on being a complicated wanker

I don’t write much about my work here.  There are lots of good reasons for that.  I’d like this space to be friendly to a wide variety of people with whom I relate, and not all of them want to read about my work for erotic websites.  I love them and want their readership, so I choose to respect that.  I also like to reserve this space for other parts of my identity that are not about getting naked on the internet.  That helps remind me how very many of them there are.  I am creating some virtual space for me to write sex but it’s not ready yet, but that will be a more appropriate place for me to discuss that part of my life.  This is a rare time when I feel compelled to speak about my sexywork, and so I shall.

A year and some many months ago I worked on an experimental project for one of the Feck websites.  I produced a ‘video diary’ of my masturbatory life over a certain period of time.  It was a difficult thing to start because it’s so very personal and the intention was for it to be documentary, and as anyone who has ever endeavoured on one of this ‘self-portrait-a-day’ projects, it gets tiresome quickly and sometimes gets a little too far into the banality of our daily lives than is comfortable.  Because I felt it impossible for me to document all of my orgasms over a given week, I had to change my approach slightly to actually make the thing.  So I basically just opened the whole thing up to whatever might happen and just allowed it to evolve on its own.  I wrote the thing as I went.  There is some artifice involved in that I did plan some of the setups and the times in which I could actually make some of my ideas.  The ideas themselves, however, came as I opened up to the camera and to the possibility that I might make something really beautiful with my own moving image.  I thought sexy thoughts and images and figured out how to make them with the skills I do have.  That was pretty much the go.  I talked about that as I went.  And then I made that all into 8 videos and now they’re going on the internet, one-by-one, over a period of three months.

This project was extremely self-reflexive and self-conscious.  I am entertaining the thought that, when you are making porn of yourself with yourself, you cannot escape this.  If you are making this specifically for someone whose arousal you know well enough to direct yourself right into it, or if you have a formulaic understanding of sexy that your audience repeatedly responds to, perhaps you can involve yourself with those things more than with yourself.  I had no one in particular in mind when I made this.  I do know what has made me successful or appreciated or gotten me more money  in the past, and I worked with some of that.  Apart from that, though, I just played out my own ideas of sexy and my own understandings about what I find sexy about myself, my own perception of how I occupy a frame, and my own estimations of what makes me sexually (and personally) valuable.

For some folks who find themselves quite distant from such an experience, it is quite feasible to see it as utter narcissism or self-obsession.  I’ve made videos of myself wanking, and (literally or metaphorically) wanked over them.  The act of capturing them is one thing – and the fact that I frequently watched myself in the LCD screen as I made them – well that gets me a little closer to a gratingly enamoured self-perception.  But for me to be proud of them, to think they are beautiful and subtly sexy and honest; now that’s downright arrogance.  Isn’t it.  I entertained this thought as I went along making these films, but I am compelled to look underneath such ideas to find some of the elements that compose them.  And I had some thoughts about that.

How often do you actually get to see yourself as a sexual object (/subject)?  To displace your erotic gaze from the lovely folks of your fantasies and from the images that make you squirm in your chair with your slippers on, and place it upon yourself?  How healing is it to bring yourself to an orgasm, to practice auto-eroticism, to burst into ether at the mercy of your own mind and physicality and expert touch?  I don’t think we should all do that, all of the time – if we did, my co-workers and I would be out of our jobs as smutmakers – but I do take the stance that we should all have the opportunity to do that once in awhile.  I believe in affirmation through sexuality and I think it is healthy to source it in balance between yourself and others.  That is why I’ve chosen to do what I do in the places I currently do it.

