RECESSION SEX WORKERS #7: How To Be a Girl: Courtney Trouble’s Subversive Smut

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Courtney Trouble’s no pedestrian pornographer. She’s a pale, femme, riot girl with squiggly tattoos and rocker bangs. Her curves threaten to punch holes in her tight vintage slip. She’s a punk, kinder-whore throwback in thrift store heels and red lipstick. Her eyes threaten sass but deliver a dirty-happy calm.

In her apartment in San Francisco, she sucked a cigarette against a primary green wall. Her whole apartment’s bright like a box of crayons. She showed me her bathtub-size office with vibrators displayed on shelves along with “Tales From the Clit” by Cherie Matrix. A black cat with asthma hissed then settled on my lap while her wife flipped through Butt Magazine during our interview. Domesticity and porn are bedfellows for Courtney. In “Nostalgia,” her tribute to the late Marilyn Chambers, Madison Young slurps two jumbo dildos in a puddle of drool and anti-anorexic girls muff dive in smoky red light. The scenes are real and cozy and capture fleshy friction that can only happen between friends.

The company she directs for, “Reel Queer Productions” she fills the gap in porn that Kink.com lacks; a queer niche category for trans porn as well as other types of sex people have- which is a ten minute conversation. Courtney writes, directs and appears in her own films. Her camera angles celebrate flaws and focus on the hidden places where sex lurks. She refuses to cast porn drones. The result is down home porn like it’s happening in your kitchen, and that’s what makes her films so accessible. Courtney talked about being saved by “Rocky Horror Picture Show” in Tacoma, Washington as a chubby teenager in a sheltered town. She is the by far youngest woman I’ve ever met to own her own porn company and maintain a stable domestic life. She reminded me to never underestimate the fury of a small town girl.

The Rumpus: Where did you grow up and what was it like?

Courtney Trouble: I grew up in Tacoma, Washington. My mom was an alcoholic and left when I was three. She was in and out of my life and got sober but my Dad raised me. He was an accountant and then went back to school and started his own business. We were a team. We loved computers and camping. He dated a string of women but none of them moved in with us. I was a tomboy. No one told me how to be a girl. I didn’t have women telling me how to dress, do makeup or act around boys. So, I obsessed on Madonna and Janet Jackson, rode my bike and climbed trees. I spent my childhood teaching myself how to be a girl, and I’ve never quite been anything like the girls who had mothers around.

Rumpus: How are you different from other people sexually?

Trouble: I was interested in the mechanics and varieties of sex from a young age. I remember humping my BFF with a sock in my panties, pretending I was the boy she had a crush on in the 5th grade, and once playing “Strippers” with a few of my friends at a slumber party. I slept with a girl for the first time when I was 14, she was a fat girl I met in a gay youth group. She was 19. It was on Christmas Day and I went down on her on her parents’ bed. There was also a Goth boy I loved but he took forever to put out. We did everything else until he finally gave in. The next day I went to Michigan for two months to see my Mom, sister and brother. I was hanging out with a girl I worked with at a pizza place. It was during the summer and after work we’d go to the RV campsites cause there was some guy she was into. Some guy I hung out with was really fucked up on booze and pills he overpowered me. I told my friend what happened and she said, “Everyone here gets raped. Let’s go shopping.” I told my Dad about it and he took me to Planned Parenthood.

Rumpus: What messages did you receive about sex growing up?

Trouble: Being queer wasn’t much of an issue in my family. My uncle was a flamboyant gay black man who was around us a lot, and my Dad became a Unitarian Universalist with no qualms about diversity. I joined the Unitarian Church my Dad belonged to and they had these youth weekends. The kids were all imaginative, open-minded and queer. Two of my first serious relationships were from that group. My Dad gave me a condom once and showed me how you could blow it up like a balloon – somebody had to do it, right?

Rumpus: Did you do erotic photography before you began filming?

Trouble: I went to school for photography. Photography is a great way to tell people what I see. By taking photos I am saying this person is sexy regardless of society’s version of sexy. At age 20 I was dealing with being five feet tall and curvy. I met Nomy Lamm, a performance artist who was self-described as a Jewish amputee fat girl. She inspired me to start a zine called “Fat Girl Break Down” and I gave out 500 of them at zine fairs. Then I started a web version of the zine and invited other fat girls to post their stories. A photo thread was born in the message boards and over time the photos became more explicit as the women were more comfortable with each other. It became obvious that I should start a porn site. Without ever saying “fuck you, suicide girls,” me and the other girls who don’t fit the suicide girls standards of subculture beauty made the thing they tried to project: an authentic, artistic, realistic, empowering, honest porn site, Nofauxxx.com.

Rumpus: Why and when did you get involved in the sex industry?

Trouble: I learned how to make a website at 16. By age 19, I made NoFauxxx.com. People from “Fat Girl Breakdown” bought memberships and I made $75/ week from that. I got a job doing phone sex when I was 18, and had always had a fascination about sex workers or being a sex worker as I was growing up. I was really drawn to memoirs of sex workers, books about sex, photo books. I did photography all throughout high school and in college, I discovered the first “alt porn” sites and decided that I was going to maybe try to be on them, or get my friends to be on them. After seeing that these “alternative” and “empowering” sites were the same formula as mainstream porn sites (plus tattoos) I decided I would try to start my own site that was more inclusive of different bodies, races, and gender identities. From the beginning I had boys and transfolk on the site, as well as BBWs (big beautiful women) and all different kinds of hipsters, hippies, hot nerds, skaters, rockers and it just sort evolved from there. I never had any intention of staying in the porn industry. I was just 19 and didn’t wanna do phone sex for the rest of my life.

Rumpus: When did you start making queer porn?

