. Her eyes open super wide. While
their speech is meant primarily for each other as the filmmaker does not
use a microphone to broadcast their whispers, Danny states that “you
deserve my cum in your face” to which she readily acquiesces. After the
money shot, the calm is interrupted by Keni Styles, who rushes in to
stand over her, showing himself as already erect.
The sex scene with Keni and Adrianna lasts one minute. He lies down
on the ground and momentarily fucks her. He straddles her almost like
they are a pair of scissors, with both their heads on opposite sides. He
then moves her, pulls her hair to expose her face away from him, so
she still does not face him. He soon cums all over her face and puts his
penis over her mouth to catch his drip as she kneels before him. Notable
here is the brevity of the Asian man’s sexual encounter and the lack of a
face-to-face connection with the woman while the two other men who
precede him, one black and one white, and even the one after, enjoy a
much longer encounter with her, with an extended eye-to-eye and face-
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to-face connection. We can read this scene of Keni as the “one-minute
man” as evidence of the derivative status of Asian men in pornography,
in relation to black and white men especially in the context of Superman Stamina. But his inability here and now could be for many reasons,
including the pressures of performing as the Asian heterosexual penis
in porn.
The last sexual pairing in this group scene plays differently as well.
An actual conversation transpires. After Keni leaves, Adrianna leans
back against the shower wall, with cum on her face and hair. The camera
pans to reveal Evan under the shower, looking at her. He casually asks
a rhetorical question, “Rough day in the gym?” And she retorts, “I’m
not done working out,” which serves as an invitation for deepening their
encounter to include his cleaning her up and her having more sex. Like
the white Danny and the black Nat, this white man Evan connects with
the white woman at the level of the face and in conversation. They look
at each other and pay attention to what the other says, developing a repartee about the fantasy itself, even as he helps to fulfill it.
In the context of the three other sex scenes in “Jock,” how do we
evaluate the work of Keni Styles, especially concerning the brevity of the
Asian male/white female sex scene? We can interpret this in many ways
including the use of race and the visibility of racial difference as a lens of
analysis. And it is an important revelation, for pornography is not a site
where racial politics disappear. It reveals how inequalities exist, whether
in the form of screen time or in the intensity of the sex scene. Or we can
forego a racial reading and say that Keni Styles was just not that into
her. In Rough Sex, the female actor chooses her partners and defines
the bounds of her scenes. In this context, we may produce the nonracial
reading of their lack of chemistry, his lack of attraction, or even hers.
This was also essentially the only real group scene in the “Jock” program. A nonracial reading is productive indeed, but such a reader would
ignore the intensity of the connection between Adrianna and her sexual
partners, except for Keni—whom she did choose! In this way, race functions in such an unwieldy yet revealing manner in understanding what
transpires in this scene.
My criteria of the face-to-face in measuring the sex acts, do not
intend to contain how feminist porn aims to introduce and widen new
pleasures in all of its myriad forms. However, I note the lack of faceto-face as a crucial way to measure the lack of Asian male subjectivity,
and not just the penis, in pornography. Adrianna’s face-to-face connection with three of the men ensures an intensity that livens the scene and
shows in brief moments the distance occupied by Asian men in relation
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to white women. Emmanuel Levinas discusses eros not as “possession
and power” of another, but as a kind of communication between selves
that is “neither a struggle, nor a fusion, nor a knowledge. One must recognize its exceptional place among relations. It is the relationship with
alterity, with mystery, that is, with the future.”11 Here, Levinas privileges
erotic relations as a site where we may understand our relationships with
others; even in our most intimate relations, where he argues that we are
alone. His is a larger understanding of the self as alone. And in privileging the face as the agent of bare emotion, the lack of face-to-face connotes a kind of disappearance. Does alone then encompass the way in
which Keni Styles disappeared from the sex, and when he returns, performs for only one minute, defying his promise of knowing how to last?
Is isolation a choice for Keni Styles who moves in and out of the
frame when Adrianna is with the other man? It is important to emphasize the agency of the actor here for he is the one to step away from
the scene. In the first instance of their ménage à trois, a kind of equal
opportunity sexual exchange transpires, but at the crucial moment, he
leaves. He literally steps away from the frame even if he continues to be
welcome in the scene. Adrianna would welcome his continued presence
as evidenced by her reaching for him to return. In the interviews, Danny
discusses the hotness of seeing another man and woman together when
he himself steps aside from the group scenes. Sex here can be lonely in
the sense of the burden of expectation that Keni Styles may feel as the
sole Asian man in the scene and in the larger industry of pornography.
Or there may be the fact of having to step aside because the white man
penetrates her first so he has to move away. Or once again, it may not
seem appealing for him to stay. He does linger, masturbating. Their faces
remain focused on the extraction and giving of pleasure. And he reaches
for her and stimulates her as she gives Danny oral sex. Does Keni’s stepping aside render him as accepting of a kind of racial hierarchy? I don’t
think this is the only option.
