Conversations About Porn

Jiz Lee, a 34-year-old gender queer adult film star, speaks to a small crowd on Wednesday as a part of Pride Student Union's Sexxx Week. Lee discussed their experience in porn, expressing gender and having sexual agency.

Before the 30-person orgy, before the Feminist Porn Awards nomination for “boundary breaker,” before the men who wrote emails asking “I watched your porn, and it was hot. Am I gay?” Jiz Lee was an executive director of a dance nonprofit. Lee met a cute, female photographer who asked “the world’s best pickup line.”

“Do you want to do porn with me?”

So began Lee’s now 10-year career in pornography.

Lee identifies as genderqueer, neither male nor female, and uses the pronouns they/them. They have been a force in the queer porn industry, rallying for queer acceptance and safer, more radical and more passionate sex.

Lee is publishing a book in November, a collection of essays from diverse members of the porn community – including the UF alumna whose stage name is Casey Calvert – loosely based around how the authors came out about their involvement in the adult film industry to friends and family

As part of UF’s Sexxx week, which is an exploration of safe sex and sexuality, Pride Student Union hosted Lee on Wednesday night for a conversation about exploring gender identity, the queer porn industry and safe sex.

The following Q & A session was edited for clarity and length. Lee made a point to affirm that they speak for themselves and does not represent any group of people. Check out even more of the interview on Alligator.org.

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You were nominated for an award for best girl/girl scene, but that’s not how you identify. Is that weird for you? Do you think there should be more awards given by performance and not by gender identity?

The word choice in mainstream categories is very particular. It matches and mirrors how they market the work to sell it. It makes sense the award is for girl/girl, and the box it comes in is labeled girl/girl. That’s just how they operate.

I’m honored to be in there because I can be one more example of a masculine/feminine kind of person. That is very rare in L.A. Even having short hair is very rare. 

If they were to introduce “best queer porn sex scene” or something, I would hope that they would put my work in that area.

I say I hope I can be a gateway queer. I have talked to a lot of producers and directors that now understand gender neutral pronouns and use those respectfully with me. So I think there is room for people to understand.

How have you seen the porn industry change as LGBTQ+ issues become a topic on the national stage?

It’s changing a lot. The thing that pops to mind is within the last year, we’ve seen Laverne Cox, who was huge on “Orange is the New Black,” become a spokeswoman for trans women and be on the cover of Time magazine.

To have such a high profile trans woman changes the way that media is talking about trans women and trans issues across the board, in terms of pronouns and respecting people’s pronouns, even after they pass away. 

There was an award ceremony that was called the Tranny Awards for a long time. They recently changed their name to the Transgender Erotica Awards, which, the abbreviation is TEA, like a tea party, and it’s cute. It’s respectful. It’s more accurate in terms of transgender being a larger umbrella term for different trans identities within that spectrum, so it more accurately portrays the different performers.

How do you think porn actors’ careers are changing as a result of social media?

I think that most performers have to use social media now. It’s kind of like a prerequisite if you’re going to get hired. A lot of companies depend on performers retweeting when movies come out, so they actually make money when performers have a lot of followers on social media. They get a lot of sales from it.

Some directors cast off it. They actually go through their Twitter feed and say “who haven’t I seen in awhile? Oh, look what so-and-so just tweeted. Let’s have them back.” Performers use social media to keep a constant presence, and having a presence in a producer’s mind is really helpful.

You can find new audiences being on social media. I think it’s helpful for audiences to understand more about the industry because they’re seeing performers’ point of views. Sometimes performers will talk about the environment on set, so you actually get to see behind the scenes and have a more relatable experience.

How do you use social media?

I use social media to share events. It’s so interesting, because I have found I like to segment where I post the sexy stuff versus where I share other things. It’s a constant experiment. I’m trying to use Tumblr as, like, the sexy site of social media, and then I have an automated feed that goes to one of my Twitter accounts.

While you can have images marked sensitive on Twitter’s app, apps like Tweetdeck don’t actually acknowledge it. I know as a user of Twitter, being on my phone and scrolling through it and seeing a lot of sexually explicit images, if I’m on the bus or whatever, it can be a little jarring. Sometimes I don’t actually want to see content myself. Not to say I don’t think it should be there, I think it should be there and has a right to be there.

That’s why I like to make it separate. Also because I have some followers who are more interested in the technical and social aspects of what I’m doing, rather than the content itself. I think my followers follow me for different reasons. I think some performers have a lot of followers because they give away a lot of good content, lots of sexy images, and they’re constantly active on it. I don’t think I use it as often as other people do, and right now I think the way I use it feels comfortable. I’m not going to force it.

Have you ever been bullied on social media?

It seems like whenever I have anyone do some kind of trolling or a mean tweet at me it’s a very blanketed insult. It’s not really who I am, it’s usually the fact that I do porn. Not thatI do porn, but that I’m a porn person. It still feels hurtful to see, but I can take assurance that it’s not about me, per se, and it’s a reflection on that person. 

What’s it like for you to get recognized in person? I know that your coming out is still a work in progress for you.

I have no regrets doing porn. I love what I do. Maybe the thing I didn’t actually think about is how public my image might be, and I don’t consider myself a famous person. I don’t get recognized often, but it happens often enough.

I love it when people find a good time to say hi. I love giving hugs. I love all that stuff, but there are some times when it’s made me feel uncomfortable. I work out at a pool sometimes, and one of the lifeguards knows who I am and told all the other staff. So now I feel like I can’t go swimming there.

I just want to be an anonymous person enjoying a workout. I never feel unsafe. That cloak of anonymity is a safety feature, and it’s hard to do events that I’m excited about or do books and do all these things if it means my face is more recognizable. It becomes a bit of a deterrent. I want to be underground. I just want to do what I love. I’m not doing it for fame. I’m just doing it for the love of doing it and for the conversations it sparks.

Where do you see the future of the payment model for porn?

[Lee directed a previous project called Karma Pervs that they called an “erotic philanthropic.” Soft-core images were donated, and the profits from their sale went to various nonprofit organizations.] It was still based on the very monopolized credit card market, so it wasn’t lucrative. Maybe if I had more time I could have made it something, but I might revisit it.

It needs to change. A lot of times, people are like ‘Oh, why can’t porn be like Netflix or Spotify?’ I’ve heard musicians complain about Spotify because they’re on it, but at the end of the year they get like 3 cents. If they’re not super popular, and they don’t get played a lot, then you’re not going to be able to use that as your revenue source. For films – Netflix – they’ve already been produced. The money is there. Pornography makes its money back through memberships or V.O.D. [video on demand]. It would be very difficult to have an $8 monthly subscription model of all these different companies if, at the end of the year, they’re going to end up with 3 cents. I think people are looking to large tube sites like PornHub as a Netflix where you can browse all these things, but there’s no longevity in it. It’s not going to be sustainable. It’s something that needs to change soon. I’m hoping that a basic education in paying for porn is gonna help that.

What was the inspiration for your stage name? 

Well, my stage name is very close to my real name. It’s one letter off. It was a pun. I tried four different names, and I actually had the thought at one point I would have a different name for every film, and then I realized the paperwork behind that. It’s also been Gage, and BoFlex and Bossa, at one point. If I had a chance to do it over again I think I would possibly have used the same first name that I have in real life and a different last name. For the performers I know who’ve done that, it’s the easiest way to not have to switch back and forth between two names.

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Alex Harris

Alex Harris is the online editor of the Alligator and a 22-year-old journalism and sustainability studies senior. She likes cooking, spending time in the sun and making convincing cat noises.