Jessica's Blog Reviews

Jessica’s Blog: Reflections on the Hump! Indie Porn Fest

Hump!, feminist porn, indie porn, Dan Savage
Jessica Young
Written by Jessica Young

I went to this movie hoping to learn something: something about what porn is; why it might not be the soul-sucking, demoralizing agent of malevolence I thought it was; how people could use it in a way that might even be healthy. I went hoping to have my mind opened.

In this follow up to an earlier blog post, Ms. Fit editor Jess reports back on her experience of the Hump! Indie-porn festival, and her reflections as a feminist woman of color on the festival’s offerings.

Hump!, feminist porn, indie porn, Dan Savage

So that happened.

There I was, at Hump! with my battery fully charged ready to throw down some biting, witty commentary on an amateur porn film fest, and some “bouncer” tells me that the policy for the screening is, well much like kindergarten class: if the teacher sees your toy (phone) they get to take it and not give it back. They want to protect the privacy of the performers, they said. Seems to me, an effective way to protect your privacy is not to take your clothes off and have sex on camera; but hey, I paid good money to watch ‘em just like everyone else there. And I can respect the idea of not having your bare ass end up on YouTube unless you put it there. So I put my phone away and picked up the analog note takers: my journal and a pen.

I went to this movie hoping to learn something: something about what porn is; why it might not be the soul-sucking, demoralizing agent of malevolence I thought it was; how people could use it in a way that might even be healthy. I went hoping to have my mind opened. Lucky for me, my husband came with me. Of the two of us, he’s the one with more porn experience, and I was counting on him to help me decipher moments I didn’t understand. I’m glad he was there; if I’d been alone, I don’t know if I would have made it.

One thing that surprised me was how many white people I saw in these movies. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me; so much of the film industry is white, why would adult film be any different? Still, what little I read about this festival talked about how diverse it was—however you like to do it, there was a film for you. Sexual diversity, maybe; racial diversity, hardly. I counted three black people: one woman in a mockumentary about a fluffer; and two in a short that featured people taking pies in the face (and ass). There was also one Asian guy who beat off while fantasizing about fucking and getting fucked by (porn cliché alert!) the (white) pizza boy.

I think the reason for this racial homogeneity is that adult films—and arguably mainstream entertainment, yes, still—only features people of color in stereotype roles. In porn, the only reason to feature people of color is to eroticize them somehow. This really bummed me out. I think that porn is about fantasy, about an escape from the reality of (sex) life; but I don’t think that it’s too much to ask to put brown people in porn and to treat them as real, dimensional people instead of fetishized stereotypes, or to pretend they don’t exist.

I was also surprised by all the dick. I saw a lot of dick.

I mean a lot of dick. I shouldn’t have been, but I was. I feel like I got hit in the face with a 20-gallon bucket of cold water. And dicks. I hit my saturation point. For the lack of racial diversity in the film, I saw a lot of black dick. By which I mean to say I saw lots of white people strapping on black dildos. It seems to me that black dick can be featured in any adult film you like, unless that black dick is attached to a black man.

Most of the movies were humorous, lascivious films with people having sex, but I think I did see a few shorts that were bona-fide porn: sex with a shadow of narrative. In the hetero stuff, the women—white women with thin bodies, big boobs and long hair (enter body type homogeneity here)—kept a good rhythm, but seemed otherwise bored with the fucking, and the men were pretty much in control the entire time. I wanted to see women driving the story, or at least driving the sex, but I didn’t. Also, there didn’t seem to be much girl-on-girl porn: a few seconds in threesome and orgy scenes, and one deeply uncomfortable bondage short, but that’s all. If there is such a thing as feminist porn, I don’t know if I witnessed it.