If we were to accept the argument, we can see the aloneness of the
characters even in the entanglements of sex; we can also interpret his
moving away as an indication of his alienation—whether as a European,
or an Asian who finds it important not to acknowledge one’s race, even
if it is very apparent. What comforts and familiarities are conveyed in
the white and black pairings with the white woman? Is Keni not privy
to such familiarity? To be clear, there lacks a tradition of representation for the pairing of white women and Asian men in porn. If Nat’s
scene differs from the tradition of exploitative sex between black men
and white women, is Keni producing tradition every time he performs?
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And how about the viewer? Dark-skinned Keni with the British accent
and the small, fit body—how does he fit into the repertoire of bodies
we are accustomed to seeing? These questions, when raised, validate
the continuing dynamics that inform our perceptions of racial difference that still persist today—as evidenced in the singular stature of Keni
Styles as the most prominent, if not only, Asian male actor in American
heterosexual pornography, who most certainly faces a bind not only of
representation, but of expectation. If we were to follow Richard Fung’s
method here, we would have more diversity and more representation.
More numbers would certainly ease the burden of representing entire
groups of people. Keni Styles’s performance in this scene is not the failure of all Asian men, but produces the problem not only of representation but expectation.
In a stylistic nod to cinema’s ability to provide doors and windows
to existence, looking at the faces of the actors in the pleasures of sex and
throes of orgasm, can we also open the doors and windows to the racial
meanings of intimate relations? Ultimately, we can see that feminist porn
prioritizes the subjectivity of women. In their relations with multiracial
casts of men, how do the meanings of race change? And in the declaration of feminist porn’s commitment to representing diversity, how do
they capture ongoing struggles with race and racial difference in sexual
relations? Can they help us indicate the racial politics of sexual pleasure?
And how can an ethical filmmaking accommodate the dramas not only
of gender but also race?
In closing, we discover then that feminist porn is not a utopian site
for representations of race. In the process of innovating pornography,
which it does through centering the complex subjectivities of women
such as in the method of interview in Tristan Taormino’s Rough Sex,
feminist pornography shows the limits of racial representation and specifically the burden of expectation that Styles has to bear. We see the
racial hierarchies unaddressed in Adriana’s discussion of her fantasy. We
see racialized dynamics unfold even if they are unspoken. Verbally, race
is not there in her descriptions of the black man’s “nice face, smile, and
eyes,” or in his description of how much she “loves sex.” Whether racial
difference is discussed or not discussed, meanings can and should be
drawn. Studying the work and presence of Keni Styles can make sense
of the process of racialization persisting even in feminist porn. In Superman Stamina he defines manhood with investments in redefining male
power as giving. And in Rough Sex #3: Adrianna’s Dangerous Mind, a
one-minute performance can reinscribe Asian men into a manhood still
so lacking—if we read the scene in a straitjacketed lens. In both, Keni
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Styles’s performances exceed the assessments of victimization of racial
subjects in antifeminist porn. Each of these examples shows an uneasy
relationship to heteronormative manhood. Such a finding challenges us
working in feminist porn to continue to find ways to talk about the role
of race in pornography. Through examining the work of Keni Styles in
both Superman Stamina and Rough Sex #3, what we actually learn is that
he carries an unfair burden of expectation. We also learn that any blanket assessment of racism at work in pornography does not capture the
fraught and promising possibilities of seeing racial subjects struggling
with the power and politics of sexuality in pornography.
Author’s Note: Thanks to Juno Parreñas and my co-editors for reading and
helping me to improve this essay with their close readings, inquiries, and
insights.
Notes
1. Richard Fung, “Looking for My Penis,” in How Do I Look?: Queer Film and
Video, eds. Bad Object Choices (Seattle: Bay Press, 1991).
2. Hoang Tan Nguyen, Forever Bottom! (San Francisco: Frameline, 1999), DVD.
3. Melissa Farley, “Prostitution, Trafficking, and Cultural Amnesia: What We Must
Not Know in Order To Keep the Business of Sexual Exploitation Running Smoothly,”
Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 18, no. 2 (2006).
4. J. O’Higgins, “Sexual Choice, Sexual Act: An Interview with Michel Foucault
(1982),” in Foucault Live: Collected Interviews 1961–1984, 2nd edition, ed. Sylvere
Loringer (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 1996), 322–34.
5. Deepti Hajela, “Chen Case: Asian American Troops Endure Bias,” Military.com,
February 20, 2012, http://www.military.com/news/article/chen-case-asian-american-troops-endure-bias.html.
6. Celine Parreñas Shimizu, The Hypersexuality of Race: Performing Asian/American Women on Screen and Scene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).
7. More Dirty Debutantes #101, dir. Ed Powers (4-Play Video, 1999), DVD.
8. “Sexual Choice, Sexual Act,” 322–34.
9. Gail Dines, “The White Man’s Burden: Gonzo Pornography and the Construction of Black Masculinity,” Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 18, no. 1 (2006): 283–97.
10. Celine Parreñas Shimizu, Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American
Manhoods in the Movies (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012).
11. Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations with Philippe Nemo,
trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1985), 68.

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