How pornography forged the trans movement


How pornography forged the trans movement

Womanhood has been turned into a fetishised commodity.

Genevieve Gluck

Topics Feminism Free Speech Identity Politics Long-reads UK

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It is impossible to separate the influence of pornography from the gender-identity movement, as both are aspects of the sex industry. The gender-identity industry sells ‘sex’ as a noun – supposedly allowing a male to ‘become’ a female (and vice versa) through surgeries and hormones. Whereas the pornography industry sells ‘sex’ as a verb.

Gender identity conceptually reduces women to sexist stereotypes, or a fantasy in a man’s head. It is also an ideology that uniquely redefines womanhood – and to a lesser degree, manhood – as the living embodiment of pornography.

So intertwined are transgenderism and pornography that the man responsible for coining the term ‘gender identity’, John Money, argued that young children should be shown explicit pornography in order to assist them in their ‘transition’, despite his somewhat contradictory assertion that one’s sense of being male or female is innate and becomes fixed at an early age. For Money, the concept of a ‘gender role’ relied heavily on what feminists had previously called ‘sex-role stereotypes’, but also on sexual interactions themselves.

Money was a New Zealand-American psychologist, sexologist and professor at Johns Hopkins University. Regarding ‘the use of explicit sexual pictures’, he wrote in his 1975 book, Sexual Signatures: On Being a Man or a Woman, that they ‘can and should be used as part of a child’s sex education’, and that the best time to introduce sexual content to children is before puberty has begun. ‘Prepubertal children are intellectually capable of understanding sex’, Money wrote. ‘They will no doubt find these pictures erotically stimulating, but as the novelty wears off, they will soon settle down.’

Money also recommended that young children watch adults engage in sexual intercourse, and that it should be explained to them as ‘a game adults play’, adding: ‘With guidance, the experience can be integrated into the child’s sex education and serve to reinforce his or her own gender identity.’

This remark is especially troubling in light of Money’s own notorious experiments with the Reimer twin boys – wherein he attempted to raise Bruce Reimer as a girl called Brenda. In an effort to force the young boy to accept that he was in fact female and not male, Money had Bruce and his brother, Brian, act out what he called ‘copulation play’, while photographing the children in various sexual positions.

When Money wrote Sexual Signatures, pornography had not yet been incorporated into the mainstream mass media. Now, of course, pornography depicting nearly any act imaginable can be found online through a quick search, and is widely available on parts of the web, free from age restrictions.

We are unfortunately witnessing Money’s vision play out in real time, and it is becoming apparent that pornography is bound up with the notion of ‘transition’, though in ways that tend to vary between trans-identified women and trans-identified men.

For women, and young women especially, the trend of declaring a male or non-binary identity may be driven by a wish to escape female objectification. Several young women who have ‘detransitioned’, or ceased to identify as male, have pointed to the influence of pornography in their identity confusion.

For men, however, the impulse to declare a female identity is often a cover story for a desire to live out a sexual crossdressing and body-modification fetish full-time. In online communities such as Reddit, men encourage each other to ‘crack eggs’ – to convince another person that they are, and always have been, transgender. Supposed indicators that a man, or teen boy, has a transgender identity include: watching trans porn, being jealous of women, or masturbating while wearing women’s clothing.

But there is also a hefty financial incentive for some: it is estimated that men who ‘feminise’ their bodies with surgery and hormones can earn double what female porn actors earn in the industry, due to rising demand. Moreover, there is an emerging trend involving men who claim to be women independently selling their homemade pornography on OnlyFans or via social media.

In 2018, Australian National University student Sophie Pezzutto – a man who identifies as transgender – travelled to Nevada and California to research pornography for his anthropology PhD. The following year, his research, ‘From Porn Performer to Porntropreneur’, was published by the International Journal of Gender Studies. Pezzutto notes that searches for transgender-themed pornography quadrupled between 2014 and 2017, and that ‘the overwhelming majority of trans porn revolves around trans women’ (that is, men who ‘identify as’ women).

Pezzutto also points out that the sex industry provides the revenue for cosmetic surgeries, particularly breast implants for men. ‘A large number of performers interviewed entered the industry at least in part to fund their transition. Sex work was for them a lucrative and, at the same time, empowering avenue to self-actualisation because it provided funds for prohibitively expensive surgeries’, he remarks.