I like the way people self-represent their sexualities.  I think that gives us the most insight into what’s happening inside their erotic imaginations, and that satisfies the voyeur in me.  One of the sexiest things I have ever seen was made by my friend for a video hosted on I Shot Myself.  The opening scene was edited in a way in which clones (or doppelgangers!) of herself appear one-by-one in the frame, until there are four of them, each undressing, perhaps for each other.  She made and edited the scene herself.  In some ways I experienced the diary project as a chance to see what it’s like to watch me.  I found that it’s not bad.  On the surface, to my viewer, it may seem as though my pleasure comes from displaying myself to others.  In my reality, however, my pleasure is actually as a voyeur.  I feel a kinship with other voyeurs, I have insight into what appeals to them and why, and I take pleasure in trying to create that myself, knowing that I’ll feed back into the voyeur economy from which I frequently consume.  This is complicated.  It is complicated for anyone to view themselves in a sexual context.  This is part of the essence of the Feck projects.  Some people run with that.  Some people don’t.  I am one of the former.

To dismiss this project as a simple matter of self-obsession is to un-complicate it.  Perhaps not coincidentally, we sometimes have to un-complicate sexual imagery to find it sexy.  We have to remove it from the context in which it was made, which is something many of us are still uncomfortable with, as the world of pornography makes us uneasy, tainted as it is with the exploitation and sexism and coercion with which it has sometimes been associated.  The complication of someone viewing someone viewing themselves without necessarily knowing that they were doing so – that’s a lot of stuff to take in, and many of us do not want all of that stuff cluttering up our sexual headspace.  I recognise that, by creating these levels of complication in what I’ve made, I run the risk of losing people who want to uncomplicate it and see it for nothing more than what’s there on the screen: a woman masturbating in view of a camera, enabling you to watch her, maybe as though she is doing it for you.  However, I don’t actually ever demand that anyone watch it in the context of its complications – I simply make it possible for them to do so if they choose.  I digress.

As the product is released I am getting lots of lovely feedback.  I have the relative privilege of a viewership that appreciates the subtlety of what we are doing on that site.  Therefore lots of people think this is a rad idea, or are just happy to see me make something, as I have very few contributions going live lately.  I am lucky that I even work for a site where you can receive direct feedback from the people who have watched your videos that will contain a lowest common denominator of ‘you have a lovely vagina’, as compared with the mainstream LCD of ‘OMG U MADE ME CUMMMM LOADZZ HAHA LOL’.  There are rare cases, however, where I do receive negative feedback, and I generally have a hard time gauging how to deal with that.  I don’t want to see these people as primitive punters who see me as nothing more than the sum of my pink bits, whether that’s because they aren’t or because I just don’t want to believe that they are.  I am not naive enough to think that all of them are interested in entertaining my twenty-something progressive sexual liberation art project – I actually believe that a very small minority of them are, and I’m grateful that they exist.  I do not, however, want to accept disrespect or misogyny, which does occur in the rarest of cases.  So I end up standing up for myself in those situations, and that’s not because I’m demanding that you look at my art look at my art look at my art.  It’s that I want to interrupt your cycle of consumption that allows you to uncomplicate me to the point where I’m not human.  Cos I just want to do that right back to you, and then we’ve stripped this exchange of humanity and meaning and undone all of its sexy.

And I suppose that part of what the diary was about, for me, was an investigation of my humanity at a certain point in time.  My physical humanity – the colours and shapes and gradients of my body – and of my mind and my spirit.  That’s really honest, that extends beyond exhibitionism and voyeurism and is me writing a text of myself and offering it up to be read and discussed.  And I guess you can’t read it if we don’t speak the same language.

I feel that there is more for me to dig for in looking back on the process of making that (which I wish I had been more diligent about documenting off-camera), and probably a year later I’ll actually be able to think about the process of releasing it.  They are very intense experiences.  For anyone who has ever shared work on these sites, especially that which they’ve thought about extensively, I think that is the case, and I wish we all talked about it more.

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10 responses to “on being a complicated wanker

  1. ” It’s that I want to interrupt your cycle of consumption that allows you to uncomplicate me to the point where I’m not human. Cos I just want to do that right back to you, and then we’ve stripped this exchange of humanity and meaning and undone all of its sexy.”

    That part really stood out to me. That’s a really good point.

    I’m looking forward to your blog (or whatever it will be) that you will designate for discussing this sex stuff, I find it really fascinating to read, even if I can’t make a particularly useful response!

