Here’s a piece from my old Disinformation TV series. It originally aired in the UK on the C4 network as part of their “4Later” late-night TV programming block in 2000 and 2001 (The Divine David came right after it). There were sixteen half-hour episodes that featured people like Robert Anton Wilson, Joe Coleman, Douglas Rushkoff, Genesis P-Orridge, Kembra Pfahler, and Grant Morrison as well as some more obscure underground figures like Rocket Boy, “Uncle Goddamn” and Brice Taylor, the self-described “mind controlled sex slave of the CIA.”
It was then purchased by what is now Syfy, who never aired the series (for reasons you won’t wonder about, if you’ve seen it) despite them paying a fair whack of money for it. Eventually it came out on DVD (Netflix also has it).
In any case, this segment, “The Best of Both Worlds” was going to be the first thing viewers would have seen in year two, but I ended up shuffling that around a bit after several people warned me not to come on that strong and that I might want to ease into it with the C4 lawyers, so it ended up airing towards the end of the second series. When that episode did air (dealing with themes explored in Adam Parfrey’s Apocalypse Culture II book) there were tons of angry letters and viewer complaints. One memorable letter accused me of trying to “create mass social deviation” using the airwaves (the best compliment I’ve ever received, btw). I was later told that criminal fines were levied on a broadcaster who showed that episode in Thailand due to the piece on transsexual porn.
The thesis of the piece—and it’s something that was also written about by George Petros (who you’ll see in the segment in an interview that we shot in my then apartment in the West Village) in a provocative essay titled “The New Hermaphrodite”—is that what seemed to then be an eye-popping explosion of “chicks with dicks” porn, was not really something being marketed towards gay men at all, as might be expected, but at straight men, as a sort of “kink.” Gia Darling, a well-known director of transsexual pornography who I interviewed says this explicitly to me, that gay men are not even remotely interested in seeing depictions of femininity—especially the sort of hyper-femininity associated with transsexuals—in their porno. So who was renting all of the shemale porn that started coming out in the late 1990s then?
When the answer to this actually dawned on me—before I knew there was a question, I should say—I was walking around lowlife XXX video stores on “The Block,” Baltimore’s sleazy red light district at 7 am on a Saturday morning in 1998 (it’s actually two blocks long and at the time, still a pretty seedy spot). Perhaps a little explanation is necessary: that very weekend was one of those times in my life where my bank account went from having like $200 in it, to having quite a bit more by the following banking day. But this was the weekend before that money got deposited into my account and I found myself staying in what might be charitably have been described as a “crack hotel.”
I had taken the train to Baltimore to see Joe Coleman do a lecture (Hasil Adkins also performed) and I think I had an overly optimistic idea of what sort of reasonably priced accommodations I might find in the downtown area. The shithole I stayed in didn’t even have towels and the bed sheets (which I used as towels in the morning) smelled strongly of Pine Sol. Two morbidly obese women with their hair in curlers sat outside the place on the sidewalk on lawn furniture watching a B&W TV and chain-smoking. The clerk who checked me in did so from behind a two-inch thick bullet proof window. It was a fucking dump. The worst.
The second I woke up, I made to get out of there, but there’s not a whole lot to do in downtown Baltimore in the very early morning hours (at least not that I knew of) and so I ended up getting coffee at a 7-Eleven and wandering around until the bookstores and record stores opened. Then I bumped into “The Block.” Having read about it in one of John Waters’ books, I knew exactly where I was when I laid eyes on “it.” So I walked in—and then rather quickly out—of the stores and the strip bars that were open at that time of the morning. “The Block” lived up to its depraved reputation, but there was something I noticed that, at the time, seemed quite remarkable…
In every Baltimore porn store, there was a disproportionately high percentage of the floor space—25 to 40%—devoted to “shemale” DVDs. Mostly straight porn, then the transsexual porn and only then a very small amount (5-6%) of gay porn. Baltimore, if you’ve never been there, is more or less a hillbilly and poor black city (that doesn’t describe the entire city, no, but it will suffice). Even at that early hour, these places were pretty crowded. The men who were perusing these wares were all working class guys, the sort of dudes who carry lunchboxes to work with them. As “normal” as you could get. Why all the interest in “chicks with dicks” (at 7am) and yet the apparent disinterest in the “regular gay” DVDs?
It seemed to me that the answer to that question would make good television.
Another thing that’s worth mentioning about this piece is a sort of “oh duh” epiphany I had when I was doing some interviews at Gia Darling’s apartment. Alyssa, Gia’s downstairs neighbor (who I assumed, until I was told otherwise, was a biological female and Gia’s zany “fag hag” friend) was trying to explain something to me about the difficulty for her to find a straight boyfriend because she wasn’t herself interested in being with a gay man (in fact, she seemed to look down on the idea with great disdain).
Later, when we were editing the piece and I was watching the raw interview footage, I could hear myself not quite getting what she was trying to communicate to me, like it just wasn’t computing in my brain, and Gia can be heard off camera trying to patiently explain it to me. It seemed to make a lot of sense to cut it around Alyssa’s poignant remarks because I didn’t want the piece to seem lurid or unsympathetic (For the record, I wholeheartedly agree with what Gia Darling says towards the end about the daily heroism of a transgender person. It made me happy to be able to include that part).
When the show aired and I sent videotapes to all the participants, I was pleased to see how positively Gia, Alyssa and everyone else felt about the piece and how jazzed they were to be able to say the things they got to say on network television.
Shot and edited by Nimrod Erez, music by Adam Peters and Chris Brick (Family of God). (Don’t blame me for the distorted audio or the typo, it’s not my upload).
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Rocket Boy: Intergalactic Space Mercenary (and out of work porn actor)