According to 2022 data provided by porn site Pornhub, pornography listed under the ‘transgender’ category increased in popularity by 75 per cent that year, becoming the seventh most popular category worldwide and the third most popular in the US. In 2017, Pornhub released data specifically on the category of ‘trans porn’, revealing that viewership of content within the category had exploded in recent years, with a noticeable increase beginning in 2015.

Pornographic videos featuring men who ‘feminise’ themselves are typically viewed by men who otherwise consider themselves to be heterosexual, and the content may be advertised as featuring a woman with the sex drive of a man, willing to engage in practices that women otherwise may not, or would find physically difficult, if not impossible.

A notable American academic who has claimed that pornography motivated his decision to begin identifying as transgender was awarded a Pulitzer prize for literary criticism in May, prompting outcry on social media from individuals who criticise gender-identity ideology. Andrea Long Chu, born Andrew, graduated from Duke University in 2014. In 2021, he was appointed to the role of book critic by New York magazine, where his work earned him the 2023 Pulitzer.

John Money during a television interview in 1951.
John Money during a television interview in 1951.

Chu first began writing about gender identity in 2018, when N+1 magazine published his essay titled, ‘On Liking Women’. Here, Chu blends the ever-popular personal-anecdote format preferred by trans-identifying writers with criticism levied against several prominent feminist writers. He describes, as a formative experience, having a high-school crush on a girl who confessed to him that she had realised she is a lesbian.

‘The truth is, I have never been able to differentiate liking women from wanting to be like them’, Chu writes. ‘I transitioned for gossip and compliments, lipstick and mascara… for sex toys, for feeling hot, for getting hit on by butches, for that secret knowledge of which dykes to watch out for, for Daisy Dukes, bikini tops, and all the dresses, and, my god, for the breasts.’ (His emphasis.)

The article jump-started Chu’s pursuit of academic writing on the topic of gender identity. That year, he was invited to speak at several reputable universities, such as UC Berkeley and Columbia University, where he presented a talk titled, ‘Did Sissy Porn Make Me Trans?’. There he confidently asserts:

‘Getting fucked makes you a woman because fucked is what a woman is. Penetration confers femaleness… In sissy porn, the penis itself is a symbol of castration.’

The following year, Chu’s first book, Females, was published by Verso Books. The thesis of the 94-page screed is that anyone can become female, and that being penetrated during sex defines womanhood.

‘Pornography is what it feels like when you think you have an object, but really the object has you. It is therefore a quintessential expression of femaleness’, writes Chu. ‘Sissy porn did make me trans.’

In the following years, Chu would repeatedly reference the influence of pornography on his desire to take female hormones, and even to undergo surgery. In 2018, he told the NYC Trans Oral History Project: ‘[M]y porn addiction had all along been waiting for something like sissy porn… It… demands you to imagine your experience of porn as something that’s turning you into a woman. Not just that you’re looking at people being turned into a woman, but that the act of looking turns you into a woman.’

Sissy porn, a shortened form of sissification pornography, is one of several genres that incorporate broader themes of forced feminisation, wherein a man is ostensibly ‘forced’ to transform into a woman, whether through the administration of hormones or the donning of makeup and lingerie.

A staggering quantity of sissy and forced-feminisation pornography and adjacent content can be found on platforms such as Reddit, Tumblr, 4Chan, adult sites, and even on seemingly non-pornographic parts of the web, such as Pinterest, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube. The overwhelming majority of the content involves the theme of men being turned into women. Men post photos of themselves dressed in makeup and lingerie and invite viewers to objectify them. Personal Facebook accounts belonging to men who call themselves ‘sissies’ or ‘trans’ have racked up tens of thousands of followers in recent years.

In some cases, even rape and sex trafficking are considered forms of validation for men given over to the fantasy of ‘becoming’ female. Columbia University graduate and author Julia Serano wrote of his erotic imaginings of womanhood in his 2007 book, Whipping Girl: ‘I would imagine myself being sold into sex slavery and having strange men take advantage of me… It’s called forced feminisation… It is about turning the humiliation you feel into pleasure, transforming the loss of male privilege into the best fuck ever.’

Duke University Press, which publishes Transgender Studies Quarterly (for which Chu has worked), is one of the leading American academic journals to frequently explore the relationship between pornography and transgenderism, though it does so in ways which promote the explicit content as a tool for developing a ‘gender identity’, which somewhat paradoxically is also presumed to be innate.