I think that some of these films were funny. The audience around me was laughing heartily. (Not me; I was so overwhelmed by all the genitals and penetration that it took me 30 minutes or so to loosen up enough to laugh.) Funny moments included a D&D game night that turned into an orgy, which seemed like a gift to every geeky high school kid who wished his game had the naughty, busty chick in it who’d suggest that everyone take their clothes off and got squishy. There was a handsome, well-built white man who made love to himself and then got dressed. The crowd loved the point when he put on a name tag revealing he was a Mormon. One film reinterpreted of the phrase, “Go fuck yourself,” involving time travel, and the highlight was a mockumentary of three women being interviewed about their centaur fetish interspliced with Claymation footage depicting their fantasies.

The standout was a film called “Krutch” which featured a differently abled woman walking through the streets of Manhattan. Edited among footage of her walking through traffic with her crutch were scenes of her masturbating. At one point her dildo doesn’t do the job, and so she attaches a tiny vibrator to her crutch, and uses it to get herself off. Her ecstasy mirrors the sound of her crutch, her breathing and her halting footsteps pounding the New York pavement. It was smart and had a narrative, though I remember thinking that as interesting a story as was being told, I wanted to see her in relationship with someone. The sister with the limp can’t have a relationship, she has to masturbate, I thought. In the last beat, as she’s lying back on her bed, a second woman entered the frame. Hooray! She does have a relationship, I thought. But then, before they could begin relating to each other, the screen faded to black.

There was also a lot of stuff that I did not enjoy. The bondage film I mentioned earlier was truly beyond me. It looked like it was filmed with a camcorder from the ‘90s, which made for crummy sound quality, and based on the painful things I watched one woman do to the other, I wish I’d been able to hear what they were saying. I would have like to heard her consent, and not just assumed it. Another gay bondage movie was featured, and all I could think the whole time was that it looked painful and scary. There was also an utterly random paper animated film featuring dolphins and unicorns doing it, a movie of a hetero couple in bed who repeatedly lit flash bang paper on her hairless crotch, and one where a woman in a white unitard wet herself while jumping on a trampoline.

At the end of it all, I felt incredibly overwhelmed, and frankly, yes, more than a little disgusted. It was difficult to watch such a high volume of graphic sex—even the stuff that looked familiar or thoughtful. I found it either a strong turn-off or so incomprehensible that what little I did enjoy seemed eclipsed. If the point of porn is to kick-start your own sexual experience, it pretty much did the opposite of that. Some of that imagery was pretty indelible, and the discomfort I felt made it difficult for me to be comfortable with my own body, let alone anyone else’s. For hours afterward, sex seemed everywhere I looked, in every word spoken, and more than pleasurable, it just felt threatening. I was so disappointed. I wanted to understand what all the fuss was about. I wanted to know why people enjoy it so much; I came away empty-handed. (Ew, thank g*d for that, right?)

Does this mean anything? I certainly don’t sit in judgment of the dozens of folks who enjoyed themselves during the screening, or anyone else who uses porn. But nothing I experienced made watching porn a pleasurable experience. I still don’t get it, and I really didn’t enjoy it. But maybe not liking porn doesn’t mean anything about me. Maybe porn doesn’t have any relevance to my sex life. I read recently in the Bhagavad Gita, “When the senses contact sense objects, a person experiences cold or heat, pleasure or pain. These experiences are fleeting; they come and go. Bear them patiently.” I remembered this, as I was trying to shake off the film. I didn’t bear my sensory experience patiently, but it is a comfort to know that it will pass, and that with every moment, every day, I can release my grip on those feelings a little more. I am not as impassive and unaffected as a redwood in the rain, but I can let go of what doesn’t serve me.

About the author

Jessica Young

Jessica Young

Jessica Young has a degree from Northwestern University and an MFA from Columbia College Chicago. She’s performed her stories with 2nd Story, at the Mixed Roots Literary and Film Festival in LA, and she was recently a contributing blogger for WBEZ’s summer series, “Race Out Loud.” When she’s not writing or teaching, Jess enjoys yoga, gluten-free vegan cooking, and learning how women can take care of themselves and each other through healthy choices and practices.

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