  2. Thanks dude. Thanks for commenting on this, when I write things like this and get no response I usually have regrets.

  3. I hear you on that, stuff like that can’t be easy to talk about in a public space.

    I think perhaps when a post is as full of content as this, it’s just hard to know what to say. I actually tried a couple of times to write a response that felt adequate (and dealt with the issues raised here) and then realised it was better to just write -something- to acknowledge I’d read and enjoyed this.

  4. I’m with JNgaio: “I think perhaps when a post is as full of content as this, it’s just hard to know what to say. I actually tried a couple of times to write a response that felt adequate (and dealt with the issues raised here) and then realised it was better to just write -something- to acknowledge I’d read and enjoyed this.”

    The thoughts I had were:

    1. Thank you for your “work,” and may you do it as long as you wish and be happy with it 5, 10 20, 50 years from now.

    2. On LCD comments — first, remember that many folks aren’t writers. Then, remember that perhaps one unfortunate thing about the business is, well, the business — people “purchase” for different reasons, and once the art is out there, how folks receive it is out of the artist’s hands. Folks can complain over the content the same way they complain over a bad car or ill-fitting clothes or disappointing meal or crappy movie or book. Oh, well. Don’t be discouraged. Then, remember the awkwardness of the erotica enterprise and how tough it is for committed partners to communicate, and consider that someone writing “you have a lovely vagina” might be fumbling towards a compliment to you and connection. Then, remember that the rude commenter still is human and has hopes and fears and perhaps a poor job or sick kids… or eventually will come around to your vision. Which is life-affirming and person-hood affirming, and thank you and your colleagues for doing it.

    3. The “consumer” of porn and erotica has similar issues — I’m faced with whether there’s subtle coercion of participants, or whether I shouldn’t be looking at folks that young, or whether just looking to get aroused is wrong, or whether whether whether… IFM is amazing from the viewer POV in that it seems to allow for freedom of expression for the participants and can help viewers expand what sexual expression can be, but still stuff creeps in. Life isn’t pure, obviously, and I’ve met enough folks to recognize that there’s good and bad in the various facets of sex work, and there will always be the “well, what about…” Heck, commerce makes weirdness about the price of bread or wine, let alone art, let alone sexuality — doesn’t make commerce bad, nor does it make food or drink or art or sexuality necessarily compromised. But it does make a mess of ethics.

    So. Best to you and to your friends and colleagues, and be true to what you want to do. I’ll listen to you talk/read what you write any day. And know that in the end, your videos do much good — they educate folks, arouse folks, insist on your (and others’) humanity, and folks will get more comfortable and secure in sexual expression because of your work. Take heart. If you stop tomorrow, you’ve still brought goodness into the world.

    Enjoy all you do.

  5. …. there was supposed to be “let alone complete strangers” after “committed partners” and before “to communicate”… abashed smile…

  6. Thanks to you both.

    Bill, you’ve made some great points, and sensitively. I actually don’t distinguish what I do, particularly, as art. This is one of the Matters of Great Ambivalence of the Feck projects. It is a grey space as far as genre is concerned. That is my reading of it at least, and I have stood at all interested points – producer, consumer, contributor. But most people come there to buy wank. So for them it’s pretty one-dimensional, and the baseline of the project is pornography. And I suppose that’s where a lot of the negativity finds its source – in un-complicating the project itself. We make it easy to do that because the site is easy to navigate, it’s easy to find the links you want without looking at the other stuff if you so desire. (Which is why I can’t understand why people complain about the other stuff, because it takes so much less energy to just do what you need to do and get out.) But so many people come to the Forums to make their first complaint and are received with three or four people saying ‘here’s what this website is actually about’. I see how that looks annoying from the outside, and all of us are so tired of saying it, but it’s our way of upholding the space we’ve tried to create.

    Anyway, I don’t think art and porn are mutually exclusive, I don’t think we are all one or the other, and I don’t think we stand ‘somewhere between’ them, because we can actually be both at the same time. And I think there is a lot more sexual media being produced today which straddles that stuff in its wide stance.

