Saturday 13 February 2021

Interview with Chelsea Poe

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Chelsea Poe, a Dutch American producer, and director of experimental queer art films, adult movie actress, artist, and trans activist. Hello Chelsea!
Chelsea: Hello Monika!
Monika: You are a woman of many talents. Do you see yourself more as a producer or an actress?
Chelsea: I see myself as a performer who is lucky enough to have the means to produce. The content trade model has really taken hold and the number of gigs that performers usually get is not enough to not produce their own content. I think the industry has shifted much like most of the entertainment industry to being decentralized.
Monika: Are you more Dutch or more American?
Chelsea: I grew up surrounded by Dutch people and Dutch culture growing up in Holland, Michigan, so it makes up a large part of my identity. I feel as I got older and moved to California so much what I assumed were American things were actually Dutch things.
I feel very lucky I was able to travel and work in the Netherlands with other Dutch sex workers where sex work is so normalized compared to the United States. I feel like for so many people being sex workers you have to hide who you are and your culture. I’m very lucky to have been able to come out to my family and have them embrace what I’m doing.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Chelsea: For me, I feel like my gender was something I kind of figured out when I was in my early teens. I was out to my family by the time I was in high school and started taking hormones while still living at home, so I don’t really have that narrative of the loss of friends or family. At this point in my life, I’m 28 and have been out as a trans woman longer than I wasn’t.
I really feel like I was a kid who just didn’t have terms to put to what I was feeling both inside and externally with my body but I don’t think most people cis or trans do at 13. I’ve had the family not understand how to be an ally to me when I was in college but I never really lost family with being trans. My family has issues that have been related to poverty during my adult years, my father passed away while homeless when I was 24 so my gender stuff was kind of the least of my family's issues.

"Part of feminism is about including
marginalized folks, and trans people are for
sure included in that definition."

Monika: How did you explain to your parents that you would like to pursue a career as an adult movie actress?
Chelsea: I came out to my Mom the night before I flew out to San Francisco the first time telling her I was going to shoot feminist porn in California. The reaction was very much in the mindset of the adult industry being one filled with illicit drug use. I actually wrote about it a bit in Coming Out As a Porn Star that Jiz Lee curated.
I always did extreme art since I was in high school like playing in a Norwegian-inspired black metal band and traveling to scummy venues with my hardcore band. I always wanted to do outsider art that pushed what was art and my porn performance is the endpoint of that.
Monika: Do you remember your first movie? How much your career has evolved since then?
Chelsea: My first film was Fucking Mystic. I wrote it with my two best friends Aja Pop and Courtney Trouble shortly after moving to Oakland from Holland, it was the most intensive work I ever put into a project at that point in my life. I can say that film really changed everything in my life and opened so many doors that I could have never imagined. Looking back at it, I have a lot of regret for having William Control on the soundtrack after learning more about what he was doing.
I think how my career changed was people will actually give me the benefit of the doubt that I’ll finish a project compared to before where a lot of people were unaware if I could do something outside of just performing on set.
Monika: Is it possible to make both ends meet with being a transgender adult actress?
Chelsea: I feel like I don’t solely identify as a transgender porn performer. I’m clearly trans but I don’t think that’s the most defining thing about who I am as a performer. I feel like since I got into the industry I wanted to be a BDSM performer. I feel like my porn fits or has more in common with BDSM porn than it does with vanilla trans porn. I feel like now trans women can exist in porn without this giant “TS” title or trans signifier whereas maybe even 5 years again you couldn’t be thought of as any other than a trans performer.
I think trans inclusion should happen more in the industry and I think it might be with the TS genre someday fading out. I believe with making a career cis or trans it's a hard industry to make a living, you need to put a ton of hard work into it, meet the right people and often be lucky even then there’s no promise you’ll have a career. I feel extremely blessed to be still in the industry nearly a decade after getting in as a cam girl when I was 20.

In 'Identity: In & Beyond The Binary' (2015) by Dave Naz.
Source: YouTube.

Monika: I assume that there are many myths about who watches trans porn. Does the industry conduct any analysis in this respect?
Chelsea: I feel like there’s no one kind of people who watch trans porn. I’ve been included on sites like Trenchcoatx or God"s Girls as one of a few trans performers and their audience doesn’t respond any different than they do to a cis woman doing the same thing.
I think inclusion is very important but I’m not really one to think there’s a sexuality difference or porn difference of watching a scene with a cis or trans person. I feel like my performance style and what I would be doing would be the same if I was born with a vagina or not, I probably want some mean femme domme fucking me up.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Chelsea: I have thought about writing a book, I have some concepts, I really want to write in regards to. I feel like it's been such an intense period of 8 years, and it has taken me around the world to many places I never thought I would see. I hope someday I get to share more of that in the future.
Monika: I did an interview with Yasmin Lee six years ago and she said that there is nothing wrong with doing porn but it closes many other doors, as the world wrongfully judges such a behavior. Are you not afraid of this?
Chelsea: I don’t think there were many doors there for me when I was coming out of high school during the recession where unemployment was so high in Michigan. Again as I mentioned earlier my family struggles with poverty so entering the adult industry really was a ticket out rather than closing doors. I don’t believe I had many opportunities being an artist otherwise as a young trans woman who wanted to tour the world with her art.

Chelsea Poe gets Interviewed by QueerPorn.TV.
Available via YouTube.

Monika: Some transgender activists say that trans adult movies create a negative image of the whole transgender community. What would be your answer in this respect?
Chelsea: I think the idea that porn is a negative thing for the trans community is like saying any other genre of film or art is harmful. I think all art should be critiqued but at the same time, we can’t go to a sex-negative place and believe trans women aren’t allowed to be viewed as sexual the same way as cis women. Trans women are women, some women want to make porn, so don’t try to drag those women down for their decisions.
Monika: In one of the interviews for Cosmopolitan, you criticized some companies that do not want to shoot trans women in feminist porn. How do they explain it?
Chelsea: Part of feminism is about including marginalized folks, and trans people are for sure included in that definition. If feminist porn is just skinny white cis folks then what’s really the point of it being feminist?
Monika: Can porn be regarded as art? If yes, how would you draw a line between such art and something that is far from it?
Chelsea: Of course, porn is art. I really am hugely inspired by Andy Warhol and other outsider art like Norwegian Black Metal, performance art, and experimental noise so for me, art is always just whatever you make to put into the world.
Monika: Do you have any trans role models or anyone else that inspire you in your professional career?
Chelsea: The trans women who inspired me the most were Drew Deveaux, Tobi Hill Meyer, and Maya Mayhem. The cis women performers were Stoya, Sasha Grey, and Belladonna. For me, Tobi Hill Meyer showed trans women really can make films themselves than what Sasha Grey was doing on camera related to my own sexual interests and how I wanted to be vocal politically in the industry. I think I’m more inspired by the alt porn wave of the mid-2000s than anything else.
Monika: Chelsea, thank you for this interview.

All the photos: courtesy of Chelsea Poe.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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