Coming Out With Chelsea Poe
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By Rob Perez
Recently, vulkanio.ru was invited to attend the 13th annual CineKink Film Festival in New York City, which screens positive descriptions of all types of sexuality in media, specifically in film and television.
At it’s much anticipated forum, Coming Out Like A Porn Star, which is also the name of the book edited by performer Jiz Lee, the event drew participants Stoya, Morgana Muses, Chelsea Poe, and others sharing their experiences about coming out as a performer/sex worker to their friends and family. Coming Out Like A Porn Star has been described as a “One-of-a-kind book” sharing stories from performers with various types of backgrounds, experiences, and ethnicities often in heart-wrenching detail.
Providing an interesting angle are the experiences of transgender performers sharing their coming out stories. One of the many trans performers featured was Chelsea Poe, arguably one of the most well known trans performers today. But Chelsea is more than a performer; she is an outspoken trans activist who has been an advocate for trans women and has been a vocal opponent against the use of the term she-male within the adult industry.
Chelsea recently shared her experiences about coming out and her work as a trans activist/performer with vulkanio.ru.
What was your experience like coming out like a porn star to those who weren't aware you had entered the industry?
I was doing porn on an extremely DIY level before all of my friends knew. It wasn't until my first time traveling to California to work that I decided to come out to my mom about it. I never really had a time where it was a secret.
How did you come out as a porn performer?
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I met Jiz Lee at a university I was living at but not going to school at for some reason. They wanted to know where the bathroom was and we ended up getting lost for about 30 minutes. I saw their thirty person orgy thing and I was living in Michigan at the time. No one from Michigan ever really goes anywhere and I ended up being asked do to Crashpad, and was flying out to San Francisco. I ended up making up something to my mom about, “It’s a trans thing and I’m going across the country for this.” The night before she goes, “So what are you actually going for?” “Well I’m doing feminist porn.” And her first reaction was, “You’re going to do meth.” [Laughs] I’ve never done meth but my mom still had to drive me to the airport the next day and it ended up being like 30 minutes of no talking and then being like, “I’ll be OK.”
So I ended up doing a few scenes and it went really, really well and I really enjoyed myself. I ended up moving six months after my first shoot to California.
As a trans activist, especially within porn, what are some of the major issues you address that are most important to you and to the trans community?
The treatment of trans women in this industry is I think slowly improving. There are still a lot of really harmful and dangerous practices including trans women going off hormones to perform up to the demands of a lot of mainstream porn sites, the slurs that trans women are marketed with and the exclusion of trans women from lesbian, straight and BDSM sites. I think just starting a conversation on this topic is the first step to improving them however, being the person to raise these issues also comes with backlash from some industry veterans. I know as a trans woman the impact that pornography has on all trans women in and out of the sex industry. I think it’s my job as someone privileged enough to make it this far in the industry to try to improve the impact to the average trans woman's life from porn. The performers who were the reason I got into this industry like Sasha Grey and Stoya drew me to them because of their politics as much as their on camera performance.
As a trans performer, do you find the industry in general to be supportive and accepting of trans performers? If not, do you feel it's fear, lack of understanding about trans people, or transphobia that makes the adult industry not too receptive of trans performers and the rest of the community?
At this point I have to say bluntly no. I think in some ways its better than it was before but nearly annually we hear horror stories about transphobia at AVN. I've never had any incidents there but I don't think we can say the industry has progressed when trans women are largely put into a niche and untouched by the rest of the industry. I think some directors like Nica Noelle and Courtney Trouble are changing how trans women get depicted by adding depth and nuance to trans sexuality on film. I think the reasoning behind this is simply ingrained transphobia that has existed in the industry for decades that depict trans women as less than women. Consistently, these transphobic narratives are still being put out by major trans porn companies.
Where do you hope to see trans performers in porn in the next few years and is there anything you personally fear that could hamper and hold back on trans performer's progress?
I think the industry is slowly going to include trans people over the next 5 years. I think the material that is being put out by mainstream trans porn sites could actually harm trans women getting cast for non trans specific roles. I think these companies understand if they keep trans women in their niche they will continue to profit and wages for performers won't ever need to go up. It’s all about a few directors taking a risk and a few trans performers being brave enough to put themselves out there to the criticism that comes with being the first trans person on a website. When I became a God's Girl last year there were literally blogs to trying to fight the decision and keep God's Girls trans free. Like it’s hard to see strangers who never met you a day in your life to be so against your existence but that's what comes with progress for marginalized people.
Career-wise, where do you personally see yourself in the next few years? Where do you hope to be in regards of your performing career and activism?
In 5 years I'll be 29 which it is said to be around the sexual and physical peak for women so hopefully making some of the best films of my career. I know I'm going to be doing porn in some capacity for the rest of my life whether the industry cares or not doesn't really matter to me. I was making porn for free in friend’s basements in Michigan five years ago and I'm totally happy to be doing that again in five years whether there's an audience or not. I hope my work influences the next generation of queer performers who can pick up where I left off and can take what is happening now farther.
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