Trouble: “Queer porn” didn’t exist in 2002 except for Sspread.com (easily the first queer porn site, although it didn’t use that word [it is also no longer online]) and SIR Productions, which also didn’t call itself “queer,” but its movies were obviously not just basic lesbian porn. I actually didn’t know about either of those things when I started in 2002. I just wanted to make porn and keep it real. The reality of my community has always been a gender-fluid, sexually open, radically political and diverse crowd, and when people started using the word “queer” to describe themselves, I made the tagline of NoFauxxx.Com “Subversive Smut made by Ladies, Artists, and Queers” and that’s really the birth of the term.

Rumpus: What are some challenges you face as a queer pornographer?

Trouble: I cast so many different kinds of people for my projects. Seeing sexiness in the shadows where most people don’t dare look, like with the fat girls, the dykes, the trannies, is my life’s work and my passion, and with that mentality to challenge sex norms and values. That may just be my way of doing things. As a fat girl and a “queer” I’ve had my share of hardships.

It’s not easy creating a new porn genre. There are so many mainstream adult industry obstacles. For instance, my films don’t fit in a “straight” or “gay” category – these separations are largely for the audience, which the industry sees as men: straight or gay. My films are made for men and women, are usually put on the straight side under a “lesbian” category for men who want to watch lesbians. Asking an adult company to include a “queer” or “other” category just for a handful of films is out of this question. It would require a whole reworking of the industry. Nobody knows where to put my queer fat girl love. The existing key words are: lesbian, fetish, trans. I’m distributing my work and I never know where it’s going to go. I feel guilty and angry when a film about transmen and queer women is labeled “lesbian porn.” The performers that I work with are invisible in society for the most part and I feel like they are trusting me to not let these kinds of things happen, but in order for it to change, the entire porn industry needs to make a place for us.

Rumpus: Is the current recession affecting your job?

Trouble: My whole life has been a recession. I grew up working class with a single dad, supporting me. We were happy, and our happiness never depended on money. I feel rich by being a self-supporting woman, and like my dad, owning my own business gives me a huge sense of pride and accomplishment. I have supported my wife on and off for the past two years due to the country’s inability to shake the recession and create more jobs. When she’s unemployed I work twice as hard to promote my company, for our family.

It’s not easy having financial freedom as an artistic goal, there are constant reminders and temptations to put a mainstream porn girl on the cover, knowing that the upcoming months could be easier financially – but I think deep down I know that if I keep my inclusive, subversive, smart attitude, the payoff will be much larger in the long run than if I bow down the where the money comes from. In an economic downturn people often turn to vices. Porn happens to be a very good vice when it comes to forgetting your troubles, leaving your own reality for a minute, and relaxing. Sex, masturbation, and fantasy are free, and porn can be a very cheap and effective tool for escape. I don’t have any employees or people who work for me – I stay above the recession by doing everything myself and working hard to build the site up, so that I don’t have payroll to worry about, and when the economy takes a turn for the better, my site will be solid.

Rumpus: Have you ever quit the sex industry and if so, why?

Trouble: Never. Every time I wonder if I should, some amazing opportunity comes along and keeps me hanging on. I’m not sure if I will ever quit. I don’t know if there’s anything I’m as good at as making porn and working in the sex industry. But I’ve had difficult moments, like in February of last year I lost my job and was on food stamps. But I remembered my Dad starting his own business and I decided to take a huge risk and not take another low-paying job. Then I sold Roulette to Good Vibrations and I’m making more money than ever before.

Rumpus: Whom would you like to shoot in an ideal world with unlimited resources?

Trouble: Lots and lots and lots of gay boys. Not the kind you see in gay porn, but the hipsters you see at the record stores and punk shows. I already work with a lot of really incredible people. My favorites include Jiz Lee, Billy Castro, April Flores, Carson, Tina Horn, Syd Blakovich, Lorelei Lee, Sophia St James, and Sarah Lee Sinful. If I had more resources I would opt to just pay these people more money than “go big” with some expensive Hollywood stars.

Rumpus: What is your favorite moment to shoot?

Trouble: Every scene has it’s own quirkiness. There’s always a little awkwardness at the beginning of a scene that I live for. Also, anything that shows a really hot female ejaculation or proof of an orgasm in some way really gets me excited as a pornographer, to be able to show that on film is so incredible. In Bordello (soon to be released), I shot a rope bondage sex scene on a stairwell. We were running a little later than scheduled, so it was around 4 or 5 when the people who lived at the location were getting home from work. There was Jolene Parton, tied to the stairwell on either side, getting fucked by Tina Horn – and then there was the roommates having to crawl under Jolene’s leg to get upstairs. Also within that hour, my wife stopped by with our dog and some props, and sex blogger Violet Blue came by to hang out and help out. I think about 5 people had to crawl over our bondage scene.

Rumpus: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a pornographer?

Trouble: It rejuvenates me to be in character when I’m acting. Visibility is creating something I want to put out in to the world and documenting my actual sex life accomplishes that. Also, my life’s goal has been to create a sustainable chosen family of artists, queers, and token “society freaks” so that none of us ever feel alone or unwanted. The queer porn world is full of people who have embraced their oddness and no longer feel like orphans of the world, even those who can’t come out to their families, or did and were shunned.

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Photos by Romy Suskin

The Rumpus Sex Blog

More from Antonia Crane’s Recessions Sex Workers series


Antonia Crane is a writer, teacher and performer in Los Angeles. She is the author of the memoir SPENT by Barnacle Books/Rare Bird Lit. Her other work can be found in Playboy, Dame Magazine, Salon, PANK magazine, Black Clock, The Believer, Frequencies, Slake, The Los Angeles Review The New Black, and lots of other places. She can be found running up Griffith Park mountain and here: http://antoniacrane.com. More from this author →