Trans-identified male Aster Gilbert, writing for the May 2020 issue of Transgender Studies Quarterly, defines ‘sissification and feminisation’ as ‘forms of gender play’ in an article titled, ‘Sissy Remixed: Trans Porno Remix and Constructing the Trans Subject’.

‘In sissy fetish practices, the cis man is often humiliated by a female dominatrix who plays out a forced feminisation fantasy’, Gilbert writes. ‘Men are encouraged to imagine having sex with other men, but as a woman rather than as a man, as in traditional gay pornography. The viewer begins as a man and undergoes a transformation into a sissy or woman… Through this process, the video constructs the subject of the sissy as a trans subject.’

This is far from a fringe practice or perspective within the gender-ideology world. Even a prominent psychologist within the Gender Identity Clinic at the Tavistock in London previously called for normalising not only ‘sissification’, but also ‘age play’, furry fetishes, and a variety of sadomasochistic sexual practices, as ‘sexualities’. Dr Christina Richards, a male who identifies as a woman and now the lead psychologist at the London Gender Identity Clinic, co-authored a professional guide on sexuality and gender, which places fetishistic sexual practices on the same spectrum as heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality.

Richards describes how adults who engage in age play accumulate various objects and apparel associated with childhood, including children’s clothing. Often, one adult might roleplay as being any age, from infancy to teenage years, while another adult participates in a dominant sexual role.

‘Terms which may be encountered here include daddy’s little girl (DLG), in which an older male top treats a younger female bottom as a nurtured child’, Richards elaborates. ‘The term “sissification” intersects with age play as it is where an adult male is consensually “forced” to don the clothes of, and behave as, a young girl as part of a BDSM scene. The humiliation the adult male feels at being dressed as a young female is the source of the eroticisation.’ Richards has served on the executive board of the European Professional Association for Transgender Health (EPATH) , and as a board-member-at-large of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

Last month, researchers at Nottingham Trent University labelled sissy porn as ‘autogynephilic persuasive pornography’ (AGPP), on the basis that it promotes the sexual fetish of autogynephilia, or the sexual pleasure a man derives by imagining himself as a woman.

Most of the individuals who took part in the research stated that AGPP ‘helped them express the feminine side of their sexuality’. Some mentioned that AGPP had provided a motivation to transition. The study’s authors emphasised that there was a ‘frequent association of femininity with sexual submissiveness’.

The act in sissy-pornography scenes that establishes that a man has been successfully transformed into a female is penetration. This is an observation Chu also made when, in Females, he declared that ‘at the centre of sissy porn lies the asshole, a kind of universal vagina through which femaleness can always be accessed’.

Disturbingly, it is beliefs such as this that underpin so-called ‘trans-inclusive’ language that is now recommended to describe female anatomy. Some terms that have been suggested for women’s genitalia in recent years include ‘front hole’ and ‘bonus hole’, which both define the vulva and vagina as merely ‘holes’ to be penetrated, ancillary to the anus.

Yet Chu is far from alone in romanticising, even internalising, the total pornification of womanhood. This is not an anomaly – it is a core tenet of the gender-identity belief system, which reduces women to commodified, and modified, pieces and parts.

In a 2020 lecture he gave at Princeton University (one of the most elite academic institutions in the US), Río Sofia, who himself identifies as a transgender woman, discussed forced-feminisation pornography and shared examples of sissification content he had made of himself. Sofia pointed out that, historically, there were often advertisements for ‘feminising’ hormones located in the backpages of BDSM-themed publications:

‘There’s actually a culture around forced feminisation and sissy porn… There are alternative ways of transitioning. When we talk about these kinds of stories, whether they’re fictional or real, some of them go as far as coercing breast implants, or forcing their husbands to wear a chastity device for six months, or putting their husband on hormones.’

Indeed, a black market based on the illicit sale of oestrogen was peddled to men through porn and fetish magazines decades prior. Similarly, other facets of what is now called ‘gender-affirming care’ were developed in tandem with the sex industry.

Andrea Long Chu appearing on the Verso Books YouTube channel in 2019.
Andrea Long Chu appearing on the Verso Books YouTube channel in 2019.