    I know what you mean, Bill, about the stuff that ‘creeps in’. I am often totally overwhelmed by the project of actually being completely ‘ethical’ in making porn. There are pinholes and cracks everywhere where unease and shadiness can creep into your work, sometimes without you even knowing it. Sometimes I feel like the only way I can do it totally ethically is to only work with myself (which is most definitely not what I want), but I might even be coercing myself sometimes.

    Some folks believe that there is no 100% ethical in anything ‘commerce’ – that once the exchange of money for goods takes place you’re already less than even. One of the things that makes IFM really complicated as far as ‘commerce’ is concerned is that you’re dealing with two different ‘customers’ – the contributors and the subscribers. We have to negotiate keeping both parties happy (within the context of our credo), and sometimes they want very different things. I have frequently found that to be well more than a headfuck and I’ve somewhat stepped back from my role in that. But then if you zoom out from the tiny world of Feck and contextualise it in the greater world of ‘porn’ or ‘the sex industry’, it looks pretty clean.

    I sometimes wonder if your shot at being ‘ethical’ (I am uncomfortable even using this term without explicitly defining it but I can think of no other right now) would have better chances if you were self-contained – like a collective or similar organisational structure. At Feck we take contributors from the general public, so every time a girl walks through that door she’s bringing a life history and a current circumstance and it’s not always ‘I want to make empowering ethical erotica’. Maybe our openness to that, in some ways, makes us more open to that ‘creeping’ or slippage because there can be a lot of stuff that we don’t know about underlying someone’s contribution. And even that stuff might not necessarily ethically undermine her appearance – it’s totally case-by-case. Which I guess is the situation when you’re dealing with real humans and treating them as real humans.

    You’ve provoked lots of thoughts, Bill, ones that I’ll keep playing around with, and I appreciate that. Conversations like this are very much at the root of why I do this. Thanks for your words.

  7. Thank you for your wonderful response and your further thoughts!

    I think that there’s art there, be it intentional or accidental. Maybe what the viewer brings to things helps. There have been a couple of IFM shoots that brought out reflection on ritual and beauty and privacy and possible pain underlying activity when i viewed them — not in an academic sense, but more when you read/hear a poem and it just knocks you silly, or a piece of music — felt bodily by me before the mind starts processing it. Some of the films touch realms beyond sexuality, at least for me, and I’m sure for others, too. And there’s a lot of beauty and respect in virtually all I’ve seen there, which works for me as “art is” as opposed to “art means”…

    Hey, completely unrelated, but I saw an earlier post on Myron Cope — you probably know that he gave the rights to the Terrible Towel to a school/residence that cares for folks with different disabilities. My son is now in such a program, and while I’ve been a Steelers fan since the 70s despite never seeing any of Pittsburgh beyond the airport, it’s rrrealllyyy easy to support them now knowing that their most identifiable symbol supports such a worthy cause.

  8. Yeah, his son was in that school and he’s done a lot to help programs like that be developed. If you are a Stillers fan you should really read his autobiography, ‘Double Yoi’. He’s a fantastic writer – that was his trade from the start – and it’s a beautiful book.

    Thanks for all your comments, very glad to have you here.

  9. This is a thought provoking post and it makes me reflect on my motivations for doing this work and how dramatically they can differ from peoples assumptions. I want to respond to say how I’m relating to and contextualizing your video diary though.

    I’ve been paying a lot of attention to your domesticity lately, through your blogging, through my drawings of you and having been your guest. I’m seeing this project as more about place and space and how our behavior affects these. How do we personalize space? by filling it, living in it and documenting it. Is masturbation a tool to create intimacy with our environment? To what extent does the safety and comfort of home affect our sexual expression? How does sharing our sexual selves in our own personal spaces change what is communicated, altering the relationship created between viewer and subject. Mainly how does everything we do relate back to the construction of home.

  10. I really liked this post but didn’t (and don’t now) have time to reply adequatly, I shall soon. I will quickly say though that you articulated excellently all the repulsion I felt after reading the comment in question and you’ve done a great service to myself at least but I expect many others by doing so.

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