Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Made in Secret: the story of the East Van porn collective, and me

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | March 25, 2008 8:45 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Media, The Movement
Tags: anarchist porn, bi-curious, bikesexual, diy porn, feminism, feminist porn, porn, public sex, queer sexuality, san francisco, sex work, Vancouver, viagra

The first time I did porn I was 19 and I needed the money, it was awful and traumatizing really because they didn't tell me what they were going to do ahead of time, just: will you bottom? Then spray-painted my shirt, pulled my hair and dragged me through gravel, I wasn't ready. I remember standing outside in the sun afterwards, that familiar feeling of oh what just happened, holding my head up and brushing everything aside I didn't yet know why this was familiar.

The second time was maybe a year later and it was worse because I was dealing with incest flashbacks so I told my boyfriend at the time, my first boyfriend, that I couldn't have sex for a while but he called me from a porn shoot because the other actor showed up obliterated on drugs so they had to send them home, did I want to take that guy's place? $250.

So there I was, my boyfriend fucking me on camera I was never very good at getting fucked I got too scared but there I was. Afterwards I couldn't come, which was required, and my boyfriend actually got frustrated and didn't hold me afterwards. I didn't know what to say, or how to say it -- I felt like he'd raped me. I mean I knew I'd consented, but the money felt like coercion his anger about something so unimportant made me feel so small.

Then, after I was a whore for five or six years I decided to try doing a video again -- this time it would be hot, I convinced myself. $250 was an hour's work to me at that time not the whole day that a porn shoot took, especially not the one where the director assured me that I could pick the guys everyone would be hot he showed me some pictures. The guys in the movie with me were definitely not in those pictures. This time I told the director that I didn't get fucked but then I arrived and, sure enough, they'd planned the scene with me getting fucked. Luckily they handed me Viagra and the other guys had probably already been taking it for a while so it didn't do much for them, I ended up fucking both of them on a gym bench but it wasn't hot.

A few years after that, by this time maybe eight years into my career as a hooker and it felt interminable. My friend Chris and I decided we would make porn because we didn't want to be hookers forever we already felt trapped but once you've turned tricks for years it's hard to imagine getting a job that pays $10 an hour, you sit there all day and you hate it and you get nothing. So we planned it all out -- we were going to make unscripted orgy scenes on the beach and group scenes in public bathrooms, and we decided we wouldn't pay anyone less than $500 even though the going rate for things like that was maybe $100 or $200 we wanted to be fair. But then we thought through the financial situation and realized that, in order to pay what we thought was ethical and make the movies we thought would be interesting and hot, we'd have to spend more money than we thought we could make. So we decided not to make porn.

The hustler-to-porn-director trajectory is pretty familiar at this point, and generally it's a tragic tale where the hustler takes on the values of the trick -- exploit exploit exploit, what a nightmare! So I'm glad Chris and I didn't make porn.

In Made in Secret: The Story of the East Van Porn Collective, one of the collective members says, "Porn is a word that makes people stop thinking -- we're trying to be the opposite." Which is kind of beautiful, and so is this documentary, which follows a collective of white, twenty-to-thirty-something dreamers in East Vancouver, British Columbia with screen names like Professor University, nerdGirl, Mr. Pants and Monster who are set on making movies where they cast themselves in their own sexual fantasies. Like BikeSexual, a polysexual romp about -- yes -- sex and bikes. With a catch: they agree that the movies are only for themselves; no one else can see them.

It's an intoxicating twist on the idea of process-oriented art, which usually dwells in the high art realm or the purely conceptual: still satisfying artistically, but lacking in political vision except for the potential that the product becomes decentered or unimportant. With the East Van Porn Collective, a name under contention by at least one of its members (the one who I quote above), not only do the videos remain private, but they are hardly the point of this whole engagement that involves participants meeting at least once a week for several years. Certainly, everyone seems excited about making movies, and making them with somewhat fancy equipment like a boom mike, but they are far more excited about their collective process. This becomes especially apparent in the final scene of the movie, which depicts a 10-hour emergency meeting of the collective, called to decide whether to show BikeSexual at a private film festival of like-minded DIY pornographers in Portland, Oregon -- while all movies will be burned at the end of this festival, celebrating a similar ethic of privacy/exclusivity to that of the East Van Porn Collective, this would still be the first public foray for one of the collective's movies.

And, yes, I did just say 10-hour meeting. As someone who's been involved in a number of direct action activist groups working with a consensus process similar to that of the East Van Porn Collective, I've certainly participated in my share of indeterminable meetings. But 10 hours? I hope I'm accurate when I say: never, please never!

The meeting is called when one member of the collective doesn't want the movie screened, and I couldn't help cringing when various other members try to pressure her into consent, first by saying she wasn't even in this movie, so shouldn't she sit out the decision? Then, by saying well, am I correct in assuming that everyone else is in favor of showing the movie at the film festival? This exposé of power dynamics within consensus process is the core of the movie, and I can't say that I've seen this portrayed so clearly, honestly and intimately before. In the end, the collective decides not to show BikeSexual because they don't have consensus (remember, everyone has to agree!), and instead they decide to show the movie someone is making about their process (oh, that's the movie we're watching!). And that's where the politics come together so explosively with the process, which isn't only the process of making art but the process of their relationships and their political, emotional, cultural and sexual engagement with the world.

I'll admit that I don't entirely relate to this cast of eloquent and excited yet surprisingly awkward and shy characters. Their expressed faith in DIY cultures is stunning when juxtaposed against the awful hierarchies, scenesterism, and exclusivity so rampant in many of these cultures. Some of the collective members are so intent on making a movie that is "sexy," as if this is some sort of absolute. In one scene, a guy who claims he has never kissed anyone he wasn't in love with (so far only women) gets all nervous about making out with another guy, who has also never kissed a guy. In another context I might think oh no, the lefty bi-curious set, please -- but then they kiss and it's so cute and sweet and yes, sexy.

So I find myself inspired. Inspired because here is a group of people so excited about the potential of their own sexualities and the possibilities of a collective process of desire. I start to wonder what my own collective would look like, maybe not a porn collective but a collective of people (maybe fags, I don't know) trying to regain a sense of liberation and excitement in our own sexual lives. This personal project I've been working on, but so far it's remained individual (of course, I'm also editing an anthology!) -- but what would this personal project about my own desires look like with a group of like-minded faggots (or whomever) committed to a collective process?

Mattilda blogs at

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I do often wonder about collective processes and if they do assume absolutes. I haven't participated in any, but the idea is intriguing enough for me to wonder that if the goal is for everyone to agree, absolutely everyone, then doesn't that assume that it's possible for everyone to agree, and, by extension, that we're coming from similar enough places with similar enough values for there to be that sort of consent?

Also, I think the idea of porn that's about the sexual pleasure and exploration of the actors is incredibly sexy. I think that's why there's a strong underground porn movement of stuff made by couples and their friends.