Plastic surgery was not always a sexually motivated undertaking. Some early procedures were pioneered in response to the needs of survivors of the First World War. Soldiers returning from the trenches with scarred and disfigured faces made up a substantial number of patients considered for cosmetic treatments. After this initial boom in experimental surgeries on injured men, doctors soon aimed their scalpels at the healthy bodies of women.

Under the influence of pornography and sex trafficking, cosmetic surgeries on women became primarily centred on satisfying men’s sexual appetites. The first silicone breast implants were performed on Japanese women trafficked into sex slavery during post-Second World War American occupation. The silicone, stolen from shipping docks, was injected directly into their breasts, resulting in gangrene or ‘silicone rot’, and in some cases, death.

The procedure was then brought to California. An estimated 50,000 women were directly injected with silicone in the US between the 1940s and 1960s, many of whom were involved in the entertainment industry. The regulating authority, the Food and Drug Administration, did not require long-term follow-up research for the procedure, despite the novelty of silicone injections. The discovery that a woman’s body could be altered to encourage the fetishisation of certain parts of her flesh would prove indispensable to pornographers and pimps.

It does not, then, appear to be purely coincidental that California, once the world’s leading producer of pornography in its heyday, home to Porn Valley, Silicon Valley and Hollywood, is also the unofficial birthplace of the gender-identity movement.

California was where Virginia Prince, the man who popularised the term ‘transgender’, publicised the practice of male erotic crossdressing through his magazine, Transvestia.

‘You have to grow past the stage of being an erotically aroused male in a dress, which results eventually in an orgasm’, Prince, born Arnold Lowman, said in 1985. ‘But when the orgasm is over, if you continue to stay in the dress, you begin to discover there’s this other part of yourself. You cease being an erotically aroused male, and you simply become a man who comes to recognise that, gee, there’s something nice about girlness that I’m enjoying experiencing.’

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has also been at the centre of the gender-identity movement. It established the US’s first ‘gender-identity clinic’ in 1962. Philosopher Judith Butler, who pushed gender ideology into academic institutions across the US and beyond, is affiliated with UC Berkeley. Grace Lavery, a trans-identifying lecturer also at Berkeley, once publicly shared a curriculum for his students that included sissy porn found on PornHub.

The designer of the transgender Pride flag, a US Navy veteran, was first encouraged to pursue erotic crossdressing while attending drag clubs in California. Later on, Monica Helms, or Robert Hogge, would work at an adult-video store where he would ‘dress up’, complete with prosthetic breasts. He was attending sex clubs and lesbian bars on weekends at the time when he declared that he believed he was a lesbian woman.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the sexualisation of surgery is the inclusion of children into the adult world of body-modification fetishism. In a depressing turn, Corey Maison, a young boy who was a viral sensation in 2016 at the age of 14 for declaring that he was actually a girl, now produces homemade pornography of himself. The regimen of puberty-blocking drugs provided to him in adolescence has produced an eerie semblance of childishness that has continued into his young adulthood.

There are also surveys that have been conducted with the anonymous input of men involved in a paedophilic castration-fetish forum, where they write and host graphic fiction about chemical and surgical castration. Nearly half of the stories involved children, and the most popular stories depict the forcible castration of minors.

The Eunuch Archive was cited by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) in their most recent ‘Standards of Care’ document. Last year, WPATH did away with specific age restrictions for medical ‘gender’ interventions conducted on children.

Through pornography, it is not only the act of sex that becomes a product: the sexed body itself becomes both spectacle and commodity. As we turn to screens for human interaction, and as pornography increasingly substitutes real relationships, fetishism emerges as a powerful social contagion that its practitioners praise as a conduit for self-determination: an end, rather than the means.

Gender-identity philosophy, as Martha Nussbaum wrote in her critique of Judith Butler, ‘The Professor of Parody’, is a belief system that ‘collaborates with evil’ – it supplants an authentic self for a manufactured version. It does, indeed, ‘crack eggs’, opening our bodies to become the resource, product and advertisement, all in one.

Gender ideologues tell confused individuals that this external and purchasable identity will confer freedom. But they fail to mention the impact this pornified process has on both our collective humanity and on women and children in particular. Through transgenderism, women’s identity, dignity and safety is being fragmented – and sold as scrap to the highest bidder.

Genevieve Gluck is a writer and advocate for women’s rights. She is co-founder of Reduxx and host of the podcast, Women’s Voices.

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Topics Feminism Free Speech Identity Politics Long-reads UK


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