The (Secret) Porn That Turns Me On

Must our fantasies mirror our real-life sexual preferences?

By Ryna

Illustrations by Prathiksha Bhat

In my quiet world of best kept secrets, especially from feminist friends and allies who sanitise my sexuality with #lovewins and #loveislove hashtags, there is a ringing noise of defiance which compels me, time and again, to make an honest confession – for someone who does not identify as either cis or het, I do watch a lot of cis-het porn, or as some folks call it, mainstream straight porn. 

I can hear the sound of my own disapproval in my head. As a queer person who has been part of many conversations on desire and pleasure, in classrooms as well as smoke filled halls of after parties, I feel a weight of expectation on my sexual life. The weight to be some prototype of queer, feminist liberation. But like the sheets in my partner’s bedroom, after hours of raunchy sex, which would make second wave anti-pornography feminists tsk with horror, the reality of my sexual-ness is messy. 

But let’s ask the obvious question: is the kind of porn we watch simply a reflection of one’s sexual and gender identity? Are we really, any of us, that simple? Does fantasy have to be under politically correct orders to be, um, realistic?

Desire is so much more intricate than categories of identity allow or can contain. I wouldn’t say my experience of porn is the universal queer porn experience – and I hope in fact that we can fly far away from reducing queer experience of desire to any univeralising whatsoever.

Ever since I googled porn for the first time five years ago, I have found myself watching clips of male porn stars fucking their female counterparts. I can’t explain clearly why this turns me on – maybe it somehow allows for a sense of familiarity, sometimes it feels less alienating than watching most things I find from the category of “lesbian porn”, or even behind the paywall protected porn for feminists and queer persons. 

I wish my alienation from lesbian porn, could be dismissed as simply as a disconnection from the male gaze (though after how trans* feminism has nicely complicated these categorisations, do we even want to use these simple lenses anymore?) which produces porn for the viewing pleasure of cis-het men. But well, if a lot of lesbian porn is produced to engage the male gaze, isn’t cis-het porn produced for similar purposes? Why do I find pleasure in watching mainstream straight porn (which is never actually described as that, leave alone cis-het; it escapes its own categorisation) than “lesbian porn”? The reason is both simple and not: It’s possible that desires and fantasies and porn preferences have nothing to do with sexual identities, at least not in a match the following way. 

Recently my partner, held up her mobile screen with a clip of a same-sex female couple, complaining that after hours of browsing through dozens of websites, she had finally found something we could watch together. Then, she looked at my face and remarked that my lack of enthusiasm was telling, that she knew my mind had wandered to images of the porn I know best. I told her it’s because the men in those clips look like me, with their cropped hair and broad shoulders. In lesbian porn, masculinities are often reduced to their affects – acting masculine as per some set notion of behaviour –  and less to their stylisations – looking masculine in all its diversity. Lesbian porn often has same-sex female pairs, where both in the pair are unmistakably femme, even if the affectations of one might be deemed “masculine” – which basically means being overtly aggressive, domineering etc, while the other would be more submissive, passive etc. Lesbian porn then has different stylisation, which is femme, but follows the same cis-het script. 

In simpler words, I like the script, but hate the stylisation. I like porn in which the femmes dominate the mascs. In lesbian porn, much more than cis-het porn, this is really hard to find, because lesbian porn does not really have mascs. And even in the rare  case that it does, the mascs always dominate. So in it’s own strange way, the fantasy is limited too I suppose.

Last summer I went home to a small town that my parents had shifted to from an even smaller town in central India many years ago. I was standing in the kitchen next to my mother while she made chai for her husband, my father, when she told me that she recently came across porn on the internet. Her brows came together in an effort to make her confession – “I just kept looking at the women. How do they look so perfect?” 

Yes, I agree, not the most typical mother-daughter conversation. I think it was an effort on my mother’s part to suggest to me that looking at the women in porn clips does not translate to desiring them, that looking and desiring are different things, that it is possible I am confusing desire for women with what might just be an appreciation for the female form and body (aka, it’s just a phase). Maybe she was trying to enter my world and my head in some tentative, awkward way. Or maybe it was an affirmation of my mother’s queerness. I would never know. Maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to decide what she meant, but just let it stay in that ambiguous space we sometimes describe as queer.

Just like the space between the brain and the skin and the groin. Between fantasy and reality. Between desire and identity. Between you and me.

Ryna doesn’t spread out, she leans in. She is a post-graduate student of Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi, and has recently learnt to ride a motorcycle which is one of her proudest accomplishments.

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